Dear Michigan fans,
I see some of you are frustrated with the football team through three games. I have read the comments on social media. I have even heard some (only some) of you boo at Michigan Stadium. The boos can be heard by me (and others) through the thick glass of the press-box above. You see the offense has converted just one of ten red zone trips into touchdowns, and you aren’t happy about it. I understand. I do.
I write this open letter to put things into perspective and offer up the idea of giving this team a little more patience. Just a little.
A week ago against Cincinnati, freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones made mistakes on punt returns, which inevitably lead to a turnover. Peoples-Jones was replaced the rest of the game at returner by Grant Perry. A week removed from the mental lapses, Peoples-Jones returned a punt for a touchdown and had two big catches as a wideout.
A week ago, many fans were angry and had a sky is falling approach to Peoples-Jones being on the field. Now after a big game, everyone is asking “Are they going to use him more?!” Well, it looks like they will be using him more in the weeks to come, especially with the injury to Tarik Black. Peoples-Jones performance against Cincinnati now feels like a distant memory, and the perception of him is now one of love, when it was temporarily one of disdain.
Jim Harbaugh stated last week that he is going to be patient with this Michigan team, that has an abundance of first time starters and freshmen play-makers. Patience is necessary. Mistakes are going to happen, what matters is the willingness and ability of the player to correct the mistakes in short order.
Many do not think of the other part that consumes the life of an athlete. And for college players, the title of STUDENT makes up a major portion of any free time they have off the practice field. For a freshman athlete whom is both a starter and taking college courses for the first time, this is a daunting challenge being thrown their way. It is no longer high school. Some of the toughest courses they will ever take are now transpiring at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
To think the first month of classes have no bearing in regards to on field performance would not be realistic. These freshmen are learning how to balance the commitment of class and football, attempting to retain a playbook (and the techniques therein) and multiple textbooks all at once. Did they sign up for this? Yes. Are they fortunate? Yes. But is this rough stuff? Yes.
As weeks go by I expect these players to handle the load better, improving as students and as play-makers for a talented Michigan Wolverines football team. It isn’t easy being away from home for the first time in their lives.
Freshmen aside, Michigan has a new look defense, and a revamped offensive line. Growing pains are bound to occur when a unit hasn’t played with each other for at least a season prior. The offensive line has looked lights out at times, while other times there are mental errors and someone forgets their assignment. At wide out there have been freshmen receivers struggling to gain separation or not turning to look at Wilton Speight at the correct time. Other times, the receivers look as if they are already veterans. All of these issues are a direct correlation to the inconsistency seen thus far by the offense. What is the solution? Experience.
The best experience to be had is by playing the games. Trial by fire isn’t always pretty, but if there’s gradual improvement then that means the coaching staff and players are both doing something right. The good news for Michigan is they are now 3-0. Rarely is a team the best version of themselves in mid-September, especially when you factor in what I’ve noted thus far.
What should we expect going forward? Improvement. Michigan now enters Big Ten play this week against Purdue, and now is the time to see red-zone issues get better and more consistency from the offensive line for four whole quarters. We can’t expect the team to be a fine-tuned and well-oiled machine just yet, but the machine is good enough to win ball games and have positive forms of production we can point to.
The Michigan Wolverines football team of 2017 could go to the College Football Playoff. The team does have issues that need to be corrected. But the defense looks like one of the best in the nation, the running back situation is better than 2016, the receiver unit shows a lot of promise, as does the offensive line. If they can right their wrongs, the team could be very dangerous by the time games against Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State take place.
There’s a time and a place for just about everything in life, and the time to be patient is still upon us. Your patience will be well placed, as the team has a good shot at being light years better than they are now in November. What it boils down to is your trust of the coaching staff and their ability to makes players better than they already are. Give them a little more time.