Michigan Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Spring Game
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What a difference three years make.
Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke took over the Michigan program in similar yet totally different ways.
Rodriguez came to Michigan from the Big East as the third or fourth choice in a search that was botched from the beginning. True, it had been nearly forty years since Michigan was forced to hire a football coach.
And when ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit erroneously announced that Les Miles accepted the job, things went downhill.
Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor with a totally new offense. When key players Justin Boren and Ryan Mallett exited, Michigan supporters grew slightly disenchanted.
Hoke, on the other hand, arrived in Ann Arbor to a hero’s welcome, despite being the third choice for the job.
He’s a “Michigan Man,” learning the ropes as part of the Wolverine staff from 1995 to 2002. He knows the Michigan traditions, and what beating Ohio State is all about.
As he conducted post-game interviews, everyone could see that he is in charge.
Now that the coaching situation is secure, there are a few things we learned at the spring game. Let’s take a look.
The Michigan Family
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More than 300 former Michigan players showed up Friday night, lending support to Brady Hoke and his staff. There had been a rift in the Michigan family ever since the final season of coach Lloyd Carr’s regime.
There was a divide on who should be the new coach. Many say Carr thought it still wasn’t time for him to go.
Some of the players voiced the opinion that Rodriguez was the wrong person for the job.
A cancer in the Michigan family was evident, but now that a “Michigan man” is aboard, all is well for now.
Garrett Rivas has one blocked
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Don’t expect either Seth Broekhuizen or Brendan Gibbons to attempt a field goal in the opener this September.
The Michigan kickers, who collectively made only four of 14 field goals last season, were 0-3 in the spring game. For some reason, we shouldn’t get too excited with the 46-yarder that hit the left goal post.
Look for freshman Matt Wile to win the job in the fall.
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All Devin Gardner needs is playing time. The sophomore QB from Inkster completed only seven of 10 passes last season, sitting out much of the year as the third-string quarterback.
Knowing that he will be the backup quarterback in the fall, his performance Saturday was not his best. It’s a good thing he struggled now, because he’ll be tossed into the fire on several occasions next season.
Another positive is that he has loads of natural ability. Being 6’4”, he sees the field well, has a strong arm, and is a fearless runner.
Down the road, it's possible he may end up with another year of eligibility.
Fair Weather Fans
You would think the interest was there:
Brady Hoke was about to unveil his new football team, Denard Robinson would be on the field, and the defense just had to be better.
But the weather failed to cooperate, as it was one of those nasty spring days in Ann Arbor. What was supposed to be a raucous crowd of some 60,000, shrunk to a subdued gathering of barely 30,000.
Unlike some venues in the Southeast Conference, the Spring Game really hasn’t caught on in Ann Arbor.
Defenders Richard Ash (54) and Kenny Wilkins (41)
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The list is nearly endless. There are several defensive players who will see extensive playing time after not seeing much action last season.
True freshman cornerback Greg Brown, outside linebacker Jake Ryan, nose guard Will Campbell and inside linebacker Marell Evans are the first to come to mind.
Brown graduated high school early and enrolled at Michigan in January. He seemed quite at home Saturday, and will most likely be needed in September.
Redshirt freshman Jake Ryan was a crowd favorite, intercepting a pass and putting pressure on both quarterbacks. Ryan is a natural out there. You can even see that in his high school videos.
After shifting from defense to offense and back, the 335-pounder could be big addition to the defensive line if he can improve his technique and desire.
Evans, you may recall, transferred to Hampton for the 2010 season, after sitting the bench for Rich Rodriguez. As a high school senior, Evans was defensive player of the year in Richmond, Virginia.
Jibreel Black, Quinton Washington, Marvin Robinson and Kenny Wilkins may not start but will get plenty of playing time.
Where's the Punter?
The only constant in the kicking game is sophomore punter Will Hagerup, who’s on his way to becoming an All-American. Or is he?
Hagerup’s 43.6 average placed him fourth in the Big Ten last season, but there was one tiny snafu.
He was suspended for the Ohio State game for a “rules violation.” Everything’s quiet though, and none of this has been posted on the bulletin board.
On a positive note, Hagerup rejected offers from Florida and Ohio State to attend Michigan. His brother Chris, a senior, punts for Indiana.
Brady Hoke wasted no time making sure there were potential recruits at the Spring Game. Hoke’s already received verbal commitments from four players for 2012.
Royce Jenkins-Stone and Kaleb Ringer are a pair of four-star (Scout.com) middle linebackers, and Caleb Stacey and Ben Braden are three-star offensive linemen.
Five-star quarterback Zeke Pike is highly interested in Michigan. The 6’6”, 225-pounder is the third-rated QB in the nation and plays his high school ball in Fort Mitchell, KY.
Four-star tight end Ron Thompson of Southfield (MI) is also a good possibility.
Echoes from Lincoln
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The old saying was that teams must go through Ann Arbor and Columbus to win the Big Ten title.
Back in 1990 Penn State joined the conference, and now there's another changing of the guard. Some of us were eager to take a peek at the new kid on the block. Nebraska was also playing a Spring Game.
Everyone expects Taylor Martinez to eventually be the number one quarterback, Brion Carnes may be the No. 1 challenger while Cody Green becomes the third stringer.
Nebraska completed it season with a pair of losses, a 23-20 thriller to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, and 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl.
We Miss Bob Ufer
Back in the early 70s The Big House wasn’t exactly the loudest stadium in the country. When we arrived in Ann Arbor as freshmen, most of us had no idea who Bob Ufer was.
We soon found out he was this local insurance salesman who broadcast the games on a very-weak local station in Ann Arbor.
By some unknown circumstance, one of our dorm’s freshmen brought a transistor radio to the game in place of another bottle of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine.
And that was my introduction to the late Bob Ufer. All I can say is bless his maize and blue heart.
One Year Away
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There’s no question Brady Hoke is fit for the challenge. The team is beginning to take on his personality, you can see better focus and more toughness.
Denard Robinson is taking on a leadership role.
All of this is good, but how will it translate into victories?
The answer is yes, it eventually will. But for the Michigan faithful, not soon enough.
Michigan can most likely hang with Notre Dame. Michigan State might even be a tossup this season, but Nebraska should be much improved, and Ohio State, just don’t count on it.
Many of Terrelle Pryor’s detractors can easily find fault. . But like it or not, the kid is a winner. He can almost beat you by himself.