Updating Michigan's Six Biggest Questions
With a strong spring practice, players get everything they need to make more strides in the summer and enter fall as bigger and better athletes. Over the last month and a half, Michigan's football team has been gaining confidence and experience, developing strengths, and attacking weaknesses. And those weaknesses have tended to be obvious during the Brady Hoke era: not enough plays, too many mistakes, and an absence of growth. In some ways, this spring has been about Brady and filling in what he could not.
"For me, personally, I need to take the next step. I need to continue to understand the game more, make more plays."
Amara Darboh's reflected this spring on his own weaknesses, but he could've been talking about anyone on the team. This is an inexperienced group, that needed the benefit of reps and teaching to play well together. And with Jim Harbaugh moving players around and establishing his ManballTM, FamilyTM, Work EthicTM identity, it's simply a matter of growing up and getting comfortable in his system. There are still question marks, and some will certainly linger into the fall, but this team is a lot better prepared now than it was just a month and a half ago. Issues over line depth, quarterback problems, and playmaking at tight end have slowly evaporated. Confidence and physicality are better. The team has bought in.
(For a review of mid-February's six biggest questions, click here.)
6. How does this team handle big moments?
It's a bit overblown to say this team lacks experience - after all, there are veterans at every level of the defense, the offensive line is getting grown up and the rest of the offense .... well, they're not freshmen anyway. But there's been a void of leadership for a while now, and the team has to find an identity it can rely on in big moments. There also has to be a couple Cool Hand Lukes among the running backs or receivers that Tim Drevno can trust and build around. This is especially true for whoever mans the quarterback spot, but we'll get to that separately.
5. Can the starting wide receivers separate themselves?
I mean that in both ways. Michigan has a number of options to choose from (Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, Freddy Canteen, Mo Ways, Brian Cole, Drake Harris, Dennis Norfleet), but there are only so many game reps to give out, especially in Harbaugh's tight end-heavy sets. It would be best for this offense if a couple receivers stood out.
And, while the younger players tend to be more athletic, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson need to start showing the ability to separate from defensive backs consistently. Both are physical against blocks, and have an inside track at starting, at least in the early going, thanks to their physicality, experience and team approach. But can they produce numbers? Can some of Michigan's younger burners develop a more complete game?
4. Any depth in the secondary?
The addition of Wayne Lyons, as I pointed out the last time, eases some of the pressure from this question. But as many people have pointed out, Jabrill Peppers' move to safety leaves cornerback depth a little thin, while the options behind Peppers and Wilson are a bit unclear, as well. Good things have come out of spring camp about Dymonte Thomas, who has played at free safety in a nickel formation with Peppers up near the line. Can anyone else man the strong safety position besides Wilson or Peppers? And what happens to Jeremy Clark, who some have pointed out could improve with a move to corner?
3. Can Michigan's stout front seven adjust to new defensive assignments?
It's not clear yet, and it might not be for a while, what this defense will look like. D.J. Durkin will be busy installing and perfecting everything he can, even heading into Big Ten play. This is a smart, high-energy group of players, but they'll be asked to do a number of things they haven't done before. Can they excel at it? Will there be defensive breakdowns? And what kind of depth chart shakes out after Durkin gets a chance to see them in action?
2. What's the OL's starting five? Especially, who mans the center position?
Despite some off-season attrition, this position looks stronger now than it did at the end of last year. Michigan hasn't had depth at this position for a long while, and that gives Tim Drevno some options going forward. And, in case of injury, he can still put out a strong starting five.
Whoever does earn the starts, it's likely that this group is at least a little improved. Logan Tuley-Tillman has made strides, which provides a Big Ten-sized option on the outside. Mason Cole is getting more versatile, and Kyle Kalis appears to be healthy. If Graham Glasgow is able to play most of the year - which isn't a given, as his next off-the-field mistake may be his last - then this group is looking like less of a problem and more like a mere question mark.
1. Who's the quarterback .... and how good will they be?
Even this is less of a worry with Jake Rudock on board. Still, this is the big point of interest. How will the offense be affected by this position's weaknesses? What are the starter's strengths, and can they get the ball to playmakers consistently? Michigan's turnovers were a big part of last year's disaster, and if one of this year's players can both protect the football and toss the rock around the field, then Michigan stands a good chance. And, at least, the games will be watchable.
Hitting the Links Is Gullible
Urban Meyer updates on Braxton Miller's Advocare scare ("All seems okay"), and mentions the ongoing emergence of Curtis Samuel, who is playing at H-Back and challenging Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson for a "starter's" role. All will play, though, as Meyer will use their abilities to supplement the wide receiving corps, Samuel and Marshall especially.
Meyer also mentioned using a 'specialty quarterback,' similar to 2006, but downplayed using two quarterbacks at a time. The 'specialty quarterback' would probably be Cardale.
Day, who made Tuesday's All-Name Team, will hopefully make a quick recovery. This is obviously not a joking matter, but we hope he gets back on the field Juan Day very soon.
This was a great watch. It's easy to see Harbaugh producing a speech or a moment worthy of Bo Schembechler.
Durkin knows how to balance complexity and confidence - he overloaded them with information early, to challenge them, then scaled it back into a comprehensive game plan for spring ball. That's a good way to get players to play fast without sacrificing schematically.
A top-20 team according to F/+ rankings, Marshall will provide a stiff test for Purdue on September 6th.
Jordan Canzeri is listed as a co-starter with LeShun Daniels, Jr., and a walk-on makes the two-deep at safety.
Joe Mixon's game lends itself to early success. He's not the fastest or most agile guy in the world, but his core strength is unbelievable for someone just getting used to college. He'll be capable of being an every-down back if he's not a liability in pass protection.
There's some continuity on the offensive line, and Darrell Hazell brought in some JUCO prospects at wide receiver that might bolster a very weak unit. If some of that can click, then Purdue may take another small step forward in '15.
Mitch is a very trustworthy runner and teammate for the Gophers, and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has said he has some nice new weapons to work with outside. Both the Badgers and Gophers are favorites in the West, and both need to find a way to improve their passing offense.