Spring Game Bullets: Offense

Denard Robinson only took one drive so Devin Gardner took a lot of reps with the first team, but Gardner struggled passing the ball and will have people calling for him to move to receiver for the next six months.

Every year, there's something about the spring game that gets blown out of proportion. Three years ago it was a precocious freshman, Tate Forcier, that stole the show (and suffered through a tough season, lost his job to a classmate, and then flunked out after his sophomore year). Two years ago, Denard Robinson burst onto the scene with a virtuosic performance (against a defense that was later discovered to be one of the worst in the country). Last year, Denard struggled mightily (and we learned that the defense was actually much better than we thought it was, and Denard was fine). This year, we don't have any easily obvious narratives to draw from -- Denard and Fitzgerald Toussaint didn't play a lot, plus there weren't a whole lot of big plays or players that stood out as great (although Devin Gardner threw the ball poorly) -- but still, people will overreact to certain things and overlook others. It's spring; there's a long time until college football starts for real, and this is the only time we get to see the maize and blue suit up even if we're only using an extremely limited playbook to play against ourselves. There are still some general things to be taken from Michigan's offensive performance (the defense will be up tomorrow or Tuesday), and here they are:

  • The coaches obviously didn't want to show off Denard too much, plus exposing him to injury is an unnecessary risk. He played a series, quickly exited, and Devin Gardner ran with the ones for most of the rest of practice. Devin ran the ball pretty well and had some nice scrambles, but missed some easy throws badly. I don't know that you can use nerves as an excuse, and that's a little concerning. He threw a pick to Blake Countess, threw some inaccurate passes and the only big play through the air on the day was a 20-yard pass from Gardner to Jeremy Gallon that was thrown behind Gallon. I haven't seen a box score yet, but I'm assuming that Gardner's passing performance was very poor, and his rushing performance was above-average. Perhaps that will quiet the fringe "move Denard to receiver and start Devin" faction for a little while.
  • Gardner didn't run any snaps at receiver, which is no surprise. The coaches didn't want Alabama to have film on that, especially if it could be a real thing down the road.
  • Russell Bellomy did decently running with the twos. He seemed hesitant to throw the ball too far downfield, but he did a good job of hitting receivers underneath and showed a little bit of mobility. It will be a good thing if he can push Gardner for the backup spot, but Hoke said that as of right now, Devin is the #2. Regardless, having a little depth at quarterback where a few injuries wouldn't be totally catastrophic is a welcome change from a few years back for sure. I would say that Bellomy was a pleasant surprise and could threaten for playing time a few years from now.
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls should be a formidable duo at running back. A friend commented to me that Denard and Fitz are Michigan's only two All-American candidates (personally, I think that Taylor Lewan or Blake Countess could make a push for those honors if they have great years), and Toussaint looked good yesterday. According to MGoBlue, Fitz totaled 39 yards on five carries and he hit the holes well. Five carries is too little to draw too much from, but in limited action, he looked good. Rawls, on the other hand, had a very good day: he ran over Jarrod Wilson for a twenty yard touchdown on the only real "big play" of the day. He ran hard, he's pretty strong, and he's pretty shifty -- Rawls definitely looked like he's close to cementing the backup spot at running back. Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes caught the ball well, but didn't have success running it between the tackles.
  • The receiving situation is a little scary, as Gallon, Roy Roundtree and Jerald Robinson were the only players that seemed ready to play at a high level (and that's a stretch for Robinson). It's hard to tell how good the coverage was, how good (or bad) the passes were, and how the receivers did individually, but Michigan's passing game was subpar yesterday. Gallon is probably Michigan's best option at receiver, and I'm beginning to wonder if someone else will step up. This is definitely where losing Darryl Stonum hurts. The tight ends weren't impressive either. Hopefully Jehu Chesson and/or Amara Darboh can contribute immediately.
  • Outside of Taylor Lewan, the offensive line didn't do all that well either. Joey Burzynski got the start at left guard and looked like he was overwhelmed in the running game. At the other guard spot, Patrick Omameh looked pretty solid but got beaten a few times by Will Campbell (who we're all praying finally lives up to his hype and turns into a solid contributor. We'll see). Ricky Barnum still had some hiccups at center; namely the few fumbled snaps from under center. Michael Schofield got beat a few times at the right tackle spot on pass plays, but Lewan was pretty dominant all day. Jack Miller is the backup center and is still probably too small to contribute. Chris Bryant had some nice blocks in the running game, but he's still a little raw. There's definitely room on the two-deep for a highly touted freshman like Kyle Kalis to step in and play.
Michigan ran a very vanilla offense today, and that's probably part of the reason why that the defense often got the best of them. Michigan's two biggest playmakers, Denard and Fitz, barely played, and it was evident that the coaches wished to give Gardner, Bellomy, Rawls, and other young players some reps in the Big House. Lewan looked good, Rawls looked solid, and Michigan's offensive line depth and corps of receivers looked a little sketchy. Oh, and it looks like Devin won't be starting over Denard any time soon. Outside of that though, there wasn't too much to take away from this spring game in terms of how the offense is going to look -- there's probably more to look at on the defensive side of the ball.
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