When it comes to Michigan Football, the Michigan Wolverines typically prepare for the upcoming season with closed-door practices. However on Saturday night, head coach Brady Hoke did the unthinkable, when he opened up a practice and held a public scrimmage just two weeks before the start of the 2014 season, so that his players could get a chance to play in front of a crowd and get acclimated to the atmosphere.
While no one can deny that the atmosphere was great. I can honestly say I walked away from Michigan’s open practice feeling good. Now don’t mis-understand what I am saying, despite the negatives there were some positives to take away from this practice. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the Wolverines still have plenty of things to work on, staring with the offensive line.
Offensive line issues continue as the running game suffers
Coming into the scrimmage, I was really hoping to see some improvement from the Wolverines offensive-line, after the inconsistent debacle they provided fans with last season. However, coming out of the scrimmage and I am more convinced that the offensive line will come into the season inconsistent and not ready to go. When it came to pass protection, they allowed easy pressure, which forced Michigan quarterbacks like Devin Gardner and Shane Morris to have rush throws or scramble. If that wasn’t enough, the running game was obsolete because the offensive line didn’t provide any running lanes for the them. If you think I am exaggerating, take into account that running back Drake Johnson’s five yard run was arguably the best run of the night. After that the only solid running plays I can recall are Gardner’s 13 yard which was technically a quarterback scramble after the offensive line didn’t protect him and running back De’Veon Smith’s 10 yard touchdown which was more about his great effort than good protection.
“No, I don’t think you can pin point anything in particular.” Hoke responding to why the offensive line didn’t perform well. “I mean you have to play with good leverage, be positive with your footwork, your hips have to get down the field and you got to finish blocks. It sounds easy but when you got a defense that we move a lot, we blitz a lot, it puts pressure on them.”
Now I know some fans will say that we just need to give the offensive line time and normally I am all for patience but in this case, patience and time are not luxuries that the Wolverines have right now. Although, I have said this before, I will say it again, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how talented this Wolverine offense is, if the line doesn’t improve, Wolverines will have the same issues that they had last season.
For those who are wondering about the running backs performance, as I mentioned above, the running game was pretty much non-existent throughout the entire scrimmage, thanks to the inconsistent offensive line. Nevertheless, there were some small but bright moments from running backs Derrick Green, Drake Johnson and Smith. However, at the end of the day, no one really stood out and although Coach Hoke felt the same way, he did add that he is seen the running back look better than it did in the scrimmage on Saturday.
“Yeah I thought the other night we ran the ball pretty well.” Hoke said on the performance of the running game. “Again, you can’t play well one Saturday and not as well the next, so again there is another lesson in consistency to be learned there.”
“I think going into it, Green was one.” Hoke said. “I think 1A is obviously De’Veon. I think Drake can help us a bunch. You know Justice caught the ball out of the backfield well. There was a cavity blitz and he stepped up and took on the linebacker and really did a good job. They all have their real positives.”
Shane Morris outshines Devin Gardner
After an inconsistent season by Gardner last season many fans come into this season not knowing if they can count on Gardner. While some will say that they left Michigan Stadium not feeling good about Gardner’s performance, coach Hokes feels that Gardner “did a good job.”
“Devin I thought did a pretty good job. Hoke said. “I thought Devin probably had two bad plays that stick out in my mind a little bit and a bunch of plays, where I think he was very efficient with what he trying to get done. One of them I thought, getting rid of the ball and trying to make something happen because you have the confidence you can but it’s never going to be there for you. I thought that was some good disciplined. Overall, I think he played solid. Did he play great or good enough? Probably not and I say the same thing for Shane.”
Now, if you ask me, I don’t think Gardner played well. However, in Gardner’s defense, it wasn’t all his fault, especially considering that he was literally running for his life most of the scrimmage because the offensive line just don’t seem to know how to protect him consistently. Nonetheless, my concern with Gardner was the fact that I still see the little problems from last year. At times, Gardner stared down his receiver, making it easy for the secondary to make plays on the ball. When he wasn’t staring down his receiver, he was at times, throwing the ball late, which once again put the defense in a position to succeed.
Nevertheless, I did see some improvement from Gardner. When given time in the pocket, he was able to make some nice throws, particularly two nice passes to tight end Devin Funchess. Of course, he showed the ability to make plays with his feet.
However, at the end of the day I have to give the win to Morris, who played great all game.
When in the pocket Morris showed good vision and accuracy, not to mention he did a good job of spreading the ball around and using his various weapons. More importantly, he was able to create plays when pressured, when in the pocket he did a good job of getting the ball out quickly and going with the safe route instead of forcing it. When he wasn’t able to stay in the pocket, he showed good awareness of his surrounding and the ability to scramble make some nice accurate throws on the run.
As I said earlier, Morris won this round and although he probably won’t be the starter going into the first game, I think it’s a possibility that Morris could be named the starter if Gardner doesn’t step up the way Michigan wants him too.
Michigan has the versatility and talent at wide receiver
Coming into the scrimmage, just about everyone knew that Michigan had plenty of depth at wide receiver but if there was any doubt about the talent at wide receiver, there isn’t any longer. Whether it was Da’Mario Jones and Amara Daborah making nice runs after the catch or Jack Wangler and Freddy Canteen, making some tough catches on the sidelines, no one could deny that the Michigan receivers making plays.
However, the main bright spot of the receiving core had to be freshman wide receiver Maurice Ways. The former Detroit Country Day standout was all over the field, making an impact. when it came to the red-zone, he showed that he had the athleticism and the great hands to make any defender look silly in one-on-one coverage but at the same time, he also showed that he can used in the short and intermediate part of the offense and gain yards after the catch.
“Well I think this is one of the better days that Moe has had.” Hoke said about Way’s performance along with the rest of the receiving core. “He’s got some talent obviously and he is a big receiver. I think overall this receiver group got tired, because they run a lot and that’s one thing we tried to cut back but when you scrimmage and go a hundred and something plays and their out there for eight to ten plays in a role, they get a little tired and they have to get through that.
After Ways, the next bright spot has to be tight end Devin Funchess. He provided the first big play of the night when he made a great one-handed grab over corner-back Delonte Hollowell. Later on, he would follow that up with another nice grab over freshman corner-back Jabril Peppers, which led to a touchdown.
When it comes to the wide receiver position, I like the depth that the Wolverines have going into the season and if you ask me, I think the versatility and depth of the Michigan’s receiving core will prove to be key as the season goes on.
Defense is a work in progress but they look good
When Brady Hoke brought in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, just about everyone thought that the Wolverines would have lethal defense. However, since Mattison has joined the coaching staff, the defense has been anything but lethal. Nevertheless, walking out of the scrimmage, I must say I like what I saw from Michigan’s defense, especially the defensive line, who did a good job of creating pressure on the quarterbacks and making the running game non-existent.
I think [Ryan] Glasgow, [Willie] Henry, [Maurice] Hurst, [Chris] Wormley, [Matthew] Goodin, [Bryan] Mone, have all been pretty active in there and its good problem we have right now.” Hoke said. “I’m interested to see the tape and see if there is separation in who played that well, so I am excited to see that.”
When it comes to who stood out for me, I would have to say defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. He may be a red-shirt freshman but the young man was force to be reckoned with as he continuously blew up the offensive line racking up tackles in the back-field. He even earned safety by once again taking down running back De’Veon Smith in the end-zone.
Another standout of the defensive-line for me had to be defensive end Frank Clark. Just like Hurst, Clark did a great job of penetrating the offensive line. If that’s not enough, he also did a good job of coming off the edge and basically eating the running backs in the back-field like they were his dinner. Nevertheless, while it’s good to see Clark performing well, coach Hoke said in the post-practice press conference that he needs more consistency from him up front.
I think we still have a long way to go. I think when you talk about the front.” Hoke said. “I really believe we want to see someone separate. Who’s the guy you are count on? I felt Frank [Clark] a little bit tonight, but this is really the first scrimmage I felt him have some consistently.
The other area of the defense that stood for me was the secondary. Although we saw different secondary line-ups which included a starting line up of Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Jeremy Clark and Jarod Wilson. I must say that I like what I saw from Peppers. When on the field, he showed good quickness and instincts, he even deflected a few passes. Although Hoke said in the press conference, that Peppers will slide over to nickel. I think it safe to say that Peppers could works at corner in a standard formation and then be moved to the nickel when they bring in corner-back Raymond Taylor.
“The evidence for making decisions is on the film.” Hoke said on if Peppers will start or not to start the season. “Decisions are based on film and production. He is playing very well and he’ll have learned some things today. So, again we are competing and he is doing a nice job.”
If that’s not enough corner-back Channing Stribling also had a nice night which he capped off with a fantastic interception in the corner of the end zone. Not to mention there were plenty of other bright spots in the secondary, like Jourdan Lewis, Raymond Taylor, Blake Countess and Jeremy Clark.
“From a secondary perspective, the safeties are really improving.” Hoke said. “I think the competition at corner-back with Ray, Blake, Stribiling, Jourdan Lewis and Peppers, is real and it’s good.”
“Jeremy Clark has really had a good fall camp and I’m really excited about his progress. Delano was out there with a vest on for no contact but it was still good to get him out there. AJ Person has really improved.”
Now as much as I like what I saw from the Wolverines defense, at this point, I feel a defensive improvement was almost to be expected coming into this season. Keep in mind that I’m not the only who feels that way, coach Hoke also said that the defense should be playing at a higher level this season, especially considering the veterans that they have.
“I think we want to bring a lot of blitzing and have a lot of pressure and bring better coverage with it.” Hoke said. “We got a chance to be good on that side of the ball but I think we still got some issues that we need to work out.”
[Right now] The defense should be ahead. More veterans. Defense generally ahead at this point, but offense needs to catch up.”
Overall, I have to say I agree with Hoke when he says that the offense needs to catch up and it starts with the offensive line. Walking away from this scrimmage, I honestly feel like this Wolverine defensive unit could be legit this season However, I also feel like Michigan’s offensive is still rough, which is causing the offense to struggle.
There is no doubt that the Wolverines have the talent but the little mistakes and the big inconsistencies with the offensive line need to come to stop and very soon.
“I’d be lying if I wasn’t concerned about all of our football team.” Hoke said. “That’s just being a coach. Do we need to improve still? There is no question about.”
There were some negative plays we’ve got to still clean up, some of it is up front, and I really think some of it today , is we’ve got to have better vision in the back, from that stand-point offensively.” Hoke said. “From a defensive stand point, I felt they really went after it but to many penalties…but that’s why we do what we did….now we need to coach off of it, teach off of it, educate off of it and keep working forward. You can’t complain what these guys have done to this point. We know we got we two weeks, this will be good to learn from, for everybody and we will start really focusing on Wednesday for Appalachian State.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
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