Michigan Football 2012: What to Watch for in the Spring Game
The opportunity to get a glimpse of Team 133 is finally at hand.
Saturday, April 14 will mark Brady Hoke's second Michigan football spring game. Most of the starters offensively and defensively are returning for 2012. To break it down more specifically, the Wolverines bring back nine starters offensively and seven starters defensively.
While we'll all get to see the starters play for an extended period of time, this is also a period for backups to show the coaching staff what they're capable of.
But there are question marks that must be answered during the spring game.
The following positions are what's recommended you should look out for when viewing the game.
Denard Robinson is the clear starter for the 2012 season. However, much has been made from his regression as a passer from his stellar 2010 season.
Look for better decision-making from Robinson. More specifically, he will throw less into double- and triple-coverage.
He will also be more decisive. If there's no discernible passing lane, he will simply run rather than throw an interception.
Also, keep a keen eye for how backup junior Devin Gardner performs.
Perhaps most interestingly, watch how red-shirt freshman Russell Bellomy handles the offense. Al Borges commented recently on Bellomy's progression. "Bellomy has got people's attention," Borges said. "He's very athletic and can throw the ball."
Backup Running Backs
With Fitz Toussaint locking up the starting running back position for 2012, all eyes will be focused on how the backups will fare.
Vincent Smith was primarily a third-down running back last season who also caught footballs out of the backfield for Denard Robinson. This year, he'll be fighting other running backs to keep that role.
Justice Hayes took a red shirt last season since the running back position was so deep, but with Michael Shaw graduating and Thomas Rawls splitting time between running back and fullback, an opportunity may arrive for Hayes to compete with Vincent Smith for the primary backup role.
Thomas Rawls was impressive in limited action last season. With Stephan Hopkins reportedly being overweight, look for Rawls to battle Hopkins for the starting fullback position.
Somewhere in the pile of celebration is the new center for the Wolverines, Ricky Barnum.
Having to replace Rimington trophy winner David Molk is no simple task. However, when Barnum was recruited out of high school by Rich Rodriguez, he was enlisted as a center.
We all watched in horror as backup Rocko Khoury was both ineffective and inefficient when serving as Molk's second-in-command in the Sugar Bowl. He has since left the football program.
It's imperative Barnum hands the football smoothly to Denard Robinson. Low and high snaps will not be tolerated by the coaching staff.
It will also be interesting to see how he blocks against Will Campbell.
In 2010, Roy Roundtree had a banner year, catching 72 footballs from Denard Robinson. However, 2011 wasn't so kind as he caught a mere 19 passes.
This season, Roundtree moves to Junior Hemmingway's old position as the No. 1 receiver.
Look for Shoelace to throw early and often to Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.
The spring game will show whether Roundtree is truly back or if he's destined to stay in the shadows.
Michigan lost three of its four starting defensive linemen after the end of the 2011 season: Mike Martin, Will Heininger and Ryan Van Bergen.
Replacing them for the spring game are projected starters DE Frank Clark/Brennen Beyer, NT Will Campbell and Jibreel Black.
Returning starter Craig Roh is taking over Ryan Van Bergen's old position on the defensive line.
Watch how these players are able (or not able) to stuff the run and get pressure on Denard Robinson.
Personally, out of all the position battles in the spring game, the defensive line has generated the majority of what I'm going to be watching for.
It's widely known that Michigan was nothing short of spectacular against the pass for the first 11 games of 2011. However, in the final two games of the season against Ohio State and Virginia Tech, the Wolverines' secondary fell apart at the seams.
It will be more than interesting then to see how J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess perform against various passing plays.
In an interview here, Countess indicated the coaching staff has been working with him on various techniques.
You had a good rookie season but struggled against Ohio State and Virginia Tech. How much did that motivate you during the offseason?
“I don’t know if it’s motivation. I just know that I have to keep getting better. It’s the expectation for playing corner here at the University of Michigan. I just have to keep getting better and keep working on my craft.”
What happened during those games? Where did the breakdowns occur?
“Just bad technique. We’ve gone over it plenty of times, and that’s what we’re trying to finish. When you talk about teams getting better or worse as the season goes on -- we had some changes go on, and we just have to get it corrected and keep getting better. We have a lot of guys returning especially in the secondary.”
It will be interesting to see the progression of these two cornerbacks very soon.
Perhaps the special teams has more questions than any other unit on this football team.
Will Brendan Gibbons be able to further increase his value to the Michigan coaching staff by becoming even more accurate kicking field goals?
Can Will Hagerup regain his 2010 punting abilities and fend off Matt Wile from taking his job?
Will Matt Wile put more pressure on Brendan Gibbons for the starting place kicker position?
Kick and punt return was a weakness for the Wolverines in 2011. Who will step up his game and be the dangerous return man Michigan needs? Justice Hayes? Freshman Dennis Norfleet? Perhaps another player?
We should be able to find out some, if not all, of these answers very shortly.