Michigan mailbag: Time for defense to button up on crossing routes

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey is expected to be ready for spring practice.

We are still getting winter weather advisories, comfort food is the cold-weather menu constant, and it’s getting closer to the NCAA basketball postseason, but still, thoughts somehow manage to turn to spring.

Spring football, that is.

The Wolverines begin practice March 17, and, as always, there’s plenty to get done by Jim Harbaugh and his staff, featuring several new assistants. This is the time to see what the early-enrollee freshmen can do and if they will be capable of contributing in the fall. This is also the time to get the rust off for the veterans and returning players who have been going through winter conditioning since the start of the year. It’s also the time to find out who should be penciled in for some of the vacancies left by players, some of whom are at the NFL combine this week, particularly on defense.

It’s also never too early for another Michigan football mailbag, so here goes:

►Question. Any update on the fan event mentioned to be held in April? — @hale_kimmy

►Answer. Great question and the answer is, no, not yet. What we do know for sure is there will be a spring game — which, by the way, will be a game in name only – on April 13 at 5 p.m. Expect to watch a practice that day at Michigan Stadium. The event the week before likely will also include access to a practice, perhaps along the lines of last year’s open practice before the start of the season. Michigan is still finalizing details for both events.

►Q. With the favorable home schedule is Michigan better or worse than last year? — @michmike69

►A. That’s an interesting question, Mike. Better, to me, suggests you mean winning those games lost last year, namely, to Notre Dame and Ohio State. It’s absolutely a more favorable schedule with all the rivalry games — Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame — at Michigan Stadium this fall. There are some challenging road games, though, but you’re talking home games. Playing at Michigan Stadium certainly means plenty for the Wolverines, but we’ve both seen them lose at home to their rivals, particularly Ohio State. Despite some unknowns at running back, this is a veteran offense with playmakers and a new offensive coordinator in Josh Gattis. And that, combined with whether Don Brown can find suitable replacements for some key losses on the defense, will be more important than home-field advantage.

►Q. Any plans for other defensive schemes besides man coverage to, I don’t know, make offenses adjust? — @Jeremiah48204

►Q. Can we ask Don Brown what he will do next year if his DBs are getting burned on crossing patterns for 60 some points? Will there be a backup plan like a zone defense or dropping the rush ends back into coverage since they can’t get to the QB i.e. OSU. — @E_D_4

►A. Lawrence and Eric, you would think that with three regular-season games of evidence — first half of the Northwestern game, Indiana and Ohio State — that the crossing routes were the Achilles' heel of Don Brown’s defense last season. The fix seems like a relatively easy one, but we have all learned during Brown’s time as defensive coordinator that while he makes in-game adjustments (like at Northwestern), he is not going to drift far from his bread and butter and desire to attack and be aggressive. He bristled a few years ago at the suggestion there is too much risk for reward with his scheme. No one is suggesting revamping a defense that has been one of the best in the country the last few years, but offenses will continue to attack the defense this way unless he dabbles more in a zone, although to be fair, he did at times last season.

►Q. is Dmac participating in winter conditioning and will he be ready for spring ball? — @jimUMfan

►A. Jim, the plan was for Dylan McCaffrey, who was throwing during bowl practices in December, to be ready for spring practice. My understanding is he probably could have practiced before the bowl — he was in a non-contact jersey — and has been working out this winter and will be ready to go when practices begin.

Q. Will the nightmare of not winning that game on the fourth Saturday in November ever end? — @tmac2564

A. Tim, you have asked the unanswerable, which is why we will all have to stay tuned. It will be of great interest to see how Ryan Day performs in his first season as full-time head coach. I have a feeling he will be quite good and up to the task of preparing his team for the Wolverines, as Urban Meyer did.

You can say, well, Michigan is due, but Michigan has been due for a while. It isn’t about that, of course. It seems to me we will get a feel very early on what this offense is capable of and whether Josh Gattis is going to be free to flex his muscles with whatever #speedinspace really means. And I don’t want questions two-thirds of the way into the season asking if Michigan has been holding anything back for Ohio State. I think we know the answer from the last few years and that’s no, they haven’t. Michigan should lay out its cards, at least most of them, and play freely as a team, an offense, with everything to prove.

Q. Is Quinn Nordin done on this team? Bet you didn’t expect a kicker question. — @steve6884

A. Why not a kicker question? Kickers are people, too — at least that’s what Garrett Rivas always says. I would hope he’s not done, because I still think Nordin has a lot to give this team. Jake Moody was consistent and clearly performed well when he was called upon late in the season. Nordin is fiery, as we’ve all witnessed, and dealt with inconsistency last season. Does this mean he won’t compete for the job during spring practice? Of course not. He obviously has plenty of leg, so now it’s about getting re-focused.

►Q. Does the coaching staff prefer Thin Mints or Caramel deLites? (Asking for a friend) — @MarkProff

►A. Any coach worth his weight in Girl Scout cookies definitely prefers Thin Mints. Enough said.


Twitter: @chengelis