I can't remember the last time Michigan had a roster deep enough to play a true Maize versus Blue spring game. This year wasn't much different than years past, with no score keeping and no distinct teams. The offense trotted out in blue, separating from the defense, which wore away jerseys. Here's what I took away from my view in the press box.
Michigan will have the best QB in the Big Ten
I frankly don't care what Ohio State or Nebraska fans have to say about it, because it's the truth. Devin Gardner played very well last year despite being thrown from quarterback to receiver and back to quarterback, and this year he'll be developing at one spot and one spot only. Gardner hasn't slowed down a bit since the end of last season, still throwing the ball on a rope to a handful of different receivers and moving well inside of the pocket. He's also becoming the on-field leader that the team needs with Denard Robinson and Jake Ryan both missing in one way or another.
Shane Morris can't get to campus fast enough
The two walk-on backups looked like, well, walk-ons. Neither has the arm strength to complete comeback routes against elite BCS-level corners, and both looked extremely hesitant in their motions. I'm not saying that I was expecting two Heisman candidates, rather that both looked like they should be third at best on the depth chart. I think Morris comes in and earns the backup role by the time the Central game rolls around.
Toussaint and Green don't have much to worry about
The stable of running backs used during the spring game looked capable, but none of them look like starters. Dennis Norfleet will always be too small to lower his shoulder in a hole. Drake Johnson has the physical tool set to be a starter down the road, but he still looks like he's still becoming acclimated to the physicality that comes with college football. Justice Hayes would be my starter today if I had to choose, although I think Green and Toussaint overtake him fairly quickly.
The good news is that Michigan has a true stable of running backs. Green will be the explosive bruiser, Norfleet the oh-shit-here-he-comes-on-a-draw back, Hayes the slasher, and Fitz the all-around veteran. Even Johnson could be useful in the pass game, and he's going to be a solid number two once he gains some more confidence. Oh, and we haven't even mentioned incoming freshman stud Deveon Smith yet.
The interior of the offensive line needs time to develop
It was very clear that the tackles are miles ahead of the guards and centers. Yes, everyone expected this, but anyone who wanted to see Kalis, Braden and Miller step in without many wrinkles has to be disappointed. Notre Dame could be trouble, but I think the entire offensive line will be ready when Big Ten play begins.
Gallon, Darboh and company will be just fine
I was skeptical of the Darboh and Chesson hype before. Any doubts I had were erased when Devin Gardner completed a thirty-yard pass to Darboh on the first play of the scrimmage. It wasn't even an easy completion, either. Gardner threw a delicious ball to the outside and Darboh adjusted well, making a difficult sideline catch look easy. Gallon did his thing, catching a few balls on comeback routes off of play action, and Chesson already showed us what he brings during spring drills. I think it's safe to say that Michigan has three good receivers, and that number could go up when the rest of the 2013 class shows up.
It's apparent that the staff wants a better pass rush
Spin moves, bull rushes and swim moves could all be seen Saturday. Cameron Gordon busted out a nasty spin move that worked flawlessly, making me look up to the sky and thank the football gods for Greg Mattison. Frank Clark still looks relatively quick for a BCS defensive end despite the added weight, which is clean and allows him to bull rush tackles once he sets them up with the speed rush. The sacks from the defensive tackles can be attributed to the youth of the offensive line, but the ends and outside linebackers are definitely better at getting to the passer.
James Ross and Desmond Morgan are locks to start
My starting inside linebackers before the spring game were James Ross and Joe Bolden, but it's now clear that Ross and Morgan will be the starters. One point goes to Zach Travis, who insisted that Morgan would slide inside and win the MIKE job over Bolden, who still looked like a youthful linebacker on a handful of plays during the spring game. Ross, on the other hand, looked like a veteran machine at the WILL spot. We already know who Michigan's best linebacker is.
The secondary will be fine, with or without Countess
Raymon Taylor looked solid and even more confident in his game. Courtney Avery's long arms and quick feet make him much more than a nickel corner. Even Delonte Hollowell impressed me, although he was in position to make a play and got a bit passive at times. Safety will be just fine as well, with Robinson and Wilson fighting for playing time next to Thomas Gordon. Jeremy Clark looks like a physical specimen who needs another year to learn the system.
Other quick notes:
- Taco Charlton passes the eye test. He needs to keep working in the weight room and looks extremely raw on the defensive line, but he flashed pass rushing ability by getting to the passer more than once on Saturday. He should be useful on passing downs.
- Funchess looks like a glorified wide receiver for life. It's easy to tell when he's going to leave the line for a pass, which is much more often than not.
- Cameron Gordon should start at the SAM spot. He brings more explosiveness than Beyer, who doesn't move nearly as well in the open field.
- I touched on him already, but it's clear that James Ross is thicker and stronger. He's going to be a destroyer for years to come.
- Ross Douglas looked more comfortable on the field than Dymonte Thomas. I still want to see both get their redshirt.