Sunday, April 13, 2008 - Andy Andersen
M Football-Spring Practice 2008-The Hundred Plays
Napoleon was noted for his Hundred Days, but they ended in defeat at Waterloo. Coach Rodriguez is noted for his hundred plays (per practice) and we don’t know yet how they are going to work out, but we do hope it will not end in a Waterloo.
We also know that there is a new Sheriff in town and that Coach R is performing the necessary surgery, ruthlessly when necessary, to make this program his very own. Things are going to be done his way. The right way, but his way, which is physically the hard way, it must seem to some.
Maybe the physical effort, and the fact that everyone on the squad has to fight every practice for their position, is what drove Justin Boren to decide that he wanted to play for what he must have perceived to be the more tender mercies of the sweater vest. It is interesting but not surprising that the vest offered Justin’s little brother after Justin’s transfer. If Justin had not quit Michigan would a scholarship have been forthcoming from tOSU? You think? Is Rodriguez too tough? Didn’t see that in Saturday’s practice. Good balance.
That things have changed was apparent in Saturday’s next to last spring practice, the so-called "Spring Game". They run to the ball on offense, and run to the ball on defense, and appear more aggressive on both sides of the ball.
He even wants them to run in place if they don’t know what to do. But on this day the practice did not move at the tremendous pace I expected, but was faster than the old regime. Very efficient.
One would hope to call him “Hurry Up” Rodriguez in the future, but he has yet to win here ala Yost, and on Saturday that probably wouldn't have been accurate. The pace will increase with experience.
It seems trainer and conditioner Barwis is improving explosiveness, quickness strength. Most of the team appears trim and many look to have improved upper body strength. To some, Barwis has already become the subject in need of a bit of a parody because so much talent, effectiveness, and result is attributed to him on the street even before we have seen a single season of results. Even considering some Kool Aid regarding the beneficial effects of his conditioning, these players appear to be in great shape. They are intense and they hit. Brandon Graham laid a lick on Kevin Grady that would have killed an ordinary man (to borrow a phrase from Bo), but he bounced up and went on.
It is recognized everywhere that the development of the OL will be one of the keys to success this season. As you know Long and Krause cast big shadows on that line, and with others gone, like Mitchell, the position is thin. Today some run blocking looked pretty good, but pass blocking was another story. The QBs were harassed. QB is the other well-known offensive concern. After today’s hundred plays I believe that is still a major, not entirely resolved, concern.
Defensively, things seem in better shape, although there are some depth concerns even if the LB and DB positions seem more solid now. Panter and Mouton seem to have moved up, Ezeh is growing all the time, and Thompson looked good.
Among other things, Coach Rodriguez purveys no “Kool Aid”, is a realist, and lets you know his football opinions at regular press conferences. That is another big change and a most welcome one. His alleged slow start recruiting in comparison to Michigan State has been overcome with recent additions, and he is instituting a rigorous off-season conditioning program. His need for speed is reflected in those recruits and the class he finished in combination with Coach Carr. It seems obvious that several of recruits will play as freshmen, more than in prior years, as this team is short of bodies, especially at QB, OL and slot receiver. We will talk about that in future articles.
Coach R held a “Coaches Clinic” for some 600 Coaches during spring practice and has built relations with former players. There is a lot to like as all of our competitors predict doom during the Rodriguez regime. Especially hopeful and vocal are the sweater vest crowd, and the Spartys.
“Grandpa, quit dancing, were you at the spring game or not? What were your impressions? What went on? Lets have it! Did you forget your glasses? Could you see what was going on in the rain? Are you one step closer to the home? Do you and JoPa need to give it up?”
“That depends on who you ask, even among Michigan fans, but I am not quite at that point yet. I can’t speak for Coach Paterno. That is for others to decide. I understand his contract is up and they are not going to issue another to him, but I’ve never had one so that can’t be denied me.”
Saturday's practice was held on the beautiful campus of Saline High School on a nasty weather day. Awards were given to Will Johnson, Steve Brown, Brandon Minor, Obi Ezeh, Ryan Van Bergen, David Moosman, David Molk and Austin Panter. This is a departure from the past, awards at the spring game.
Thanks to a pair of media passes obtained by Phil Calihan, we were on the sidelines. About 100 plays were run. Stephen Threet was the QB for the offensive unit that began the practice. RR has been continuously vocal that the “first team”, the starters, won’t be named until August, and personnel have switched from one group to another, depending on performance or lack of it. Even so, the offensive unit that ran the first plays of the practice was better than the group that followed. It appears to me there is a lack of depth.
Which is maybe why Coach R, in his after game comments, mentioned that probably more freshmen would play than usual. WR Darryl Stonum is a 2008 recruit that enrolled early and looked good in today’s practice. Some other 2008 recruits that might have a shot at slot receiver position, among other things in the fall, are Sam McGuffie (RB), Martavious Odoms (WR), Terrence Robinson (RB), Roy Roundtree (WR), and Michael Shaw (RB). These are small, elusive, quick and fast football players. Play makers.
Some of them might also help build a threat at KO and Punt return, which was not practiced today, and since they have been inside so much will be a point of interest in the fall. They did show some unique punt schemes.
The offensive line will probably find a spot in the two deep for offensive lineman Dann O’Neill. Probably others will get a shot at PT.
As mentioned, Stonum looked good at receiver, Mathews made an unbelievable grab of a tipped pass, Clemons had a few receptions out of the slot and played well. Again the intensity was notable. Mathews and a defender both had possession of the ball and neither would let go. Both players were on the ground and with Mathews on top, someone walked over and picked all of Mathews up off the ground. Only then did they let go or the ball.
Butler and Webb, the tight ends, both dropped catch able passes, Webb more than one.
There was a dearth of profanity on the side of the field I was on, but on the coach’s side the “cussin” perhaps was a little more intense, according to a reliable observer, but not out control or at an objectionable level under the circumstances.
All three QBs that played, Threet (20 points), Sheridan (10 points) and Cone, threw interceptions. Coach R said that they had all looked better at previous practices. The miserable weather conditions (wet, cold, windy, overcast) undoubtedly contributed to offensive mistakes, such as interceptions, poor option pitchouts, and dropped passes, and probably cut the by invitation only crowd down some. A truly nasty day was this one. Alcoholics all over Michigan were crawling back into the bottle because of it, but at least there was no snow.
Threet has a deep thigh bruise. I remain slightly disappointed in the QBs, but left with the feeling that of the group Threet appears to have the most to offer. Shook his hand and wished him luck after the game. He is a personable young man, as I am sure the others are too. Sheridan isn’t far behind and it appears that this is a competition that is going to continue for a while. Perhaps Justin Feagin will figure into the mix at some time late next fall. He is a run/pass QB.
Brandon Minor ran for a couple of TDs, and Avery Horn ran tough and fast, with good burst, making the ground game look much better than the aerial game. Credit Kevin Grady there too. He looked good. The injury appears healed.
How does Coach Rodriguez feel about things? He stated afterwards, that normally a practice such as Saturday’s would drive him nuts, but things are a little different in the first year of a program. Said they are not ready to play a game yet, but overall kind of on track. The defense is coming along and there is a need to get faster. He pointed out that there were seven, eight guys missing, some due to the flu bug. Thanked Saline High for its great facility. Said the QBs are ahead mentally, and again pledged to fit scheme to talent. Thinks they will be OK. Mentioned that Grady and Mathews had had good springs.
“OK, Gramps, how do you feel about our chances this coming season?”
“Let me say that I liked the organization and intensity of this particular practice very much. It appears the coaches know what they are doing, and the players seemed into it. This practice is probably no different, in that respect, than the rest of the spring practices have been. The hitting was there, intense. Something that I knew was missing last year in the spring. Suddenly they can gang tackle better, tackle in space better. The play calling for both the offense and defense seemed a little bit under wraps, with a few exceptions. Much of the work was from the shotgun, with some I.
When you try to judge things by the spring’s activities it is easy to miss by a mile under ordinary circumstances. Sometimes players spring performances don’t translate to the fall. There are examples every year. And this year, when much of a radically different scheme is being implemented by new coaches, a year that would have been an extensive building year no matter the coach, and with a new system that has not been entirely installed yet, how can one predict how good or how bad? It is easiest to predict bad under such circumstances, and many of the pundits (including ESPN) are predicting doom and gloom, six losses or more.”
Could it happen? Sure.
Will it? Not on your bottom dollar. Everybody they play is going to know they have been in a ball game. They’re gonna hit and they ain’t gonna quit (all my old English teachers are dead, so why not? And, no, my syntax didn’t kill them).
This team may have lost Mike Hart, but they will still play with plenty of heart. The intensity of the coaching staff is going to infect the players, and it will be an interesting year. They aren’t doing to quit working.
I hope good fortune follows you and stay true to the Blue!