The Michigan football team returned to the field for its first full-contact practice since bowl preparations last year.
The one consistent theme repeated by almost every player interviewed after Tuesday’s practice is the desire “to move on” and not dwell on last year's disappointing 7-6 season.
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is making his presence felt not only by streamlining the offense while emphasizing a run-first, pass-second philosophy but enthusiastically jumping into drills and showing his quarterbacks the proper techniques necessary to succeed. Players have also confirmed that practices are held with a quicker pace under the new coach.
Hoke praised the intensity of his team on both sides of the ball as they worked to implement Nussmeier’s new offensive scheme and improve on defense. Both units need to improve if Michigan hopes to compete for the Big Ten championship next season.
Here is a stock report from Week 2 of the Wolverines' spring practice.
Derrick Green, Running Back
The biggest news from this week is that there is 20 pounds less of sophomore running back Derrick Green compared to his peak weight from last season, when the highly touted prospect struggled with conditioning and an ankle injury. Green says that he currently weighs 220 pounds.
“Michigan is about running the ball and this unit is going to bring it back,“ said Green. “I feel a lot faster, stronger, my body feels a lot better than last season.”
Head coach Brady Hoke praised Green, “…I’m proud of him but we want to see that consistency all the way through.”
Green, the top returning running back (83 carries for 290 yards and two touchdowns) from last season, is looking to stake his claim to the top of the depth chart while acknowledging the competition at running back will be fierce. He recognizes that multiple backs will have opportunities in the new scheme, “Coach Nussmeier is all about having a one-two punch.”
When pressed for differences between the offense under former coordinator Al Borges and Nussmeier, Green says that things are a “…lot more downhill.”
De’Veon Smith, Running Back
De’Veon Smith (29 carries for 119 yards) will be competing with Green for carries next season and is enthusiastic about the new offensive scheme.
“It seems a lot easier than last season’s offense,” said Smith. “It’s very high tempo, lots of energy…we get lots of reps…we’re getting better and better.”
While Smith and Green are competing for playing time, the two are good friends who bonded playing video games. They also compete in the weight room as lifting partners and discuss how each can improve to help the team.
Last season Smith bided his time watching and learning from senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and Green until getting his opportunity to play. He now looks poised to be part of Nussmeier’s desired one-two punch at running back.
Jake Butt, Tight End
Head coach Brady Hoke discussed the possible return of Jake Butt. Butt underwent surgery to repair an injured ACL, putting in doubt whether he’d play next season.
Hoke seems guardedly optimistic that Butt might return by game three or four but warned about comparing his recovery to linebacker Jake Ryan, “Everybody heals different.”
Butt’s return is important because it frees Devin Funchess to line up outside depending on the formation, a move that was very successful last season.
The biggest question on offense for Michigan is how the team will replace tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—and rebuild an offensive line that was terrible for most of the season. Improvement plans took a hit with the injury to Erik Magnuson, who is expected to return by fall camp, and the career-ending injury to Chris Bryant.
Hoke downplayed the temporary loss of Magnuson, ”He’s out and it hurts but coaches know what he can do. Now it’s time to see what the other guys can do.”
Hoke mentioned Graham Glasgow, Ben Braden, Jack Miller and Kyle Bosch as competing for playing time while stipulating that, “the best five guys will play, but we’re a long way from knowing who those guys are.”
Hoke also mentioned that early-enrollee wide receivers Freddy Canteen and Drake Harris were competing well in drills and singled out offensive lineman Mason Cole as being a “big plus” so far in practice.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
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