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Spring Practice Recap
Lloyd Carr mentioned that the main goal this spring was to take each player and have them improve as much as possible individually. He felt that this goal was met. In fact, almost everything I have heard from spring practice this year has been positive, except for punting. It's hard to believe things as good as they sound, but the media blackout has made it difficult to tell.
In any case, some players (excluding those who were expected to start already) who were mentioned by the coaching staff and observers as standing out this spring:
Josh Williams spent most of the spring in the offensive backfield, and will push Ben Huff for a starting DT job.
Brent Blackwell, who has lined up at both OLB and DE, had a great spring, and will make an impact this fall. He has improved tremendously.
Sam Sword at ILB and David Bowens at OLB both played well.
Daydrion Taylor, a redshirt freshman, hit hard and covered a lot of ground from his safety position.
Clarence Williams stood out in the spring scrimmage, and probably has the inside track on the starting TB job currently. Williams has added more than 10 pounds since he arrived on campus and still has great speed and quickness.
Tom Brady was outstanding at QB in the scrimmage. He has a great arm and a quick release. Several people have mentioned that they think that Brady would have been the number 2 QB even if Brian Griese hadn't been suspended.
Players who have made major strides forward since last fall:
Thomas Guynes improved and will probably be the starting tackle in the fall. Keep an eye out for Jeff Backus, and incoming freshman, who the coaches feel may already be good enough to start at LEFT tackle (I won't believe it 'til I see it).
Tyrone Butterfield and Todd Brooks both played well at WR. However, the coaches are still expecting one of the incoming group of WR's to make an immediate impact.
Punting remains a problem. Watch for Cory Sargent to get a long look in the fall. Paul Peristeris twisted an ankle this spring and missed a week, which didn't help.
Kick returns are still an issue - though several players have been looked at. Clarence Williams may fit the bill here as well.
Depth at the WR and CB position is limited. The DB position should be strong, but if someone goes down with an injury, there will be some major reshuffling necessary unless one or two of the incoming freshman can make an impact.
The defense has actually not been discussed much around here this spring - mostly because it's a known quantity, and should be outstanding this year. However, a few notes...
- Defensive Line: The only real concern was depth at the tackle position, which has been addressed well with the shift of Rasheed Simmons inside. Will Carr should be dominant again in the fall. Ben Huff and Josh Williams have both played well in the spring, and should be solid contributors this fall. The defensive end position is solid with Juaquin Feazell (who was out after shoulder surgery) and Glen Steele returning, along with a number of talented redshirt freshman.
- Linebackers: No real concerns here. Jarrett Irons should be a Butkus candidate, though he has been underrated, in my opinion, over the last two years. Rob Swett did play in the spring, though I haven't heard much about how he performed. Brent Blackwell and Sam Sword are poised to step up this fall. Not much word on Mike Elston so far.
- Defensive Backs: Again, not much info has come out of practice so far. Charles Woodson is at full strength. The coaches hope to play Clarence Thompson at safety, though it depends on the performance of Woody Hankins and Andre Weathers at the other CB position. Chuck Winters is supposedly playing baseball, but I haven't heard if or how well he practiced. Expect contributions from some new names - possibly Daydrion Taylor at a safety spot and even Tommy Hendricks or LeAundre Brown, two incoming freshman, in the fall.
- Special Teams: This was the area of major focus in the spring. Expect to see some big names on the coverage and return teams this year. Placekicking is solid with Remy Hamilton, but the punting job is wide open, possibly even for Cory Sargent in the fall. The return game has been another concern - the coaches have given several players a shot at running back kicks, including Charles Woodson, Clarence Williams, Tyrone Butterfield, and Anthony Williams. I don't think this position is sewn up yet, though I personally would be hesitant to put Woodson back to return kicks - I'll never forget Tripp Welborne's knee injury on a return a few years ago.
Offense is an area where some major losses need to be replaced. There are players with talent around, but many are untested. By position:
- Offensive Line: The line play should be fairly solid this year. At the tackle position, Jon Jansen has been very impressive - he's bigger and stronger than he was last year as a freshman. The other tackle position is less settled, though there are several players who are being considered, including Thomas Guynes and Jeff Potts, a redshirt freshman who has great potential. Zach Adami, whom the coaches were considering moving from guard to tackle, was kept at guard as a wrist injury limited his practice time. Damon Denson has also been impressive and should be the other starting guard, though Joe Ries will play quite a bit this year. Rod Payne should challenge for All-American honors at center, although he didn't practice this spring due to a foot injury.
- Quarterback: Scott Dreisbach has pretty much sewn up the position, especially with Brian Griese's off the field antics leading to an indefinite suspension. Dreisbach started out slowly, but really came on towards the end of practice. Tom Brady continues to play well - the increased work with Griese's suspension should help him develop more quickly.
- Running Back: Although there is great depth, speculation remains about who will start. My suspicion is that it won't matter much - Clarence Williams, Chris Howard, and Chris Floyd will all get their fair share of carries. Each brings a different dimension to the game. Fullback is still a mystery. It is expected that one or both of the incoming freshman FB's (John Anes and Jason Foster) will get significant playing time, though it is also possible that more one-back sets will be used.
- Tight End: This should be a major strength - but how will the coaching staff utilize the talent? Jerame Tuman, who had knee surgery (arthroscopic, not reconstructive) last year prior to the Alamo Bowl (he did play) is at full strength and has a great combination of size, speed, and blocking ability. Look for him to play a major role this year. Mark Campbell is also solid, and Aaron Shea has outstanding ability and speed at 250 pounds. This will be a fun group to watch if they get the ball.
- Wide Receiver: The coaching staff claims that the passing game has improved dramatically, which is encouraging. Tai Streets should be one starter. There is a trio of WR's in Butterfield, Williams, and Brooks who are improving, though it isn't clear which (if any) of them will start. Kevin Bryant (who was moved from CB) and Dugan Fife may make a contribution, though it is also likely that one or two of the incoming players will get significant playing time.
Fred Jackson, Michigan's offensive coordinator, was interviewed on WTKA in Ann Arbor. He reports that spring practice is going fairly well for the offense. He expects offensive line to be a strength, despite the losses of Jon Runyan and Joe Marinaro.
Jackson noted that there is an abundance of talent at the tight end position, and that the tight ends will be utilized more extensively this year. Jerame Tuman, a player who showed flashes of brilliance last year, could become an impact player, as could Aaron Shea, a redshirt frosh who was looked at as a FB briefly last year. Mark Campbell is another solid player at tight end.
Jackson also feels that the TB position will be strong with Clarence Williams, Chris Howard, and Chris Floyd. He noted that they complement each other very well, as each has a different style. Williams has tremendous speed and quickness (Jackson thinks he is the fastest player Michigan has had, at least over 40 yards); Howard is a versatile player who reads blocks well, makes good cuts, and can catch the ball; Floyd is a punishing power runner. However, he did not say who he thought would start from these three players (my money is on Clarence Williams, though Howard could give him a run).
Scott Dreisbach is throwing well in practice thus far. He seems to have no physical ill-effects after his thumb surgery, though he is a bit rusty.
Charles Woodson, Michigan's outstanding sophomore-to-be CB, is also at full strength following his knee sprain in the Alamo Bowl. For those of you who didn't hear, no surgery was required.
Rasheed Simmons is being looked at as a defensive tackle due to the graduation of Trent Zenkewicz and Jason Horn. This could create a solid 4-man rotation at the DT/NT position, including Will Carr, Ben Huff, and Josh Williams (a freshman who is drawing raves from the coaching staff).
Spring practice started on Monday. Some position changes: Kevin Bryant, who was recruited as a CB, is being given a look at the WR position. The coaches feel he can contribute soon, but want to finalize a position for Bryant by the end of Spring. Zach Adami is being looked at as a tackle (moved from guard), hoping to fill the void left by the departure of Jon Runyan.
In a move that I found a bit surprising (kudos to those of you who predicted this), Dugan Fife is practicing with the football team as a WR. Coming out of Clarkston in high school, he was an all-state QB and DB, and was recruited by some major schools to play football. He is allowed one year of football eligibility. It'll be interesting to see how he plays after four years off.