Brady Hoke knows that Michigan needs to improve across the board.
During Saturday’s spring game at The Big House in Ann Arbor, the fourth-year Wolverines coach said as much during sideline interviews with the Big Ten Network’s Lisa Byington (check out the spring game blog for more morsels from Byington’s one-on-ones).
Several times over, the need to bolster the O-line was stressed by Hoke, who watched an immensely talented Team 134 stumble to a 7-6 record in 2013. This year, with Team 135, hitting nine wins should be the only thing talked about.
Well, that and assembling something suitable up front for quarterbacks.
Have you heard that the O-line needs work?!
Since winning 11 games in 2011, Hoke’s fallen further behind schedule; by now, he should have had won at least one Big Ten Championship and maybe even a Rose Bowl or something comparable. Minus its 2012 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, Michigan’s yet to really give fans a meaningful, era-defining victory.
Right now, getting Erik Magnusson back to the plus side on the health meter is important. As the successor to Taylor Lewan, the redshirt sophomore left tackle has big shoes to fill. There’ve been a couple of OK guys to play that position for Michigan in the past.
No real pressure, right?
Replacing an All-American isn’t easy, but replacing Lewan’s size may not be of concern: At 6’6” and 295 pounds, Magnusson’s close enough to 6’8” and 318 pounds. If he won’t do, there’s always Logan Tuley-Tillman, a 6’7,” 290-pound redshirt frosh who, according to his Twitter account, is also a left tackle.
However, most charts project him at right. But the blind side is his natural position.
Also projected as a right tackle, Ben Braden, at least body-wise, is a Lewan-esque option for the No. 1 job. At 6’6” and 313 pounds, the redshirt sophomore is among the most promising O-liners in Ann Arbor.
Don't Come Around Here No More
You know the tune...
So far, so good.
Hoke hasn’t had any ACLs blow out this spring, so he’ll have to knock on wood. Those injuries are always tricky. Some guys recover sooner than others. Some respond to treatment better than others.
It's all a waiting game.
Easing the transition for Jake Butt is a concern, likewise as it is for Jake Ryan, who is arguably the team's MVD—Most Valuable Defender.
Injuries are part of the game. As a coach, Hoke is always on the lookout for player safety. He can't afford to see guys down at any time, especially during practices.
According to Dr. Stephen R. Saddemi, ProMedica Wildwood Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital's co-medical director, it doesn't take much for an athlete to stress an ACL to its limits. As one of four primary stabilizing ligaments in the knee, it's subject to a range of motion and pressure, via Rachel Lenzi of The Toledo Blade.
When you want to change direction, it can pop. There’s several hundred pounds of force on the knee, and in football, a lot of ACL injuries are related to contact, such as when a knee is hit by an opposing player.
The following table chronicles the recent spill of ACL-related injuries that's made its way through the Wolverines' locker room since 2012.
|Jake Butt||TE||Feb. 2014||Expected to return in 2014|
|Joe Burzynski||OL||Oct. 2013||Shut down for spring|
|Russell Bellomy||QB||Spring Ball 2013||Active|
|Drake Johnson||RB||Aug. 2013||Active|
|Ondre Pipkins||OT/NT||Oct. 2013||Active|
|Jake Ryan||LB||Spring Ball 2013||Active|
|Chris Wormley||OL||Fall camp 2012||Active|
MGoBlue.com bios, MLive.com, MWolverine.com
Following "practice" time, the spring game shifted to "game" time.
After throwing a pick to Jourdan Lewis, Devin Gardner, who rolled out to his right, nearly threw an interception to Jarrod Wilson, a 6'2," 202-pound junior who has the size to be a smashing safety for Curt Mallory, who'll exclusively handle the position instead of overseeing the entire group of DBs.
Roy Manning, who moves from linebackers coach, will coach corners, per MGoBlue.com.
One of those guys will be Jabrill Peppers' No. 1 man. Relationships with position coaches often run deeper than those with head coaches and other assistants; it makes sense to assume that Peppers could share his tightest bonds with Mallory and Manning.
Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, is all about spreading the wealth. Wherever Peppers fits best is where he'll play.
Greg Mattison says Jabrill Peppers could play anywhere in secondary, CBs need to be more aggressive http://t.co/xijB25M3uD— Wolverines News (@WolverinesMLive) March 5, 2014
Lewis, a 5'10," 174-pound sophomore, had a respectable spring game. In addition to the interception, he broke up a couple of passes and ran with top units—the former Detroit Cass Tech star appeared sharper than ever. That's what experience does, and the Wolverines have veterans such as redshirt junior Blake Countess and senior Delonte Hollowell on whom to rely.
Showing signs of growth and maturity, Michigan's defensive backs could easily be the strength of Team 135's defense. Yes, despite a deep pool of linebackers, Team 135's pre-Peppers secondary looks to be in good shape.
Hoke should focus on maintaining the quality he has now, rather than going all-in on Peppers, who arrives this fall. He is a game-changer, that much is clear. But the secondary is plural, not singular.
How does that old saying go? Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear?
Something like that, right?
By now, everyone has heard stories about what went wrong in 2013. Those, of course, are usually rumor-driven discussions with little to no credibility. Don't believe the message boards. That being said, it didn't take a football expert to see that Team 134 had lacked togetherness.
What is Hoke's No. 1 post-spring concern?
Sure, that may sound harsh, and it is.
But given the coaching staff's reputation, success in recruiting and access to existing talent, winning seven games was a far cry from what was expected. If anything, 2013 should have been filed under "what not to do."
They've had months of "hey, don't do that again," from staff members and teammates—the Wolverines don't need to be reminded of how poorly they played this past season.
But they do need to be reminded of how they wasted their potential. Again, Wolverines football v. 2013 was capable of much more than it put forth. Four of their losses came by 11 combined points. Each of those losses were by four or less.
Nightmares of Hail Mary passes in Happy Valley, thoughts of dropping yet another one to Michigan State and bad tastes from the one-point loss to Ohio State were enough to make everyone want to forget the year that was.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverine football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81