Michigan Football: Spring Practice Grades for Early Enrollees
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been the topic of conversation among Michigan football fans since he replaced Al Borges in January. Last season’s 7-6 record, followed by the dismissal of Borges combined with quarterback Devin Gardner’s lingering injury, cast a pall over the Michigan offseason.
But now that spring practice is complete, discussion turns to the seven early enrollees who arrived on campus to get an early start on competition for next season.
Hopes are high in Ann Arbor that Michigan will rebound, but which early enrollees will help Michigan compete for the Big Ten championship next season?
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.
Wide Receiver Freddy Canteen
Talking to Michigan players on both sides of the ball, Freddy Canteen was obviously the breakout player of the spring—quite an accomplishment for a player who arrived on campus in January.
“Just trying to get an edge on everybody else,” said Canteen when asked about spring practice in a video feature on the official Michigan athletic site. “I came in ready, and everything has been going great.”
"Great" might be an understatement.
“Freddy’s got game,” said Devin Gardner when asked who was standing out at wide receiver. “He’s a really good player.”
Canteen has also earned praised from head coach Brady Hoke.
“[Freddy] is a good route runner, a guy who is entrenched in trying to be the best he can,” said Hoke. “He learns well, he listens well and he truly has a passion for a game.”
Defensive back Jourdan Lewis was less reserved, “He’s amazing; he’s really explosive. He’s just a playmaker; he can do anything on the field.”
Canteen’s lone reception of the spring scrimmage, a 44-yard catch, was the offensive highlight of the day.
Offensive Tackle Mason Cole
Last year, Michigan’s offensive line was a major factor in the team’s inconsistent offense. With virtually every spot on the line open for competition this spring, Mason Cole has overcome conventional wisdom to be in the mix at offensive tackle.
Most incoming offensive linemen need a year to bulk up to compete at the collegiate level. So far, Cole is defying that. He has seized the opportunity provided by graduation (tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield), injury (Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski) and lack of discipline (Graham Glasgow) to impress Hoke.
"Physically, he's probably a little ahead of a lot of freshmen as an offensive lineman. I think his knowledge of the game, his high school program, lends to him being a bit more ready.”
“I come out every day trying to get better,” said Cole in a video segment on Michigan's athletic site.
Cole played tackle and matched up against defensive end Frank Clark in the spring scrimmage. While Hoke has mentioned the possibility that Cole will play as a true freshman, he’ll face stiff competition when fall camp begins. But for now, Cole’s emergence is welcome news from a position group that desperately needs to improve.
Defensive Tackle Bryan Mone
The Michigan defense suffered from a lack of depth last season and needs more skilled players. Otherwise, it risks another late-season meltdown.
Mone is establishing himself as a potential impact player on the defensive line and, according to Hoke, “…is competing well.”
“It’s a big change,” said Mone when asked about adapting to college football. “It’s weird going up against players who are stronger and faster.”
Mone is adjusting to the new level of competition and showing signs he could play as a true freshman.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison favors cycling players through the defensive line positions to maintain high intensity on every play. Mone is in position to be in that rotation next season.
Quarterback Wilton Speight
Devin Gardner has the inside track to be the starting quarterback but admits he’s faced fierce competition during spring practice.
“It’s a competition between me, Shane and Wilton. It’s going great, everybody is fiercely competing,” said Gardner. “Wilton has game, he can play…he’s definitely a threat for Shane and I.”
Wilton has come in gunning and isn’t backing down.
“I’m trying to be better than Devin,” said Speight. “Every little move he makes I’m watching and taking mental notes and making sure that I do the things he does well and I don’t do things he messes up on.”
Hoke said the quarterback battle is ongoing. Both Gardner and Morris were less than impressive running a tiny sliver of the playbook during the spring scrimmage.
Speight has long way to go to get playing time next season, but he’s preparing himself if the opportunity arises.
Defensive Back Brandon Watson
Brandon Watson, the high school teammate of Canteen, is acclimating to the grind of spring practice.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “I’m glad I made the decision to come here.”
Watson is probably a season away from getting significant playing time unless he makes a major leap forward during fall camp.
Linebacker Michael Ferns
Michael Ferns has missed time with a hamstrung injury but is hoping to be ready to go when fall camp opens.
He’ll have the benefit of learning from defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who is now working directly with the linebackers.
Wide Receiver Drake Harris
Freshman wide receiver Drake Harris, who started the spring strong, re-injured his hamstring and sat out later practices. While Harris missed his entire high school senior season because of a hamstring injury, this recent injury is not considered to be serious setback.
Hoke said that the team is being extra careful with Harris considering his history.
“We’re probably being a little bit safe with it.”
Harris recognizes he needs to be in top condition to compete at this level.
“Coming from high school, it’s a lot more uptempo,” he said. “Everybody is much faster and stronger.”
With the graduation Jeremy Gallon, competition is wide open at wide receiver, but Harris needs to stay healthy and compete in the practice before he can be considered a prospect to play next season.