"Spring practice won't ever be a success. I just know how I think and how I operate mentally. We have to improve in the fundamentals, improve in the techniques, being accountable."
With that, the first Spring Practices of Brady Hoke's tenure as head coach at Michigan are under way with players in full pads starting yesterday. Courtesy of mgoblue.com, we've got some video:
Michigan Football Spring Rewind (via MGoBlueVideo)
Michigan Football Rewind - First Day in Pads (via MGoBlueVideo)
I love the interaction between Van Bergan and Denard at the end of that second clip. "You only got me because I made the first guy miss." I got some genuine lol's out of that.
Some of this information has been floating out there for some time now, but with the basketball team playing meaningful games in March...well...that's more fun, isn't it?
Reports have it that Denard looks pretty comfortable under center, which is good if Borges and company want to institute a more down-hill running attack. I believe Denard was under center during portions of his high school career, so reports that he couldn't handle it might be overexaggerated. On that note, I still think that it's going to be...interesting...having him under center. It seems to me that he is such a threat out of shotgun that having him under center is a misappropriation of his skill set. It is something that we're all going to get to see play out during the season though, and worrying about it now isn't productive.
Running back Michael Shaw has a broken hand, which we knew about, but he should be 100% for the season. His absence, however, does open the door for Mike Cox, Stephen Hopkins, and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Cox and Hopkins seem to have the type of body that Borges is going to want to see if we're truly going to be a punishing run team. Touissaint has been lighting fast through the spring, and will likely provide a good change of pace and be deployed as a weapon out of the backfield.
As for how the season will actually shape up, it's hard to imagine that Hopkins and Cox won't be the primarily guys in the backfield. There seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding Hopkins. The 6' 225 lbs. averaged 4.1 YPC last year in limited time, and with Borges' desire to lighten the rushing load on Denard, somebody is going to have to step up. Under Rodriguez, Michigan did not ever really have a "feature back" as he looked to spread it around, and Hopkins seems to have the build, at least, to fill that role under Hoke.
Defensively, Cameron Gordon, who flitted between safety and linebacker last season, will be a true outside linebacker under Mattison's 4-3 under scheme. That puts the linebacking corp at Gordon stong outside, Kenny Demens at middle, and then some combination of Mike Jones, Josh Furman, and Marvin Robinson competing for the weakside position. Hoke has really emphasized that he likes competition in his practices, and I expect that the starting linebacking corp will likely shift around a bit as players step up. Mike Jones seems to be the leading candidate for weakside, but again, this could change significantly as Hoke and Mattison figure out exactly what they've got.
The other big news out of Spring ball is the re-emergence of Will Campbell at defensive tackle. In a 4-3, you have two defensive tackles that are charged with doing vastly different things. There is a 1-tech DT, and a 3-tech DT. The 1 tech is designed to eat double teams and hold up at the point of attack. This is where Campbell goes. Reports are that he is doing very well, which you desparately want to be true. Having a functional 1-tech, be it Campbell or Richard Ash or Quinton Washington allows Mike Martin to slide into the 3-tech, where he will have single-blocking and basically be allowed to be the wrecking ball that he is designed to be. Coach Mattison: "Mike Martin is going to love playing the 3-tech." I concur. This scenario will no doubt be the opening strategy, but what remains to be seen is whether the 1-tech can hold up their end of the bargain. The good news is that the head man himself has plenty of experience with defensive lines, and if he's saying that they've got something in Campbell then they probably do. You're allowed to withhold judgement.
If this doesn't play out, then you will likely see Martin slotted back at the 1-tech, and Ryan Van Bergan move to the 3-tech that he played last year. You do not want this to happen.
Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd are out this spring with injuries (as is Kenny Demens) so there isn't much to report on the secondary. As anyone still scrubbing their eyeballs after having watched last year's secondary can attest, this is troublesome. Additionally, Ray Vinopal has decided to leave the program. He was a 2-star low-regarded recruit, but also started. Yeesh. The simple addition of Woolfolk should add some stability to that group, but it remains low-functioning to this point. Getting him healthy and ready to go is priority #1 for the secondary.
Hoke also has pointed out that they will have a field goal kicker who will make field goals. While I understand that this is obviously a point of emphasis, it's hard to imagine what they can do that Rodriguez and company couldn't. I mean, you can practice field goals, right? Surely they were practicing? Let's hope that Hoke has some magic FG dust that he brought from SDSU...
Finally, Hoke starts all his practices like this:
HOKE: Good Morning
TEAM: Good Morning
If you're still upset over his hiring I get that, but it's very hard not to like the guy. The practices have been high energy, and Hoke is using the time as a large classroom to teach the players his system. Mattison has previously stated that "players didn't know how to watch film" so hopefully they'll be able to get up to speed quickly with the new coaching staff, and we can get back to winning some football games.