The Michigan players lined up on both sides of the rows of cones-- offense on one side, defense on the other. Between the rows, seven players were engaged in what the coaches call the "M-Drill": three blockers, three defenders, and a running back. In the drill, the back tries to use his blockers and his running ability to maneuver past the three tacklers. As reporters watched and cameras clicked away, freshman running back Michael Shaw showed his moves by juking past one defender, his speed by eluding another, and then squared his shoulders and plowed over freshman cornerback Boubacar Cissoko-- the final defender in front of him. The hit drew a collective yelp from Shaw's teammates, while a few reporters made impressed remarks.
Die-hard Wolverine fans who followed Michigan recruiting knew that four-star recruit Michael Shaw had first-class speed.
They didn't know that he brought that kind of pop, too.
In reality, former Trotwood-Madison star Michael Shaw is just one of several true freshman who have impressed Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez so far this camp. Running back Sam McGuffie has also made a positive impact on his coach, causing Rodriguez to say in a recent press conference that neither McGuffie nor Shaw would redshirt their freshman year.
"Normally the biggest drawback from a freshman is can they handle the schemes, the pace and all the things that go on with it," Rodriguez said of the two running backs. "And those two have shown that they can so far. They're both fast, explosive players that are good with the spread system...these guys were obviously well-coached in high school."
Rich Rod also singled out offensive linemen Ricky Barnum and Rocko Khoury, receiver Martavious Odoms and tight end Kevin Koger as possible true freshman contributors, and has commented several times already on slot reciever Terrence Robinson. Wide receiver Darryl Stonum, a spring practice participant, will very likely be a starter. Rodriguez highlighted tackle Mike Martin, safety Brandon Smith, and cornerbacks J.T. Floyd and Boubacar Cissoko as possible contributors early for the defense.
"I thought going in there would be upwards of nine or 10 true freshmen who were going to play," Rodriguez said. "That looks to be the case."
This comes as great news to Michigan fans who feasted on McGuffie and Robinson's YouTube highlights from high school, or drooled over Cissoko's five-stars and impressive offers from other high-profile schools. The Wolverines will be young, and this inexperience may cost them a few games this season, but it's worth keeping an eye on because this team will likely be extremely dangerous in two or three years.
Update: Quarterback Competition
It doesn't seem as if the early success of impact freshman has not stretched into the quarterback department, however. True freshman Justin Feagin, a late commitment last winter and the only running quarterback on Michigan's roster, has struggled.
"He's got a long way to go mentally," Rich Rodriguez said, "because he's got so much to learn."
This does not come as a surprise, as the quarterback is the toughest position to learn in any offense, and Rodriguez has essentially said from the beginning of fall practice that it was a two-man race between Steve Threet and Nick Sheridan. Feagin will likely contribute more as the year goes along and he gets more used to the college level, but he will probably not, barring a couple injuries (*knock on wood*), start at any point this season.
The Threet-Sheridan compitition took an interesting turn recently as reporters noticed that Sheridan, a former walk-on who was considered a long shot to nab the job over the more highly-regarded Threet, was significantly more impressive than his counterpart. Rodriguez even seemed to admit in a later press conference that Sheridan had been more impressive as of late.
It is interesting to imagine an undersized walk-on who, at this time last year was a fourth-string clipboard colonel for Chad Henne and Ryan Mallett, actually winning the job. Rodriguez insisted for some time that the competition between Sheridan and Threet was close, but the collective response from writers and bloggers was a collective "okay, whatever." Threet was a four-star recruit who played in a spread in high school and clearly has a stronger arm, but he has reportedly not had his best camp so far.
It is entirely possible that Threet had a bad day for all the cameras. It is also not only possible but likely that, if he does indeed trail Sheridan right now, he eventually overtakes him in the next two and a half weeks and is named the starter for Aug. 30th against the University of Utah.
And this competition probably means nothing in the long-run: Rodriguez has two highly-touted running quarterbacks coming to Michigan next fall in Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver. It is likely that both of them leap-frog everyone in the depth chart early on in next year's camp.
But... This Sheridan thing intrigues me. Could he be Michigan's starter for 2008? Could Rich Rodriguez's first quarterback at Michigan be a guy Lloyd Carr essentially allowed on the team only because Sheridan's father was a coach? It definitely merits watching.
Carlos Brown, Movin' Around
Those who have attended portions of Michigan's practices have noticed running back Carlos Brown taking some snaps at quarterback. When asked about it, Brown was reserved, but affirmed that the coaches want him to take some snaps there during the season. He was quick to point out his primary position, however.
"I'm a running back, so that's all I'll say," Brown said. "I was a quarterback in high school. I don't do it a lot. I just flash back there and feel comfortable when I'm back there."
Brown has also lined up quite a bit at slot receiver and in the backfield at the same time as running back Brandon Minor. Rodriguez seems to have every intention of utilizing Brown's speed in the offense.
Speaking of the spread, which provides him more opportunities than the previous offense, Brown said: "I really like it. It gives a lot of athletes the opportunity to get the ball in space. As an athlete, that's what you really want."