The 2009 spring game was a huge success. Rich Rodriguez set a goal of having 40,000 people attend the event, and that goal was surpassed by at least 10,000. Unlike spring games in the Lloyd Carr era, which eventually became nothing more than drills and a very short scrimmage, this event was about having fun. Fans were given a chance to get a look at the locker room; the alumni game was very entertaining; and we got to watch a scrimmage that replicated various game situations and lasted for over an hour and a half. All in all, it was a great event and one that will hopefully grow in the coming years.
Here is a recap of the various events that made up the day:
Locker Room Tour
Looking back, I was an idiot for thinking I would be able to tour the locker room despite arriving at 9:15 a.m. When I got to the stadium, I immediately passed on waiting in line, as upon first glance, it was stretched around the side of Crisler Arena. I continued walking and saw that it went all of the way out to Stadium Boulevard. Then, once I made my way into the stadium and walked around the concourse, I noticed that the line stretched all the way to the entrance at the corner of Stadium and Main. As pointed out in The Wolverine Blog’s photo essay of the line, at one time it went all the way to the 50-yard line on the Main Street side. People really wanted to see the locker room, so much so that one person got in line at 3:30 a.m. That is dedication.
(As you’ll notice in the above links, the word “honor” is spelled in a non-American way in the phrase “Strength and Honour.” Anyone know why?)
There were some no shows, and the roster posted on MGoBlue wasn’t all that accurate. Even so, this was a very entertaining event. Frank Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter provided commentary that included many funny digs at the players and coaches (like Brandstatter’s comment about how Jerry Hanlon drew up plays on manila folders). Rick Leach’s interview was particularly hilarious, as his answer to a question about why he was pulled after an interception on the first pass of the game was, “I’m 52 years-old.” Leach also mentioned that he helped put the game together, so he deserves a pat on the back. Ever since the interview on WTKA where he vehemently defended Rich Rodriguez, Leach has been around the program quite a bit, and that is definitely a good thing.
Another funny moment was guest referee James Hall’s response to Brandstatter asking for an official ruling on a play. Hall answered that he didn’t even see the play, and Brandstatter shot back with a great one-liner about how he was just like all referees.
Perhaps the funniest moment was the fact that it was announced that Larry Foote wasn’t allowed to play in the game due to his contract with the Steelers. The Steelers obviously don’t want him getting hurt in a flag football game, so there is a clause that was supposed to prevent him from participating. Well, Foote may or may not have played, and he may or may not have had a one-hand interception. I will leave it at that so Foote doesn’t get in too much trouble.
Holding the Banner
I was lucky enough to be one of the students that got to go down on the field and hold the banner as the team ran out of the tunnel. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure, and it was as awesome as I thought it would be. While waiting for noon (when the team would retake the field for the game) to arrive, I got to sit on the bleachers down by the 15-yard line on the northeast part of the field. Jay Hopson and Greg Robinson were running drills with the linebackers, which was cool to see up close.
Holding up the banner was much more complicated than I expected. The wind made it tougher, as it was blowing the banner in one direction as we tried to pull it the opposite way. We were warned to hold on tight when the team started hitting it, but that didn’t seem to be a big problem. Seeing the players and coaches jump up and touch the banner was amazing, though. I tried to stay on the field after the national anthem to hang out behind the bench, but an event staff person quickly realized we weren’t supposed to be down there.
- Let’s start with the one player everyone was watching on Saturday: Tate Forcier. Forcier looked about as good as one could have hoped. His passes were accurate, had zip on them, and actually hit his receivers. Only one deep ball (that I remember) was overthrown, and he scored touchdowns on a couple long passes. He also scored a couple TDs by running the ball. Once he lost the ball in the end zone for a safety, but that was about the only bad play that I remember.
Forcier showed off his scrambling skills quite a bit. The defense could only down him by two-hand touch rules (Michigan can’t afford to lose him to an injury), but he had good field vision when he did take off. When he is fair game to defenses next season I hope he cuts down on the amount of times he scrambles, but at least his scrambles were effective. I think as times goes by he will probably be more patient in the pocket, but that was probably the only real negative about his game that I noticed, and it is probably a stretch to call that a negative. I’m just being extra paranoid about his health, as it is already obvious that Michigan can’t afford to lose him.
- The backup QB on Saturday was David Cone. Nick Sheridan was in uniform, but he didn’t do anything more than play catch with Zoltan Mesko on the sidelines since his foot was still in a walking boot. Cone struggled throughout the day but put together a few decent drives as time went by. His passing ability seemed limited, though, as did his running ability most of the time. I say most of the time because he did have a great 35-yard run after he put a move on Stevie Brown. Brown totally bit on it, allowing Cone to run down the field for a big gain.
- The third-string QB was a walk-on, Jack Kennedy. He isn’t even listed on the spring roster, so I’m assuming he is new to the team. He actually looked better than Cone at times, but I can’t stress enough how important it is that Forcier and Sheridan stay healthy. If there is ever a situation where both are injured, I think putting Carlos Brown in and letting him run on every down is probably the best idea.
- Speaking of Carlos Brown, he looked very good. If he can stay healthy, having he and Brandon Minor will be a nice one-two punch. Minor didn’t do anything too memorable, but Brown broke off a huge run for a touchdown once.
- True freshman Vincent Smith played quite a bit and looked pretty good. Despite his small size, he ran the ball downhill and showed off his ability to make moves as well. I believe he had two touchdowns — one that was right at the goal line and another where he ran around the defense from 20 or so yards out. Before watching him in person, I was a bit concerned his size would lead to big hits like Sam McGuffie experienced, but I’m not as worried anymore. McGuffie’s running style was the biggest reason he had three concussions, and Smith, as I said, runs downhill.
- Kevin Grady had a nice touchdown run where he plowed through a pile and came out unscathed to score. It reminded me of his TD run against Indiana a few years ago. Hopefully we will see him do that in goal line and short-yardage situations next season.
- The two most impressive wide receivers were Roy Roundtree and Greg Mathews. Roundtree seems like someone that will challenge for a starting job, as he has great hands and is a viable deep threat. Forcier hit Roundtree on one of his long TD passes, and Roundtree caught one other TD pass I believe.
Mathews will be the No. 1 WR for sure. His best play was going up on a fade route and taking the ball out of the air. The throw wasn’t great, but Mathews made sure the defender couldn’t pick it off and bailed out Forcier. As a way of saying thanks, Forcier gave Mathews a piggy-back ride to the bench.
- Darryl Stonum also had a great TD catch where he stole it away from Boubacar Cissoko. That play made up for a drop Stonum had early on.
- The starting offensive line was as follows: Mark Ortmann (LT), Stephen Schilling (LG), David Molk (C), David Moosman (RG), Mark Huyge (RT).
- As much as I would like to say that the offense looked great because the offense is great, that isn’t a fair assessment. Part of the reason the offense played so well was because the defense struggled quite a bit. I don’t want to read too much into their performance, though. The scrimmage was set up to favor the offense, both based on the rules and the matchups.
- Injuries kept Jonas Mouton (out for spring), Mike Martin (slightly injured ankle; kept out for precautionary reasons), Donovan Warren (out for six weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle) out of the scrimmage, and Ryan Van Bergen left on a cart mid-way through (out for four weeks with a strained MCL).
- Aside from injuries, Brandon Graham barely played in order to limit the risk of an injury. Even then that didn’t matter too much since the first-team offense and first-team defense didn’t match up at all. The second-team defense faced the Forcier-led unit, making it tough to get a good read on both sides of the ball. I think it is safe to say that the defense does have a long way to go, but their performance on Saturday wasn’t a proper indicator of where they are at right now. I’m a tad concerned but am not ready to panic just yet.
- Due to the matchups and the lack of many starters, no one really stood out on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary did stand out as being particularly bad on many occasions, but Boubacar Cissoko did have at least one good pass break-up that I remember, though Stonum owned him pretty bad on that one TD catch I mentioned. Stevie Brown, as noted, got burned by David Cone. He was playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role and was in a bunch of different formations throughout the scrimmage. It was tough to get a read on him as well, but he did win an award for the most development during the spring, so apparently he has improved from last season.
- Martavious Odoms fumbled a punt during the drills before the game. It was really, really sunny, but that isn’t an excuse. Greg Mathews fielded his punt without any problems, so it seems like Odoms still has practice to do when it comes to punts. Although he took a punt to the house against Purdue last season, he had big problems catching the ball on punts. I don’t want to lose his return ability, but I feel much better when Mathews is back there as the returner.
- Brendan Gibbons can’t get here soon enough. Our current (as in during the spring, not in general) kicking situation is not good. Jason Olesnavage didn’t have any issues with extra points, but his range appeared to be pretty limited. Once he went beyond the 30-yard line, his kicks did not look good at all. His backup is Bryan Wright, who is actually on scholarship. To say he struggled is an understatement. Wright’s kicks were bad, and those were the ones he actually got off. There were issues with the hold and the snap when he tried to attempt some field goals, which probably contributed to his poor kicking. He also had a punt blocked and kicked one off of one of his teammates on a rugby-style kick. It’s a good thing Zoltan Mesko is still here; that’s for sure.
- Entire game (MGoBlue)
- Highlights (BTN)
- Michigan takes the field (YouTube)
- Tate Forcier TD pass (YouTube)
- Tate Forcier TD run (YouTube)
- Carlos Brown TD run (YouTube)
- Kevin Grady TD run (YouTube)
- Tate Forcier interview (BTN)
- Brandon Minor interview (BTN)
- Greg Mathews interview (BTN)
- Greg Robinson interview (BTN)
- View of the crowd (YouTube)
- Post-game press conference (MLive)
- Michigan Sports Center (Flickr Page)
- Michigan Daily
- Detroit News
- Detroit Free Press
- Ann Arbor News
Plenty of recruits were in attendance, including Ricardo Miller, Marvin Robinson, Devin Gardner, and Jeremy Jackson. Some of the recruits made their way up the stadium through the section 23 aisle and were swarmed for pictures and autographs. Denard Robinson, who will be here in a couple months, was also at the game and was the first to get swarmed. He stood out enough thanks to his dreadlocks and red Deerfield Beach varsity jacket, but when a few people started cheering him, it was mayhem. He probably signed autographs and took pictures for at least 20-30 minutes, just as Ricardo Miller and some of the others did (they were all very nice). During the warm ups, Denard was down on the field hanging out with Tate Forcier, Nick Sheridan, and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, probably getting coached up by all of them.
Varsity Blue has a rundown of the recruits that planned on being at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.
Aside from the alumni in attendance for the flag football game, Super Bowl participants LaMarr Woodley, Steve Breaston, and Harold Goodwin (assistant coach) were honored. Larry Foote was as well, but he got plenty of attention during the alumni game. Like the aforementioned players, Mike Hart and Desmond Howard were given a nice reception when it was announced they were in attendance.
The attendance for the spring game was estimated at 50,000 people. That is a new record for a Michigan spring game, and the hope is that even more people will go to the event next year. If the team has a good season and the weather is as nice as it was on Saturday, I would say they could draw around 70-80,000. I think breaking Alabama’s record is a couple of years down the road and is dependent on a lot of things, but if the team continues to improve it is definitely possible.
The band and cheerleaders were in attendance to help make this more like a real game experience. What made it feel like a Saturday in the fall for me was hearing “down in front” and “sit down.” I don’t want to beat a dead horse and go on a rant about this again, but I certainly did not expect to hear those two phrases at the spring game. Listen, people. If you have a problem with someone standing, then please, stay home. No one wants to hear you bitch and moan when you voluntarily came to the game. It’s clear you don’t want to improve the atmosphere if you are worried about people standing, so just stay home next time. And for the record, the 22 rows in front of me were standing as well, so it’s not like it was just me.
Aside from the complaints about people standing, the atmosphere was great. The crowd was into the game and it did feel like a football Saturday as much as it possibly could for a scrimmage. Overall, this was a great event and I look forward to it growing in the future. Rich Rodriguez definitely is doing a good job of marketing the program, and that job will only become easier if the team starts winning. Until then, being nice and open to the fans is a good way to keep people happy and excited.