Ford Field Open Practice: Offense, Injuries, Walk-ons

Ford Field Open Practice: Offense, Injuries, Walk-ons

March 27, 2016
Wilton Speight 792x

Wilton Speight

Happy Easter Sunday, everybody! Along with a few thousand other fans, I made my way to Ford Field on Saturday. I sat in the stands, ate a hot dog, and watched Captain Khaki run practice. I chose not to live tweet it because, well, it was nice to sit back, relax, and watch a well run practice. Below are my thoughts on some roster news and the various positions:


  • WR/CB Freddy Canteen is not on the roster and his status is unclear.
  • WR Jehu Chesson was doing work on the sideline and on the bike, wearing a brace on his knee.
  • RB Kingston Davis was in shorts without a helmet and running steps. Lots and lots of steps.
  • OG David Dawson was wearing a sling on his left arm and did not participate.
  • CB Reon Dawson and WR Jaron Dukes have left the football program and are exploring medical scholarships.
  • DT Ryan Glasgow was in shorts and a helmet going through some non-contact drills, but then ran steps with Davis for a big chunk of practice.
  • RB Karan Higdon was in street clothes. No injury was apparent.
  • DE Shelton Johnson was not visible to me. I looked for him extensively and never saw him. Sam Webb tweeted that he was on the sideline in street clothes.

Hit the jump for a position-by-position breakdown of the offense.

Depth: Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Shane Morris, Brandon Peters, Alex Malzone
Scoop: Speight was the first QB in every drill. He had one good deep ball for a TD in team drills, but otherwise, he dinked and dunked. Speight makes the safe, short throw but doesn’t gamble much. He’s also not much of a scrambler but did a good job of chucking the ball out of bounds when pressured out of the pocket. O’Korn’s accuracy was a little scattershot, and I was disappointed that he didn’t look a little further along. That said, he’s got a live arm, can throw on the run, and did a nice job of tucking and running, which was necessary because the protection broke down quite a bit. He threw a nice bomb to Grant Perry to beat Channing Stribling for a TD and found Kareem Walker for a short score in team drills; he also threw a pick-six to Tyree Kinnel on a short throw that was late. I thought Morris still missed some open receivers, and he looks to me like he’s clearly behind Speight and O’Korn. Meanwhile, Brandon Peters did some good things with the #2 offense, including around a 75-yard TD pass to Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. on a post route (more on that later). In my eyes, Peters might be inching past Morris. Malzone is well behind the pack, barely got any reps, and still needs a lot of work.

Depth: De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, Drake Johnson, Joe Hewlett, Kareem Walker
Scoop: Maybe Smith is a little banged up or maybe they’re just saving him, but he didn’t get many reps at all. Isaac and Johnson seemed to get about the same number of snaps, and I know I’ve said this before, but Isaac is the best runner on the team. When it comes to a combination of vision, speed, cutting ability, strength, etc., he’s got it. He is indeed thinner than last year (listed at 228 lbs. rather than 240), and he’s maybe a half-step quicker. If there was any running back who consistently drew oohs and ahs from the crowd, it was Isaac. Johnson was consistent but unspectacular. The guy who got a lot more run than I think anyone expected was redshirt sophomore walk-on Joe Hewlett. A one-time safety, Hewlett got some time with the ones and twos, and he probably touched the ball more than any other running back the whole day; he bounced a couple runs to the outside or squirted through the hole. It probably won’t amount to much, but he was clearly ahead of Walker on the depth chart. At the very least, he’s a good scout-team running back to have. Walker was hitting the hole with more authority than he did in the Under Armour All-American Game, and he did fine. He caught a swing pass for a TD from John O’Korn, and he had a couple decent runs with the backup offense.

Khalid Hill, Henry Poggi, Wyatt Shallman
Scoop: I don’t think I saw a single handoff to any of the guys lined up at fullback all day. That’s not surprising because two of them are basically tight ends. Shallman was third and got a lot of looks, but he’s not a very good blocker and he looks reluctant to play fullback to me. Maybe something else was in his head, but he just seemed to be going through the motions rather than trying to crack skulls. The fullbacks were frequently open in the flat on Spider 2 Y-Banana, and Hill is the best receiver of the bunch. Poggi/Hill are both solid blockers, and I expect them to get the majority of the snaps. Hopefully Michigan can find a running option there, whether it’s moving Smith there occasionally or finding someone else. (I have heard positive things about Bobby Henderson, but he may have been dinged up because he didn’t participate in live drills much that I saw.)

Amara Darboh, Drake Harris, Grant Perry, Ahmir Mitchell, Jack Wangler, Brendan White
Scoop: With Chesson still sidelined, Darboh and Harris were the starting two. Darboh mostly looked good and beat Jourdan Lewis on a deep ball for a touchdown. Harris didn’t do anything that stood out, but he does look a little bigger. Perry showed very good hands and beat Channing Stribling for a long TD on a play action post route. You may have heard this before, but Mitchell looks like a college junior even though he should be finishing high school right now. He was inconsistent catching the ball but also made some spectacular catches. He was consistently working with the #2 offense. Wangler is kind of just a guy, and White wasn’t targeted at all. In unfortunate news, Maurice Ways, Jr. broke a bone in his foot/leg the other day and had to have surgery; he was earning some hype this spring and was expected to be a top backup, so that’s disappointing.

Jake Butt, Ian Bunting, Michael Jocz, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Zack Gentry, Sean McKeon
Scoop: I hate to sound hyperbolic, but I don’t think there’s any way that any other team in the country has more talent at the tight end position than Michigan. If there is, I would like to see it. Every single one of the players above – including Jocz – could start for some teams in the Big Ten in the near future, if not now. That’s not to say that they could all step on the field right now and be big-timers, but the potential is there. Butt is clearly the best and most fluid, but I Bunting and Jocz are both starter-quality right now, in my opinion. Wheatley still needs some work on his blocking technique and strength, but he looks thinned out from last year. His 75-yard TD catch was the play of the day. Running a post route against Devin Bush, Jr. – where Bush was stride-for-stride and had good position – Wheatley reached out his right hand as he crossed the field from right to left, reeled the ball in after Peters threw a laser, and raced to the endzone. Bush gave up on the play – perhaps because he thought Wheatley dropped it – but a couple other guys gave pursuit. I think it was backup safety A.J. Pearson who tracked Wheatley down right at the goal line (Furbush was also nearby), but it would have counted. It was the play of the day. Gentry looks like a light pole out there, even though he’s listed at 6’7″, 244 lbs. He’s very athletic and probably the fastest TE, but he’s very inconsistent – the Ahmir Mitchell of the tight ends. McKeon needs to put on weight but moves very well, too. This is the deepest, most impressive unit on the team.

Group #1 (L to R: Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson), Group #2 (L to R: Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Ben Pliska, Patrick Kugler, Jon Runyan Jr., Nolan Ulizio)
Scoop: The weak spot here is clearly Newsome, in my opinion. That makes sense because he’s the only new starter, but it’s significant at left tackle, nonetheless. He’s decent as a run blocker, but he gets overextended when he pass sets, does not move his feet well enough, and whiffs too often. He’s plenty athletic and physically looks the part of a Big Ten starter, but his technique still needs a lot of work. I noticed some of these things when video came out of Michigan’s spring practices in Florida, and I thought they might get fixed soon, but they’re not there yet. Hopefully he gets there by the fall, because there aren’t many options. The rest of the first OL is solid, but they had a hard time creating big creases, even though Michigan’s defensive line is missing bodies (Glasgow, Johnson, etc.) or dinged up (Hurst was participating but had a taped-up, gimpy ankle). I think I only saw one bad snap all day, and that came from Kugler. The second OL struggled, and that was partly because Dawson is out, leaving walk-on Pliska to play left guard. Bad snap aside, I thought Kugler and Runyan looked the most ready to play of the second unit. Runyan is a bit of a surprise after being lightly recruited and, well, being light coming out of high school. But he’s listed at 6’4″, 304 lbs. now, moves very well, and held up inside at the point of attack. When it was time for sprints, Runyan was the fastest offensive lineman (note: I think all the OL ran together, although it’s hard to say with 100% certainty).

A team like Michigan shouldn’t be counting on walk-ons very often, especially at skill positions, but a few stood out to me for various reasons. Some brief notes on guys to watch:

  • Redshirt sophomore WR Austin Brenner (6’1″, 181 lbs.) got some chances to practice his punt return skills and has plenty of speed. Whether they were working with him just to be a scout-team punt returner and get blasted, I don’t know. But he has some physical skills to work with.
  • Redshirt freshman safeties Louis Grodman (5’10”, 186 lbs.) and Jacob West (6’0″, 194 lbs.) also have pretty good speed, though I was less impressed by their football instincts.
  • Redshirt freshman safety Jordan Glasgow and fifth year senior A.J. Pearson were both working with the #2 unit on defense, and they’re not bad. I don’t want either one starting, but they could play some mop-up snaps against lesser competition and be fine.
  • Redshirt junior Garrett Moores appears to be the holder, at least for now. And that appears to be his lone task, because he spent little to no time with the quarterbacks and just worked with the specialists.

I will have a post up about the defense and special teams later today or tomorrow.

Who else went to the open practice? What noteworthy things did you see?

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