Spring Game Observations

Spring Game Observations

April 2, 2016
Ty Isaac 806x

Ty Isaac beat Jabrill Peppers to the edge for a long gain (image via MLive)

After watching Brandon Peters last week and now this week, I have very high hopes for him. He’s not ready yet, but he’s adjusting to the college game quickly and is a good athlete. I think he has the highest upside on the team. I still think it’s a neck-and-neck battle between Speight and O’Korn. I want O’Korn to win the job because I think he has better athletic skills and you can do more things with his legs, but it’s a tough choice. (Yes, I realize Speight scored a TD on a naked bootleg, but the guy he burned was walk-on linebacker Jack Dunaway. Also, I’ve seen Peyton Manning score on a similar play, and Manning is nobody’s idea of a mobile QB.)

I’ve said it for a long time, but Isaac was the best runner on the field. He finished with 10 carries for 78 yards, including two long runs. He was also running behind an offensive line that included mostly backups, freshman left tackle Grant Newsome, and center Mason Cole. He’s not without flaws (for example, he doesn’t have the same angry fervor as De’Veon Smith when trying to break tackles), but Isaac looks improved from last year. Kareem Walker looked decent, though the competition he shined most against were walk-ons. Kingston Davis recovered enough from last week’s undisclosed injury to notch a couple carries, but he didn’t have a lot of room to run; he looks like a truck, but he probably needs to shed a few pounds. Of the fullbacks, I’m not in love with Henry Poggi because he’s just not a guy who’s a threat with the ball in his hands. I really like Khalid Hill there, and I think Bobby Henderson can be a Kerridge-like player (though I’m not sure about his hands yet).

Hit the jump for the rest of the position-by-position rundowns.

There wasn’t much to glean from the receivers who were available. Jehu Chesson has been out all spring, Michigan can’t afford to get Amara Darboh hurt, and Maurice Ways had surgery last week. That left perhaps the #3 and #5 receivers – Grant Perry and Drake Harris, respectively – as the top two guys. Perry is a consistent possession guy in the slot, and Harris is nothing special right now. The deep fade he caught from O’Korn was a nice play, but it was against walk-on cornerback Kenneth Sloss. Michigan even threw Shane Morris out there at receiver for a few plays, and I think that might be his best chance to get on the field this fall. That’s something he did last week in the open practice, too. I don’t see him getting a chance to start at quarterback – despite Jon Jansen’s assertions that he’s the most improved QB this spring – and he threw the only interception of the game. Granted, it was a late-first-half heave, but there was still time for another play or two if he hadn’t jump-balled a throw to the athletically limited Jack Wangler.

Whether by necessity or choice, Michigan decided to feature the tight ends heavily. It’s tough for defenses to keep track of tight ends releasing and dragging across the field, and I think Jim Harbaugh/Jedd Fisch are going to have a fun time with all the options they have at tight end this fall. Jake Butt scored a touchdown, Ian Bunting caught a short pass and turned it into a 48-yard gain, and a few other guys got some good looking opportunities. I think with a few more reps, guys like Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. and Michael Jocz may reel in the passes they dropped when they learn how to use their bodies to shield defenders.

I have yet to re-watch the spring game, and offensive line is tough to sort out after one look. However, here are a few takeaways. Mason Cole’s snaps still need some work, and he needs to get the ball back to the quarterback quicker. Patrick Kugler was the culprit on a few negative plays, and boy, I just don’t know if he’s going to get there. He got knocked on his butt by a stunting Lawrence Marshall, he whiffed on nose tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr., etc., and I think that may have just been the first drive. I thought Grant Newsome did some nice things in the run game and didn’t really get taken advantage of in pass blocking; however, when he pulled for the corner on a toss play, I thought he went too deep and forced Isaac to make a decision too quickly. He needs to take a better angle. Marshall’s almost-sack on O’Korn seemed to be due to Erik Magnuson crossing up his feet rather than keeping his hips square. Braden performed best on the offensive line, I thought, but I do want to watch it again. Of the backups, I think this game strengthened my belief that Jon Runyan, Jr. is on his way to being a pretty good lineman.

The defensive line should have dominated this contest, but I didn’t think they hit their expectation level. Maybe they’re taking it easy, maybe Don Brown’s defense is making them a half-step slower, or maybe Willie Henry’s departure hurts. A couple starters didn’t play much, either, so that might have something to do with it. I thought Hurst looked good – especially because he was nursing an ankle injury – and Marshall did a pretty solid job. Winovich held his own at defensive end, but he still doesn’t quite understand his job, and he can get overwhelmed sometimes since he’s giving up 50-60 lbs. against most offensive linemen. The spring game was a little more positive for Marshall than last week’s open practice, and I think he might earn himself a little more run this fall if he can stay out of the doghouse.

This group has some decent players, but there’s no depth right now. Noah Furbush was reportedly on crutches, and Michigan was so thin that the Maize team sent fullback Wyatt Shallman out there to play some linebacker. We learned that Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray can stuff the run pretty well up the middle. McCray got burned on a trick play where he was a little too quick to come off of Drake Johnson in coverage, and he’s also not fast enough to run with Ian Bunting. Not many inside linebacker will keep up with Bunting, though. I would have liked to have seen Furbush in live action, but I guess we’ll have to wait. I thought Michael Wroblewski did okay for a walk-on at inside linebacker, too.

There’s not a whole lot to discuss here, because the corners weren’t tested much. However, I was encouraged by what I saw from Keith Washington. There have been some reports that he might surpass Jeremy Clark, and while I’m not sure if I see that happening, I do think Washington has moved past Brandon Watson in the pecking order.

Based on the end of last year and what I’ve seen from Dymonte Thomas this spring, he might be a surprise player to a lot of people in the Big Ten this year. He might be Michigan’s most dynamic free safety in a long time. He covered a lot of ground to get to the interception he caught from Shane Morris, and he’s carrying himself with confidence now after a rough start to his career. Tyree Kinnel looked pretty good, and I think he’ll be solid once Thomas and Delano Hill leave. Jordan Glasgow has to be an in-the-box safety, if anything, because he just doesn’t have very good speed.

Michigan didn’t do much on special teams so they could avoid injuries. I’ll say this, though: I sure am glad Michigan recruited Quinn Nordin.


  1. Comments: 71
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Apr 02, 2016 at 5:53 PM

    Any possibility Jordan Glasgow can move to LB? Maybe I’m letting the size/skill of his brothers cloud my judgement but I’d think he could make a solid MLB if he could put on 30-40 lbs.

    • Comments: 3844
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Apr 02, 2016 at 8:43 PM

      I think WILL would be more of a possibility, but I don’t know if he could add that much weight and still move like he needs. He’s not tall enough to carry 240 lbs. Maybe he could operate at 225-230.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Apr 04, 2016 at 1:17 PM

      I think with all the LB recruits coming in and Brown placing a premium on size at ILB and speed at OLB, I don’t think it’s realistic.

      Besides, S is where Michigan will be young and inexperienced next year and potentially benefit from a right-place-at-the-right-time veteran.

  2. Comments: 191
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Apr 02, 2016 at 6:45 PM

    Do you think we will see Morris at receiver for trick play potential this season, or was his deployment at that position during the spring game solely because there was not enough bodies?

    • Comments: 3844
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Apr 02, 2016 at 8:44 PM

      I think it was mostly because of a lack of bodies. If they really intended to use him for trick plays, I don’t know if they would have shown that in the spring game.

  3. Comments: 142
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    Apr 02, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    Peppers looked a step slow, possibly too much beefing up trying to become a hybrid LB?
    And my comments from last year proving correct once again,..Isaac is our most talented back, no contest.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Apr 04, 2016 at 1:18 PM

      “Proving correct again” eh?

  4. Comments: 262
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    Painter Smurf
    Apr 03, 2016 at 12:35 AM

    Good post. I had a lot of the same observations. A big factor in this scrimmage compared to the previous couple was the heavy walk-on element in the defensive front seven. In year’s past, we saw DL go three deep and “practice all-stars” like the departed LB’s read the offense instantly on every play. Don’t think it is anything to get worried about though. At least several decent runs

    On the OL, Newsome has a ways to go. He could not handle Taco the few snaps they faced off – thank goodness he was spared Wormley. And Reuben Jones ran around him like he was in quicksand. As mentioned, Kugler looked terrible on the first series and was greatly helped by facing a walk-on and getting OG help with a gimpy Hurst. The coaches must be praying that Newsome puts it together.

    I am starting to question the O’Korn hype just a bit. We have been hearing that he is the best QB in Ann Arbor since he arrived last summer, and that he was better than Rudock in the fall. We’ll see, but Speight has apparently been the cooler customer this spring and the scrimmage did not contradict that. His running ability is nice, but the fall competition will be won by the best passer.

    One other point… thought Henderson looked pretty natural blocking from the FB spot. He lit up some walk-ons. Nice insurance policy in case Poggi and Hill struggle.

    • Comments: 262
      Joined: 8/12/2015
      Painter Smurf
      Apr 03, 2016 at 12:36 AM

      Was saying above… at least several decent runs were due to walk-on LB’s completely misreading plays.

  5. Comments: 1364
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Apr 03, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    Would seriously love it if Isaac turned out to be a real #1 back. Smith is a good back who always runs hard, but we really need someone better (particularly faster) as our first option if we’re going to compete at a championship level, especially given the shaky state of our Oline. Isaac is the only one on the roster who could conceivably fill that bill, but he still has a lot to prove on the field against real competition. Practice buzz doesn’t get it done once we get to the real deal.

    • Comments: 142
      Joined: 8/12/2015
      Apr 03, 2016 at 12:04 PM

      My concern with Isaac is his ‘toughness’ and his fumbling problem. He will be on the bench again if that happens.

      • Comments: 1364
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Apr 03, 2016 at 4:10 PM

        Yes, exactly…he seems to have the physical tools, but he has to get his head fully in the game to be the back he could be.

        • Comments: 6285
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Apr 04, 2016 at 1:48 PM

          His head is in the game, per everyone, including Harbaugh:

          “Ty Isaac really encouraging. Missed most of spring last year, missed some game time last year but hasn’t missed a minute of practice this spring. And De’Veon Smith is the clear-cut starting tailback, but he’s the first one in there no matter what drill we’re doing, if it’s a live drill he doesn’t shy away. The fullbacks are competing hard, Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi.”

          Smith is the guy. He was the guy last year. He was the guy the year before too, whenever Hoke wasn’t fooling himself that Derrick Green should be the starter. The OL has been bad at run-blocking and that fact fully explains the relative lack of stats from Smith, the most underrated RB in Michigan football history.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Apr 04, 2016 at 1:21 PM

      Harbaugh doesn’t agree with you. He has a proven track record of recruiting, developing, and playing RBs who aren’t big play threats or speed demons. Obviously anyone would love to have Adrian Peterson, but Harbaugh’s going to take a guy who gets an extra yard or 3 every down over the guy who will get an extra 40 yards once a game.

      • Comments: 262
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        Painter Smurf
        Apr 05, 2016 at 1:18 PM

        RB pecking order will shake out in games as it usually does. Coaches were leery of Isaac last year because he missed the entire spring and had a perceived lack of toughness (playing through pain, running hard up the middle – per Harbaugh). He apparently was pulling it together last fall fell off the wagon with a couple bad fumbles.
        Smith is basically a 4.5 YPC RB (think he was a 4.2 YPC last year). Keeps the chains moving, but there will be games where he will not be effective, as we saw during stretches last year. Isaac probably has the potential to be a >5.5 YPC RB. If he lives up to his potential, Smith will definitely be giving up snaps to him. Smith is a good back, but Harbaugh will not rest on his laurels if they can do better.

        • Comments: 6285
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Apr 06, 2016 at 2:50 PM

          Isaac was the backup last year (or at least even with Green) to start the year. Johnson’s return set him back and he didn’t seem to react well to that ‘challenge’. He ended up behind Higdon and a FB. We can probably chalk some of that up to attitude issues, but he was never “on the wagon” in the sense that I think you mean.

          Smith needs better blocking, like almost every RB save the Barry Sanders type outliers. Isaac may break more big plays and thus have a higher YPC but if you want to get 4 yards consistently on 1st down, Smith’s the better back. Jim Harbaugh agrees with me. Isaac’s not even in contention for the starting job, he’s competing for Johnson’s role.

          The part that is a fantasy is that Isaac can do better. He was given a chance last year and didn’t look special against Utah or any other defense with a pulse. Oregon State and UNLV games were good but guess what – those were defenses ranked below 100. He did zip against anyone else. Adrian Peterson he is not.

  6. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Apr 04, 2016 at 1:14 PM

    Great post! I really appreciate the detail and depth that you go into here. Most pundits just want to talk about the QBs (when really we didn’t learn much there) and how good the returning starters look, but here you cover the more salient stuff (IMO) – how the backups are looking.

    It’s encouraging to hear that potential starters like Hill, Newsome, and McCray continue to make progress. Great that walk-ons like Henderson and Jocz look poised to helpout. Thomas too, even though he’s an established vet – continued progress is excellent. For the long-term, it’s great to hear the positive stuff on Kinnel, Runyan, Peters, Marshall, and Washington.

    Random thoughts/reactions to your analysis:

    -Ugh to the Kugler performance. I’m now just hoping he can be a Jack Miller – a guy who pretty much stunk for 4 years and then emerged to be a serviceable starter his senior year.

    -My concern about the 2017 OL is amping up. They need to recruit more bodies. I hope we hear in the fall about some of these freshman possibly pushing the vets. At least Runyan and Ulazio have gotten some praise…

    -No worries AT ALL about the DL. No Glasgow, Wormley, Gary. The fact this DL was still doing well without their 2 best guys (and #1 recruit) is a positive. Mone-Hurst-Charlton (with Godin mixed in) is a better DL than most of the Big Ten will have and they might all be backups (if you think Gary is good enough to displace Charlton, which is probably unlikely).

    -I don’t think the TE heavy stuff was for show. That’s Harbaugh football.

    -With McCray and Gedeon settling in and Bush looking serviceable, WDE might be the biggest worry on the defense. It’s good that Winovich and Marshall are looking OK, but that’s still a spot that should be making plays and generating buzz. I know Michigan can (and very probably will) bump Charlton out from his natural SDE spot, but I want to hear more from Winovich and company, including Johnson and Jones.

    -Not exactly fair to call it “flaw” that Isaac doesn’t run with the determination of Smith. Very few do. That’s like calling him out for not being as fast as Denard Robinson.

    -Glad to hear Isaac looked good. My hopes are way up for him since it seems he has matured, but last year’s leading spring game yardage leader is apparently being tried out at LB and FB, so perspective is needed. Not like he hasn’t “looked” good before. If he can keep the weight off and stay determined he might be able to nudge ahead of Johnson. However, I think Johnson will always have a limited role at least due to his speed.

    -I’m not sure we can call Thomas’ early career a disappointment. No shame in that career arc of a guy who helped on special teams right away and has been a useful backup before emerging to start his junior year. I’m really excited to see what he can do next year, whereas I might have said “interested” before the offseason.

    -Shallman always seemed like a guy most likely destined for either H-back or DE/OLB. It’s a shame it’s taken 3 years of playing RB for him to start trying some other positions (beyond a bit of work at FB).

    -I don’t buy Clark getting pushed by Washington, but I do wonder if he’s not reacting well to getting passed over by Stribling (as the rumor goes anyway). Maybe the coaches are trying to push him to take his game to the next level.

    -I’ve seen several people mention that Morris’ best chance to see the field is at WR and I find such a statement to be totally unbelievable. I get that the main point is to say he is buried at QB (seems like he’ll be 4th string at best) and I get the WR depth isn’t well established yet, but if you’re really saying Drake Harris (who is should be remembered has elite talent and already contributed a fair bit last season) is the #5 WR and there’s an array of freshman WR coming in (who will have more experience than Morris) then there’s even less chance he contributes there.

    I’d love to see them run some trick plays with Morris or Gentry – lining those guys up as receivers. But Morris’ long-term position can’t be WR for a multitude of reasons that should be obvious. He seems like a near lock to go the grad transfer route after this season.

You must belogged in to post a comment.