Video: First spring practice

Tag: spring football

13Mar 2013
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Spring Practice Preview: Defense

Jake Ryan led the team in tackles as a redshirt sophomore

The strongside end is perhaps the biggest question mark on the team this spring, at least from a fan’s perspective.  Craig Roh graduated, and there are backups, potential position-switchers, and redshirt freshmen all vying for the vacated spot.  Will it be last year’s primary backup, redshirt freshman Keith Heitzman (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss)?  Will it be senior Jibreel Black (20 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks), who played 3-tech defensive tackle last year?  Will it be a junior position-switcher from weakside end, Brennen Beyer (19 tackles) or Frank Clark (25 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)?  Will it be one of the redshirt freshmen, Chris Wormley or Tom Strobel?  Heitzman seems like a good fit if Ryan Van Bergen and Roh are the prototypes, but we have yet to see Wormley or Strobel on the field.  The weakside end spot seems a little easier to sort out.  Clark is too much of a playmaker – and not disciplined enough – to be a candidate for SDE, making him likely to stick at weakside end.  Sophomore Mario Ojemudia should be bigger by now, and he made a few nice plays last season.
Others to watch: Redshirt freshman Matt Godin hasn’t created much buzz, but he’s a big body who has the size to play the SDE spot.  Freshman early enrollee Taco Charlton is tall, long, and pretty lean, but he’s also very raw.

One starter is almost certain, and that’s fifth year senior Quinton Washington (32 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack).  Other prognostications are murky.  The second-best defensive tackle might be sophomore Ondre Pipkins (7 tackles), but he was overweight last year and seems best suited for Washington’s nose tackle spot.  Black and redshirt freshman Willie Henry would both be capable of playing the 3-tech position, and Wormley could end up there, too, if he’s not playing strongside end.
Others to watch: Redshirt juniors Richard Ash and Ken Wilkins have been mired on the bench mostly and totally, respectively.  It’s tough to see either one garnering a ton of playing time this year, since both were surpassed by an out-of-shape Pipkins.  Heitzman and Godin could also see some reps at 3-tech.

The strongside linebacker position is locked down by redshirt junior Jake Ryan (88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), and his backup is pretty solid in the form of fifth year senior Cam Gordon (17 tackles, 3 tackles for loss).  The inside linebacker spots will be filled by two of three guys.  My guess is that junior Desmond Morgan (81 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) will move from weakside linebacker to the middle, while sophomore James Ross (36 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) steps in at WILL.  Sophomore Joe Bolden (30 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack) is the other viable candidate at MIKE, and he also has the skills to be a backup at SAM.
Others to watch: Fifth year senior Mike Jones has been a backup his entire career, and that probably won’t change. Redshirt sophomore Antonio Poole sat out last season with an upper body muscle injury.  Sophomore Royce Jenkins-Stone is behind a couple good ones at MIKE, and redshirt freshman Kaleb Ringer missed the season due to a knee injury.  When the spring roster is released, don’t be surprised if some defections from this group are made known.

The biggest question isn’t so much about the talent at the position, but about whether redshirt sophomore Blake Countess is healthy after tearing his ACL in the season opener against Alabama.  Countess was good as a freshman in 2011 – with an occasional lapse – and should reach that level again with modern medicinal practices, but it might be too early to go hard for spring practices.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the coaches hold him out of contact drills.  The other outside spot appears to be junior Raymon Taylor’s (45 tackles, 2 interceptions) to lose, and the nickel corner position has belonged to senior Courtney Avery (19 tackles, 2 tackles for loss) for the past couple seasons.  All three are returning starters if you count Countess from prior to his injury.
Others to watch: Junior Delonte Hollowell and sophomore Terry Richardson both played sparingly in 2012; both are small-ish and seem destined for nickel corner, field corner, or maybe just special teams play. One of the freshman early enrollees, Ross Douglas, was recruited to play nickel corner, too, but all of these guys may bounce around and play multiple positions because of low numbers.

One of the starting safeties will be fifth year senior Thomas Gordon (81 tackles, 2 interceptions); the question is, Which one?  The departure of Jordan Kovacs leaves a void at strong safety, and Gordon’s tackling, size, and speed make him a better fit at that spot than free safety.  Meanwhile, the other safety to earn significant playing time last season was rising sophomore Jarrod Wilson (8 tackles), who had his share of troubles, as young safeties often do.  Wilson is a 6’2″ ball hawk and fits better at free safety.  It would seem to make sense that Gordon moves to SS and Wilson gets inserted at the FS spot.  Also in the mix are senior Marvin Robinson and true freshman early enrollee Dymonte Thomas, and I could see a scenario in which Gordon/Wilson are the free safeties and Robinson/Thomas are the strong safeties.
Others to watch: Redshirt junior Josh Furman (8 tackles) hasn’t shown much in spring practices past or in limited playing time.  Redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark has the size and speed to be a good one at free safety, and classmate Allen Gant is more of an in-the-box strong safety; both seem to be a little ways down the pecking order right now.

12Mar 2013
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Spring Practice Preview: Offense

It’s time to see what the Inkster product can do leading Michigan’s football team.

Redshirt junior Devin Gardner is the clear front-runner for the quarterback job.  After Denard Robinson got hurt against Nebraska, Gardner started the next five games, going 75/126 for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.  Michigan appears to have a “franchise” type quarterback, but what will Michigan’s offense look like with him fully entrenched at the position?  Gardner is better from under center than Robinson ever was, so the I-formation stuff should be more prevalent.  He can still run the shotgun passing stuff, but he’s not a downhill runner in the same way that allowed Robinson to run for 1,000+ yards the past few seasons.
Others to watch: The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster for the spring is redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy.

With Fitzgerald Toussaint injured, Vincent Smith off to his post-college career, and Derrick Green not arriving until summer, the pickings will be slim this spring.  This should be Michigan fans’ first chance to see redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, who earned some praise from Brady Hoke around bowl time.  He has good size and speed, but that doesn’t always translate to success.  Junior Thomas Rawls (57 carries, 242 yards, 4 touchdowns) and redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes (18 carries, 83 yards, 1 touchdown) earned some carries, but neither one did much with his opportunities.
Others to watch: Sophomore Dennis Norfleet has moved back to running back after a short stint at corner for the Outback Bowl.  Sophomore Sione Houma and redshirt sophomore Joey Kerridge will fight for the fullback spot.

In the five games that Gardner started at quarterback, fifth year senior Jeremy Gallon had 31 receptions for 511 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He looks to be the top receiver in 2013, but there’s plenty of room for others to emerge.  Two other seniors return in Drew Dileo (22 catches, 331 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Jeremy Jackson (4 catches, 31 yards), the former of which is a jack-of-all-trades, the latter a lumbering possession receiver.  Then there’s sophomore Amara Darboh, who played but was never targeted, and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson.  Since Dileo appears to be nothing more than a complementary receiver, it would be good for Gardner and the Michigan offense to find another reliable target between Darboh and Chesson.
Others to watch: Fifth year senior walk-on Joe Reynolds (3 catches, 22 yards) worked his way into the rotation last season and has decent quickness.

Sophomore Devin Funchess (15 catches, 234 yards, 5 touchdowns) should have playing time locked up at the U-back position.  Fellow sophomore A.J. Williams is a mammoth tight end who’s more of a blocker.  The wild card in the mix is freshman Jake Butt, who enrolled early and is physically developed enough to play as a freshman.  Williams isn’t much of a target downfield, so if Gardner can work out some chemistry with Butt in the spring (and summer), Michigan should have a nice 1-2 punch of receiving tight ends between Funchess and Butt.
Others to watch: Redshirt junior Jordan Paskorz has played in just one game (on special teams against UMass) during his three seasons, and the rest of the guys on the roster are young-ish walk-ons with little experience; the best of those is redshirt junior Dylan Esterline.

The two sure starters are the bookend, fifth-year senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.  Between those two will be any combination of about a dozen other players, because the three interior starters graduated.  Redshirt freshman all-everything guard Kyle Kalis will probably step in at one guard spot.  That leaves the other two spots up for grabs between redshirt sophomore Jack Miller, redshirt junior walk-on Joey Burzynski, redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, and redshirt freshman Ben Braden; the former two will probably vie for the center spot, while the latter two will fight for the right guard position.  None of them have played extensively, and if either Bryant or Braden starts the season, it will be his first ever game experience.  In the long term, Braden will probably end up at right tackle, so you could see Schofield and Braden flip if the coaches aren’t confident in Braden’s ability to pull.
Others to watch: Redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson will have every chance to succeed Lewan at left tackle, and classmate Blake Bars has practiced at both center and guard.  Both appear to be at least a year away from playing significant time.  True freshman Kyle Bosch has apparently impressed people with his size and work in the weight room as an early enrollee, but he’s very young; if the coaches wouldn’t play Kalis as a freshman, they probably won’t play Bosch, either, unless injuries occur.  But it will still be interesting to see how Bosch fares in the glorified practice.

23Apr 2012
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Video: Notre Dame spring game highlights 2012

Check out George Atkinson III, who has a couple amazing runs here in Notre Dame’s spring game.  He only had 9 carries for 27 yards (3.0 yards per carry) as a true freshman in 2011, but if he can play like this during the upcoming season, he and starter Cierre Wood will be a nice backfield combo there in South Bend.