Michigan Football: Wolverines Spring Game Report Card
At the outset of Michigan’s spring football game, the action on the field appeared all too familiar. QB Denard Robinson ran around and through the defense for 55 yards. Moments later Michael Cox scampered 68 yards for a touchdown.
Fans scanned the sidelines wondering if Rich Rodriguez and Greg Robinson were still patrolling the Michigan bench.
Seriously, the defense eventually began to show the influence of Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison.
Carvin Johnson intercepted a pair of passes, Jake Ryan returned a pick-six and Mike Martin was seen wreaking havoc from an outside linebacker position. Other defenders made their presence known, while several offensive players left positive impressions.
Let’s take a look at how the team shapes up position-wise for the upcoming summer.
Denard Robinson came into spring practice known as an outstanding rushing quarterback who was a somewhat streaky passer. Saturday’s conditions weren’t ideal, and Robinson displayed some of his unfavorable tendencies.
He needs to improve his touch both on screen passes, and when he needs to fit passes between linebackers and defensive backs.
His arm strength is excellent and his running ability is second to none. If the rules in the scrimmage allowed him to run “live,” there’s no telling if the defense would have ever stopped him.
In Al Borges’ new offense, Robinson has four or five plays designed specifically for him to run the football. Instead of running from an option scheme, Robinson fakes the tailback to the right, then counters to the left behind a pulling guard.
Devin Gardner enters his sophomore season with little game experience. During part of the 2010 season, Gardner was reported to have a lower-back injury and part of the time he was supposedly in Rodriguez’ doghouse.
In any event, Gardner knows he’s the backup quarterback, which means he’ll see plenty of action. In Saturday’s scrimmage, Gardner looked hesitant at times thus making it appear that his technique was slightly off.
Gardner’s blessed with a strong arm, and is also a legitimate threat to run. At 6’4” he can also see the field very well.
When Michigan starts in an I-formation, it appears that Hoke has settled on John McColgan at fullback. Rarely seen on the field before this year, the 230-pound RS senior is a very sound blocker. He also displays an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. To date, however, he's never carried the rock. Maybe we should call him a blocking back instead of a fullback.
At the tailback position, Stephen Hopkins has an advantage because of his potential to be a solid short-yardage and tackle-to-tackle runner. But Michael Cox and Michael Shaw showed exceptional speed at times. Vincent Smith, who gained 601 yards on 136 carries last season, should be ideal catching screen passes and as an outlet coming out of the backfield. If he stays healthy, Fitzgerald Toussaint's combination of speed and toughness will allow him to earn some playing time.
By far the deepest segment of the team, Daryl Stonum, Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree will get most of the reps, with Martavious Odoms, Je’Ron Stokes, Jeremy Gallon, Kelvin Grady and others vying for reps.
The tight end position is in good hands with Kevin Koger and Brandon Moore. Converted wide receiver Ricardo Miller and incoming freshman Chris Barnett will also compete.
Just as it did the last two seasons, the offensive line loses its effectiveness when center David Molk is on the sidelines. Fortunately he’s in good health right now.
Saturday’s performance was not exactly inspiring. This, of course, could say something about the defense. Neither the Wolverines power running game nor pass protection was very impressive. Many of Stephen Hopkins' downhill rushing plays were stuffed. On other occasions, the pass protection was shaky.
In fairness, the line is not extremely deep right now. A pair of 330-pounders (Chris Bryant and Tony Posada) will be here this fall, but it’s unlikely either of them will step in immediately.
Right now, it looks like LT Taylor Lewan (who was missing Saturday), LG Ricky Barnum, C David Molk, RG Patrick Omameh and RT Mark Huyge will start in September.
One experiment this spring was moving Will Campbell back from offensive tackle to defensive tackle.
The 6’5”, 333-pound 5-star recruit will enter his junior year without much of a contribution. He’s been on both sides of the ball in the Rodriguez system but now is at home on defense. Veterans Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen should anchor the end positions but Jibreel Black could unseat either of the two. Kenny Wilkins can play anywhere up front.
Campbell will have tough competition for the tackle spot from Quinton Washington and Richard Ash. NG Mike Martin, who’s undoubtedly Michigan’s best defensive lineman, has been experimenting some at outside linebacker and looked very good Saturday.
Turning in a stellar defensive performance Saturday was Jake Ryan. The redshirt freshman from Cleveland St. Ignatius apparently has found a home at outside linebacker. Ryan spent a great deal of time in the opposing backfield Saturday, and also intercepted a Devin Gardner pass for a touchdown.
Another surprise is linebacker Marell Evans. The Richmond Times-Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in Richmond, Virginia, Evans rarely played for Rodriguez, and eventually transferred to Hampton.
Evans (ILB) was welcomed back this season, and like Ryan (OLB), will push the starters for playing time. Cam Gordon (OLB) and Kenny Demens (ILB), who were two of the bright spots, have locked up starting linebacker positions. Mike Jones, Isaiah Bell, Brandon Herron and others will vie for the other spot. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Evans and Ryan join in that fight.
After the first few minutes, the defense actually performed fairly well Saturday. And some of the better plays were made by the secondary. Carvin Johnson intercepted a few passes, and early-arrival Greg Brown was quite impressive at his cornerback slot.
Providing Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd are at full strength, the defensive backfield should be a Michigan strength for the first time in quite a while.
With Woolfolk and Floyd at the corners, expect Carvin Johnson and Jordan Kovacs to start the season at safety. Greg Brown, Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery will exert pressure at corner. Marvin Robinson Thomas Gordon and Josh Furman will battle for playing time at safety.
Michigan had one of the worst field-goal kicking units in the nation last year, and Saturday was no different. Michigan missed all three tries, so the only thing fans can hope for is the arrival of Matt Wile from San Diego. The incoming freshman, who had planned on attending San Diego State, followed Hoke to Ann Arbor.
Sophomore Will Hagerup, who is already an accomplished punter, will undoubtedly be one of the best in the Big Ten this fall. As a freshman, Hagerup’s punting average was 43.6—fourth in the league.
Field Goals: D-
You have to give the coaching staff credit for trying to creating a power running offense out of this group. By the end of last season, the offensive had finally mastered the brush block. Engaging a defender with a real block would have kept anyone watching Denard Robinson's heroics.
The fans actually saw some real line play Saturday. On defense, Mike Martin used some nifty moves to rush the passer from either the nose position or from the edge. Jake Ryan, Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson and Jabreel Black were also making plays.
With a little help, David Molk will anchor an improved offensive line. With that, the inside running game will improve, and that will allow Denard to mix things up so he won’t spend as much time on the sideline.
This wasn’t a very good team at the end of 2010, so seeing some signs of encouragement is a pretty good thing.