Spring Football Preview: Running Backs and Fullbacks

Tag: spring football

24Feb 2016
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Spring Football Preview: Running Backs and Fullbacks

De'Veon Smith 733x

De’Veon Smith

Projected RB starter: Senior De’Veon Smith. Smith is not the most dynamic back, but he does possess the toughness Jim Harbaugh wants in a running back. Last season he led the team in rushing yards (753) and touchdowns (6), despite having the lowest yards per carry on the team (4.18). However, he did end the season on a strong note with 25 carries for 109 yards against a pretty good Florida defense.

Departures: Rising senior Derrick Green decided to transfer, although his destination is not yet known. Florida is one possibility, where former Michigan offensive coordinator holds the same position. Green was the team’s sixth-leading rusher last season. Redshirt junior Ross Taylor-Douglas managed just 1.8 yards/carry last year and announced that he would be transferring to Rutgers.

Hit the jump for more.

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23Feb 2016
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Spring Football Preview: Quarterbacks

John O'Korn 725x

John O’Korn

Projected starter: Redshirt junior John O’Korn. The buzz from last year suggested that O’Korn would have been starting over Jake Rudock if not for the fact that Rudock had the slight advantage of being eligible to play. The 6’4″, 220 lb. O’Korn is bigger, possesses a stronger arm, and is perhaps a little more athletic than Rudock. We have yet to see O’Korn do anything in a Michigan uniform, so this spring will be exciting.

Departures from last year: Rudock (64% completions, 3017 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs) started every game last season but graduated and is trying to slip into the NFL Draft. Redshirt freshman Zach Gentry is transitioning to tight end.

Backup battle: The battle to be #2 is wide-open. Last year’s primary backup was Wilton Speight, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall. Speight had one good series when he led the team to a game-winning touchdown against Minnesota, but otherwise, he did not instill observers with much confidence (36% completions, 1 TD, 1 INT altogether). The coaching staff openly admitted that they were trying to redshirt Shane Morris, but Jim Harbaugh also said that Speight legitimately passed up Morris on the depth chart a few weeks into the season. We have heard standard off-season rumblings about Morris improving, maturing, etc., but those stories rarely seem to come to fruition. Redshirt freshman Alex Malzone started for one of the spring game squads last April, but he’s not on the same level physically as Speight or Morris, and he’s less experienced. True freshman Brandon Peters enrolled early in January. He’s the highest touted recruit of the whole group, but he’s just a pup; the last time we saw him, he was going 4/16 in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He’s probably bound for a redshirt this year.

#1 thing to watch: If O’Korn isn’t the starter in the fall, it will be a major surprise. So I’m most interested to see who the #2 guy is coming out of the spring. Speight wasn’t very good as a backup last year, but Morris has been pretty lousy in more extended playing time during his career. At some point during the season, the backup typically has to come in during at least one important moment. If Morris is #3 on the depth chart after the spring, I would not be surprised to see him transfer, even though he said he wanted to remain at Michigan next year.

23Feb 2016
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Projected Spring 2016 Depth Chart: Offense

John O'Korn 725x

John O’Korn

Based on last season’s performances and off-season rumblings, here’s a look at how the depth chart could look this spring.

QB: John O’Korn (RS Jr.), Wilton Speight (RS So.), Shane Morris (RS Jr.), Alex Malzone (RS Fr.), Brandon Peters (Fr.)
Scoop: According to some, O’Korn would have been starting over Jake Rudock if he had been eligible last season. Regardless, O’Korn is the most experienced player coming back and has performed better than anyone else when on the field. He’s the odds-on bet to be the starter this fall. Word was that Speight passed up Morris in the middle of last season. Malzone starts out ahead of Peters just because he has an extra year in the system, although Peters has higher long-term upside.

Hit the jump for the rest of the offense.

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20Feb 2016
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Random Saturday Thoughts

Gentry Morris Rudockx

Zach Gentry, Shane Morris, and Jake Rudock

Jim Harbaugh did a signing at The M Den yesterday, and some news bits came out of it. Because this time of year is slow, I’ll recap some of the bits and share my thoughts:

  • Harbaugh said that QB Zach Gentry is now TE Zach Gentry. It was always thought that Gentry could play tight end, but he was a highly ranked quarterback, too. I think a move from quarterback to tight end for Gentry – who was getting decent practice reviews – indicates that Harbaugh is pretty comfortable with John O’Korn, Brandon Peters, and others in the quarterback pipeline. If the prevailing thought holds, it has O’Korn starting in 2016 and 2017, and then perhaps Peters taking over as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. If Gentry were to stay at QB and succeed O’Korn, that would possibly have Peters waiting until his fifth year senior year to take the job. Things rarely work that cleanly, and not many highly touted guys want to wait five years to play. It’s a good idea to spread out the talent and get your best athletes on the field.
  • TE Khalid Hill is getting a chance to be FB Khalid Hill. The redshirt junior is not a great fit for fullback at 6’2″, 270 lbs. and with little experience carrying the ball, but he does provide a body at the fullback position that is severely depleted with seniors Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma graduating. I am more fond of the idea of playing tailback De’Veon Smith in the role that Houma held (part-time FB, part-time TB), but Hill is a talented pass-catcher and this would give Michigan a chance to get another starter-quality player on the field. There is a logjam at the tight end position, so it’s not a bad idea to spread those players out.
  • LT Mason Cole is going to be working at center this spring. Cole played some center last spring, but snapping the ball was an issue. He will presumably be a little further along this spring. Someone needs to step up at center, and it seems that the coaching staff isn’t pinning their hopes on redshirt junior Patrick Kugler. As of right now, the line looks like it will probably be: LT Grant Newsome, LG Ben Braden, C Mason Cole, RG Kyle Kalis, RT Erik Magnuson. However, there are rumors that a further shakeup could take place before the season.
  • Michigan will hold its spring game on the evening of April 1, 2016, which is a Friday. It will begin at 6:00 p.m. There is some grumbling that out-of-towners will not be able to make it to town, that it will be cold as the sun goes down, etc. Compared to other schools’ spring games, Michigan’s has not been anything special for a while. Maybe there isn’t even a need to make a glorified spring practice “special.” Regardless, it’s not the worst idea in the world to try something different. If out-of-towners are so dedicated that they’re grumbling about the time, then they probably won’t mind taking a day/half-day off of work to see the “game.”
  • The first spring practice will be held on February 29th.
5Mar 2015
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Spring Practice Bits and Pieces

Drake Harris

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.