Two days before the spring game, the weather Gods were smiling on the state of Michigan. It was 80+ degrees, it was sunny. But two days later, on Saturday for Michigan's annual spring game, not so much. 40's, cloudy, windy. Basically late October/November weather. Such is life. None the less, we play on.
The view from my seats in the media section just south of the tunnel.
Michigan had a respectable crowd of an estimated 35,000 Maize & Blue faithful to showcase a sneak peak at the 2010 edition of the Michigan Wolverines. We got a great chance to watch and see for ourselves some of the improvements we've been hearing so much about, mainly at the QB position and defensive backfield.
It's frustrating sometimes to read too much into a spring game. You could literally go nuts trying to decipher every play and what it means for the fall. So we won't do that. Lets dive right into our review.
You know you got a QB battle when tOSU blogs are picking it up on their radars.
No doubt, Michigan fans wanted to see what was new with Denard and Tate. And not to mention incoming true-freshman Devin Gardner.
I think I can pretty much say without provocation that Denard impressed the most. His passes were very crisp and on target. He ran well with the ball, and most importantly, he was nowhere close to being in bad situation where he might turn the ball over. Unlike Tate, who, when he scrambled carried the ball in one hand way away from his body...which got him into some trouble last year. Now I will say that Denard was playing almost the whole day with the 1 offense, and he was going against the 2 defense. So take that for what it's worth. But he did continue to do well in the situational exercises in the 2nd half of practice where the 1's were going against the 1's.
Denard's TD run early in the scrimmage:
Tate was mostly with the 2's all day, and going up against the 1's on defense. But he didn't do bad. But in comparison with Denard, Tate looked a little sloppy and little slower. And again, the scrambling with the ball hanging out way away from his body is something that scares me to death. He must stop doing that!
Freshman Devin Gardner looked like a freshman. He was very tense in the early-going. He wasn't getting his feet set before the snap, he fumbled his first snap...he looked like a freshman, which isn't bad considering he's still technically a HS senior. But once he settled down a bit, you could see that there is nothing but upside for this kid. He has all the pieces and parts to become an awesome QB at Michigan.
Technically, this is the first TD scored by Devin Gardner in the Big House (and the extra point that followed):
But going into fall practice, I would say that right now it's Denard's job to lose. His passing ability has just improved dramatically. When he scrambles, he truly has a dual-threat option right now. And he can go from run to pass or pass to run much smoother than Tate can.
Realistically, it's probably Denard, Tate and Devin going into fall based on what I saw Saturday. But if Devin can improve his throwing ability, and learn the passing phase of this offense...he might be able to get the jump on Tate. Enrolling early was a huge plus for Devin.
Rich Rodriguez's comments about the QB's from Saturday:
Michael Cox, Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint are all interchangeable right now, which is a really good thing for Toussaint as the newcomer. All three looked pretty solid running the ball. All three didn't impress all that much...which can be a really good thing for our defense.
Projected starter Vincent Smith was out with an ACL tear he suffered against tOSU.
Freshman Stephen Hopkins played well and looked really good as a power-type back who I suspect could make an immediate impact on short-yardage situations.
A nice bright spot for our offense is tight ends. A scrambling QB's best friend is a TE who can catch the ball. Kevin Koger, Brandon Moore and Martel Webb are all big, can run, block and catch the ball well. Nice things to have.
We passed the ball a lot in the spring game, and we spread the ball around pretty well. The guys who stepped up and made plays were the ones you might expect. Junior Hemingway was out of the spring with an injury. Martavious Odoms looked solid making nice grabs all day, until he dropped a long pass from Gardner that would have easily been a very long TD pass. Roy Roundtree had the catch of the day when he blew past a hobbled Vladamir Emilien to make a very nice pass from Denard who hit him over the middle in-stride for a huge 97-yard TD.
Didn't see anything huge from Stonum who I expected to see more of. But we did see a lot of young guys get involved, including Doug Rogan, Je'Ron Stokes, Jeremy Jackson, Ricardo Miller and Jerald Robinson.
David Molk was spotted out on the field in just a jersey and sweats, but he looked very upbeat and was walking very well...so hopefully the torn ACL from last season will not be a factor in the fall. Clearly, this line...hell this offense is not the same without him. Backup center Christian Pace looked good in his filling in. Snaps were on target, which is saying something because when Molk
The biggest OL surprise of the day was Taylor Lewan at left tackle. He looked good. Shades of Jake Long, especially with the big 77 on his back. But any comparison with Jake Long, especially for a freshman is a huge plus.
The rest of the line played very well, as expected. Nothing truly exceptional. But much of that comes with the defensive front knowing the offense pretty well. The running game suffered much because of that.
First off, William Campbell is a beast! That guy hit the weights in the off-season, and it shows. He's going to be a force this year. He, Ryan Van Bergen and Greg Banks looked very solid all day. Mike Martin was out with an injury and not practicing but will be back at 100% this fall. I think the defensive line is going to be a very strong part of our defense this fall.
Moving from DE to sort of a DE/LB position is Craig Roh. This move seems to be a pretty easy one for Roh who played well all day. He's probably the key position that makes this 3-3-5 defense, or so it's called, work. To me, I saw more 4-3 defensive looks today than 3-3-5...but that's just me. Clearly, it's not so much a simple "this" or "that", but it's just my observation. I spent way more time observing the offense than the defense...so take that into consideration as well.
Both Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton looked very good. They were both very mobile in the middle of the field, while still looking like a large imposing LB. Mouton was even spotted in a down linemen position on 3rd and long situations where he was rushing the QB. These two seniors are a very important part of the defense this year.
JB Fitzgerald and fullback Mark Moudros were in with the 2nd team. Moundros looked pretty comfortable in there as he looks to get on the field with the defense. Not sure how much our offense needs a full-time fullback.
Lots of work needed in the defensive backfield after last season's bust. It is clear that personnel in the safety and cornerback spots are a fluid idea at this point.
Troy "T-Wolf" Woolfolk was out with a broken finger. But he's probably the #1 cornerback going into the fall. Taking his place on Saturday was converted WR James Rogers. JT Floyd looked pretty good over on the other corner. Justin Turner spent the day with the 2s.
The wild race at safety is still up in the air. Thomas Gordon, Cam Gordon, Vladamir Emilien, Teric Jones all saw lots of time in the backfield. Jordan Kovacs and Mike Williams played the safety/LB hybrid spot.
I will say this...we need a punter. Incoming recruit Will Hagerup has the job at this point, and he hasn't even enrolled yet. But from what I saw, no else besides Tate Forcier can punt the ball within the white stripes. Let's hope Hagerup doesn't slip and fall this off-season.
We have a couple potential placekickers. Brendan Gibbons probably looked the best of the 3 main contenders. Walk-on soccer player Justin Meram looked good from 30 yards in, but fell apart from long range. Kris Paulowski kicked the ball well. I really don't know which kicker is better. They all kicked with the wind...so who knows.
All in all, it was a good spring scrimmage. The fans didn't really have much to cheer about, not a lot of huge plays. But we did get a chance to see the QB's compete and how well the offensive line is coming together even without Molk. And we also got to see the changes to the defense, which by my account is already heads and tails better then we were last year, especially in the backfield. Sure, Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown and Donovan Warren will be missed, but I like to think that it was more of a scheme issue than a personnel issue that really stifled us last year.
I was happy to see no injuries, as I'm sure the coaches were as well. And it was just good to see the winged helmets run out of the tunnel again. Just the sight of the boys out on the field again is enough to wash away the agony of the end of last season.
Now it's bring on the Huskies! Is it September yet?
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