Ann Arbor -- Saturday’s students-only practice provided many firsts at Michigan Stadium. Whether it was seeing potential starting quarterback Jake Rudock under center or first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh donning the headset, the approximately 400 fans in attendance were treated to a sneak peek of the 2015 Wolverine squad.
Unexpected red zone personnel
First-team wide receivers were being used in red zone situations. With presumed starter Amara Darboh in street clothes due to a finger injury, Drake Harris and true freshman Grant Perry lined up with Rudock whenever the offense got near the 20-yard line.
Harris had a few mid-range catches in those red zone drives, including one 15-yard touchdown grab — the first points of the scrimmage. Perry contributed as an ordinary slot-type receiver, scrounging under routes and working for yards after the catch.
Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt also contributed. Rudock’s second score was a 6-yard strike to Butt. Chesson played mostly with Shane Morris and the second-team offense.
No separation in the backfield
Though the offensive line looked improved from the spring game, no running back stood out. Five players had carries, highlighted by Ty Isaac, De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green. Playing with limited contact made it hard to tell how effective the backs were.
Outside of Green breaking into the secondary once, none of the other running backs had major gains.
No official stats were kept but it seemed that Smith had the most carries, though Green was the most effective. Perhaps the most important news was that each of the three primary backs looked healthy.
Isaac reportedly spent a lot of time in the trainer’s room this spring, and Green is working back to game-form after suffering a broken clavicle in Michigan’s loss to Rutgers last season. Drake Johnson, who suffered a torn ACL in the Ohio State game, warmed up with the team and practiced when the team was broken into positional groups, but didn’t participate in the game simulation portion of the evening.
First glimpse at special teams
In multiple portions of the practice the field goal teams were on the field — the first time the public has seen the uprights being used since last season. Just two kickers, Kenny Allen and Kyle Seychel, saw action, with the competition seeming closer than many thought. Allen seemed to be the more consistent, but Seychel wasn't missing by much.
Both were booting the ball well, collectively making about three-fourths of their attempts in the 45- to 50-yard range. Holding every place kick was Blake O’Neill, who transferred to Michigan as a fifth-year senior from Weber State and figures to be the team’s starting punter. The Wolverines elected not to punt in the open practice.
Freshman kicker Andrew David was dressed, but did not participate in the game simulations.
Standing out on the field-goal block team was Jabrill Peppers, who played as an end rusher. He was undoubtedly explosive off the line, and if the scrimmage was full-contact would have had at least one kick block.
With just 12 days until the season begins, the improvement Michigan has made since the spring game is coming together on the field. But for now, the team is headed back to the submarine.
Ben Fidelman is a freelance writer.