Greetings, Michigan fans! Well, it's that time of year again, the time where we get one small chance to analyze and over analyze our team and try to make sound judgments when they've only had a few weeks of practice to get ready for this grand event purely for our viewing pleasure. I'm talking of course about the Spring Game. It's this Saturday, in case you didn't know.
So as is by this point customary, we at Maize n' Brew are doing a pre-spring game roundtable to discuss our concerns (hint: you already know) and also some positive things, because what kind of people would we be if we didn't at least attempt some form of positivity for the spring game? I mean, we're not soulless d-bags, fergodsakes.
And we'll be following up with a post-spring game roundtable as well. So, here we go.
Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way for the masses: what would you say is the biggest concern heading into the spring game?
Everyone: The offensive line.
Are you sure? I mean, there might be some other...
Everyone: No, it's the offensive line.
But what about...
Everyone: Don't make us take this mega fun responsibility away from you.
Okay, fine. So obviously beyond all of the universe's most obvious obviousness, we are concerned about the offensive line. What is your second biggest concern? I know that sounds like going into scary territory, but...
Zach Travis: Health. This spring isn't really one in which I expect to see anything mind blowing from any one player. The OL is in the first stages of a total rebuild, the defense is getting its head around a new scheme, and pretty much everyone who will be relied on in a large capacity has played before. I just want to see everyone make it to the other side of spring healthy to further help this team develop.
Space Coyote: I'll go on the opposite end of the spectrum and talk about safeties. The safeties are likely to work more in a 2-high defense this year, and that often means more dual-run/pass assignments. I'll be interested to see how sound fundamentally they are in Michigan's coverages and how they attack the Line of Scrimmage in run support while properly reading keys. We likely won't see anything fancy from the offense, so I don't anticipate the safeties being really taken advantage of, but you will be able to see some of the fundamentals and see if they are taking the proper steps to be in the right position come fall.
Shash: I'm going to say special teams. Aside from The Dileo Slide last year, which I now do at every wedding I can attend - not many - I held my breath every time a punt or kick went up. Kickoffs out of bounds and poor coverage on returns really blow, and I worry that Michigan dodged too many bullets last year.
Joshua Henschke: My second biggest concern is the tight end position. Losing Butt is a huge blow so it will be interesting to see how A.J Williams can develop in the blocking game and possibly the pass catching game as well. Williams hasn't been known to be a pass catcher, so I am curious to see if it can be done. Khalid Hill is coming off a redshirt year and still very young as well. It'll be crucial to see them contain blocks and help out the offensive line. Luckily this isn't a long-term issue considering Butt should be back before mid-season barring any setbacks.
Big House Jack: Did anyone already mention the offensive line? Oh, they did? Several times? Emphatically? Well, okay then. So long as we covered it.
Since the kicking game has already been mentioned as well, I'm going to say that the running backs concern me. Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith have to take a massive step forward this season -- assuming a certain unit in front of them provides blocks. With Fitzgerald Toussaint graduated, Thomas Rawls having transferred, Drake Johnson coming off an ACL-tear, and Justice Hayes testing out other positions (maybe slot WR?), Green and Smith are the two guys we're expecting to carry most if not all of the load. Green getting back to 220 lbs. should be a good sign, as he'll regain much of his quickness from the days when he was the No. 1 overall high school running back. (I still can't believe for the life of me that he showed up last season at 240 lbs. God, 2013 was horrible.)
Okay, so here's some good news: Michigan has quite a few returning starters, and many of those who didn't start have a sizable bit of game experience. Who, of these such players, will you be looking out for in the spring game? Who makes an impact or needs to make an impact?
Zach: I am excited to see how the new roles on defense affect the linebackers. Michigan has a really great group of returning starters and some promising depth behind them. If these three mesh well together in the new defense it will portend good things for the future.
Shash: It's tough not to say Jake Ryan here. With an improved supporting cast and a full offseason to prep, I look for him to build on his freshman year rather than last year. Also, that quarterback Gardner guy.
Peter Putzel: Devin Funchess. Funchess because I think he’s going to turn into a national specimen with his size and ability. And tying this into the O-line…if they can give Devin Gardner the time to find Funch, then I think we’re all going to witness something special between these two.
I'm excited to see how Ross is adjusting to his new OLB responsibilities and see how he's performing as a slasher and how he adjusts to new coverage responsibilities. I think the 3-tech play is another thing to watch, as how they stand up and handle double teams (without allowing free releases) could be a sign of the defensive performance heading into Fall.
I think Darboh is an interesting player that didn't play much last year that hopefully will see some reps on Saturday. He would provide much needed depth on the outside and would make another big, strong target across from Funchess, and allows this offense to be a lot more versatile.
Space Coyote: Devin Gardner is going to play about as much Saturday as I will. Otherwise he'd be the choice. But because of that he's not really all that exciting of a choice here. Any returning OL starters/Green/Smith that are actually playing this spring should be interesting to see if they're making general improvement, but that's another general "OL" answer.
Let's talk about the early enrollees. Who are you hoping makes a big play in the spring game? Alternatively, who coming in fills the biggest need?
Adam Biggers: Wilton Speight is a classy kid. Super classy, actually. But he probably won't play.
Freddy Canteen seems like hes' the underdog bound for success. Everyone's talking about Drake Harris, who suffered a hamstring injury. I like Canteen a lot. To me, he's more "college-ready" than Harris, who should prove to be a damn good WR. He needs to toughen up a little bit.
Big House Jack: Well, Bryan Mone fills a bit of a need along the defensive line, but I can't see him making too much of an impact from his first spring. I don't expect Hoke to burn Mone's redshirt, nor is it something that I want, but that doesn't mean I'd be surprised if happened. I think Mone has a long way to go, but it would be nice to at least see some early flashes from him in the spring game.
What, if anything, are you hoping to take away from the game as a fan?
Zach: The one thing I hope to take away from the spring game is that this whole thing isn't totally broken and I shouldn't spend the next four months huddled in a dark corner casting voodoo spells aimed at bringing Jim Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. Two or three hours of fundamental, boring football is enough to stave off panic for a little while longer, so I'll take that.
Shash: Move Funchess to wide receiver, please, always. Give Butt and co. a full offseason to prep with Nussmeier. Just go be smart and new and different and good.
Josh: Mainly I am hoping to see Michigan starting to establish a functional offense. Something simple, but going back to the physical and downhill running game that has been expected since Hoke has been hired.
Adam: Honestly, I just want to see the offensive line act like it knows what it's doing. Sounds harsh, but this is becoming a case of wasted talent. Look at the recent recruits, and you'll see nothing but studs...where's the studly play? This should be the year--yes, really the year--for real development.
Space Coyote: I think, again, push from the OL is the big hope, assuming that doesn't mean "OH CRAP, OUR DL IS SO BAD NOW TOO!" I think seeing the comfort with the defense will be exciting. The offense is still very new, and I presume to be very basic at this stage. The defense though, still has the same terminology, and Michigan started running some over and some cover 4 more and more last year, so they should be further along. But see how the LBs flow, how the interior DL holds up to doubles, how the safeties react in their coverage/run responsibilities, and how the CBs perform on the outside. I don't really believe the offense is going to give any sort of glimpse of the future, other than marginal hope that they may possibly potentially be able to run the ball past the LOS, but the defense can give some idea of where they are and what they'll be come fall.
Big House Jack: Sort of like what Josh said, I want to see a cohesive game plan from Nussmeier. Will we get that? Probably not. Reports out of Fort Schembechler are that this is going to be essentially a public practice with occasional scrimmage elements tossed in to appease the ticketholders. People will try to analyze this like an actual game, but that will be a challenge. We should be used to this by now. Michigan's spring game is never really a game, either because of depth (2011, 2012, 2013) or because they need reps (2014). Hopefully we'll get some highlight-worthy material to keep us excited until we face... dear God... Appalachian State.
Final thoughts? This is Maize n' Brew, after all.
Shash: I'm hoping to skip IPA this season in favor of summer ales entirely. The long winter means more Porter. Sorry, hop heads. I'd also like to add Zach moving on from Heineken to my hopes for #4.
Jack: I hear Guinness is pretty good, but I'm a vodka man myself.
Peter Putzel: I just can’t get past Shash's comment about getting Zach away from Heineken. If that’s true, Zach, I can’t even…I just…I mean…
Zach: A guy says one or two nice things about Heineken and never hears the end of it, jeez...
I hope that we can all just agree that IPAs are the Lord's nectar and porters are a waste of the cans, bottles, and kegs that they come in. VIVA LE HOPS!
Enjoy the 2014 Spring Game, Maize n' Brew readers! What will you be looking for at the Big House come this Saturday? (Also, please drink responsibly.)