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Jim Harbaugh, the ever competitive yearling Head Coach of the Michigan Wolverines, used an old playground ploy, choosing up sides (aka: a draft) as an appropriate vehicle to deploy and display Team 136 in M Stadium Saturday April 4, 2015. With the completion of that game, spring practice 2015 is history.
There has been an emphasis on teaching and a patience regarding development at all positions, but especially at the QB position. The four hour practices have been a grind. No doubt they were intended to help weed out those who are not willing to make an all- out commitment. It appears those players that had the best spring played. The rest did not. Only two QBs played.
Saturday Shane Morris, the most experienced of the top three QBs on the roster at this time threw for the game’s only TD, and earned recognition from Coach Harbaugh as winning the top spot for is body of work in the spring.
Morris was 11 of 24 for 135-yards, an interception, and a botched exchange with Smith, and was sacked twice. While he still needs improved touch, Harbaugh indicated his touch has improved. He throws a nice ball, but struggles with inconsistency. Some long balls just missed. He will have to cure that to maintain his edge in the fall, as serious competitors for the position multiply.
Alex Malzone, a youngster who enrolled early, and should still be finishing up High School is in the Number two position at the end of spring practice. He went 15 of 27 for 95-yards, but had two interceptions, and a fumble. He also earned Harbaugh’s praise at the post game presser.
Red Shirt Wilton Speight did not play Saturday, which was a surprise.
The rushing game was nothing to brag about. It was a sad reminder of last year’s struggles. Coach Harbaugh cited the split offensive line as affecting the running game.
Maize rushing was led by Wyatt Shallman who ran for 22 net yards on 12 carries with a long of 9-yards for a 1.8 average. D. Smith carried 7 times for 54-yards for the Blue. On the opening series Smith broke 34-yard carry, the longest running play of the game.
Together Maize and Blue produced 49 rushing carries for 91 net yards (QB sack losses subtracted). With interceptions and a fumble, it shows how far the offense has to go.
Amara Darboh was the leading Blue receiver with 4 for 75-yards and a long of 37. Jake Butt had 4 for 30-yards with a long of 16. Jaron Dukes made the play of the day. His only reception was a 14-yard snag over the shoulder grab for the game’s only TD. According to Dukes after the catch, he had to look up quick to snag it. Before Dukes scored Darboh caught his 37-yard catch.
For the Maize, Freddy Canteen snatched 6 for 36-yards and Maurice Ways 3 for 35 with a long of 30-yards. Jehu Chesson snagged 3 for 34-yards with a long of 21.
The passing game produced 260-yards and a TD.
The game format provided individual as well as team competition. It was intended to reward individual effort and excellence. Seems logical that those who excelled over the spring were chosen first would be honored to have been chosen early, but those details are not released. The Blue will eat steak and the White will eat pasta. Probably they both will have to run, as the competition never ends.
The format also provided more entertainment for the fans that showed up in droves as compared to the last few years, as they saw some real football.
The athletic department says there were sixty thousand fans there, and the traffic reflected it. In this game, there were 4 ten minute quarters, 2 minutes between quarters, and a 5 minute half, and virtual punts. A PAT was kicked and made after the TD.
What the game format did not provide was a good preview of offensive unit effectiveness. The offensive line was split among two units. Much of OL effectiveness is dependent on play as a unit. Maybe the absence of a healthy Drake Johnson would have contributed to the rushing yardage, making the rushing game more respectable.
Defenses usually dominate early in the year. Most eyes focused on Number 5, Jabrill Peppers, and he did not disappoint with an early hit, and he otherwise played well. According to the coaches Jabrill is everything that he has been touted to be, and he can play anywhere in the defensive backfield. The defensive backfield looked improved.
Brandon Watson did not give up on the play and removed what seemed like a certain reception for an interception with a little teamwork. Desmond Morgan nabbed another, being in perfect position. Delano Hill got another. Shane Norris and D. Smith botched an exchange for a fumble.
Joe Bolden led the defense with 4 solo tackles and 9 assists. Ben Gideon had 3 tackles and 6 assists. The defenses had five sacks. The defense looked sharp.
A number of players did not play in the game that will be there at August camp. Along with the influx of non- early enrolling freshman, QB Zack Gentry will be among them and ex Hawkeye Jake Rudock.
This game provided an opportunity for the coaches to become acquainted with their player’ abilities and motivation, as well as letting the veteran players become acquainted with yet another system, and another set of coaches.
Fortunately, no one struggled off the field with a serious injury. A stunning aspect of the game was that the QBs were live, available for hitting. Risky it was, but good experience for them.
Harbaugh had used a similar game format at Stanford.
MAIZE AGAINST BLUE:
DC/LB Coach D.J. Durkin drafted the Maize team, and OC/OL Coach Tim Drevno drafted the Blue Team.
Maize Team: (Durkin)
The Quarterbacks of the Maize team were Alex Malzone, Brian Cleary, Ramsey Romano, and Garrett Moores. RBs were Smith and Green. FBs were Henderson, Pallante, and Beneducci. Receivers were Chesson, Ways, Cole, Norfleet, Canteen and Anlauf. TEs were Williams and Winovich (now a tight end). The Maize OL was Kalis, Magnuson, and Mason Cole. FBs were Henderson, Pallante, and Beneducci. Kalis has had an outstanding spring.
The Defensive Line was Mone, Hurst, Poggi (now Tight End, too) Strobel and Marshall. That was an impressive group. LBs were Bolden, Gedeon, and Wangler. DBs were Peppers, Stribling, Clark, Delano Hill, Dawson, Pearson, Dallimonte, and Wooley.
Blue Team: (Drevno)
The Blue team was Quarterbacked by Morris, Speight, and Thompson. WRs were Darboh, Dukes, Dever, Harris, Sloss and Wangler. TEs were Butt, Bunting and Jocz. FBs were Kerridge and Volk. The OL was Braden, Tuley-Tillman, Samuelson, G. Glasgow, Pliska, Bushell-Beatty and Dawson. The DL was Henry, R. Glasgow, Wormley, Zisler and Miller. The DBs were Countess, Lewis, and Wilson, Thomas, Watson, Taylor-Douglas, Richardson, Austin, Mitchell, Houston and Montburn.
Missing were Drake Johnson, James Ross, Taco Charlton, Ondre Pipkins, Mike McCray, Chris Fox, S. Houma, Matt Godin and Mario Olejumudia.
The Wolverines and their brand new coaching staff have now tucked the allowed fifteen practices under their belts. How successful the spring has been as far installing winning football is concerned remains to be seen, but it appears to fantastic start with a lot of work ahead. It is clear they have installed competitive spirit, but the reconstruction project is far from an accomplished fact.
The PR nationwide has been all that could be asked of any new football staff and the staff seems to live up to their billing with a unique blend of NFL and college experience.
The Athletic Department has acquired an unheard of number of quality non coaching staff to help hone the product. Additionally, Harbaugh and his staff take an aggressive and tireless approach to recruiting.
Coach Harbaugh will venture into SEC country to guest host camps for high school athletes, as well as into other areas.
A prospective guest appearance at a camp within SEC territory produced negative comment from an SEC coach. This is a quaint reaction from no holds barred recruiting country, where some perceive the area as “If you ain’t lying, you ain’t tryin” country.
There is nothing illegal or shady to the Harbaugh incursion. It is within the rules to guest host a camp, outside of certain limits.
That will build better relationships with high school coaches and prospective talent. It is nice to hear an ouch from SEC country.
That the new staff has introduced renewed fan interest and enthusiasm is undeniable. No longer is there prevailing talk of student rebellion regarding seating, nor is concussion discussion still resounding.
They have said and done all the right things, including stressing academics and the proper teaching of football. The only blister has been Graham Glasgow’s alleged off field poor judgement. He seems to be out of the doghouse now, and is practicing at the critical center position.
At his after game press conference, Coach Harbaugh indicated that Graham is tested for alcohol morning and evening, under the supervision of the authorities. If he slips, it will be known publically, and could not be hidden. Coach Harbaugh believes he will not slip.
Also Harbaugh, in his post-game press conference, was asked about Dennis Norfleet playing full time corner back Saturday. Dennis has been a special-teams returner and slot receiver. Harbaugh said he now may see action at all three spots.
So far, more than so good, but this spring is only a start for both coaches and players. Football is a tough sport and like water football competition seeks spots of vulnerability to flow downhill and overwhelm.
The Wolverines have lots of work to do, and the coaching staff has its job cut out for it to fill some serious gaps in the dam against losing. QB, OL,WRs, TE’s, DBs are all still areas of concern, although progress is being made in all areas.
The QB position remains unsettled. Will there be an effective running game? Is the OL going to step up, and get physical run blocking? Are there enough TEs? Will the defensive backfield prosper in its more aggressive coverage schemes? Can they find enough tight ends? Can the kicking, punting and return teams give them the Wolverine’s an edge they have not enjoyed fully for so long? And so on.
The QB competition will continue to rage into fall. Some new prospects will appear. It seems a certainty now that experienced QB Jake Rudock, a graduate transfer from Iowa, will be among that number. A two year starter, he brings a ton of actual game experience. He has Iowa’s and the Big Ten’s permission, and has visited. It is reliably reported he will become a Wolverine. At the very least he adds depth, at the very best he will garner some wins that would have otherwise been losses. QB Recruit Zack Gentry will be on board in the fall, and he will be a serious competitor. Zack decomitted from Texas.
Much is still in the air regarding this team, but there seems to be a solid talent core that learned the hard way last year, then thrown into the fire before their time.
As you wait for a QB candidate to step up and seize the position, there are fortunately some things you can count on.
They are going to improve all year long, and they be competitive, intense, and toughened up. They will be very competitive against most of their schedule. Staff and players are working hard to make it that way.
Still Minnesota, Utah and Penn State could be challenges, and Michigan State and Ohio State will be super challenges. There will be good game management. They will likely be able to perform efficiently away from M Stadium, if the toughness lessons take.
But as fans that have twice had hopes of football success dashed in the past seven years by two failed coaching regimes, we will have to be convinced on the field that all is well. They have got to show us solid results to be convinced, even if we are not from Missouri.
I think that we will be convinced this year, but lets see the proof.