|DeVeon Smith (image via The Wolverine)
Due to prior commitments, I was unable to watch the spring game live or immediately afterward. Normally I would have posted a review of the spring game on Sunday or Monday, but I just didn’t have time this week. Now it has lost its immediacy, and everyone has rehashed the short scrimmage over and over again. I’m going to offer some quick thoughts on each position group, but this won’t go into a great deal of depth.
Quarterbacks. Devin Gardner looks like the clear starter even if he did go 2/9 for 55 yards and 1 interception. The defense is bound to be ahead of the offense at this point, and the change from a 4-3 Under to a 4-3 Over (if that’s truly what Michigan does) doesn’t really affect the coverage much. Shane Morris (4/8, 65 yards) looked pretty solid with a plenty strong arm, but he doesn’t have the athleticism or the feel for the game that Gardner does. Morris will be good down the road, though. I do not see Wilton Speight or Russell Bellomy as legitimate options for the upcoming season.
Running backs. I have never been impressed with DeVeon Smith’s speed (10 carries, 32 yards), but he looks like the #1 back right now. He runs harder than anyone else, he carries out his fakes better than anyone else, and he looks like he’s in great shape. Derrick Green (5 carries, 14 yards) can be tackled pretty easily down low because he doesn’t have great balance, and while he looks quicker than he did last fall – and quicker than Smith – it really seems like the coaches trust Smith more. Justice Hayes (6 carries, 33 yards) seems to be sensing an opportunity to play, and he looks more physically ready than he did last season. I like Sione Houma’s potential as an H-back much more than Joe Kerridge’s; Houma is a better athlete, and Michigan needs as many athletes as it can get on the field. Kerridge is a decent old school fullback, but that’s about it.
Wide receivers. I believe the Freddy Canteen (1 catch, 45 yards) hype. He doesn’t understand what he’s doing, but he has the physical skills to be very good – and let’s face it, that’s a huge part of playing wide receiver. Canteen will be on the field in some capacity this fall, whether it’s in the slot or on the outside. Even if he doesn’t start, he’ll play. Devin Funchess (1 catch, 10 yards) had some drops but we’ve seen him succeed in the past. He will probably continue to suffer from lapses in his concentration. Braylon Edwards had the same issue . . . until he was a senior. Funchess will be good when it’s time to shine. Bo Dever (2 catches, 34 yards) had a couple nice catches, and he looks like a guy who could play situationally, but I’m not going to go overboard with what we saw out of him. I’d take him over Jeremy Jackson, though. Jehu Chesson (2 catches, 29 yards) is a good complementary receiver who can hurt you if you forget about him, and he’s a very aggressive blocker. Dennis Norfleet can make some plays with the ball in his hands, but Canteen is already a better option in the slot. If the Wolverines go four wide, I wouldn’t mind seeing Canteen and Norfleet working in the slots.
Tight ends. Keith Heitzman looks like he’s ready to play at tight end this year after switching from defensive end. He and A.J. Williams are too slow to be receiving threats unless there’s some misdirection or a broken play, but they are what they are. Wyatt Shallman was working with the tight ends, which is where I expect him to play – as a tight end or H-back.
Offensive line. Michigan is in a world of hurt on the offensive line right now. I think it’s going to be another fairly ugly season, although I doubt it will be as bad as last year. They need Chad Lindsay, the transfer center from Alabama, in the worst way. I still believe the offensive line will develop in the coming years because there’s too much talent for that not to happen, but it’s not happening yet. Michigan needs Erik Magnuson back on the left side. Mason Cole was the starting left tackle, and he didn’t look any worse than the other guys . . . but that in itself is a problem. I do think Kyle Kalis has taken a step forward at right guard. I didn’t like what I saw out of Logan Tuley-Tillman (who has been limited due to a wrist injury). In a reversal of last year, I think the interior might be better than the tackles this spring, although Magnuson’s return should help. In my opinion, Michigan’s best five (not counting Lindsay) right now are Magnuson, Bosch, Glasgow, Kalis, and Braden, from left to right.
Hit the jump for my thoughts on the defense.
Defensive ends. I don’t like the idea of Brennen Beyer playing strongside end in an Under defense, so I hope Michigan sticks with an Over when he’s in the game. I would prefer to see a bigger body in there at the 5-tech if we’re going to run Under (such as Henry Poggi, Taco Charlton, Frank Clark, etc.). I don’t want to take too much away from Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia, who handled Michigan’s tackles pretty well – they should be doing that to the guys Michigan is throwing out there right now.
Defensive tackles. The defensive tackles are going to be just fine this year if everyone is healthy. There’s a lot of talent on the inside between Ondre Pipkins, Willie Henry, Bryan Mone, Chris Wormley, etc. I’m still not a fan of Ryan Glasgow, so I hope some other guys get a fire lit under their butts. The coaches want him to be Rob Renes, but he’s not. People keep raving about Mone’s quickness, but I don’t see it yet. He still looks out of shape to me. I still have questions about Matt Godin being able to generate power and stay low enough to be a tackle. Until I see otherwise, I think his height is more suited to play 5-tech in an Under front.
Linebackers. Michigan goes two-deep at every spot, and I wouldn’t be particularly nervous if any of those six guys started. SAM is a better fit for Royce Jenkins-Stone than middle linebacker, so that’s a positive step. He’s a downhill player, not a guy who should be reading and reacting. Ideally, Jake Ryan is a SAM linebacker, too, because he’s lost a few years of development as a read-and-react guy. However, he’s Michigan’s best playmaker at the linebacker position, so I understand the desire to put him in the middle. I do have a slight preference for Desmond Morgan over Joe Bolden at WILL, but Bolden got the start. Bolden is a better athlete, but Morgan is more physical, more cerebral, and more experienced at this point.
Cornerbacks. The hype about Jourdan Lewis (2 interceptions) appears to be well deserved, and I really liked him coming out of high school. Last year he looked tiny, but he looks more put together this year. It’s going to be really interesting seeing how the defensive backfield shakes out. Blake Countess was an All-Big Ten corner last year with 6 picks, so there’s no way he gets pushed to the bench by Lewis. The more likely event, in my opinion, is that we’ll see Raymon Taylor get knocked to the bench, only to play in nickel situations. Taylor isn’t as gutsy as Lewis in man coverage situations. Despite being small-ish, Lewis thrives in press man coverage. You could see that last year and in his seven-on-seven performances in high school. I don’t think Stribling has what it takes to see the field a ton this year unless something happens. But Michigan currently has three starter-quality cornerbacks, and that’s not counting incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers, who will probably reach that level by the end of the year.
Safeties. Jarrod Wilson has one spot locked down. The other spot looks to be a battle between Delano Hill and Jeremy Clark. I’ve seen people talk about Hill’s superior speed, but I don’t see it. Clark looks to have more range than Hill, in my opinion. I’m still waiting to see Dymonte Thomas do something special, but he looks more like a slot corner to me. I wish Michigan had enough depth at safety to keep Thomas in the slot, even though that would saturate the corner position even more. I’ve always liked Wilson’s potential, so hopefully the brain farts disappear now that he’s looked at as a leader. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see Countess or Peppers playing some safety by the end of the year.