Going into this year’s spring game, my opinion on the rumblings about how Denard Robinson was legitimately challenging Tate Forcier for the starting quarterback job was that it was nothing more than coach speak intended to push Forcier. Based on what happened in the spring game, though, those rumblings are not only accurate in saying that there is a quarterback competition, but Robinson actually looked better than Forcier on Saturday.
Granted, just like any spring game you have to remember not to generalize what you saw too much since it was simply one scrimmage/practice and it’s possible that Forcier had an off day and Robinson was just on his game. On top of that, there were many players out with injuries and the first-string offense didn’t line up against the first-string defense, so it’s tough to get a great read on how telling this brief look at the team really was. Even with that said, the spring game does provide a small look at how the team is performing, so although there are caveats with any football-related findings from the event, it is interesting to look back on what we saw.
The obvious focus for the offense starts at the quarterback position. Based solely on the spring game, Denard Robinson looked like he should start over Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner looked like he should redshirt his freshman season. Like I have said, this was merely a brief look at the team, but just how much Robinson has improved since last season is quite amazing. His passes were crisper and didn’t seem to wobble down the field. His patience in the pocket was much better, as he didn’t take off at the first sign of a lack of open targets. Also, his speed and moves were just as great as ever. Of course, the defense could only down him two-hand touch style, but Robinson still was running circles around defenders on some plays.
Forcier didn’t necessarily look bad or anything, but it was tough to look good compared to how well Robinson played. Even so, there were indications that Forcier has not improved on some things, such as taking better care of the ball. Just like last year, Forcier held the ball out there with one hand when he was scrambling around in the pocket. That was an issue last year that really hurt Michigan against Illinois and Ohio State, and in that regard it doesn’t seem like Forcier has learned to protect the ball. Other than that there really isn’t much to say about how Forcier played in my mind. Like I said, he didn’t play that bad; he just didn’t do a lot to impress me compared to Robinson.
The same can’t be said for Devin Gardner, who made his Big House debut on Saturday. Although Gardner showed flashes of potential on some plays with great passes and exceptional running ability, overall he struggled. His first snap of the day was a fumble, and his passing wasn’t all that impressive outside of a couple select plays. Perhaps more concerning than his throwing motion, which is definitely raw and needs work, was that Gardner’s struggles with reading the coverage nearly led to quite a few interceptions.
My guess is Gardner simply had an off day and had some nerves since it was his first game in Michigan Stadium, but right now it seems like he would be better off redshirting in 2010. All along the hope has really been for Forcier and Robinson to handle the quarterback duties in 2010 to allow Gardner to take a year to develop, and unless Gardner rapidly improves during the summer, that still seems like the best-case scenario for Michigan.
Moving on to running back, I was very impressed with how deep this position looked, and that was without Vincent Smith. Players like Mike Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and true freshman Stephen Hopkins really looked good, especially Hopkins. He was running defenders over all day long and seems like a very powerful runner. Add Michael Shaw and Smith into the equation and the running back position should be very deep this fall. (Austin White played as well on Saturday, but I think he will probably be redshirted this season.)
Slot receiver is another position that looks very deep. Roy Roundtree picked up where he left off at the end of last season and put on a show on Saturday, scoring a 97-yard touchdown on a pass from Denard Robinson. In general he was the top receiver on Saturday, making plays as a slot receiver and downfield as well. With Martavious Odoms back for another year, Jeremy Gallon and Terrence Robinson ready to get on the field, and Kelvin Grady returning from another stint with the basketball team, slot receiver is really looking solid.
At outside receiver, we got our first look at true freshmen Ricardo Miller, Jeremy Jackson, and Jerald Robinson on Saturday. We also got to watch Je’Ron Stokes catch a touchdown pass from Tate Forcier. Darryl Stonum didn’t do anything too noteworthy and Junior Hemingway was out with an injury. Although the wide receiver position as a whole is pretty deep, I hope one of these freshmen becomes a downfield threat, because Michigan had a tough time completing long passes on Saturday outside of the TD to Roundtree, who simply got wide open in the middle of the field. Hemingway and Stonum both can be pretty good deep threats, but that’s it at outside WR right now.
There was nothing too noteworthy to take away from tight ends Kevin Koger, Martell Webb, and Brandon Moore. Koger had one drop if I remember correctly, but other than that there wasn’t anything too noticeable. Koger and Webb struggled with drops in the latter part of last season, but early on Koger was very good. If he can play like he did in September of 2009 there should be no doubt about who is the starter at this position.
I didn’t pay a ton of attention to the offensive line, but a lot of younger players were getting reps with the first couple of units. Part of that was because David Molk and Elliott Mealer were both out with injuries, but it seems like Michigan should have a pretty good two-deep at offensive line this year.
Just as the general theme with the offense was solid depth, the general theme with the defense was a lack of depth. That is nothing new, and it’s already obvious that how Michigan performs as a team in 2010 will greatly depend on if the defense is once again a liability or not. I don’t see the defense being a strength with so many question marks surrounding it, but the key is to not be a liability either.
On Saturday I really didn’t watch the defense too closely (partly because spring games like Michigan’s aren’t designed to favor the defense), but Ryan Van Bergen stood out to me, as he seemed to be putting pressure on the quarterback throughout the day. I’m sure Mike Martin and Troy Woolfolk would have stood out if they had played, but injuries kept them out.
Let’s hope Will Hagerup is ready to be the starting punter from the second he gets on campus, because Tate Forcier was the best punter on Saturday. He punted the ball once on a fourth down where he backed up out of the shotgun, and that one punt went much farther than any of the ones during the punting drill earlier in the day. The actual kickers and punters could barely keep the ball in between the sidelines, and even when they did, the punts were very short. Jeremy Gallon only got one real chance to catch a punt as a result, and unsurprisingly he dropped it. It looks like some things haven’t changed in that regard.
The kicking competition is definitely wide open, but that is because a few kickers played quite well on Saturday. I don’t see Michigan making a ton of long-range field goals in 2010 just based on the distances kicked from on Saturday, but thankfully every kick wasn’t shank like with the punters. Some walk-ons, a person from the soccer team, and Brendan Gibbons will compete for the starting job at kicker.
Other notes from Saturday
- The alumni flag football game was once again very entertaining. Desmond Howard and LaMarr Woodley were two of the coaches, and Woodley was pretty funny, complaining about calls to the refs all game long. John Navarre, Jermaine Gonzalez, Pierre Woods, and Jimmy King (yes, basketball’s Jimmy King played and even caught a touchdown) were just some of players involved. Despite not playing a snap, Vada Murray, the captain of one of the teams, was named the MVP of the game, a well deserved honor considering he has been fighting cancer for the last few years. (Phil Brabbs was supposed to be one of the captains as well, but I don’t think he was there.)
- I just love how it was 82 degrees and sunny on Thursday and on Saturday it was cold, cloudy, and windy and it even snowed a little bit in the morning. There was still a pretty good crowd despite the chilly weather (the estimate was 35,000 people, although I thought that was a little low), with both sidelines filling up by the time the actual spring game got started.
- I personally didn’t have a big problem with the PNC banners that were hanging in each corner of the field. Yes, it was advertising in Michigan Stadium, but it was for a good cause. I can understand why people would be against it, but to the douchebag that felt the need to boo every time something about PNC was mentioned, get over it.
- The fundraiser for Mott Children’s Hospital went very well and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, but did anyone else feel like the interviews with families were a little tacky? I realize the importance of keeping Mott on people’s minds, but it was awkward more than anything and seemed to hold up the game itself at times.
- Along those same lines, why was it necessary for Frank Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter to announce the game over the PA system like it was a radio broadcast? Last year we simply watched the game and then had interviews with players every so often. That was much better than having to listen to Beckmann and Brandstatter announce every play, which was not only unnecessary, but I bet it was also really uncomfortable for the players who had to listen to the announcers talk about them while they were trying to play football.
- It’s definitely a good thing Michigan Stadium is getting new FieldTurf before next season, because the new piece of the Block M that replaced what was cut out by vandals was noticeably brighter. As it turns out, part of that is because the new turf will be “Duraspine,” which is a “brighter and higher quality version of field turf.”
- It was weird going into the stadium and not seeing the old press box. The area where the old press box used to be was blocked off, as construction of the new seatbacks is still ongoing.
- The new speaker system sort of seemed like an improvement, but I think it would have been a good idea to install speakers in both scoreboards for a surround sound type of effect. That would have also been a good idea in order to be consistent, because the very top of the north scoreboard where the speakers are housed is now covered with a banner that is sort of see through, whereas the south scoreboard is unchanged.
- There were a lot of football recruits at the game, including Demetrius Hart, who was getting a lot of love from the fans that noticed him.
- Some members of the basketball team were also at the game with a few recruits, including Isaiah Sykes.
- Top 10 plays from the spring game (YouTube)
- Rich Rodriguez press conference part 1 (YouTube)
- Rich Rodriguez press conference part 2 (YouTube)
- Denard Robinson interview (YouTube)
- Roy Roundtree interview (YouTube)
- Obi Ezeh interview (YouTube)
- Highlights of the alumni game (AnnArbor.com)
- MVictors (alumni game)
- UMGoBlue (alumni game)
- AnnArbor.com (alumni game)
- UMGoBlue (spring game)
- AnnArbor.com (spring game)
- Michigan Daily (spring game)
- Detroit News (spring game)
- Maize and Blue Nation (includes a look at where one set of the “Michigan Stadium” letters from the old press box went)