The Wolverines entertained almost the same number of fans Saturday night as they had for their spring “game”. It didn’t seem to me that there the advertised 30,000 member crowd was there, but the crowd was substantial and enthusiastic, while the team ran through an extensive practice with the speakers spuming loud music intended for player distraction.
Both the open practice and night practice are Wolverine firsts and should benefit the team as intended.
This went into the books as another indication of defensive dominance and a continuing struggle to run the football. The aggressive defense had the offense on the “defensive” on numerous occasions as the OL struggled to open holes for the running backs, and pass protect.
After the game Coach Hoke criticized the backs for lack of vision, but it was more than that. Backs were running hard but into a dominating defense, depending on as yet sporadic OL effectiveness.
Starters Saturday night were Freshman Mason Cole at Left Tackle, Erik Magnuson at Left Guard, Jack Miller at Center, Graham Glasgow at Right Guard, and Ben Braden at right Tackle. Right Guard Kyle Kalis was sidelined as he recovers from injury. Glasgow hurt his foot.
The latest pecking order regarding running backs is Derrick Green, DeVeon Smith, Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes. Green had the most snaps, but Smith and Johnson looked competitive. Johnson had some nice carries for a solid third place. I believe this group will acquit itself as well as possible this season, depending on the growth of the offensive line.
QBs Gardner, Morris and Speight all were pressured most of the evening, with much rush coming right up the middle. They played against the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd defensive groups respectively, and Shane by far got the most snaps.
This is not to say the QBs they did not impress at all because they did. They looked crisp, and organized despite the pressure. There was a notable lack of delay of game penalties, and they get the offense to the line of scrimmage quickly. All threw some nice balls. Gardner threw a couple of gems, one for forty-yards, and one for a TD. Devin played within the system and threw a couple of balls into the stands to save a sack.
Russell Bellomy was the fourth QB in and had an unfortunate play in which he bobbled the ball twice. I was hoping he would have some success. He is a well- spoken young man.
This scrimmage was not proof that fans should throw up their hands, and retreat into the bunker regarding this OL line. There is size and talent there. And they are improving. There is still time to present an effective running game, and there is improvement.
While it is unlikely that Michigan will become a three yards and cloud of dust team this year under any circumstances, they will have to reliably move the ball on the ground and protect the QB enough to enable play action passing.
It seems to me the strength of this offense will be its passing game for a number of reasons, not the least of which will be the development of Devin Gardner under Coach Nussmeier.
Another is the cadre of somewhat inexperienced but talented receivers led by Devin Funchess. Armah Darboh and Juhu Chesson are fighting for playing time, and it appears that both will contribute. Darboh is a big receiver that is tough to get down, a tough cookie. Chesson has smooth speed. Both look very good. Freddy Canteen had some nice catches out of the slot, but is listed behind a more experienced Dennis Norfleet. DaMario Jones and Bo Dever both had catches. Freshman Maurice Ways demonstrated his abilities with several catches.
Tight End Ian Bunting looked good receiving, and two tight ends often saw action.
As for the defense, it was aggressive, nasty, and dominate. It has many interchangeable parts. Frank Clark stood out, Ondre Pipkins looked good, having apparently overcome last season’s injury DT Matt Godin looked good, among many others including Jake Ryan.
Last year’s defensive backfield has been upgraded as to personnel, depth experience, and by players healed for injury.
In the personnel department, no player upgrade is more remarkable than Jabrill Peppers. He has the size, strength and athletic ability to contribute immediately, and at multiple positions. He was listed as a starting corner, and has played nickel corner. He will return punts. He is smoothly evasive, and can run over people.
While he has to grow into positions, all he lacks is experience at this level of play. He has all the qualities to become the superstar at the D-1 level. In High School, he managed a career that led to him being one of the most hyped recruits in Michigan history. His future as a Wolverine is going to be breath taking.
But in this defensive backfield, he is not alone. Talent abounds all over the place. Jourdan Lewis is another talent, as is Blake Countess to mention just a few.
This is a time of year where a least a little optimism is appropriate, and this year is no exception. Some is appropriate this year.
This year the Wolverines as a team are bigger, faster, more experienced and more talented than last year. It appears the coaching shuffle has been a plus in all respects. There is no question the defense will be better because of experience and some better talent.
There is also no question that the defense will have to carry the offense for the early part of the season.
I think that they will be able to do so with positive results, but that doesn’t matter.
What matters is they have to go out and do the job.