Michigan Spring Game 2014: Scrimmage Results in More Questions Than Answers

Phil CallihanContributor IApril 5, 2014

Devin Gardner
Devin GardnerTony Ding

Spring practice was supposed to signify a new beginning for Michigan, a fresh start for a team hoping to bury the disappointment of last season’s tailspin.

But the first play from scrimmage dredged up bad memories from the team’s last game at Michigan Stadium.

Quarterback Devin Gardner took the snap from center and threw an ill-advised interception, hearkening back to November’s last-minute failure against Ohio State. Michigan not only lost that game, but it also lost Gardner to a foot injury that would put him on crutches for the next two months.

Gardner appears to be recovered from his injury and seems poised to claim the starting quarterback position, but he did little to distinguish himself during this scrimmage.

Despite todays's performance Gardner said that the offense was getting better, "We did a really good job of creating explosive plays this spring." 

Gardner’s interception was the first play during a scrimmage that lasted for about an hour after what appeared to be a standard practice for the team. Michigan moved through drills for various position groups followed by a scrimmage that consisted of the team running through a series of plays and game situations based on field position.

No score was kept, although the defense dominated most of the proceedings. The kicking game was not part of the scrimmage.

The offensive line, a major reason for last season’s failure, also failed to impress. Running backs Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Justice Hayes all appear to be in competition for carries next season. While Green and Smith have been considered the frontrunners at running back, Hayes ran hard and impressed Devin Gardner, "Hayes came to play today."

Derrick Green
Derrick GreenTony Ding

But those hoping for new coordinator Doug Nussmeier to unleash an offensive juggernaut left Michigan Stadium sorely disappointed.

What they saw was an offense running base plays into the middle of the defense and passes that were mostly dropped or batted away. Defensive back Jourdan Lewis and safety Jarrod Wilson had some great pass breakups while the defensive line, led by Frank Clark, smothered the offense. Linebackers Ben Gedeon and Brennen Beyer dominated the running attack.

The defense dominated
The defense dominatedTony Ding

In the weeks prior to this final spring practice, head coach Brady Hoke made it clear that he intended to show very little of his new offense.

Mission accomplished.

One bright spot is freshman wide receiver Freddy Canteen, who hooked up with Gardner for one of the longest plays of the day. 

"He's amazing, he's really explosive," said defensive back Jourden Lewis when asked about Canteen. "He's a playmaker, he can do anything."

When Al Borges was fired after last season, Nussmeier was brought in to reboot an offense that alternated between being lights out in some games and fast asleep in others. Nussmeier responded by streamlining the offense and introducing a frenetic pace in practice.

Brady Hoke
Brady HokeTony Ding

Players have been enthusiastic about the changes, even if the progress wasn't evident today. Hoke seemed satisfied the team was able to avoid tipping its hand to opponents while avoiding injury.

"We need as much work and as many reps for all those guys as we can," said Hoke. "A big part is the teaching aspect, the reps, the technique, the fundamentals and the other part is putting them in uncomfortable situations because they are going to be a little young."

The big question is whether the offense could have put on a show even if the coaching staff wanted it to. 

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.