Harbaugh not concerned yet with UM position battles

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jourdan Lewis breaks up a pass intended for Maurice Ways during Monday's practice.

Bradenton, Fla. – The first few days of spring football are more about teaching than making personnel decision, and really, Michigan’s four practices in Florida will be about sloughing the rust and identifying players for positions of need.

Perhaps the most important piece is quarterback, and finding a replacement for Jake Rudock will be paramount this spring. But there is an opening at center, and all of the starting linebackers from last season exhausted their eligibility.

All of that didn’t seem to concern Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team opened spring practice Monday with the first of four sessions at the IMG Academy. The Wolverines, who are practicing four hours a day, as they did last year in Harbaugh’s first season, will practice again Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

“It’s great to be back out there practicing,” Harbaugh said Monday after the no-pads practice. “Always felt like the first day of spring practice and the first day of fall training camp -- those are my two favorite days of the years. Thought it was good. Cleats were clanking on the cement and guys were into it.”

Even with those personnel decisions to make and players getting used to new defensive coordinator Don Brown and new defensive backs coach Brian Smith, Harbaugh said the start of spring practice is always the same.

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“It’s the first day,” he said. “We’ve always had the philosophy it’s like a plane going down the runway. You build up speed, there’s a glide to it, and then you take off. That’s why each day gets faster and faster and more and more ramped up. That’s my glide theory.”

Harbaugh took a new approach the first day and had the team practice in shifts but limited to four hours. The younger players, the third and fourth string, practiced from 8 a.m. until noon, and the first- and second-teamers practiced from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., so the two groups overlapped for two hours.

“More one-on-one coaching, more reps for each guy,” Harbaugh said, explaining the change. “Coaches had a six-hour day, but it flew by.”

Rudock, who had transferred to Michigan for his graduate year, is now preparing for a potential professional career, so that leaves Harbaugh looking for a replacement at quarterback.

The three main competitors – junior John O’Korn, a transfer from Houston, junior Shane Morris and redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight, took the exact number of reps on Monday, Harbaugh said.

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O’Korn has the most game experience, having played at Houston as a freshman and as a sophomore before losing the job as the offense moved to a spread. Morris, who redshirted last season, has made two career starts, and Speight got some playing time last year, including leading the team to a comeback victory at Minnesota after Rudock was injured.

“Our quarterbacks are competing right now,” he said. “When we see separation, we’ll see it when we see it.”

Graham Glasgow participated last week in the NFL combine, so Michigan has an opening at center, and on Monday, Mason Cole was in that role. Cole has started the last two seasons at left tackle, but last spring also practiced at center.

With Cole at center, Grant Newsome, who will be a sophomore, practiced at left tackle, with Ben Braden at left guard, Kyle Kalis at right guard and Erik Magnuson at right tackle.

“I wouldn’t say it’s set in stone,” Harbaugh said of moving Cole to center. “We’re experimenting there. Trying to get our best five offensive lineman on the field.

“You just don’t see it very often where a freshman offensive lineman plays as a true freshman. But (Newsome) was one who handled it very well and I truly believe no player can make a bigger jump than going from the freshman year to the sophomore year, year one to year two. We have high hopes for Grant, what he can accomplish. He definitely has the ability to be a starter on the offensive line.”

At linebacker, Michigan clearly has work to do.

“Not going to get into who’s standing out yet,” Harbaugh said. “We’re all learning assignments, alignment, technique. That’s really what we’re focused on this first day and we will again (Tuesday) and we will again on Thursday -- really building a base for our team and them understanding where they’re supposed to line up and what their assignment is on each play and what their technique is on each assignment. It’s more learning and teaching right now. Excited we got a lot of football taught today and we feel like we got a good base after day one.”