First-Hand Impressions From Michigan's Student-Only Open Practice

This article was written by and sent to us from Derek Heitman (@DEREKH2), a UM student who attended last night's open practice. The image is also courtesy of Derek as well. You may know him from his on-air work with the Student BTNU program. I just want to thank him a ton for taking the time to send us his thoughts and impressions from what he saw last night. Enjoy!

The University of Michigan football team emerged from their submarine on Saturday night, though I should say that they instead allowed a couple hundred more people to come onboard. For my first ever time in a submarine, cell phone access was prohibited as Jim Harbaugh banned the use phones at the open practice for University students, keen to avoid any picture or videos being taken. Michigan Event Staff made sure that those guidelines were kept in place, kicking out any student who violated those rules. Along with Michigan students, the marching band and dance team made an appearance, with ‘The Victors’, ‘Let’s Go Blue’ and ‘Blues Brothers’ being loudly played throughout the night.

The practice started with a normal stretching routine before breaking out into positional groups. Harbaugh along with Jedd Fisch worked with the Quarterbacks while Tim Drevno worked with the Offensive Line. In the QB drills, Shane Morris looked very good throwing the ball downfield on the sideline, much like what we saw at the spring game, while Jake Rudock was more comfortable with the shorter, intermediate routes. My initial reaction from all the QBs was how big Zach Gentry was, making me believe he’s taller than the 6’8 that he’s listed at. It was also very noticeable that Rudock took the first snaps when changing drills with Morris constantly behind him.

The starting O-Line looked very good in their positional group with the focus being primarily on zone-blocking. Cole, Braden, Glasgow, Kalis and Magnuson made up the first group while Patrick Kugler who was vying for a spot at LG was on crutches and did not participate in the practice. Kugler was joined on the injured list at practice by Ty Wheatley Jr. with a brace on his foot, Bryan Mone also on crutches and Amara Darboh who looked healthy but wasn’t in pads. Freddy Canteen didn’t participate either while Chris Fox and Bo Dever were on the sidelines though both have left football all together. Jarrod Wilson and Mike McCray were both red-jerseyed as well. When the O-Line and QBs came together, Rudock took snaps with the first team linemen with Morris and Wilton Speight taking reps with the rest of the group. Rudock also practiced all night long with De’Veon Smith while Morris took snaps with Derrick Green.

After positional drills, everyone except the QBs and receivers came together for what looked like the Oklahoma drill but with a lot less contact. This was the only point in the night that Harbaugh did not go with the Quarterbacks as he was right in the middle of the drill providing the enthusiasm which has been popularized as unknown to mankind. After about 30 minutes of the practice the whole team came together and Harbaugh grabbed a microphone to talk to students. He asked the students to make noise and make it difficult for the offense, trying to simulate the atmosphere the team will face at Utah. The team had music playing (no Lil Wayne) throughout the entire practice along with piped in crowd noise. The rest of the practice was spent scrimmaging offense vs. defense with Rudock again taking first snaps and playing solely with the first team O-Line and De’Veon. Jehu Chesson was joined on the outside by Drake Harris with Grant Perry playing in the slot with Jake Butt in at TE. That receiving core also only played with Rudock while Morris played with Moe Ways, Jaron Dukes and Chase Winovich. Ian Bunting took snaps with Rudock in dual TE sets with Butt and it was very evident that the Tight End position is a favorite of Jake Rudock.

When the scrimmage started, Rudock was at the helm for the first drive and his first play caused him to scramble out of the pocket towards the sideline before throwing the ball away, which was actually good to see instead of a QB trying to make something out of nothing with his feet. The O-Line looked much better after that first play providing Rudock with enough time to hit his receivers in stride-though most routes were not much longer than five yards. After failing to score on his opening drive, Rudock gave way to Morris who promptly went three and out, though Moe Ways dropped a very easy pass. Morris also did not benefit from practicing with the second team O-Line, though he showed flashes of a good ability to escape the pocket and make a play with his feet. Rudock, however, looked like the starting quarterback from the minute the practice started and that showed during the red zone drill as he led his unit to two touchdowns.

The first came on a 15 yard strike to Drake Harris who made a very strong cut to get open in the back of the end zone before being hit perfectly in stride by Rudock. Harris, who was targeted more because of the absence of Darboh, looked very good all practice and proved he could be a very good secondary option this season. He also seemed to have great chemistry with Rudock which is another sign that Rudock has been getting more snaps in with the first team. The second touchdown came after a big third down conversion where Jake Butt made a great play to come back to the ball and put the offense within the five yard line before Butt was rewarded with a touchdown catch of his own a few plays later.

The running backs did not look great, however De’Veon Smith was by far the best performer of the bunch as he showed a good ability to break a few tackles and continue to grind and power forward. Derrick Green had very little holes from the second team O-Line to work with and Drake Johnson and Ty Isaac didn’t get touches during this mini scrimmage. It looks like Smith will be the starter and with Ty Isaac’s size it would be nice to see him as a third down back, though Green did play that role a few times with the first team offense. Harbaugh liked bigger backs during his time at Stanford and with the 49ers and Smith and Isaac certainly fit that mold. Smith was also good as a receiving outlet for Rudock, who looked poised and composed in the huddle, acting like he had been running Harbaugh’s offense for years. He was also very comfortable in the pocket and seemed to be in good command of the offense on his longer drives. It was also evident that Harbaugh loves his Tight Ends and as Rudock is a more conservative QB who proved he is more comfortable with shorter routes and likes his TEs as well, Rudock seems like Harbaugh’s choice to start at Utah-though I would not be surprised if both QBs play as Morris has more of the big play capability.

The Defense looked pretty solid all night long and DJ Durkin was very animated on the sideline, barking out instructions with plenty of hand signals. Jourdan Lewis didn’t play in the scrimmage but the secondary played good-other than Channing Stribling getting beat on the Drake Harris touchdown. Stribling played well the rest of practice along with Wayne Lyons and Delano Hill. The real surprise to me was Jeremy Clark who bounced around in the secondary but definitely proved he could press wide receivers as a CB and not get beaten long. I know everyone wants to know about how Jabrill Peppers is coming along and he looked every bit up to the expectations that have been put on him. He showed he could blitz, stop the run and guard guys one-on-one and it’s extremely surprising seeing how fast he is given his size. He almost blew up Jake Rudock on a scramble out of the pocket and he certainly would have had it not been for the no contact rule for the QBs.

With no kick returns in practice, Jabrill only played defense, though I’m sure Harbaugh didn’t want to give away anything and put him on offense at an ‘open’ practice. The D-Line looked like it was still figuring out where to play guys. The first team unit was Jenkins-Stone, Glasgow, Willie Henry and Ojemudia but several players came in and took reps including Taco Charlton, Wormley and Maurice Hurst who looked good following a very strong spring. My biggest surprise was the lack of Lawrence Marshall who only played when the third unit came in and did not make a very big impact-though that unit was only on the field for one drive. The only turnover of the day came when the third team defense was going up against Wilton Speight and the third team offense. After an unbelievable catch by Jack Wangler got the offense inside the ten yard line, Speight underthrew his intended receiver in the end zone and Kenneth Sloss jumped the route and made a good play intercepting the pass right at the goal line.

Special teams
Only Kenny Allen and Kyle Seychel kicked extra points and field goals with both guys showing pretty strong legs and the ability to make kicks from 50+ yards. However, both guys missed fairly easy kicks from inside the 35 and it looked like Allen has the edge on the starting job as he took first reps and kicked extra-points and field goals with the first team offense during the scrimmage. I was disappointed to not see any punting drills, given the hype around Blake O’Neill’s leg and the anticipation to see Jabrill Peppers possibly return punts.

The practice ended with Harbaugh and the team coming over to the corner of the end zone next to where the students were gathered and sing a chorus of ‘The Victors’, saying “We hope we’re gonna be singing ‘The Victors’ a lot this year”. Harbaugh was very demanding on the sideline all night and don’t worry he was wearing a headset. His khakis roaming the home sideline were a great site to see along with ACTUAL maize pants-not the highlighter yellow color Adidas has given us in the past. His demeanor on the sideline was every bit as advertised during the scrimmage but during the stretches and downtime he was seen laughing with players and smiling from cheek to cheek.

Overall, it was a very fun night for both players and students and win or lose the team will definitely be prepared in Salt Lake City on September 3rd.

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