Nothing But ‘Net – Week #26 – 04/22/2013 – Season Wrap-Up, Final Grades, Looking Ahead

Season Wrap-Up

 

The season is over for the 2012-2013 University of Michigan men’s basketball team, and it was a good one. If the last 10 minutes of the National Championship game in the NCAA Tournament had played out a little better, it would have been an exceptional season, but it was still a good season. Michigan had the youngest team in the tournament, but they managed to make it to the championship game. They ended up with a final record of 31-8, 12-6 in the Big Ten.

 

Looking back on the season, UM won almost every “should win” game (12-1), won most of the “toss up” games (18-3), but lost almost all of the “should lose” games (1-4):

 

  • “Should win” games – The only game that Michigan lost that they should have won was The Debacle in State College, when they lost (84-78) to a lousy Penn State team that was previously winless (0-14) in the Big Ten. This was one of the most embarrassing losses in Michigan basketball history.
  • “Toss up” games – Michigan lost 3 “toss up” games:
  • “Should lose”games – Michigan faced several “should lose” games, and they lost 4 of them:
    • At Ohio State. Michigan lost by 3 points (56-53), with a chance to tie it at the buzzer.
    • At Indiana.
    • At Wisconsin. Michigan had this one wrapped up, but Wisconsin hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, where Michigan fell apart.
    • At Michigan State. This was Michigan’s only double-digit loss of the season.

    The only “should lose” game that Michigan won was at Minnesota.

 

The theme this season was “redemption”. For several of those losses, there was a matching win later in the season with a striking similarity:

 

  • After Michigan blew a 15-point lead with 10:22 to go in the Debacle in State College, they got a shot at redemption when they played Penn State again in the 1st round of the Big Ten Tournament. They got to exactly the same situation (15-point lead with 10:22 to go), and finished the game strong, increasing their final margin of victory.
  • After Michigan blew a 5-point lead in the last 52 seconds of the Indiana game in Ann Arbor, they got a chance at redemption, but not against the Hoosiers. Instead, they found themselves down 5 points with 52 seconds left against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, and they managed to force overtime, then win it.
  • After Michigan missed a 3-pointer to tie the game at Ohio State, and saw a long 3-pointer go in against them at Wisconsin, they got a shot at redemption in the Kansas game, and they hit the long 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, where Michigan eventually won it.
  • After getting trounced in East Lansing, Michigan got a measure of redemption by beating MSU in Ann Arbor in the final minute, then going much further in the NCAA Tournament than MSU did.

 

Unfortunately, there were no more games left to get redemption for the last 10 minutes of the National Championship game. Maybe next season.

 

Final Grades

 

Here are the final grades for all the players, along with their mid-term grades, which were given out after the non-conference portion of the schedule was completed, but before Big Ten play started:

 

Freshman Eligibility

 

Spike Albrecht – B (Mid-term = B)

For the first 38 games of the season, Spike’s main contribution was giving Trey Burke a rest for 6-8 minutes per game, but he was just a “placeholder”. Then came the 1st half of the National Championship game, when he tossed in 17 points to single-handedly keep Michigan in the game. Which Spike Albrecht will we see next season? Who knows…

 

Max Bielfeldt – B- (Mid-term = B-)

Max had minor injury problems early in the season, and he only played in 20 of the 39 games. When he was in, he looked solid, if unspectacular. He’s a strong kid, and he knows where the ball is going, so he gets a fair share of the rebounds while he’s on the floor. He’s not much of a scoring threat, but he was a pretty good post defender.

 

Caris LeVert – B (Mid-term = B)

For the first 6 games of the season, it looked like Caris was going to be redshirted, then he played in the Bradley game, and every game since. He has a nice 3-point stroke, he’s fast, he’s athletic, and he has good “court vision”. He could still stand to put on a few pounds of solid muscle over the summer.

 

Mitch McGary – A- (Mid-term = B)

Mitch was the 6th man for most of season, with just a couple of starts, then came the NCAA Tournament. Mitch started all 6 tournament games, and he had an awesome tournament, except for a decent-but-not-great game in the National Championship game. He brings a lot of energy to the game, he’s pretty good at using his size and bulk underneath, and he runs the floor pretty well. He thought about going to the NBA after the season, but decided to stay, probably for just one more year.

 

Glenn Robinson III – B+ (Mid-term = A-)

It’s funny: Glenn is an exciting, dynamic player, with the best dunks on the team, but after every game we always said that his points were “quiet points” that sneak up on you. As advertised out of high school, he is VERY athletic, with great speed and leaping ability. He also showed a better-than-expected touch from 3-point range, and he was a solid defender. He did disappear in a few crucial games, but he still had an excellent freshman season. Like Mitch McGary, he thought about going to the NBA after the season, but decided to stay, probably for just one more year.

 

Nik Stauskas – B (Mid-term = A)

After the non-conference portion of the schedule, Nik was the star of the freshman class. In fact, at that point he was one of the best 3-point shooters in all of college basketball. Unfortunately, once the Big Ten season started, he cooled off considerably. The defenses in the Big Ten knew how to handle a sharpshooting guard, and they made it a lot harder to get a clean shot off. He had a mediocre NCAA Tournament, except for the Florida game, where he was amazing. If he could have hit a few more of his open 3-pointers in the Louisville game, UM might have won it all. If he can regain his early-season form next season, and maintain it for the Big Ten schedule, he will be a very valuable player on next season’s team.

 

Sophomore Eligibility

 

Trey Burke – A+ (Mid-term = A+)

I don’t give out many A+ grades, but Trey deserves it. He was easily the best player in all of college basketball this season, and he swept all the national Player Of The Year awards. He led the team in scoring (18.6 points/game), assists (260 – a new single-season school record), steals (62), and minutes played (35.3 minutes/game). He did it all, and he often put the team on his back and carried them, especially at the end of big games. His clutch performance in the Kansas game in the NCAA Tournament was one for the ages, including “The Shot” – a 30-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Unfortunately, Trey is now good enough to take his game to the NBA, where he’ll certainly be a Top 10 draft pick. We’ll miss him, and we wish him well.

 

Jon Horford – B- (Mid-term = B)

Jon missed a few games due to injury, but when he was in, he played well. He has a spring/bounce to his step that few other players have. He showed a real talent for blocking shots and playing tough defense. His offensive game is a little behind.

 

Junior Eligibility

 

Tim Hardaway Jr. – A- (Mid-term = A-)

When Tim was good, he was very good, but when he was having an “off” game, he disappeared. Still, he was the 2nd leading scorer on the team (14.5 points/game), and the 3rd leading rebounder (4.7 rebounds/game). Like Trey Burke, his game is good enough to take it to the next level, and he has decided to enter the NBA Draft. As with Trey, we wish Tim all the best.

 

Blake McLimans – C- (Mid-term = C-)

Blake didn’t play during his freshman year, so he’s a redshirt junior, with one year of eligibility left. Apparently, he’s not going to be back next season. I like Blake, and I really wanted to see him succeed, but when he was in the game, he just didn’t deliver. He only got in during “garbage time”, which is a shame.

 

Jordan Morgan – B- (Mid-term = B+)

Jordan was having a solid season, mostly as a defensive specialist, until he sprained his ankle in the game at Illinois. From that point on, he had a hard time regaining his form. When he recovered from the injury enough to play a few minutes per game, he played very tentatively. He eventually regained his starting spot, but failed to deliver, and was replaced by Mitch McGary in the starting lineup for the NCAA Tournament games. I hope he can regain his confidence for next season.

 

Senior Eligibility

 

Eso Akunne – C- (Mid-term = C)

Eso didn’t play much, mostly in “garbage time”, and when he was in there, he had a tendency to fire up 3-pointers every chance he got.

 

Josh Bartelstein – Inc. (Mid-term = Inc.)

Josh has only played in 6 games (10 minutes) all season, and he failed to score on 1 field goal and 2 free throw attempts. He injured his ankle, and that cost him a few chances to get in the games. He was the captain of the team, and his leadership skills were fine. He also wrote a few entertaining blog for the last 3 years.

 

Corey Person – Inc. (Mid-term = Inc.)

Corey played in 10 games this season, but all of it was in “garbage time”. He did score 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

 

Matt Vogrich – C- (Mid-term = C-)

Matt started the season as a starter, and gave it his best effort, but Nik Stauskas was playing too well to keep him on the bench instead of starting him. Since he was relegated to the bench, Matt did less and less with the few minutes he managed to get on the floor, and ended up playing during “garbage time”. It’s a shame, because he can shoot 3-pointers almost as well as Stauskas, but he seems to have lost his touch.

 

Looking Ahead

 

Ah, recruiting, my old friend. If you look back over the last 14+ years’ worth of articles, you’ll see that I don’t talk much about recruiting or incoming players, except for the “Looking Ahead” section of the last article of each season. There are a few reasons for that:

 

  1. It’s hard to evaluate high school players based on 2nd hand reports and choppy videoclips. Just about any high school player can be made to look like the next coming of Michael Jordan in “hype” videos.
  2. It’s hard to tell how good a high school player is going to be in college by seeing how he does against high school players. There is such a wide variation in skill levels of the opponents.
  3. Not every player who commits to a given college program actually ends up on the roster for the first real game. Players decommit, get injured, or quit basketball. I don’t count on a player until I actually see him on the floor for the first real game.
  4. I need to see a player in person, in a real game, before I can form a well-considered opinion. The exhibition games barely count. Garbage time of a real game barely counts.

 

That said, it’s time to look ahead at next season’s roster. There are big changes in store, since 4 players with senior eligibility (Akunne, Bartelstein, Person, and Vogrich) and 1 player with junior eligibility (McLimans) are leaving, and 2 more players (Burke and Hardaway) are entering the NBA Draft. That’s 7 players lost from this season’s roster. Fortunately, there are 3 very good incoming freshmen to help fill the void:

 

  • Mark Donnal – 6’9″, 225 pounds, forward. Mark is described as a power forward, but in the Beilein system that probably means “center”. However, Mark isn’t a true “back to the basket” center, and he has a decent 3-point shot. With all the depth at “big man” next year (Morgan, Bielfeldt, Horford, and McGary), he might be a good redshirt candidate.
  • Zak Irvin – 6’6″, 185 pounds, forward. Zak is listed as a shooting forward, so think “wing”. Think “Tim Hardaway, Jr.”, but with a better 3-point shot. Zak was “Mr. Basketball” and the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Indiana.
  • Derrick Walton – 6’0″, 165 pounds, guard. Derrick is a point guard, but he’s a “shooting point guard”, as opposed to an “assist point guard”. He’s got a great outside shot, and he can take the ball to the basket and convert.

 

Now, Walton may be an excellent high school point guard, but there’s no way he’s going to step right in and replace Trey Burke. There’s bound to be some letdown, and there’s bound to be a learning curve. Yet, I’m confident that somehow Coach Beilein will patch together minutes from Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton to replace 75% – 85% of Trey’s contributions (points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks).

 

Likewise, Zak Irvin isn’t going to instantly step in and make us forget Tim Hardaway, Jr. He may in fact be a better shooter and scorer, but he’s still an incoming freshman. However, Coach Beilein proved to us all this season that he can get a lot of production out of a young team, and he’ll have to do it again next season. Fortunately, he’s got a lot of talented players to work with.

 

Check back here again next season, the week before the first game, for a season preview.

 

Go Blue!

Michigan vs. MSU – The National Championship Comparison – 04/21/2013

After a 3 year gap with no national championships for Michigan, they have now won 2 in the last 3 weeks. Three weeks ago (03/30/2013), the men’s swimming and diving team won the national championship, and yesterday (04/20/2013) the men’s gymnastics team won another one. That’s 2 national championships in 4 years for the men’s gymnastics team, since they won it all in 2010. That’s also 55 total team national championships for the University of Michigan.

 

Here’s the complete list since 1989:

 

National Championships Since 1989

 

Sport

UM

MSU

Advantage

Basketball

1989

2000

Even

Football

1997

UM

Hockey

1996, 1998

2007

UM

Men’s Swimming & Diving

1995. 2013

UM+2

Men’s Gymnastics

1999, 2010, 2013

UM+3

Totals

9

2

UM+7

 

By the way, just for comparison, MSU has won a total of 26 national championships in school history, less than half as many as UM.


Nothing But ‘Net – Week #25 – 04/15/2013 – So Close, Again

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played in the National Championship game in the NCAA Tournament on Monday (04/08/2013), and they came close to winning it all, but fell just a few points short. They lost to the #1 seed in the Midwest Region (and #1 seed overall in the tournament), Louisville, 82-76, in the Georgia Dome. The loss leaves Michigan with a final record of 31-8.

I have mixed feelings about the game, and the season. On the one hand, I’m very proud of the team and how hard they played to get to the Championship Game, but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that they couldn’t seal the deal. If you look back over the last 14 years of articles, you’ll see that I very seldom blame a loss on poor officiating, and I’m trying hard to avoid that in this case, but it’s difficult. Let’s just say that the refs “let them play”, and that Louisville was quicker to take advantage of the situation. Let’s also say that one controversial call (see below) could have changed the final outcome, and it went against Michigan. I’m not saying that that one call would have resulted in a UM win, but I am saying that the (incorrect) call did make it next to impossible for Michigan to win. Sigh.

It was a game of runs in the 1st half. Michigan led from the opening tip, and built up a nice little 7-point lead (20-13) with 12:05 left in the half. Louisville cut it to 3 (20-17) in the next minute, then Michigan went on their best run of the night: 13-4 over the next 7 minutes, to make it a 12-point lead (33-21) with 3:56 minutes left in the half. That’s when the roof fell in: Louisville went on a 16-3 run to take their only lead of the half, 37-36, with 22 seconds left. Michigan managed to score 2 points in the last 22 seconds, and clung to a 1-point lead (38-37) at halftime.

The 2nd half was tense and close, but once Louisville got the lead back, they never let it go. Michigan managed to stretch their halftime lead up to 4 points (46-42) in the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half, but Louisville went on a 10-1 run, and that was the game. Sure, as close as 2 points (63-61) with 7:57 left, and within 4 points (78-74) with 1:20 left, but they couldn’t get the stops they needed on defense, and they couldn’t hit the big shots they needed on offense. Still, it all came down to one bad call by the officials that made it too hard for Michigan to come back:

The Call. It happened with 5:09 left in the game, and Louisville up by 3 points (67-64). Peyton Siva for Louisville broke away for a dunk, but Trey Burke chased him down, went up with him, and blocked him cleanly. Michigan got the loose ball, and they were headed down court for their own dunk and a chance to cut the lead down to one point, when the officials called a foul on Burke on the blocked shot. Replays from every angle showed that the blocked shot was clean, and the officials blew it, but there’s no review of that kind of play, and Siva hit 2 free throws to put Louisville up by 5 points, instead of 1. That was enough to keep Michigan just far enough behind that they couldn’t catch up. It’s a real shame that one bad call had such a big effect on a great basketball game, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Was the Louisville the better team on Monday night? Probably, but not by much. Did they deserve to win the game? Yeah, but so did Michigan. Was it fair that Louisville won? Not really, but that’s basketball. The refs are human, they make mistakes, and I sure didn’t feel like they were favoring Louisville, they just blew a big call that went Louisville’s way.

The stats show just how close the game was. Michigan shot very well overall (25-for-48 = 52.1%), which was better than Louisville’s percentage (28-for-61 = 45.9%). However, those 3 extra baskets (6 points) on 13 extra shots were the difference in the game. Both teams made exactly the same number of 3-pointers (8-for-18 = 44.4% for Michigan, 8-for-16 = 50.0% for Louisville) and exactly the same number of free-throws (18-for-25 = 72.0% for Michigan, 18-for-23 = 78.3% for Louisville). The big difference came on the boards, where Louisville won the rebounding battle (32-27) and in the turnover battle, where Louisville won 9-12. There are 8 extra possessions for Louisville right there.

Individually, the leading scorer was Burke, with 24 points, and he played a great game, but he did have more turnovers (4) than assists (3) for the first time in a while. He also only played 26 minutes, with foul trouble in the 1st half. When he came out, Spike Albrecht went in, and he had the game of his career. He hit all four of 3-pointer attempts in the 1st half, and ended up with 17 points at halftime. Unfortunately, he was held scoreless in the 2nd half, but it was still an amazing performance.

Two more Michigan players hit double figures, both starters. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III both had 12 points. Unfortunately, it took Tim 13 shots (5-for-13 overall, and 0-for-4 shooting 3-pointers) to score those 12 points.

After going scoreless in the semifinal game vs. Syracuse, Nik Stauskas finally hit a 3-pointer, in the 1st half, but those were his only points. He had a forgettable Final Four weekend.

The big story was Mitch McGary. Mitch had been playing at a very high level through the whole tournament, and his scoring was the “X factor” that could push Michigan past Louisville. It didn’t happen. Mitch played a solid-but-unspectacular game, scoring 6 points on 3-for-6 shooting, but he wasn’t a factor. Bummer.

Remember how the bench helped beat Syracuse on Saturday to put Michigan in the Championship Game? Other than Spike’s 17 points, they weren’t much of a factor either in this game. Jordan Morgan was the only other bench player to score, with 2 points. Jon Horford and Caris LeVert both played, but didn’t score. A little more bench scoring would have really helped in this one.

So, the season is over, and it was a great season and a successful season, but it could have been so much better. Check back here next week for a complete season wrap-up, final grades, and a look ahead to next season.

Go Blue!

M Football 2013-The Usual Great Spring Expectations Are Better Founded in Hoke’s Third Year

Michigan Mott Spring Football “Game”, sponsored by PNC, was played Saturday April 13, 2013-It should be noted this was not a “game” but drills and a glorified scrimmage with spectators. No score is kept. It was the number one offense unit versus the one defensive unit, and the two offense versus the two defense, and drills. The offense started from three zones: Black zone: offense starting on own 20-yard line. Normal zone: starting around own 34-yard line. Red zone: started at opponent’s 20-yard line. An Alumni touch football game with 80 or more distinguished ex-Wolverine footballers provided entertainment on an April Day disguised as a late fall day. There was a small crowd, announced as 18,000. The MVP was B.J. Dickey, who was rewarded (?) with the usual eleven foot high trophy. The announced crowd was 18,000.

It seems that spring always is a time for football optimism. In the past not all of that optimism has proved durable with realities often intruding.

This spring great expectations for Wolverine Football team Number 134 are prevalent. There were a few springs in recent memory that expectations were limited, and at times, even those limited expectations proved elusive of achievement. Now there are but few, if any, echos of problems from the past, as Brady Hoke prepares for his third season as the Wolverines’ head man. A rougher, tougher football team is in the offing. This edition is physically bigger.  Let’s hope that they all handle the off season better than some of them managed last year.  Chances are, they will.

Even with the nasty loss to injury of one of the team’s best defensive players, Jake Ryan, Greg Mattison’s defense is deeper, more physical, and should progress as the season unfolds. One of the best defensive coaching gurus in the country, the experienced Mattison has proved his mettle, and has a great opportunity to produce the best Wolverines defense in the past few seasons. With the loss of Kovacs at strong safety, Thomas Gordon has stepped up. Sophomore LB James Ross III garnered recognition with 8 tackles, and two TFLs, and played all the snaps from start to finish. Saturday, the defense pounded for four sacks, one each, by Jabreel Black, by Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. These are four players that have been noticed all spring. Black is improving and is bigger, Frank Clark is becoming a much more effective player (played with his lower arm in a cast Saturday), Mario Ojemudia is proving himself, and Taco Charlton, an early freshman enrollee, is fast making a name for himself.

The defensive line is a strength. Richard Ash, Jabreel Black, Quinton Washington and Ondre Pipkins are part of an impressive cadre of defensive linemen.  Chris Wormley, a 6’4″ and 290 lb. redshirt freshman returned from injury, is a good example of the depth mentioned below.  Here is what Coach Hoke thinks of them: He has confidence in the front four on defense.. “I think we’ve grown. We’ve got some young kids who have ability, obviously. I think with Greg (Mattison), and his passion and how he teaches it, rushing the passer, I really think the work is being put in. The guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do and what the goal is. We’re better. We’re not near what we can be, and what we will be, but we’re a little better at it.” The defensive line is big, athletic and deep, and may help spare the defensive backfield which has many young players..

Al Borges is now able to build an offense that is more along the lines of power football/West Coast offense, with more snaps under center. Coach Borges must dispel the shadow of last season’s Ohio and Bowl games which drew attention to offensive deficiencies. Some fans were hot over play calling etc. Now he has a QB with a strong arm and good wheels in Devin Gardner, even if the world class legs of Denard Robinson are no longer at his command. While the composition of the offensive line is still unsettled inside, the tackles (Lewan and Schofield) are as good as any in the B1G. Jack Miller has a good shot at the center position, and there are a number of large and talented newcomers that will have a shot at center, and right and left guard. There are plenty of good candidates, big people, and smart footballers in the wings. Not the stockpile that Hoke wants accumulated as yet, but two nice recruiting classes in a row does help.

The question is whether these baby inside road graders can pave the way on the ground as Hoke and Borges want them to do. Will they be able to move the chains on the ground, while the defense rests? Last year the Wolverines produced a relatively meager average of 183.8/ yards in 13 games, which includes Denard’s sometimes prolific running. Running back yardage last year was almost as scarce as Spartans complimenting the Wolverines, and sometime as grudging.

Will the OL pass protect effectively? Saturday it was a mixed bag. You used to be able to easily tell how good an offensive line pass protected by the amount of, or lack of, grass stains on the jersey of the team’s QB. Even with artificial turf you can still measure OL effectiveness in winning records. But this was a no score, OB protected game.  The defense did get to the QB four times.  Does that indicate a great defense or a faulty offensive line? Or neither? Hard to tell.  It will be well into fall camp before all the components of the offensive line are welded together, but there are plenty of practices left. I believe this unit will become one of the team’s strengths but not yet. How soon is a critical question. It is safe to say that they did not dominate the defense in the recently played spring “game”, but did OK, maybe a little above average, maybe a B.

There are a couple of reasons why improvement should be expected. The best offensive lineman, Lewan did not play many snaps, and the offensive scheme was strictly under wraps. Likely the defense has seen this vanilla stuff many times this year. But even sporting mustaches across the front, this OL is still a unit in progress and that is to be expected. Better numbers and talent and good size this season will whip into effectiveness. This year the Blue will have an effective running game, and ability to move the chains, and facilitate play action passing. But they are not there yet. Nor were they expected to be. But pro style offensive football will be back in Ann Arbor.

While the number of running backs in the spring was limited, in the fall Fitz Toussaint will be back, and a couple of freshman will push the current cadre of Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes, Drake Johnson, and Dennis Norfleet. All performed OK in the spring game, but no one grabbed the job. Freshmen Deveon Smith and 5 star recruit Derrick Green will add competition in the fall. It is hoped that Fitz Toussaint will be 100% by fall, and that is looking more and more likely.

Most players on team 134 will successfully jump the hurdles barring success to produce what I expect to be a very good football team by fall. Their skill sets and physiques generally better match Hoke’s preferences than in his prior years as the head man. Hoke always wants “tough guys” and they are practicing more like that all the time. It is a collision sport, and hitting is the name, and sometimes the bane, of the game. But players also get damaged in drills, walking or running, or doing pedestrian things like going up or down stairs. Injury is a part of life as well as football. Successful football teams have to be lucky injury wise. Too many Wolverines have been hurt in the recent past. Some worry that Brady’s emphasis on hitting will cause more.

Hitting is the nature of the game. Injuries have already impacted this year with Kaleb Ringer, Chris Wormley, Blake Countess injured as well as Ryan, Bellomy, and Toussaint. Ringer, Wormley and Countess are back. Countess was dressed, but did not play. Devin Funchess left the game with a slight injury but says he is now OK.

The poster boy for injuries this season is Jake Ryan. Fortunately it is now said he may return to the playing field around the middle of October, for the heart of the season. A fast rising defensive star, he will be sorely missed. Everyone had him penciled in as a game breaker this year. It looks like Cameron Gordon will fill the strong side (Sam) LB position. Cam Gordon has been getting good notice and will contribute. Brennen Beyer did well Saturday had been switched to the position to help shore it up. Mike Jones is available. One of the prime spring defensive concerns was plugging that vacancy. Losing Jake Ryan was a big blow to the defense. It appears that C. Gordon has stepped up, and Beyer too.

When Russell Bellomy went down, it left the Quarterback position with just one scholarship player, Devin Gardner. For those of us that were underwhelmed by the loss of Russell, and recalled the Nebraska debacle of last year with distaste, consider reconsidering now. He is a quality football player and human being, and might well have helped the team this year. Reports were he was doing just fine until injured. Right now the number two QB is walk on Brian Cleary. It appears that Cleary has talent in his own right, but it seems the staff is looking for a one year recruit with graduate eligibility or a JC candidate. While originally I thought the chance of a JC QB getting accepted at Michigan was remote, Phil reminded me that Spencer Brinton filled that role a few years ago.

The offensive fate of team 134 is largely in the big mitts of Devin Gardner, and the developing OL. Gardner has determination, intelligence, and athletic skill, all married to some experience, due to Denard’s misfortune last year. The season will reveal his level of dedication. His performance will go a long way in determining the number of wins and losses. The only odor you will smell at the QB position is the probable burning of the redshirt of Shane Morris, a much sought after freshman who is going to need to grab the number two QB spot. This position group will do just fine thank you, if the OL develops a taste and talent for a ground game, and pass protection. Gardner was wearing the orange shirt in practice to prevent catastrophe.  A gimpy Gardner would have dire consequences, until a suitable understudy is groomed.

Saturday Devin had a good practice, tossed a thirty-yarder down the sideline to a streaking Amara Darboh down the left sideline, and he hit Devin Funchess over the middle with a 35-yard pass. Funchess provided another leaping, twisting grab up the middle. Windy and cold, the weather was a challenge. Coach Hoke talked: about Devin Gardner’s performance in difficult conditions … “Devin naturally throws a tight ball. When you throw a tight ball, and he’s got good arm strength, and he has good velocity on it, you can cut through the wind pretty well. He’s always thrown the long ball pretty well. I think he had a good day.”

Devin was 11 of 16 passing for 142-yards and a TD on a 12-yard TD to Tight End Jake Butt.

While his name will be the subject of some puns, Freshman Tight End Jake Butt is among the best at the position on the team.. With Devin Funchess, and big AJ Williams, the tight ends unit seems solid.

Obviously, If a team wants to win with power football consistently, they have to have north south running backs that can move the chains, and possess the ball to go with their up-front road graders. Last year the running game was hurt by more than Denard Robinson’s and Fitz Toussaint’s nasty injuries. Many times the holes were not there, and the problem was not all with the backs. It was a deadly combination as the backs too often struggled east west as much as north south. Last year the running back production was dismal. It went entirely south when Denard hobbled out of the Nebraska game, and Fitz was injured.

Michigan football without an effective running game is unthinkable, but one has claimed the position this spring. It is still very much a work in progress. The spring running back group did not firmly lay claim to the position. Thomas Rawls had a TD and a fumble.  The fall competition will be enhanced by the return of Toussaint, and the addition of two heavy duty freshman backs, Derrick Green and Deveon Smith.

Fullback is more in the picture. Siona Houma played well Saturday. Joe Kerrridge saw action. Freshman Wyatt Shallman , a big athlete (6-3, 250) that can play multiple positions, is in the wings.

Much is expected of Green. He is a powerful downhill runner, a five star recruit. While we may recall Kevin Grady, who was also a five star back and struggled, perhaps Green will fill the bill. Smith is slightly smaller but also a gifted power runner. This group can’t be evaluated until after fall camp. It is a certainty that someone will step up. Again, the sooner the better after all hands are on board.

Another area of pre-season concern has been the receiver corps. With Gardner switched back to QB from receiver, depth was thinner than comfortable. Some good receivers return.

Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are of smaller size but were very good last year. Jeremy Jackson is back. Two that will provide some spectacular downfield catches are Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Darboh made a spectacular catch of thirty-yards Saturday. and did Saturday. Chesson has everything but a sonic boom. OK, that’s a reach, but he is fast. Unfortunately he did not catch a pass Saturday. This group will be great eventually. It appears this is going to end up a position of strength. Jeremy Jackson has stepped up.

As far as the corners go, Blake Countess is back, but not yet 100%. Delonte Hollowell looked good Saturday, Ramon Taylor will be a fixture at nickel, backed up by Freshman Dymonte Thomas. Courtney Avery will battle for a spot. There is an upgrade of talent, and better numbers, but they can’t be evaluated as a unit now. They should be improved, but we’ll see.

Coach Hoke spoke about the receivers: “Jeremy Jackson has had his best spring since we’ve been here. When you look at Jehu (Chesson) and Amara (Darboh), I think both of those guys have really come along. They are both very talented and can do a lot of different things. Joe Reynolds keeps pushing everybody. Joe is a guy who can play a lot of positions and that’s a real positive for us.” Joe Reynolds caught a late TD pass.

The same goes for the safeties. As said above Thomas Gordon has nabbed Koavc’s strong safety spot. Jarrod Wilson and or Marvin Robinson will be at free safety.

I’ll leave special teams until later, as this “game” format gives little on which to base ST opinion, but I can say that Matt Wile and Kenneth Allen punted well. Will Hagerup is still in the doghouse.

The past proves that sometimes those with shining individual performers in the spring do not necessarily achieve stardom in the fall. Some blossom and fade by yielding to injury, or failing academic challenges, having talented competition stockpiled ahead of them, making personal errors, or just get hammered by bad luck. And some that will influence the outcome of the season are not even on board yet. There is always attrition over the long haul for every class or team, but this team seems as solid as any. The spring seldom if ever yields a finished product. Fall camp tells a bigger, more reliable story.

And an interesting story it will be.

Go Blue!