It is hard to believe that Michigan Football’s spring game is just around the corner. This is team has Big Ten and national championship aspirations this season and they are not shying away from that. We are a long way from the start of the season, but every little bit of work they get in is important and it appears they have made signifcant strides this offseason to this point.
Some will draw conclusions about 2016’s Wolverines after the game on Friday night, but we need to keep in mind that it is still practice and not much stock can be put into what takes place on the field. With that being said, what are we looking for on Friday and what would be considered a success?
Nick Bodanyi and I discuss below:
NB: Well, Anthony, it doesn’t feel like that long ago we were watching Harbaugh’s first spring practice. My first question to you as we kick this off - have there been any surprises in this second go-round? Anything we’ve learned about Harbaugh or the state of the program we didn’t know before?
AB: I do not know if there are any surprises, per say, but from reading takeaways from the practice sessions in Florida, along with the few hours of the team I saw in Detroit last week, I was actually sort of blown away by just how much more athletic this team is than before Harbaugh and staff came in. I think the spine of a really good football team has always been there, but the new staff has taken it to the next level, especially at tight end.
NB: It’s funny you mention tight end, because that’s a fascinating position for me, probably more than any other right now. I think 2016 will be when we really see a Harbaugh team take the field for the first time. Maybe not as much dominant running as we would like, but a lot of good tight ends, a 100-mph defense and a quarterback that’s pretty good from Day 1.
With that said, some of those positions I feel confident in today, and some of them I feel confident in six months down the road. Quarterback and the offensive line, linebacker, all those positions feel shaky to me right now. Would you agree? And what do you think we need to see from some of those guys in the spring game to feel confident moving forward?
AB: Oddly enough, last year spelled any doubts that I have about the quarterback position in Ann Arbor moving forward. For Jake Rudock to take as big a step forward as he did having watched his early stages of his career, this is a coach in Harbaugh that is always going to get the absolute best out of his signal callers. Not that development is linear from player to player, but with the level of quarterback Michigan is recruiting mixed with the staff in place, I’m not all that worried about how they answer that question. I just know that there will be an answer and it will be at the very least a solid one.
As far as the offensive line goes, I like the starting five assuming it is Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson. After those guys, there is a concern about depth and they are still years away from having reinforcements behind their starters.
At linebacker, I feel oddly at ease about the questions there. I really like Devin Bush Jr. and also moving Jabrill Peppers down there. I feel that they are more athletic, but the concerns of inexperience are there, of course.
In terms of what to see in the spring game, I really just want to see progress and staying healthy. Fans should be okay with seeing players struggle now, but personally I would like to see some "aha" moments with the younger players. I guess we will see what happens.
De'Veon Smith had only three 100-yard games a year ago, but staying healthy has been just as important as getting practice reps for the senior. Photo credit: Evan Habeeb, Getty Images
We all have different perspectives and things we will be focusing our eyeballs on. What do you see as other things the team needs to get accomplished in the spring game?
NB: Well, I’ll want to see some positive things from the early enrollees. This staff made the offensive side a priority in this recruiting class, and five of the seven EE’s (Brandon Peters, Kareem Walker, Kingston Davis, Ahmir Mitchell, and Sean McKeon) are offensive skill players. I’m hoping Kareem shows us that he can play this year, Ahmir backs up the hype we’ve heard this spring, and Peters looks like a guy who doesn’t mind the big stage and the bright lights.
The other thing I’ll be looking for is the right kind of energy from Michigan’s safeties. I won’t expect a perfect game - as you said, it’s mainly about progress and there’s a long way until fall - but I do want to see confidence.
I can’t let you go without asking for a bold prediction. Anything you think will surprise people tonight?
AB: In terms of bold predictions, I’m going to go off the board and say that Jim Harbaugh is going to yell at one of the officials they bring in to ref the game.
Ok. Maybe not. But it wouldn’t be that surprising!
In all seriousness, I think a player like Ahmir Mitchell could walk away from tonight’s game having wowed the most of all the wide receivers. This is Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson’s position group, but Mitchell may have the most upside and looks the part of a college receiver already. I am looking forward to seeing how he develops and factors into the rotation this fall.
How about you, Nick?
NB: I’m going to say that by the end of tonight, one of the big takeaways will be a couple players we haven’t been discussing at all showing us they’re in great position to win a job. It could be somebody like Lawrence Marshall, or Keith Washington, or Kingston Davis. Somebody’s going to come out of left field and impress us a lot more than we were expecting. And I can’t wait.
What do you want to see in tonight's spring game? Sound off in the comments below!