Monday, April 18, 2011

ALL IS WELL: Spring Game Observations and General Nostalgia

It seemed that it would never come, but after several months of post-bowl game doldrums it came and went in the blink of an eye. The weather was bleak in the annoying yet charmingly PURE MICHIGAN fashion, and the Ann Arbor permacloud was out in full force. It was almost like a real game in the fall, only it wasn't. While some of the happenings might serve to slightly tweak or reaffirm previously understood concepts (e.g., hey, Will Campbell is kind of big), it was a Spring Game and should take care to treat it as such.

With that said, some general observations:

-Quarterback play obviously left something to be desired, but insert general offensive transition rhetoric here. Much of the playbook is certainly (hopefully?) uninstalled as of now or was simply not utilized in this short 75 minute pseudo-game. As a general note, QB play in spring games across America has been largely unimpressive, with Arkansas's Tyler Wilson serving as one of the few exceptional performances to my knowledge. This is the way of spring football. Devin wasn't great, but he's still young, and in any case he's not supposed to start until after Denard graduates.

-It will be interesting to see how this staff handles the situation at tailback. Even with the new wave of Mike Cox hype, I'm still in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode. His touchdown run was a thing of beauty; his physical abilities are unquestioned. However, being a guy and the guy are two entirely different things, and whether or not Mike can handle this onus remains to be seen. A committee of backs will likely bear the load for the Wolverines in the fall, which isn't a bad thing. After all, we didn't have a carry-hoarding back in 1997, and look how that turned out. If Cox can be the A-Train, Shaw/Smith a jitterbug like Clarence Williams, and Hopkins a Chris Howard/Chris Floyd type, then things are pretty darn good. Of course, asking Cox to replicate Thomas's production is just a tad optimistic, especially given the current OL vis-a-vis the 1997 line (and subsequent lines) that Thomas had the privilege of running behind. Rawls is a wild card, and who knows what we'll get out of Toussaint, if anything.

-Although optimism should be tempered to an extent, the defense showed some signs of life for the first time in a while. Naturally, the defense should always be ahead of the offense in the spring (especially given the overhaul of the offense), but players like Jake Ryan, Carvin Johnson, and Marvin Robinson to an extent flashed some ability. I hope we can learn from Stevie Brown's career arc and play M-Rob at a LB position; his talents and overall scouting report seem to indicate that he could be a similar player down the road. I'd take a Stevie Brown circa 2009 any day at this point. The offense was perhaps set up to fail in some cases with the way Mattison called the scrimmage, but it's nice to see some defense of any kind.

-Will Campbell's struggles are well-documented, but he will certainly be a player that can make this defense go up twenty or so spots in the defensive rankings if he performs to expectations (which, admittedly, are quite lofty and often unrealistic). It took a while for the light to come on for Gabe Watson, and although he wasn't a Glenn Dorsey type at any point he was more than serviceable. If Will can approach that level of competence, including stuffing the run and/or allowing linebackers to make plays while also providing an occasional pass rush, his 2011 campaign will be deemed a success.


A long summer and fall camp separates us from the season, where optimism or pessimism are borne out or not. While many assumed that the 2011 would be similar to 2010, if not a win or even two better,  I would not be surprised to see this team take a small step back or reach 7-5 in the regular season once again. All might not be well, but what we saw on Saturday is a twisted, doctored version of the product we will see in the fall. Denard will run, a freshman or two will make some noise, and currently sidelined players will be back in the lineup barring any further setbacks. There are reasons for optimism...cautious optimism, but optimism nonetheless.

On a sad note, this was my final spring game as an undergrad, and my penultimate visit to the Big House in that same time (GRADUATION!). Each of the three spring games I was able to attend here were a joy and a privilege, and given that I'm not sure when my next chance to attend a game in the Big House will be, I cherish each and every one, and I encourage all of you to do the same. Seeing little kids run around on the field in over-sized helmets and jerseys and a small toddler crawling up the Big House steps, filmed by a smiling father with a small phone despite the light rain, are memories that will live on for as long as Michigan stands and as long as people choose to follow it. There is nothing like the spring game in the intimacy it provides while also providing the skeleton of the Michigan gameday experience. Watching Scott Boerma smile as the band engaged in some indecipherable chant and the rain fell and wayward passes hit the ground was all a subtle reminder that the whole day was about Michigan; not necessarily the product on the field in and of itself, but Michigan, generally. Take away the score (literally, no scoreboards) and the opponent and all that remains is Michigan, that thing that we love because of football and countless other reasons, and it is for this reason that I hope that the spring game can continue to grow as the team grows, and that one day we can replicate the kinds of turnouts seen elsewhere across the country.

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