Five critical takeaways from Michigan spring game
Ann Arbor — Generally speaking, most should be cautioned to not overthink what transpires during a spring football game.
We all know that but still the pull to judge and speculate about the future is too strong to avoid.
Remember this, though, about Michigan’s spring game — it was not the conclusion of the Wolverines’ spring practice. They will practice once this week and three times in Rome, Italy, during their excursion abroad. That’s 16 hours of practice yet to be had.
Also don’t forget that the coaching staff rarely shows much, keeping it vanilla across the board. As defensive coordinator Don Brown, who was seated next to offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, said after last Saturday’s spring game at Michigan Stadium, “we didn’t show our attacks.”
So what did they show?
1. Quarterback Wilton Speight at least a handful of times criticized himself for two “bonehead plays” that resulted in interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. And guess what? Young Brandon Peters looked mostly pinpoint with his throws and comfortable while starting for the Maize team. This can mean only one thing, right? A quarterback controversy is brewing, right? Hold on. Speight had nearly a season’s worth of starts under his belt last fall, missing one game with injury. He is in the adjustment phase with new pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton — don’t underestimate how long it takes to build a strong working relationship — and he’s also working on timing with a young batch of receivers now that his comfort zone that contained Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are gone. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after last season Speight will enter the fall as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. And he will do it with a strong backup in Brandon Peters.
2. Speight saw a lot of linebacker Devin Bush and that’s what Don Brown is expecting this fall. The signs were there last year that Bush would become a standout in defense in his second season. He showed plenty of signs he has a nose for the ball in his special teams play. He said his goal is to become more of a leader and step up in communication. The linebackers, Bush said, are faster. “Sideline to sideline we’re going to get our hands on the ball, we’re going to get through the gaps,” Bush said.
3. The offensive line is a WIP — work in progress. That’s not a news flash, but while there is young talent filling some of the holes left with the departures of three starters, it takes time for an offensive line to gel. While spring practice is a time to work guys at different spots, the starting five will have to be finalized early in fall camp to allow the group to build chemistry. It appears Mason Cole is back at left tackle, a good move since he spent his first two years as a starter there before moving to center. Patrick Kugler, a fifth-year senior, has waited his chance at center and will get it, while Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu will be at the guards. Jon Runyan was at at right tackle before being injured in the spring game. Juwann Bushell-Beatty should be penciled in there. The run blocking looked pretty good during the game but pass protection needs work.
4. The young players have been talked about plenty in recent weeks, and for good reason. Rashan Gary is still a young guy, a sophomore-to be who looks and sounds a lot more like a veteran leader. He is confident there will be no drop off in the defensive line, and while the starters should be able to back that up, Brown and defensive line coach Greg Mattison have some work to make the rotation depth as solid as it was a year ago. Carlo Kemp looks like he is learning well as Gary’s backup and young Donovan Jeter could definitely be a factor going forward. Speaking of young players, receivers Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones will get talked about plenty this fall.
5. The run game looked improved. Chris Evans still seems to be the key, although his activity last Saturday was curtailed. This has been a big spring for Ty Isaac. As he said last week, he has been practicing with a different attitude knowing that this is his last year and there are no guarantees after this fall. He looked like he was running harder and not shying away from contact. Karan Higdon always seemed to have the ability to be a breakout last year and it still seems that way after watching him in the game. Kareem Walker certainly will be a factor. Does Jay Harbaugh want a marquee back to separate himself? Sure, but expect more of the committee approach this fall as they take advantage of each back’s style and strengths.