Michigan Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News So Far
Michigan was eager to move past a disappointing 7-6 season which ended with a stinging 31-14 defeat in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The team had entered the backstretch of its schedule competing for the Big Ten championship until losses to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State torpedoed what had once been a promising season.
After two seasons of declining results, this offseason will be pivotal for Brady Hoke as he tries to lead Michigan back to national prominence.
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.
Al Borges Takes the Blame
After three seasons of watching the offense under coordinator Al Borges alternate between high-powered excess (see last season’s Indiana and Central Michigan games) and epic failure (Michigan State, any season under Borges) Brady Hoke finally had enough and fired him in early January.
At least that’s the official story.
Since athletic director Dave Brandon sits in on meetings with the Michigan coaching staff, many believe that he contributed to Borges' sacking.
Borges’ dismissal wasn’t a surprise; he had been squarely in the crosshairs since quarterback Denard Robinson’s transformation from Heisman Trophy candidate to failed dropback passer under his tutelage. But it was surprisiong that no one joined Borges on the way out. Darrell Funk (offensive line) and Fred Jackson (running backs) had also drawn criticism for the struggling offense, but both were retained.
The defensive coaching staff all return but have been shuffled—the most notable change being the defensive backfield duties being split between Curt Mallory (safeties), formerly responsible for the entire defensive backfield, and Roy Manning (cornerbacks). Greg Mattison will oversee all linebackers, with Mark Smith taking over the defensive line.
By retaining most of his coaches, Hoke has no excuses if Michigan struggles again this season.
Doug Nussmeier Hired
Brady Hoke ran his search for a new offensive coordinator with surprising secrecy. It was a complete shock when he announced that Doug Nussmeier, formerly of Alabama, had been hired to replace Al Borges.
The Michigan online community exploded with conjecture that Nussmeier was brought in to be the head coach-in-waiting, a move that would make little sense. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Hoke gets fired without Nussmeier’s offense being partly responsible.
Quarterback Devin Gardner joined many on the team who are raving about the changes brought by Nussmeier.
"He demands perfection," said Gardner. "Even when you have a big play, he finds something that can be improved."
Nussmeier is also making a big impression with recruits, including incoming quarterback recruit Alex Malzone, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.
"He [Nussmeier] just wants to help bring Michigan back to the great football it's used to," said Malzone. "He's had great success at Alabama and at Washington and also at Michigan State. I know he'll have the same at Michigan."
While enthusiasm for Nussmeier is running at a fever pitch, he still inherits a bad offensive line that's losing its two best players from last season.
He'll somehow need to overcome that obstacle while installing a new run-oriented offense for Michigan.
Devin Gardner Returns to Practice
Quarterback Devin Gardner was injured during a gutsy performance versus Ohio State in the regular-season finale. The injury gave backup Shane Morris an opportunity to start the bowl game and get much-needed reps with the first team during bowl preparations.
Gardner was on crutches for well over a month and was not expected to be ready when Michigan opened spring practice. But he was there and ready to go—perhaps an indication of the pressure he felt to perform for his new offensive coordinator.
Morris and freshman Wilton Speight are pressing Gardner, and it's not clear if he's completely recovered from last season's injury and prolonged rehab.
Michigan Misses on Transfer Chad Lindsay—to Ohio State
The Michigan offensive line struggled last season and has lost its best two players to the NFL, so when word got out that Alabama center Chad Lindsay was transferring, it seemed like a good possibility that he’d join Nussmeier in Ann Arbor. Lindsay, who has graduated from Alabama with a remaining season of eligibility, would be immediately able to play.
But Lindsay passed on Michigan and added insult to injury by joining archrival Ohio State. Lindsay would have only been a short-term solution, but his experience with Nussmeier’s offense would have been invaluable.
Graham Glasgow Arrested and Suspended
Fixing the offensive line was a top priority, and Graham Glasgow entered spring practice expected to be a starter. But Glasgow embarrassed the team and himself by getting arrested after a traffic stop.
According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press:
According to the police report, which was obtained through a public-records request, Glasgow was driving his white Chevrolet Suburban at 8:39 p.m. near William and State streets in Ann Arbor. At least seven other passengers were in the car —or almost in the car. ... During a field-sobriety test, Glasgow was asked to lift his foot and count to 30, but he could not hold up his foot to count to one. On the next test, Glasgow was to walk forward nine steps and turn; he did that but stumbled.
Hoke suspended Glasgow for part of spring practice and for the season opener versus Appalachian State.
Glasgow's arrest was another setback for an offensive line that needs all the bodies and practice time it can get.
Ty Isaac Transfers from USC
The Michigan running attack, which looked to be in good shape with Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith battling at the top of the depth chart, just got a boost.
But probably not until next season.
Transfer running back Ty Isaac will enroll at Michigan and apply for a hardship waiver that would let him play this season. But according to Nick Baumgardner at MLive.com, he may not be eligible until next year. Either way, it's a major coup for Hoke to bring in a 5-star recruit to bolster the running game—whenever he can play.
Taylor Lewan Arraigned and Drafted
More bad news from last season's offensive line. Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, who was taken with the 11th pick in the first round of the NFL draft, was arraigned on assault charges stemming from an incident last season.
Lewan allegedly fought with Ohio State fans on campus the night after Michigan's loss to the Buckeyes.
Michigan should be celebrating Lewan's status as a high draft pick, but instead, it's another black eye for an offensive lineman from last season.
Derrick Green Drops Weight
There were high expectations for running back Derrick Green last year, but a training camp injury and conditioning issues had him behind senior Fitzgerald Toussaint for most of the season.
When he finally saw the field, he showed a glimpse of why he was a top running back recruit (83 carries for 290 yards and two touchdowns).
This spring, Green entered camp 20 pounds lighter than last season and ready to be the focal point of the running attack.
"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."
Freddy Canteen dominates spring practice
The graduations of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo meant that Michigan entered the spring with big questions at receiver. The injury to tight end Jake Butt made the situation look even worse.
Enter Freddy Canteen, who was the breakout player of the spring—quite an accomplishment for the true freshman and early enrollee.
"Freddy's got game," said Gardner when asked about who stood out at wide receiver. "He's a really good player."
Defensive back Jourdan Lewis raved about him after the spring scrimmage.
"He's amazing; he's really explosive. He's just a playmaker; he can do anything on the field."
Canteen had one play during the spring scrimmage—a 44-yard reception that almost looked like a mistake on a day when the offense appeared to just be going through the motions.
Student Ticket Sales Take a Hit
Like Derrick Green, Michigan’s student section will be significantly smaller next season. After averaging nearly 20,000 seats sold for the last several years, the number of student seats sold for the upcoming season is just over 13,000.
John Bacon, noted journalist and author of several books on University of Michigan sports, wrote about the issue on his blog and put the blame squarely on policies enacted by athletic director David Brandon:
Survey after survey points the finger for lower attendance not at cell phone service or high definition TV, but squarely at the athletic department and college football itself. Fans are fed up paying steakhouse prices for junk food opponents —and junk food itself —while enduring endless promotions. The more college football caters to the TV audience at home, the more fans paying to sit in those seats feel like suckers.
In the short run, less students will equate to more money for the athletic department—students seats are sold at a discount. Less students will enable the university to sell the tickets at full price to the public. But the long-term ramifications of falling student attendance is troubling.
Many football season ticket holders began attending games as students. If students stop attending games, will they be as likely to support the program later in life?
Jabrill Peppers is on the way
When Michigan was struggling last season, a tweet from top recruit Jabrill Peppers had fans worrying if his commitment was wavering.
Not to worry—Peppers' commitment held, and he's due to be a part of the Michigan football team this fall.
He has embraced the pressure that comes with being one of highest-rated recruits in Michigan football history and intends "...to be the best player to ever wear that maize and blue," according to Jason Rubinstein of the The Michigan Daily.
Peppers is expected to be a defensive starter this fall and probably will also play on offense and special teams.
Last week, he showed why people are so excited about seeing him on the football field, as reported by CollegeFootballTalk:
At the state track meet this past Friday, the Paramus (NJ) Catholic High School easily won the 100-meter dash in the Non-Public A division for the second year in a row with a time of 10.52 seconds that’s tops in the state in any division this year. That mark was just a one-hundredth of a second off his personal best.
For a reference point, the all-time high school record in the 100-meter dash is 10.15 by four different runners —all of whom, incidentally, hail from the state of Texas.
Peppers wasn’t challenged after the first 50 meters or so as he finished nearly a half-second ahead of his nearest competitor. The runner who finished second? Five-star Alabama football signee Minkah Fitzpatrick.