In the throes of spring practice, bits and pieces are leaking out. Here are some things to note that you may or may not have heard already.
The quarterbacks are a mixed bag. Various reports have suggested various things. Some people will tell you that Shane Morris looks the best. However, there’s more chatter about Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone. The buzz on Malzone is that he’s picking things up very quickly, which is impressive for a freshman early enrollee.
Jabrill Peppers is good and loud. Peppers is playing safety, and he has been raved about with regard to his athleticism and leadership. There will probably be growing pains, but Michigan hasn’t had a great athlete at safety in a while. Furthermore, senior linebacker Joe Bolden says that Peppers screams the defensive calls louder than necessary. The kid is high-energy and loves the game of football. Michigan has the potential for their best safety combination in a long time with senior Jarrod Wilson and Peppers back there.
Chase Winovich is working at fullback/tight end. The redshirt freshman, who is listed at 6’3″ and 230 lbs., has reportedly been playing some fullback and tight end this spring after being recruited as a linebacker. You may remember that he was a very effective running quarterback in high school, in addition to his defensive exploits. With the Wolverines failing to reel in Chris Clark (UCLA) in the 2015 class, the tight end position is a little thin. And with senior fullback Sione Houma missing spring practice due to injury, the team is limited there, too. Add in the fact that both of Michigan’s experienced fullbacks – Houma and Joe Kerridge – are seniors, and maybe Winovich’s move to offense will become permanent. He has supposedly been wearing #44, which is a change from his defensive number of #58. The catch here is that it thins the linebacking corps, which has four players with senior eligibility in 2015 (Desmond Morgan, James Ross III, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone) and needs bodies in the coming years. If Winovich sticks on offense, that might take away a key option for the 2016 season.
Brady Pallante is also a fullback. This was addressed last week. He’s a 6’0″, 276 lb. fullback wearing #45.
Everybody is a fullback. Except Terry Richardson.
The guys are bigger. Pretty much across the board, players have added weight. In particular, defensive tackle Willie Henry is up to 311 lbs. and Bryan Mone is up to 325 lbs. Those are not typically the numbers you look for in a penetrating, 3-tech defensive tackle. I would look for those two guys to be playing some nose tackle. Furthermore, there are some other size improvements with offensive tackle Logan Tuley-Tillman up to 309 lbs. and guard Graham Glasgow reaching 303 lbs. Tuley-Tillman was over 330 lbs. in high school, trimmed down to 285 at one point, and is now back up over the 300 lb. threshold. Linebackers Mike McCray II (242 lbs.), Ben Gedeon (241 lbs.), and Royce Jenkins-Stone (240 lbs.) are all larger than the typical Michigan linebacker over the last few years.
Practice tempo has increased. The practice tactic that’s en vogue these days is to maximize reps. Reports have said that Michigan has two lineups going in practice, and a play is being run every 25-35 seconds. Rather than making corrections on the field, corrections are made in film. This has been made easier in recent years with film able to be disseminated over the internet through Hudl and the like. It’s especially big for spread teams who like to run hurry-up, anyway. It’s not surprising that Harbaugh is adopting spread strategies even though he won’t run a typical spread offense; he seems to be the type of coach who is always looking for an edge.
Running back is still a question mark. While I believe the running game will improve this season, a number of factors go into that – coaching, experience on the offensive line, experience at running back, and the addition of Ty Isaac. However, Isaac has reportedly been limited due to a cast on his hand, and none of the running backs are sticking out right now. Of course, early practices are always dominated by the defense, so this doesn’t necessarily mean much. Personally, I believe Isaac will come out on top at some point.
Wide receivers have promise. Most of the buzz has been about redshirt freshman Maurice Ways, Jr., whose body is ready for playing at this level. One question mark about Ways has always been his hands, so that will be something to watch. Regardless, he might have the best combination of receiving qualities at this point – size, leaping ability, speed, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, he has some of those same traits that we saw in some of the greats of yesteryear (Marquis Walker, David Terrell, Braylon Edwards). That’s not to say Ways will add his name to that list, but he at least has a chance, in my opinion. Fellow redshirt freshman Drake Harris has also been impressive at times. Harris has missed most of the past two seasons due to injuries, and he’s listed at just 174 lbs. People express concern about his size, but I am not worried about that facet of his game. If he’s as good as his high school hype when it comes to speed and leaping ability, playing under weight won’t hamper him from having an effect on the team. Wide receiver size is overrated. It might be the one spot on the field where you find successful guys ranging from 5’8″ to 6’5″, and you have skinny guys (Roy Roundtree, Tavon Austin, DeSean Jackson) doing well just like big guys (Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Devin Funchess). If Harris is 6’4″, 174 lbs., and can ball, the most important part of that is the third part.