In addition to Michigan Football's Fan Day and Media Day, the Wolverines held their first "full contact" scrimmage this past Saturday. We had some Maize n Spies hanging around fall practice and there have been a number of sites that saw the game first hand. This, combined with a pile of reports I've gotten and the BTN Michigan preview, gives us a pretty good idea of where the team is at this point.
Critical Position Competitions
Quarterback: It doesn't matter who you talk to, but is getting to be pretty clear that Denard Robinson is your starter. Even though Rodriguez and Cavlin McGee are keeping things clsoe to the vest and praising each player, the level of discussion involving Denard speaks volumes. Further, if Rodriguez and McGee wanted to let people know that Tate was in front, they'd probably be talking about him more. Based on reports from our Maize 'n Spies, Denard's level of execution is far and away the best of the quarterbacks. The scrimmage also confirmed something I pointed out earlier, Denard is the best at being deliberate in the pocket and allowing plays to develop before he takes off running. The scrimmage and practice reports I've received on Tate Forcier are fairly consistent at this point: he's scrambly, he's "poised," he's got the least arm strength of the three, he's not allowing plays to develop if there's even a hint of pressure. There've been some calls for Devin Gardner to forgo his redshirt, as Gardner spent a lot of time with the 2's during the scrimmage, but I hope the coaching staff allows him to carry a clipboard this season.
The problem with the comparisons between Tate and Denard is that people are getting the impression that Tate has somehow regressed to the point that he is actually worse now than he was as a freshman. That is not the case. Tate isn't having that bad a camp. I've heard good things about his decision making, he clearly has the best "touch" on the ball, and he's not turning the ball over. His passing decision making has made a step forward from the Spring Game. So people shouldn't come away from the discussion thinking he's an invalid. Tate's understanding of the offense and ability to properly execute it remains light years ahead of Gardner at this point. So before people start anointing the freshman, give your sophomore QB some credit. He's looked pretty good this summer, despite the bad press. The difference is Denard's performance exceeding people's expectations, not Tate's failing it meet those expectations.
Linebacker: The biggest surprise seems to be that Mark Moundros has replaced Obi Ezeh as your starting middle linebacker. Before you start panicking that the world is coming to an end, remember that Moundros is beating out the returning starter for the job. It's not being handed to him. Based on the scrimmage and reports from practice Moundros has earned the job. Word back is Moundros is filling the gaps well and playing good assignment football. If he's capable of doing that all season, well, it's a HUGE improvement over last year.
Book-ending Moundros appears to be Craig Roh (a guaranteed starter) and Jonas Mouton. No one is surprised that Roh will start. At this point there may be some competition as to who will start outside, Obi Ezeh or Jonas Mouton. Ezeh spent the day mostly on the outside with Roh and Moundros. Mouton's been a little dinged up, so I'm not putting too much stock in who played with Moundros and Roh. Mouton's reportedly been pretty good in camp and has more natural ability at the position than Ezeh, so I'm guessing at this point that he'll start unless the injuries don't clear up. Rodriguez went out of his way to praise Ezeh's effort and selflessness, but also said Ezeh's not getting hung up on who starts. That tells us that right now: Ezeh isn't starting; looks like he's moved outside of MLB, and that Kenny Demens, J.B. Fitzgerald and Moundros have progressed enough to allow Ezeh to shift outside where he can react to the offense rather worry about having to lead the defense.
I think you're going to see a lot of rotation in the non-Roh linebackers this year, especially early on, before we finally settle on the right combination.
Cornerback: By all accounts, J.T. Floyd looked pretty good. The film that's being released shows that he's got good use of his hands and decent hips. He's locked down the No. 1 slot. After that, things are less clear. James Rogers is slated at number two, but it doesn't look like he was particularly effective over the weekend. Look for either Teric Jones or Cullen Christian (the second level DBs) to displace him at corner before the season starts. The scrimmage basically confirmed what we've been thinking.
Safety: Rodriguez basically confirmed to us yesterday that Jordan Kovacs has locked down the hybrid S/LB slot. Personally, I'm fine with this. Kovacs is as good a run stopper as Michigan has on it's roster. He's excellent at disengaging from blockers and seems to be able to "smell" the run game. If he's there, I'm fine with it. For now. The issue then becomes depth at the box safety position. Kovacs is the most experience safety on the team, and I have to think that he's going to end up in a hybrid/hybrid role where he's back directing defensive traffic and a player like Michael Williams or even freshman Josh Furman comes in and takes the regular hybrid slot. Confused yet? So am I. It could end up that Michigan goes to a straight 3-4 with Roh, Mouton, Moundros and Ezeh on the field at once. But I don't see enough depth at safety to have Kovacs at the line of scrimmage(ish). If Kovacs is the fourth linebacker, we're playing two freshmen at safety and have almost no depth after that. I don't understand how that would work. Someone explain it to me if you know how.
Right now it appears that Cameron Gordon will start at the Strong Safety (not "box" safety) position in the outfield of the defense. He's still learning the position, but seems to be fairly natural. While Gordon's a big hitter he does seem to have some issues wrapping people up, so that could be problematic if it doesn't change. Another safety option is Vladimir Emilien who's had a good camp and earned a reputation as a solid tackler. Personally, I'm still not convinced he has the speed to play in the outfield after watching him get outrun by Roy Roundtree in the Spring Game. Freshman Marvin Robinson stirred up a little buzz after making an interception and running it back. Robinson was one of the Freshmen that Rodriguez specifically said won't redshirt and will contribute to the team this year. So there's that. All things considered, Safety is the most confusing and least certain position on the field.
Less Concerning Competitions
Offensive Tackles: At this point Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge look pretty good and are probably slated to start at the Tackle Positions. This is still subject to change because of the impressive springs that Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are having, but right now the seniors seem to be executing the offense pretty well and blocking like they should. So, yay.
Running Back: If you're looking for a clear leader, good luck. Everyone's had some good moments and some crappy ones. Ball security has been good, but no one has separated themselves from the pack. Rodriguez told everyone that it looks like three or four guys could see the field versus UConn. I personally don't think this is a bad thing. Someone will assert themselves and we'll have our answer. The only real answer that came out of the scrimmage at running back is that Stephen Hopkins will play and he will contribute to the team this year. The big boy did some damage over the weekend and does the most important thing a running back can do, he gets positive yards even when he gets hit early. Look for a lot of Michael Cox, Vincent Smith, Michael Shaw and Stephen Hopkins on September Fourth.
Other Things of Note
Kelvin Grady had a stellar scrimmage. Further proof that Michigan's depth at slot receiver can now reach the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
Will Hagerup had a so-so scrimmage. Booming one punt and meh-ing a pair. He'll be fine.
The coverage game is notsogood. Please God let it improve.
Tackling on defense was suspect. Again, please God, let it improve.
Overall mostly positive things to report. The offense looked good. The offensive line is coming together well. The defense looks sustainable. September Fourth is less than two weeks away!