There wasn't much grandeur or pomp in the proceedings on Saturday. Approximately 30 minutes before the start of his inaugural spring football game, Jim Harbaugh emerged out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel and walked with purpose onto the field, greeting his coaches and the officials warmly. The crowd -- a pleasantly surprising 60,000-plus -- initially hushed with the anticipation of spotting their beloved and anointed Michigan Messiah, took a few moments to even notice him. Quickly all the pairs of eyes in that stadium fixated on Harbaugh, though, and that hush became an emphatic roar complimented by thunderous clapping. That reception was a long-time coming, for a fan base starved of any kind of competitive football since last November has now seen Harbaugh in the flesh, and knows Michigan will be mighty once more in his care.
Who impressed me:
Mo Hurst stood out because I saw his name on Twitter a lot and it seemed like he's made a nice recovery.
Underwhelming/Needs improvement: This probably isn't that fair, but I should go with the O-line. Without Miller, and with some Glasgow uncertainty, who knows what's going to happen. They need to come together cohesively within a few games otherwise this team is in trouble.
One unit/player who surprised: I'll go with Amara Darboh. He looked as explosive as we thought he could be. Honorable mention here goes to Shane Morris, whose touch on that 37-yarder is a pass I haven't ever seen him make before.
Who I think will be starting QB: Jake Rudock. Michigan's badly in need of some efficiency. But if it's Morris, that's a good thing, because he's got a higher ceiling and it means he'll finally have pushed past a guy with good command of a pro-style offense. His growth has been so stunted that this would be a wonderful thing for Michigan. Before Rudock, it was kind of his job by default to me, and that scared me. But Rudock has shown he's competent enough that Morris passing him would be a welcome surprise.
I don't have fancy press creds like Henschke, but that's why they pay him the big bucks. I did have a fantastic beer from Maine Brewing Co. called Mean Old Tom that was a perfect American stout - hints of vanilla and caramel without being too Guinnessy. I guess it was closer to a porter, but it was smooth and very drinkable. I'm gonna hang on to my Beer Laureate title for at least another season, methinks!
Winner/Impressed me the most: I liked what I saw from the big guns on defense on Saturday -- Desmond Morgan, Willie Henry, Joe Bolden, etc. I think this defense will be pretty good and they backed that up, perhaps unsurprisingly. On offense, I was impressed with Shane Morris. Sure, he still has some work to do, but he was decisive with the football and looked comfortable for the most part.
Underwhelmed/Needs improvement: I expect Darboh to get a lot of time out there this year, but he dropped a few passes that he had to bring in. Someone needs to emerge from that group.
Player Who Surprised: I was pleasantly surprised by Brandon Watson. With Jabrill Peppers moving to safety, the chance for playing time in the cornerback rotation is pretty wide open. He looks like he is ready to be a factor.
Who I think will be starting QB: As of right now, Jake Rudock is probably the favorite. Morris showed Saturday that he is in this battle and someone has to take the job from him, but Rudock is more of a known commodity. If the staff was comfortable with the guys they had on the roster, maybe they don't take that transfer. We'll see what happens.
What I thought of being in attendance Saturday: It was actually a pretty cool atmosphere. The place was near 70 percent capacity and the fans were into it, even though it was not an offensive spectacle by any means. The highlight was the gentleman that worked for U-M that drove me from Schembechler Hall to the entrance of the stadium in a golf cart. So, whoever you are, thanks for saving me the walk!
My winners/ most impressive on Saturday: I was impressed with some of Michigan's younger players. Maurice Ways appeared to be Alex Malzone's No. 2 option at wide receiver for the Maize team. Brian Cole got some reps, too, which is always impressive for a true freshman. Lawrence Marshall earned praise from defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin before the spring game and followed it up with a monstrous game, capped off with a grown-man play to sack Shane Morris. Oh, and Malzone. Although he was intercepted twice, having a chance to play in front of a crowd of 60,000 will be beneficial. If he hadn't enrolled early, Malzone would be months from partaking in practices.
Who underwhelmed/needs more improvement: The play of the quarterbacks definitely needs to improve before fall camp. Morris is ahead of Malzone, per Jim Harbaugh, but his play wasn't pretty Saturday. Both players threw several inaccurate throws and looked bombarded by stout defenses. No one expected a Heisman Trophy performance in spring practice's swan song, but the play could have been better.
One unit/player who surprised: When you watch pregame drills from the press box, you try to find something of interest. Dennis Norfleet taking snaps at defensive back, and then playing the position during the spring game, was definitely one a surprise. And he held his own. Harbaugh raved about Norfleet in his post-game press conference, saying he has a chance to be a three-way player: offense, defense, special teams. Whether it's a dance performance for the ages to Atomic Dog or the stories I've heard of him tearing through a southeastern Michigan team as a high school senior in postseason play, nothing should surprise me with Norfleet anymore.
Who I think will be starting QB: If I was Harbaugh and had to go with any of the scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, I'd have to go with Morris, only because he has two games under his belt. I think Speight and Malzone will pass Morris this fall, but I doubt any members of the trio will have a realistic chance to start. Jake Rudock is a nice safety net for this team. Many Michigan fans complained about Devin Gardner's play over the past two years, but they'll certainly miss him in 2014.
What I thought of being there: I was covering the game for The Michigan Journal and I enjoyed the atmosphere. The fans seemed to enjoy it too, and there was no cap on Harbaugh-mania. If there was stock that depended on Harbaugh No. 4 jerseys, someone must be living nice, now. It was nice having football back for a little spring fling until August.
Who impressed me: As a unit, the running backs looked much more explosive and capable of finding holes to cut through. It seems Tyrone Wheatley has been making the most of his return to Ann Arbor, because Michigan will be very deep at that position. I'll single out Amara Darboh from the receivers as well, because we hadn't seen him pull in some deep passes for quite some time, and he seems to be back to full health.
Special mention to Brandon Watson for a spectacular interception/takeaway mid-catch in the first quarter.
Player/unit who underwhelmed: The rest of the group of receivers and tight ends didn't give the quarterbacks much help. Several drops and not much ability to make a play in space at this stage. Granted one of the tight ends was out with an injury, but by the Fall let us hope Harbaugh gets more out of this group since his offensive scheme is so heavily dependent on them.
Everyone was also hoping for Ty Isaac to show what he could do, but it appeared he had a minor leg/muscle injury early on, so the anticipation I had for him was quickly squashed.
What surprised me: The defense has gotten fast. Really fast. On both of the squads, players were closing to the ball really well, and seemed to know exactly where to be, which is a great sign so early.
Starting QB guess: Going strictly off of Saturday, Morris looked the most complete, but then Malzone picked it up in the last couple minutes of the final quarter. I'd say Rudock is definitely Harbaugh's safety option should none of the current guys progress enough.
How it felt to be there: During the drive over, I was hopeful that even 30,000 people would show up, since it wasn't as warm as most would prefer. At least double that made the trip. Harbaugh definitely knows what he wants out of his players, and it was pretty great to see him stick his head into the huddle on nearly every play and give input.