Final Spring Football Practice 2008

Saline High School was a good alternative for the final Spring scrimmage although the weather did not cooperate. It was a cold, windy day with temperatures ranging from a chilly, rainy 42-44 degrees. It snowed Saturday night so it got colder as the day progressed so I've waited until Sunday to post my observations after reading other observations from fans on the posting boards, journalists from newspaper articles, interviews, videos, etc.

Let me start with an overall analysis of where the Michigan football program appears to be! We have had huge attrition (Mallett, Boren, etc.), and will continue to be disappointed with good players leaving our program because they don't fit it, fit the system, etc. Rodriquez is a tough coach who will refuse to compromise his values, vision and philosophies for the Michigan football program to individuals who will always be willing to criticize him, his coaching staff and the Michigan football program. What I saw on Saturday was what I was hoping to see: a quicker, faster, better conditioned football team. The team will take time to develop from a conditioning, personnel and system approach; however, it will be a team and program that Michigan football fans will be proud of. We will have many championships years under Coach Rod and staff.

On offense, our offensive line will be a better unit than the 2007 group although it won't have the individual talent of a Jake Long or Adam Kraus. It will be quicker, faster, more determined and will play more as a unit. It looks like Schilling, Zirbel, Moosman, McAvoy and Ortmann won starting positions, but Molk will definitely contribute after losing 20 pounds with the flu. Molk won the best conditioned lineman, Moosman won the Dierdorf and Schilling won the Sophomore Awards. We will see the offensive line doing significantly more blocking downfield with plays designed to break away from the line of scrimmage to block in the open field. We will see more offensive plays from an offense that will line up quickly, and not give defenses time to adjust to our personnel, formations or play calls. We won't see nearly as many mid-to-long range pass plays as in previous years, but we will see significantly more receivers utilized and pass plays called. My guess is that we may run 40 times and pass 30 times per game in our 70 or so plays. We will not be a 500 yards of total offense team, but we will scrap for the 300 to 400 yards we get. Coach Frey is doing a great job molding this group into a productive unit, and he is an outstanding recruiter. Our execution will improve, and red zone efficiency will be heavily emphasized.

At quarterback, expect both Sheridan and Threet to play and rotate to keep defenses off balance. Sheridan is the better runner, game manager and ball control quarterback while Threet is a better passer. It will probably take Feagin at least half the season to develop into the type of player who can rotate in. Our running backs won't need to worry about pass blocking huge, physical defensive ends rushing our quarterback in the pocket since they'll be running, catching, decoying and blocking downfield. Minor won the starting position with Grady as his primary backup. The speed back position is up for grabs with Carlos Brown getting the start initially, but he must demonstrate better ball control to maintain the starting position. Brown couldn't play in the Spring scrimmage because of a broken finger so Avery Horn demonstrated he has the speed to get outside and upfield fast. Horn, Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw will all see action at the speed back position. The two back system will be hard to defense, and Rodriquez and Magee will make sure to keep defenses guessing with unpredictable formations and play calls. It will be exciting to watch the running backs develop, and earn their playing time every day through Summer and Fall practices. Coaches Jackson, Smith and Dews are working our skill players hard to get the offensive system down. What the players do on their own this Summer under player leadership will determine their success in August.

The huge difference offensively will be utilizing six skill positions as offensive threats rather than four. Five linemen will block, and not necessarily at the line of scrimmage; the six others will be fast, quick, and in great condition to line up, run and pass on every down. We will use the tight end significantly more as a receiver and decoy rather than as a blocker. Carson Butler and Martell Webb are perfect for this role; they are fast, quick and release well from the line of scrimmage. They are both good receivers although their were some disappointing drops in the Spring scrimmage. Steve Watson may be ready to contribute by Fall, but Massey may not be ready until mid-season. Clemons, Hemingway and Mathews will be our starting receivers although Babb, Rogers, Stonum and Savoy will all rotate in. Frosh Robinson, Roundtree, Odoms and Shaw may also see action at wide receiver. Hemingway didn't play in the Spring Scrimmage due to a high ankle sprain, but he will be our Slot. We will throw a lot of short passes to backs out of the backfield, the tight end and wideouts. We won't see the quick toss play much if at all nor will we see as many reverses. When defenses load up to stop the short stuff, Rod will go deep. We will also take away a lot of the defensive blitz packages with an offense that is mobile, and not satisfied to patiently wait in the pocket for a receiver to get open.

Ball control will be the key to the success of the offense. They will be fast, quick, well-conditioned and unpredictable, but they'll need to minimize mistakes to be an effective unit. Our offense will be aggressive, play fast, hurry back to run the next play quickly in an effort to outcondition, outquick and speed by our opponents. Hopefully, we'll have enough offense to beat Utah and Miami-OH, but Notre Dame will be a low scoring defensive struggle and turnovers will be the key to winning that game on the road. We are lucky to begin the Big Ten season at home with Wisconsin and Illinois to hopefully the three games of experience will help us to improve by the time the Big Ten season commences.

The strength of the 2008 team will be on defense. We have a veteran group who knows they'll have to carry the team until the offense develops and gels. Our linebackers will be exceptionally strong with great depth. We have five players who could start for most teams in the country: John Thompson, Obi Ezeh, Austin Panter, Jonas Mouton and Marell Evans. Panter won the best conditioned award. Ezeh is probably the most athletic. Mouton and Evans are former safeties who have grown into linebackers so expect this group to be solid against the run and the pass. Other linebackers who could contribute include Brandon Herron and Brandon Logan. It is doubful that any Frosh will contribute to linebacking since we are so strong there, but we did recruit four outstanding linebackers in Fitzgerald, Witherspoon, Demens and Hill.

Our defensive line will be faster, quicker and more mobile. Tim Jamison will be the leader of the defensive line and starts at defensive end; he is fast, strong and experienced. Brandon Graham starts at the other defensive end, and will go to tackle in obvious passing situations with Ryan VanBergen coming in to help with the pass rush. Graham has moved from 285 to 260, and all the defensive lineman have lost weight while gaining speed and quickness. VanBergen won the Maulbetsch Award, and Will Johnson won the Meyer Morton Award so we can expect great things of this defensive line. John Ferrara backs up Johnson. Terrence Taylor and Marquise Slocum will battle for playing time at the other defensive tackle with Barwis and the coaches helping them keep their weight down and their running, strength and conditioning up. We will use four down linemen (4-3-4) in obvious running situations, but move to a 3-3-5 in obvious passing situations. The backups on the line, Jason Kates and Ray Ray Sagesse will be hard-pressed contribute until they get their weights down, and this will leave playing time open for incoming Frosh Mike Martin.

Our defensive backfield should be solid as well, a much better group than last year. Our defensive backfield ended last season as one of the finest in the country, and this years group will be stronger. Veterans Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent man the corners with Stevie Brown winning the Free Safety and Charles Stewart winning the Strong Safety positions. Brown won the Matthei Award, and best conditioned in the skill group. Brandon Harrison resumes his role as Nickel while moving to safety when needed; he played with an injured shoulder in the Spring. Troy Wolfolk will back up the corner positions, and had an interception in the Spring scrimmage. Boubacar Cissoko and J.T. Floyd may also contribute as Frosh on special teams. Doug Dutch, Michael Williams and Artis Chambers will contribute at Nickel, safety and corner positions. Look for Brandon Smith to contribute at Strong Safety unless we need him at quarterback in case of injuries. A better pash rush and more sacks will make this group even more effective. Coach Shafer will have us in aggressive defensive schemes, and Coaches Hopson, Tall and Gibson are working hard to get this group to be a fiercesome bunch.

One of the things I like about Coach Rod's philosophy showed in the scrimmage, and that was the defense as an offensive weapon. He has practice schemes showing the defense turning over the ball and proceeding down the field offensively. We will field an athletic defense that could easily create defensive scores, and this group should give us a turnover advantage if the offense doesn't mess up too badly.

On special teams, Bryan Wright will continue to kickoff and K.C. Lopata will be our field goal and extra point specialist; they are both solid kickers and accurate. Mesko returns for his 3rd year as punter, and should be one of the best in the Big Ten and the country. Our snapper, Sean Griffin, also returns. On kickoff returns, we can use Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown like we did last year, but it is more likely we go for speed with Avery Horn, James Rogers, JR Hemingway, Michael Williams and some of the Freshman: Michael Shaw, Sam McGuffie and Terrence Robinson. On punt returns, Greg Mathews gives us good ball control with Donovan Warren backing up. James Rogers and Michael Williams are also solid backups. It will be interesting who wins the flyer job on punts amongst the true Frosh: Boubacar Cissoko, J.T. Floyd, etc. Expect our special teams to be a big point of emphasis!

Hopefully, our special teams will contribute to good field position for the offense and give our defense good field position to contain opposing offenses. If our special teams and defense are solid, our offense can develop in the Fall so we can end the 2008 season on a proud note. While one would have to say that Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois should be the top returning teams for 2008, I like our hunger to improve and outtough, outquick, outthink, outcondition, etc. with a faster, hungrier, tougher group of guys. Our role is "darkhorse" along with the Spartans. We play Sparty at home on October 25, and that will be a real backyard brawl. If we win, could we be in position in November to upset the Buckeyes? The Buckeyes are gearing for 4 Big Ten titles in a row. I like our schedule, our coaches, our strength & conditioning staff, our attitude, our philosophies and our chances to succeed. We need team leadership, spirit and unity to make things happen.

Go Blue!!!

Spring Primer

2008 Big Ten Football Prospectus

Spring 2008 Roster

Spring Awards

Spring Game Video #1/#2/#3

Big Ten Network Video Highlights

Spring Game Pictures#1/#2/#3/#4/#5

Coach Rod on Spring Practices

Spring Practice Summary 2006

Spring Scrimmage 2005

Spring Scrimmage 2004

Spring Scrimmage 2003-cancelled due to turf/weather

Spring Scrimmage 2002

Spring Scrimmage 2001

Spring Scrimmage 2000