Winged helmets are once again being donned in Ann Arbor, which means we'll be obsessing over every piece of information that manages to make its way out of fall camp and into our hands. There's already plenty of news to digest, from player weights to short-lived videos that don't mean nearly as much as we'd like to think.
Two ACLs, Two Timelines
Budding cornerback Blake Countess went down early against Alabama last season with a torn ACL, forcing Michigan to play Raymon Taylor next to veteran J.T. Floyd. Floyd has since graduated, but Michigan's competition at cornerback is still fierce: Raymon Taylor, Courtney Avery, Delonte Hollowel, Ross Douglas and Terry Richardson are all in a heated battle for the two corner spots, and that doesn't even included the embattled Blake Countess, who feels like he's ready to step right back in:
Blake Countess is a competitor, first and foremost.
So when Michigan opened spring practice in March, the sophomore cornerback -- who missed virtually all of last season with an ACL injury -- was ready to roll.
No questions asked.
"I honestly felt 100 percent during spring ball," Countess said Monday. "But they wanted to be careful."
Countess got the red light from Michigan coach Brady Hoke five months ago. But now, the shackles are off.
And Michigan's best cornerback has returned to action.
Countess is 100 percent healthy, and has full clearance for all fall camp drills -- this coming nearly 12 months after he tore his ACL covering a punt during the first quarter of a 2012 season-opening loss to Alabama.
Countess later said on video that the only lingering effect is mild tendinitis. He's good to go, but he will have to fend off a large group of hungry young Wolverine cornerbacks.
The other torn ACL on the roster belongs to Jake Ryan. Ryan, who was Michigan's best defender, is expected to be back before the end of October. He's doing everything he can to make sure he returns for the meat of Michigan's schedule:
"I'm not going to go all out in practice. I'm not going to tackle and stuff like that," he said. "I'm definitely doing as much as I can."
Michigan hosts Notre Dame in September, but the schedule really toughens in November, when the Wolverines start the month with a trip to Michigan State before hosting Nebraska at home. Michigan hosts Ohio State to end the regular season Nov. 30.
If all goes well, Ryan will be back for those games - although the timetable for his return is still uncertain enough that teammate Taylor Lewan seemed hesitant to talk about it.
Jake is to the point where he can stretch with the team before practice begins. Then, he'll break off from the main group and do light sprints with the trainers before rejoining the team in an effort to coach the younger SAM linebackers.
Expect Jake to be back by the time the Wolverines are preparing for rival Michigan State. Michigan shouldn't need him against Indiana, giving him a bye week to familiarize himself with contact on his repaired knee. He won't be in nearly as good of shape as he was throughout last year, so don't expect him to come back firing on all cylinders. Michigan would be extremely lucky to have him back to normal by the time it plays Ohio State.
Some Fit, Some Not Fit
Fall camp means another edition of Michigan's football roster, and there are definitely some interesting weights changes to look into. Notable listings and weight changes on the new roster:
|Blake Countess||CB||5'10"||182||RS SO|
|Tom Strobel||SDE||6'6"||265||RS FR|
|Chris Wormley||SDE||6'4"||289||RS FR|
|Willie Henry||DT||6'2"||306||RS FR|
|James Ross III||WILL/MIKE||6'1"||220||SO|
|Jack Miller||C||6'4"||290||RS SO|
|Kyle Kalis||OG||6'5"||302||RS FR|
|Taylor Lewan||OT||6'8"||315||RS SR|
|Erik Magnuson||OT||6'6"||285||RS FR|
|Devin Gardner||QB||6'4"||210||RS JR|
|Jehu Chesson||WR||6'3"||196||RS FR|
Some of these numbers were expected, while some others weren't. Notes:
- Almost all of the freshman class is too light to play. Taco Charlton looks ready right now, although he won't be from a strength standpoint and could definitely clean up his frame. Channing Stribling and Reon Dawson are thin enough to be blown over by the wind, but fellow freshman Dymonte Thomas is just big enough to get on the field.
- Holy hell, how did Derrick Green get up to 240 pounds? I won't lie, most of that weight isn't good weight, and Fred Jackson is wrong about him being able to carry the weight. He's 5'11"! He needs to be at or below 230 pounds, and even that's a high number. DeVeon Smith, on the other hand, looks primed to play right now.
- Some of the younger non-freshman still have work to do in the weight room despite being at playable weights. This includes Joe Bolden, James Ross, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Jehu Chesson and Erik Magnuson. My guess is they're all putting on clean muscle, but you don't just put twenty pounds of clean weight on. They should all come into next year's camp looking ready to kill.
- Devin Funchess' 235-pound body is still a bit on the light side, but he looks good in the many camp photos I've seen. He's just heavy enough to dominate defensive backs and block linebackers when absolutely necessary. Tight end running mate A.J. Williams can carry his 265 pounds and retain the ability to catch the ball, so Michigan has all bases covered at the position. Jake Butt is already at 237 pounds, so he'll definitely be seeing some playing time.
- Ondre Pipkins moves damn well for someone who is 315 pounds. He could hover around that weight or drop just a bit. Willie Henry is at his playing weight, and Jibreel Black's 278-pound body makes him a 3T/SDE tweener.
- The defensive ends are interesting. Weak side player Frank Clark is apparently running in the 4.5s despite pushing 275 pounds, which is awesome if true. Tom Strobel still needs to add fifteen pounds or more before being a true strong side player, while Chris Wormley's 289-pound frame makes him a big SDE.
- Taylor Lewan and Devin Gardner are downright impressive. Lewan probably won't even hit the 6'7" mark when he checks into the NFL combine–he's not 6'8"–but he's somehow almost all muscle at 315 pounds. Gardner is 210 pounds of ripped; please help him stay healthy.
So that's about it. Most of the roster is either progressing toward its playing weight, or simply hovering around it. Derrick Green and Devin Funchess stand out to me, obviously for very different reasons.
Roster Depth Beginning to Show
Michigan has assembled two stellar recruiting classes and is working on its third and fourth. Most of the elite talent on the roster is young, but the depth is beginning to show. The Big Ten Network guys agree:
The depth and talent is more apparent on defense right now, as a plethora of bodies are fighting for time in the front and back four; the linebackers are probably set, with exception to Joe Bolden pushing Desmond Morgan for time.
The offense is another story. The quarterback position is shallow, the receivers are young and the interior of the offensive line still needs time to develop. Michigan is a year away from having elite depth and talent across the board on defense; it's probably two away on offense. Still, the roster is shaping up to be solid for the 2013 season.
Interviews, Interviews and More Interviews
MGoBlue and BTN have combined to put together a decent lineup of short player and coach interviews.
Michigan's official athletics website has interviews with Cam Gordon, Jeremy Jackson, S&C Coach Aaron Wellman, Jake Ryan, Frank Clark, Drew Dileo, Blake Countess, Fitgerald Toussaint, Jeremy Gallon, Quinton Washington, Taylor Lewan, Thomas Gordon and Devin Gardner. The Michigan Drill is also up, so make sure to watch it at least five times. They'll have an additional video up every day leading up to the opener against Central Michigan.
The Big Ten network actually puts their videos on a useful platform, unlike Michigan's media team, allowing me to embed their interviews with Frank Clark, Blake Countess and Taylor Lewan:
The general vibe around camp is positive and anxious. So, exactly like every other year.
Backup Quarterback Situation Unclear
One of Michigan's biggest issues is its backup quarterback situation. Both redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Cleary and true freshman Shane Morris are battling for the position, but neither of them seems to have taken the job just yet.
I'm putting my money on Shane Morris, who has been mentioned more and more by the coaching staff in the last week. Brady Hoke recently said that Morris is getting more snaps as time goes on, which isn't surprising. Morris is definitely the more gifted passer of the two backups.
Other Notes of Interest
Both freshman running back Derrick Green and Brennan Beyer suffered "boo-boos" early on in camp, but both are expected to be back on the field this Saturday when the team runs its first scrimmage of camp.
Quarterback Devin Gardner is impressing everyone who watches him at camp. All of the coaches have mentioned his ability as a leader on the field, and the Big Ten Network anchors came away impressed after watching him throw during practice. It's safe to say that the Garder Hype Train is chugging along.
Word on the street is that Fitzgerald Toussaint looks good. He sounds hungry after breaking his leg against Iowa last season. He'll wear a precautionary sleeve for comfort purposes, but he's back and playing through contact in practice.
Sophomore Amara Darboh is beating redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson in the race for the second starting receiver spot. Everyone from the coaching staff to Devin Gardner have praised Darboh for his strength and hands. Chesson is still mentioned as someone who can come in and stretch the field with his speed. Also, Michigan will look to get slot receiver Drew Dileo on the field more often this season.
Finally, the battle on the interior of the offensive line might not turn out to be much of a battle. Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis are still the favorites to take the two starting guard spots, while Jack Miller is the frontrunner for the vacancy at center. Taylor Lewan think the three are making great strides. The staff know more about their progression after Saturday's scrimmage.
Did I miss anything? Maybe. Discuss.