Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Game Thoughts of Debatable Utility

A Preface: The Spring Game is meant to be a glorified practice. Nothing that happened in Michigan's spring game yesterday should be used to predict anything that might happen in the fall. It is an event that's simply meant to be a fun way for fans to watch some pseudo-footbaw in April. That's it. As such, all of the following are simply observations on what happened on Saturday, in a vacuum. 

  • On the brightness of the helmet numbers: I am about to give you all a history lesson, free of charge. Many grade school teachers will tell you that, back in the day, as the Roman Empire was collapsing in the west, that it was all the the product of multiple centuries' worth of societal, political, and economic strife, not to mention the incessant waves of Germanic invasions that eventually brought the empire to its knees in the officially accepted year of collapse, AD 476. Do you want to the real reason for the empire's collapse? The by and large  obscure Roman emperor Davidus Brandanius issued an edict that called for "the inscription of excessively shiny numbers and #GOROME on each Roman soldier's helmet." This was of course done in order to spread the brand of Rome far and wide, as conquered peoples would see this inscriptions and cease to resist the Roman intrusions on their land. I mean, who wouldn't want to engage in and be a part of such a thing? Exactly. Unfortunately, in later battles, the sun would reflect upon these brightly painted inscriptions, reflecting sunlight off of the helmets and into each soldier's eyes, leading to massive breakdowns in the phalanx formation, and, ultimately, defeat in battle and general ownage at the hands of the various Germanic invaders. We would do well to learn from the mistakes of the past. 
          Okay, that was stupid. Tl;dr--who cares. Moving on!
  • Devin Gardner: I guess you can't really start anywhere else. I spent last season defending Denard against the "play Devin" people and it looks like I'll spend this offseason defending Devin against the "move him to wide receiver" folks. For the record, I do think he should absolutely get on the field as a receiver if he proves to be up to it, but if Hoke says he's the QB2 then that's enough for me. 
    • A couple errant throws shouldn't be enough to freak people out, particularly since said people are probably the same ones who were calling for Devin to take over last year because of his passing ability. Remember, these guys haven't played in front of large numbers of people since January, and it's not like Devin has all that much game experience anyway. 
    • I understand the fact that, being a rising junior, many are expecting "more" from Devin, but it doesn't work out that way all the time. The INT wasn't great but it was just a solid break on the ball by Countess; Devin wasn't locked onto Jeremy Jackson, Navarre-style. Jackson also could have done a better job of understanding where Countess was and working his way back to the ball, but Gardner needed to either get the ball out a second earlier or he shouldn't have thrown it at all. You live and learn. I believe Denard when he says that this outing was not indicative of how Devin has performed in practice. 
    • He short-hopped one and then awkwardly shotputted a checkdown but looked much more comfortable looking downfield, where he completed an intermediate pass down the middle of the field to Jeremy Gallon (the pass was a little behind Gallon, but good enough to be completed). His footwork and mechanics weren't great on this day, but you have to figure that general rust and/or nervousness played somewhat of a factor. In short, better to get these sorts of things worked out now than in September. 
    • On the positive side, Gardner looked as athletic as ever when the pass wasn't there. Of course, it's easy to run when you know you're not about to get thumped. However, it is nice to know that if Denard has to step out for a play or two, we can bring in a supremely athletic 6'4'' guy at quarterback. 
Blake Countess getting some run with the offense...wait, what? 
  • Russell Bellomy: On a related note, Bellomy looked like he could be a capable option down the road (as much as one can say such a thing after watching a spring scrimmage). He left that pass to Jerald Robinson, forcing him to go to his knees to catch it, but overall it's difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about arm strength given the nature of the passes he was throwing. Bellomy does look the part of the ideal Borges quarterback, however, and with another year of seasoning and some badly needed time in the weight room, I wouldn't be surprised to see him challenge for playing time next year and the year after (and yes, I am figuring Shane Morris's arrival into that outlook). 
  • Wide receivers: It wasn't an impressive day for the receivers, but, again, general spring game caveat goes here. There was really no effort to stretch the field, and let's not forget that Michigan actually has competent to pretty good players in the secondary these days. It's difficult to make a real assessment here because I was watching on TV, but it's unclear for me whether or not the wideouts were simply not getting open or if Devin was hesitant to hit them, particularly after the INT. Whatever the case may be, I think it's fairly obvious that we need Jerald Robinson to step up or we're going to be hoping that Darboh or Chesson fill the big WR role when they get to Ann Arbor in the fall. He definitely looks the part but didn't seem to do much on Saturday (2 rec., 9 yards). 
  • Desmond Morgan injury: Let's hope that it isn't anything serious, because that would be an awful loss even if we're talking about him simply missing some summer conditioning/player practices. I didn't catch this live, but apparently this is what knocked him out. That's what you like to see from your tailbacks, and Fitz will definitely need to do that a few times against Alabama's 3-4 outside backers if Michigan wants to keep Denard in one piece. 
  • Hawthorne and Jones: Other than sounding like a law firm, these two had a productive day. Sure, they were up against walk-ons and backups most of the time, but they are experienced players that can fill in if injuries strike (knock on wood). This, folks, is what elite teams call "depth." Depth, meet Michigan football, Michigan football, meet depth. FWIW, the same positive depth-related sentiments apply for the secondary and guys like Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and Terrence Talbott. Hawthorne's hit on Justice Hayes was the speedy, slashing sort of play that we've seen Hawthorne make before, namely early on in the 2011 season (e.g. the Notre Dame game). 
  • Denard: A short day, obviously, but he did make a couple of crisp completions, first on the slant to Gallon and second on a rollout to Roundtree near the right sideline. These may seem like routine plays, but they really haven't been for Denard. If he can make these sorts of throws with consistency, the offense gets better by at least an order of magnitude. This will be especially true against Alabama, as I would imagine that Borges will look to move the pocket fairly often.
  • Thomas Rawls: A Bull Moose like Teddy Roosevelt. But, seriously, he looks like the stereotypical Big Ten mooseback. On the 21-yard TD run in the first half, Washington, Ash, and Heitzman were on the field for the defense. Rawls eluded a flailing tackle attempt from Heitzman in the hole, while Washington made a similar attempt but didn't come nearly as close as Heitzman did. On the second level, Rawls broke a tackle attempt from early enrollee Jarrod Wilson en route to daylight and the end zone. All in all a poor sequence of events for the defense, but it's nice to see Rawls hit the hole hard. It was very reminiscent of Kevin Grady's touchdown against Vanderbilt in 2006. No matter what Fred Jackson says, Grady is the obvious YMRMFSPA for Rawls. 
  • Defensive line aka I'M SO GLAD OUR FIRST GAME IS AGAINST ALABAMA WOO: This might be the only unit to add to any Michigan fan's list of THINGS TO BE DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT, but that's only because these concerns existed the second after the careers of Mike Martin, Ryan van Bergen and Will Heininger ended. Hoke calling the interior of the defense "soft" is not a good sign, but is also standard motivational verbiage. I will say, however, that people should be careful when they try to parse Hoke's pressers, especially when he uses words like "soft" or "physical." Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Hoke uses these words as a catch-all for "bad" and "good" play. Of course, the interior needs to get better, but I'm not sure that any problems on Saturday were the result of guys like Campbell, Washington, Ash, Black, etc. just not playing hard enough or tough enough. In any case, minus the TD run from Rawls and some nice runs from Fitz, it's not like the interior was getting blown up with regularity. On the flip side, there wasn't much push up the middle or general pressure, but, you know...whatever. There's a long way to go until September 1st. 
  • Chris Bryant: Is huge. Hoke emphasized that there's always competition for every position, which is typical coachspeak but you get the feeling that he means it more than a lot of coaches do when they say those sorts of things. Mealer and Omameh are ostensibly the starters at LG and RG if the season started today, but it seems that neither position is safe, which is a latter more worrisome vis-a-vis Omameh. 
  • Toussaint: There's not much to say. No offense to Brandon Minor, but Toussaint is Michigan's first All-Big Ten type player since Hart. Fitz looked quick, agile, and showed a bit of power in finishing his runs, namely one play which ended with him essentially bowling over J.T. Floyd near the sideline. There are some question marks on this team, but one thing I'm fairly sure of: Fitz is about to have a monster year.
Well-executed inside zone for 10 (HT: mgovideo)
  • The Michigan Defense's Excellent Adventure: Given Jake Ryan's neck roll and several other players sporting the half jersey thing, Michigan's defense looked like it arrived at Michigan Stadium straight from the 1980s via some sort of time traveling phone booth. Whatever works, guys. If the defense can continue to play like those vintage Bo defenses from the 1980s then keep on keepin' on. 
  • Philanthropy!: Spring game donations for Mott amounted to a whopping $161,080, and that is apparently before it will be matched by the Beam family. Well done everybody. 

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