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Posts Tagged ‘Devin Gardner’

Drew’s mailbag: Peppers’ position, Hoke’s headset, and captains

Monday, July 14th, 2014


It is time for another edition of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run frequently throughout the offseason as Maize and Go Blue prepares for and previews the 2014 Michigan football season. The topics will cover more than just football, though. I will address any questions regarding Michigan athletics, including basketball, recruiting, etc., you may have. So fire away on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com).

Where do you see Jabrill Peppers in the cornerback mix this upcoming season? –Steve (@SteveCKays)

Well, to tell the truth, I do not think Jabrill Peppers will really be in the mix at cornerback this season. Remember in 2009 and 2010 when Michigan’s depth at cornerback was abysmal because it seemed like every player at the position either suffered a season-long injury, transferred, was kicked out of the program, or denied admission? Those days are long gone.

Look for Peppers to start out at nickel but end up at strong safety this season

Look for Peppers to start out at nickel but end up at strong safety this season

Michigan finally is loaded with depth at cornerback. And talented depth, too. The Wolverines return their two starting cornerbacks in Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor—both of whom have two years’ worth of starting experience. Countess was one of the best corners in the Big Ten last season. Not only did he consistently execute his assignments, his six interceptions were tied for the most in the conference and matched the most by a Wolverine since Charles Woodson had eight during his Heisman-winning season. Accordingly, Countess was named to the All-Big Ten first team by the media. Lining up on the other side of the field will be Taylor, who has proven to be an above-average Big Ten cornerback as well. He was more prone to mistakes and mental mishaps than Countess, but he excelled in man coverage, nabbed four interceptions of his own, and led the team in tackles. Given the experience of and production from both Countess and Taylor, there is little chance that Peppers cracks the starting lineup at field or boundary cornerback.

The only chance Peppers has to be truly in the mix at corner will be at nickelback—the third corner who enters when the defense deploys a nickel package. Head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison prefer to insert their talented but inexperienced corners at nickelback before shifting them to the outside. At nickelback, these budding stars have an easier time acclimating to the speed of college football and more room for error. This would be the perfect position for Peppers to make his debut. Even Hoke agrees. However, this spot likely will be manned by Jourdan Lewis. Lewis flashed great potential in eight games as a true freshman last season and signs of improvement this past spring. There were even rumors that he was challenging Taylor to be the starting boundary corner. Although Peppers has arrived on campus with arguably more hype than any previous Michigan recruit, Countess, Taylor, and Lewis appear to have locked down the three starting corner spots. At these positions, Peppers likely would be nothing more than a reserve along with Channing Stribling and Delonte Hollowell.

However, just because Peppers may have a minimal impact at cornerback this season does not mean he will have minimal impact overall. Michigan is not in a position where it can keep a consensus five-star recruit and the highest-rated Michigan signee in the recruiting-services era on the bench. Peppers will play, and he will see the field a bunch. One of the strengths of Peppers’ game is his versatility. He has the size, body, and athleticism to play multiple positions. Consequently, even though Peppers will first play nickelback according to Hoke and is projected to be an NFL corner in a few years, Peppers will make his mark as Michigan’s strong safety this season.

Whereas Michigan is stacked with talented depth at cornerback, the Wolverines’ depth at safety is shakier. Free safety likely is set with Jarrod Wilson resuming his role as the starter, but, with Thomas Gordon graduating last season, there is an opening at strong safety. In the spring, players like Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas competed to become the starting strong safety. However, no one emerged, and the competition will continue into fall camp. A strong safety must be a pseudo-linebacker that can play closer to the line of scrimmage to provide run support, as well as drop back into coverage in the middle of the field. Essentially, strong safeties need to be physical, tackle well in space, and have the athleticism to cover lots of ground in a hurry. Peppers has all of these attributes and would fit into this role wonderfully. Because he is only a true freshman, Peppers may make his debut during the non-conference slate as a reserve nickelback to get his feet wet, but, by no later than Michigan’s Big Ten opener, I expect Peppers to be named Michigan’s starting strong safety for the remainder of the season.

Will Brady Hoke be wearing a headset on the sidelines this year? –Henry (@henry_bouldin)

Yes. Will Brady Hoke wear his headset on the sideline at all times this year? No. As he has the past three seasons, Hoke will only wear a headset when he feels he needs to wear one. In all likelihood, this will be on critical third and fourth downs, as well as key drives in the fourth quarter of competitive games. Otherwise, Hoke will keep the headset off, so he can spend more time coaching his players directly on the sidelines rather than worrying about the play-calls.

And I am totally okay with this. It is not as if Hoke is completely out of the loop with regards to Michigan’s play-calling or gameplan during the game. This could not be further from the truth. Hoke has a member of the staff that relays every play to him. He knows every play that has been called before it is executed on the field. If there is a play or scheme that Hoke does not like, he will throw on his headset and make his concerns known, whether it be to counsel with his coordinators or to overrule them. And, this year, if Hoke does have a problem, both of his coordinators—Doug Nussmeier and Greg Mattison—will be on the sidelines next to him.

Plus, why is it necessary for a head coach to don the headset at all times if he still has the play-calls relayed to him? A head coach hires an offensive and defensive coordinator to organize the schemes and call the plays with his input. But it does not mean that the head coach must micromanage every single detail about the gameplan during the game. A great head coach must be able to trust his staff to execute their assignments and responsibilities. Hoke demonstrates that he has that trust in his staff when he does not wear the headset. This has the potential to backfire by placing too much trust into a member of the staff (See: former offensive coordinator Al Borges). Nonetheless, I have no problem with a head coach trusting his staff to do what they are supposed to do, so he can be more effective coaching, inspiring, and motivating his players on the sideline.

And the funniest thing about this topic to me? In 2011, Michigan fans did not care one iota about Hoke not wearing a headset. Why? Because Michigan had an 11-2 record and won the Sugar Bowl. In fact, fans praised, calling him a throwback coach that had faith in his coaching staff. However, after the past two seasons, fans have begun to blame anything they think may be contributing to Michigan’s struggles, including Hoke’s headset. It is amazing how that works.

Who do you think will be this year’s football captains? –Tanya (@ilah17)
Jake Ryan is the obvious choice; could Frank Clark join him?

Jake Ryan is the obvious choice as captain; could Frank Clark join him?

Let’s start with the obvious: linebacker Jake Ryan will be elected as a Michigan football captain for the second straight season. It was a surprise to the public when it was announced that Ryan had been voted a captain last season. The surprise was not because Ryan was not talented or because he was not capable of being a leader. The surprise was because Ryan had suffered an ACL injury in the previous spring, and there was uncertainty about when he would return to the field and how effective he would be. Yet, despite all of this, Ryan’s teammates still viewed him as one of their best leaders and named him a captain as a redshirt junior. There is no doubt that Ryan will be asked to resume his duties as captain now that he is 100-percent healthy and ready to regain his All-Big Ten form from 2012.

The offensive captain likely will be fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner. First, he is the only senior on scholarship that competes on the offensive side of the ball. Generally, the players named captains are seniors and, in some cases, juniors. It is difficult to see the most experienced player on the offense not named a captain. Second, Gardner is the quarterback, which implies that he must be a leader in the huddle and on the sideline. It would be somewhat concerning if it was announced that Michigan did not elect its redshirt-senior starting quarterback as a captain, even if Hoke continues to claim that there is quarterback competition for some reason. Third, Gardner, along with departed wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, carried the entire offensive load last season. Gardner had one of the best statistical seasons ever by a Michigan quarterback while taking an endless pounding behind a sieve-like offensive line. I just cannot see a player with the experience and production of Gardner, especially at quarterback, not be named a captain.

After Ryan and Gardner, it becomes tricky. In the past three seasons under Hoke, Michigan has had two, three, and four captains in one of those years. In 2012, there was a clear leader on offense and on defense: Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs. The question is whether the Michigan roster feels similarly about Gardner and Ryan this season. I think they might, which is why I believe that Michigan will have only two captains this season. If Michigan was to elect one or two more captains, they would definitely come from the defensive side of the ball. The options would be senior defensive end Frank Clark, senior linebacker Desmond Morgan, senior cornerback Raymon Taylor, and redshirt junior cornerback Blake Countess. If I had to pick two of those options, I would pick Clark and Countess. But this is all moot because I expect Ryan and Gardner to be the only two Michigan captains this season.

M&GB Roundtable discusses Michigan Football Legends jerseys

Friday, July 11th, 2014


Roundtable-Legends jerseys

Gardner legends jersey(USATSI)

Two weeks ago we debuted our M&GB Roundtable series that will run every couple weeks throughout the summer. Each of these roundtables will discuss a hot topic related to the upcoming season. Last time, we discussed the status of Brady Hoke’s hot seat and the consensus seemed to be that unless Michigan goes downhill once again this season, Hoke is safe heading into 2015. Today, we continue the series, this time giving our thoughts on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys. Here’s the question:

What’s your take on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys? Do you like or dislike them? Are they a good way to tie in tradition or are they too gimicky? Do you think they should be given out every year? If so, who should get numbers 11 and 21 this season? Finally, are there any other numbers you feel should be given legends status?

Justin banner

I really like the Legends jersey program because, even though it was started just a few years ago, it is unique to Michigan and it is a great way to tie in the glorious history of Michigan football. The majority of the numbers that have been given legends status thus far are great players from long ago that most Michigan fans today weren’t alive to see play. Sure, we have read about them and have maybe seen a few photos or video clips, but by and large, Tom Harmon, the Wistert brothers, and Gerald Ford were relics locked away in a time capsule. By bringing their numbers out of retirement, giving their families a pre-game ceremony, and designating the jerseys with their numbers on them with a patch, it’s a great way to both honor those legends and educate the younger generation of Michigan fans.

In addition to honoring the legends and their families and educating Michigan fans that weren’t around to see them play, the program is special and unique for current and future Michigan football players.

“It was an amazing feeling when I was awarded this number,” said Jeremy Gallon when he was given Desmond Howard’s No.21.

“I got it when I was a redshirt sophomore,” recalled Jake Ryan, who wears Bennie Oosterbaan’s No.47. “It was after the Alabama game and coach Hoke brought me in and it was a huge honor knowing that I was wearing the same jerseys as one of the legends who played for Michigan. I had to study up on him, to see what he did to represent this university. It was cool. I learned a lot.”

The current and future players that earn the numbers see it as an honor to get to wear a number that was made famous by a legend before them. Desmond Morgan got to meet Gerald Ford’s family and learn more about him when he was awarded No.48.

That said, I’m conflicted about when each number should be awarded. On one hand, it seems silly to switch a player’s number after he’s already made a name for himself in his current number. For example, Jordan Kovacs, who was No.32 for more than three seasons before switching to 11 for a handful of games. But then again, I like the way No.21 has been given to a top receiver each of the past three seasons, first Junior Hemingway, then Roy Roundtree, then Gallon. I feel like all three guys earned it and looked great in it. Unfortunately, the only receiver who fits that mold this season is Devin Funchess, but he already has Ron Kramer’s No.87. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I would switch Funchess to 21 and award 87 to Jake Butt. Funchess is a star receiver who could very well make the jump to the NFL following this season, which would open up 21 again next season for another star receiver should Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh or Freddy Canteen break out this fall.

No.11 is a tough one. Since the Wistert brothers were offensive tackles, but the number can’t be used for offensive linemen in modern college football, I like the idea of awarding it to a player on the defensive line. But so far it has been given to a safety (Kovacs) and a linebacker (Courtney Avery). I would bring it to the line this fall and give it to Frank Clark. Yes, he has an off-the-field issue from a couple years ago that could keep him from being awarded a legends number, but if Brady Hoke feels Clark has learned and grown from it, I’d be okay with him getting it. If he can’t get No.11 because of that, the only other player I’d give it to this fall would be linebacker James Ross.

Finally, I would give Charles Woodson’s No.2 legends status, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happened this fall. The staff already gave Blake Countess the number, and Woodson is in likely his final season of an outstanding NFL career. He has always given back to Michigan and represented himself and the university well. As Michigan’s latest Heisman Trophy winner, he would be a great player to honor.

Drew banner

When it was announced prior to the 2011 season that Michigan planned to implement the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Most college football programs honor their legends by retiring their numbers in perpetuity. This is a grand gesture, but then fans are unable to see the numbers of their favorite players on the field. Over time, the stories and memories of these legends become lost. Heck, in some cases, even the names are forgotten. According to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, “99 percent of [Michigan] fans couldn’t name the jerseys that were retired—either the numbers of the people.”

With the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, you get the best of both worlds. The legends still are honored. Each Michigan legend is the subject of a pre-game ceremony that commemorates their time at Michigan and showcases the debut of their Legends patch, which will forever be stitched upon the jersey of the number they wore so long ago. And the numbers those legends wore are reinserted into circulation for current and future players to don. For many Michigan fans that have been alive for decades, they had never seen a Wolverine wear Tom Harmon’s No. 98 or President Gerald Ford’s No. 48. Now? They can see those legendary numbers each week in the fall  and recall what made No. 98 and No. 48 so special. It is a great tie to Michigan football’s tradition and to the players that made the program so prestigious.

However, rarely is anything—no matter how great—flawless. I still have a positive view towards the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, but it has problems that must be addressed. The biggest problem I have is when Michigan’s best players switch to a Legends jersey when they are juniors or seniors. By then, those players have begun creating a legacy for the number they first wore as freshmen. But, by switching, their legacy instantly becomes overshadowed by the legend whose number they now wear. It prevents current players from establishing their own legacy. How can a player who wears a Legends jersey become a Michigan Football Legend on his own in the future? The answer: he cannot.

A great example is former safety Jordan Kovacs. In all likelihood, Kovacs will never be honored as a Michigan Football Legend. And that is okay. But I was frustrated when Kovacs switched from No. 32 to No. 11—one of the Legends jerseys—for the final three games of the 2012 season and his career. Before then, Kovacs had blazed his own trail as the unheralded walk-on everyone initially scoffed at that became one of Michigan’s most beloved players and its best safety in over a decade. And he did all of this as No. 32. This is the number with which he should have finished his career, not No. 11—no disrespect to the Wistert brothers. No. 32 was Kovacs’ legacy. He never should have worn another number.

Therefore, I propose that Legends jerseys only be offered to players prior to their freshman and sophomore seasons. Then those players can decide what number with which they want their legacy to be associated. It does not matter to me if the Legends jerseys are handed out every year. If they are, great. It would be a tribute to those Michigan Football Legends each season. If they are not, that works for me, too. It would make the offering of a Legends jersey more special in the eyes of the players and the fans. The only other number that deserves Legends status is No. 2. All three of Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winners then would be represented. I also would like No. 1 to receive Legends status, but, alas, that number essentially has gone into retirement thanks to Braylon Edwards. And it does not matter to me which players are offered available Legends jerseys this season. As long as they are freshmen or sophomores.

Josh banner

I really like the concept of the legends jerseys. It is not realistic to retire numbers in college and this allows the legends to still be honored without taking away all the numbers. However, I have not been a fan of how they’ve been given out. I’d like to see guys ‘earn’ these jerseys, the same way Hoke said Jabrill Peppers needs to ‘earn’ the coveted No.2 (even though it’s not a legends jersey). Jake Ryan earned his No.47 but other than that I haven’t seen much rhyme or reason with handing them out.

While I feel they deserve their legends jerseys now, Gardner and Funchess got them without making much noise in the previous season. If the Devin’s got their legends jerseys AFTER the 2013 season, rather than before, I’d have no problems with it. The fact that Courtney Avery got one upset me a bit, he was an average player at best and even that is being generous.

That said, I’m sure you can guess that I don’t think No.11 or No.21 should be given out this year. There are too many young and unproven guys on this roster to do so. This is not to say there isn’t anyone who could earn them, but no one has done anything to ‘earn’ the right yet. I’d like to see No.1 and No.2 be brought into legends status as well. No.1 for Anthony Carter and No.2 for Charles Woodson, as soon as he retires.

If we’re going to honor the legends of the past I’d prefer to see their numbers bestowed upon guys who have ‘earned’ it on and off the field, but mostly on it. If it has little to do with on-field performance, and middle of the road guys like Courtney Avery can get them, then I’d rather see the players vote on who gets them.

Derick banner
The legends jerseys have a chance to be a great tradition, but only if the players are forced to earn the honor of wearing them. If Michigan insists on giving out the numbers each year and the players wearing them aren’t stars, then the value of the legends jersey is lost. So far Michigan has given the jerseys to some players with lesser roles, and it has tainted the idea behind honoring these football legends.

With a young team taking the field in 2014, and a group of returning starters that largely underachieved in last year’s 7-6 effort, the Nos. 11 and 21 should be kept off the field until players earn them. If a wide receiver or cornerback steps up and leads the team to a great first half of the season, then a jersey should be awarded to that player.

If the program makes it clear that the numbers are earned, not given, then the legends jerseys will be a great tradition for Michigan football. If not, then it will represent just another gimmick put on by the athletic department.

Sam banner
While the NCAA is in turmoil right now and the future of college sports paints a somewhat murky picture, I think everyone can still rest assured that America loves watching our college athletes play far too much for these games to disappear completely. And in these beloved college sports, tradition reigns supreme. Every university tries to hold up their own traditions higher than any other institution’s. Alumni of the University of Michigan will be quick to defend the Maize and Blue in any battle, pointing out that we are the most winningest college football program in history, that Ann Arbor is the best college town God has ever created, that the Victors is the best fight song known to man, and that, quite simply, Michigan is unlike any other school out there.

One of the many ways Michigan has now decided to honor this glorious history is by assigning Legends numbers to a select few football players each year. I, for one, am a big fan. I don’t know of any other program in the country that reminisces over star players of the past in such a way, and though a small patch and a special plaque in the locker room might not seem like much, I really do think these legendary players and their families take great pride in seeing their legacies live on in the Big House. I also think it can’t hurt on the recruiting trail.

With that being said, there are a few “rules and regulations” that I would put into play if I oversaw the program. First, there needs to be some cap on the number of Legends numbers issued. There is no problem with designating a few players with the status every single year, but if the number of Legends jerseys continues to grow to 15, 20, 25 different players, it will lose its luster. I would cap the total number of jerseys in circulation at 10. In order to honor future Legends, however, there needs to be some room to make more though, right? Right. So every 50 years, every Legends number is officially put in the vault (or Schembechler Hall) and is available for re-circulation as a “regular” number. After those 50 years have passed, up to 10 more Legends, preferably representing as many different positions as possible, can be selected and issued with patches, plaques, and pictures and the cycle repeats. This way every Michigan football player will have the chance to earn this incredible honor; if it so happens that a player wearing a Legends jersey becomes a legend himself, that number will remain in issue but the patch will be replaced to honor the more recent standout.

I also think there needs to be some sort of regulation on when the jerseys are issued in relation to a player’s career. As it stands now, it seems that any player can earn the right to wear a Legends number at any point during his four years. Devin Gardner changed from No.12 to No.98 (Tom Harmon) early in his junior year. Jordan Kovacs mysteriously changed from No.32 to No.11 (Francis, Albert, and Alvin Wistert) well into his senior year. Going forward, I think the Legends jerseys should be designated to rising sophomores or redshirt freshmen. With this policy in place, the coaches have a full year to decide who is worthy of the honor based on their play on the field and their actions off it and the player will not have already established himself fully while wearing another number.

As far as the current available Legends jerseys go, I would like to see No.11 stay on the defensive side of the field and No.21 as a wide receiver for at least the near future. Sticking to my own rules, I will give No.11 to either Henry Poggi or Maurice Hurst, Jr., who apparently both impressed on the practice squad last year and will look to make an impact as redshirt freshmen this season, and No.21 to Jaron Dukes, an Ohioan just like Desmond Howard with great potential. When thinking of other potential Legends going forward, I can only think of one obvious one – No.2 for Charles Woodson.
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Now that we’ve all given our answers, we’d like to hear from you. Do you like the legends jerseys? Do you agree or disagree with us? Give us your answer to the question in the comments below.

Predicting Michigan: The quarterbacks

Monday, June 9th, 2014


Predicting Michigan- Quarterbacks Gardner

In the first season of the post-Denard Robinson era, Michigan quarterbacks suffered from many of the mistakes that made “Shoelace” so inconsistent. Turnovers and mental errors led to Al Borges’s firing in favor of Alabama’s Doug Nussmeier, who will look to construct a more concrete identity for the Wolverines. Nussmeier has plenty of quarterback options to choose from, as Michigan returns its top two candidates from 2013 and adds a talented recruit to the mix.

The Starter

Despite speculation and fan frustration that call for the senior to lose his starting position in 2014, Devin Gardner will certainly be under center for Michigan at the start of the season.

Devin Gardner

Of the 11 games in 2013 in which a Big Ten quarterback totaled at least 350 yards and three touchdowns, Gardner did it five times. No other quarterback did it more than once (Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Gardner took a small step back early in his first full year as the starting quarterback, throwing 10 interceptions in his first six games. The veteran was reluctant to take a sack and threw passes into coverage instead of protecting the ball. A costly interception in his own end zone nearly cost the Wolverines the game against Notre Dame, and similar plays put Michigan behind against Akron and Connecticut.

But Gardner matured during the second half of the season, taking better care of the football and throwing just one interception in six games. Despite playing behind an offensive line that surrendered 34 sacks in 2013, Gardner managed to throw for 954 combined yards against Indiana and Ohio State, showcasing his potential for the 2014 season.

The top priority for Gardner during the offseason was rehabbing a foot injury that sidelined him for the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wing’s Bowl in Arizona. Gardner battled through the injury in a heroic effort against Ohio State, but it ultimately brought a disappointing season to an early close.

Spring competition will benefit the athletic redshirt senior after he coasted through camp as the consensus starter in 2013. A healthy Gardner makes the Michigan offense more dynamic, as he features both an electric arm and quickness in the scrambling game.

Gardner will have to regroup from the loss of his favorite target Jeremy Gallon and mesh with a new-look receiving core. Freddy Canteen has emerged as one of the top targets for Gardner, who demonstrated the tendency to take shots downfield in 2013. Gardner has excellent arm strength, and Brady Hoke has surrounded him with athletic receivers that can beat defenders deep.

Michigan’s starting quarterback also features a unique type of rushing ability, which allows him to extend plays and find teammates downfield. Unlike typical dual-threat quarterbacks, Gardner prefers to stay behind the line of scrimmage and buy time for his receivers to break open. Though this habit often lead to sacks last season, if Gardner can minimize his movement behind the line and avoid defenders near the pocket, he will take advantage of a deeper and more athletic wide receiver unit.

Improvement along the offensive line will offer Gardner more time to throw in 2014, so expect the fifth-year senior to take advantage of an improved overall offense and resemble the quarterback that dominated the Big Ten during the end of the 2012 season. Gardner holds all of the physical tools to be a dominant quarterback and is poised for a bounce back season in 2014.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2,700 23 9 62% 375 8
Career Stats
2012 2,960 21 11 60.3% 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5% 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8% 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0% 21 1
Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7% 658 20

Veteran depth

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan's BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan’s BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Michigan returns two quarterbacks behind Gardner that have taken snaps during their Wolverine careers. Russell Bellomy returns to the lineup after tearing his ACL in spring practice and missing the entire 2013 season. Bellomy most notably took the reins for Michigan against Nebraska in 2012, throwing as many interceptions (three) as completions in 16 attempts.

Bellomy’s struggles ultimately forced Hoke to return Gardner to his original position of quarterback after he started as a wide receiver for the first eight games of the season. Bellomy represents the fourth quarterback option for the Wolverines heading into the season.

The more intriguing option behind Gardner is sophomore Shane Morris, who made a splash during his start in the bowl game last December. Though he failed to record a touchdown, the youngster demonstrated elite arm strength and completed 24-of-38 passing attempts.

Borges featured the former five-star recruit with a diverse selection of passing plays, and Morris looked comfortable running the offense as a freshman. Though Morris is a popular choice to compete with Gardner for the starting position, the electric sophomore is likely to hold the backup spot when Michigan takes the field on August 30.

Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
700 7 2 63% 59 0
Career Stats
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Projected Stats – Bellomy
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
70 0 0 55% 5 0
Career Stats
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0

Newcomers

Michigan added one quarterback in this season’s recruiting class: 6’6″, 230-pound Wilton Speight. Speight showcased his accurate arm during the Elite 11 camp in San Francisco last season, and figures to compete with Morris for the starting job in the coming years. The freshman is a prototypical pro-style quarterback, and threw for 63 yards as the starter for Team Nitro in the Under Armour All-American Game.

Speight has flown under the radar leading up to the 2014 season, but provides the closest resemblance to the type of quarterback that Nussmeier coached at Alabama. This freshman made dramatic improvements during his final season in prep school and will play a huge role for Michigan in the near future.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Quarterbacks (part two)

Friday, June 6th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header_edited-1

Yesterday, we introduced Maize and Go Blue’s series that will rank the best Big Ten football players at each position in 2014. One position will be previewed each week in preparation for Michigan’s season opener in late August. These position previews will be thorough and in-depth, so the preview for each position will be split into two parts. Part One of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks was the first post of the series. It ranked the quarterbacks whom I believe are No. 6 through No. 10 at their position in the Big Ten. If you have not read it yet, I recommend that you do so before continuing below. On that note, let’s find out who are the five best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Here is Part Two:

5. C.J. Brown, Maryland | 6th-Yr Senior – 6’3″, 210 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,242 13 7 58.9 576 12
2011 842 7 6 49.4 574 5
2010 0 0 0 NA 12 0
Career Totals 3,084 20 13 55.4 1,162 17
(Jeff Vest, Icon SMI)

(Jeff Vest, Icon SMI)

After spending his first five seasons in the ACC, C.J. Brown will play his sixth and final season in the Big Ten. Not very often do we have sixth-year seniors in college athletics, but this is what happens when you have the injury misfortune that Brown has had. As a redshirt freshman, Brown suffered a fracture in his right shoulder that forced him to sit out the last 11 games of the season. Then, two years later, he tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 season. Because of the nature of his injuries and number of games missed, Brown petitioned that he receive a medical redshirt for a sixth year of eligibility. The NCAA granted his petition, allowing Brown to remain a Terrapin as Maryland relocates from the ACC into the Big Ten.

Brown is a dual-threat quarterback who can be a handful for defenses when healthy. Do not let the fact that his name was not as prevalent in the press as other ACC quarterbacks like Jameis Winston or Tahj Boyd fool you into thinking any differently. In 2013, Brown played 11 games, missing only two contests with a concussion. In those 11 games, Brown completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns, and seven picks. He accumulated these numbers efficiently. He averaged eight yards per attempt—the highest by a Maryland quarterback since 2007—and maintained one of the lowest interception rates in the ACC (2.48 percent).

Yet, Brown causes more damage with his feet than his arm. Although he threw for only 13 touchdowns, which is relatively low, he compensated by add 12 rushing touchdowns to the scoreboard. His 12 rushing scores were tied for the fourth-most among all ACC players last season, including the running backs. Further, Brown’s rushing touchdowns did not result solely from quarterback sneaks and draws inside the ten-yard line. He actually is quite dangerous in the open field. Four of his rushing touchdowns were longer than 20 yards; the longest was a 49-yarder. Maryland provides Brown plenty of opportunities to break one, too. He earned almost 13 carries per game en route to 576 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. If Brown finds open lanes, it can be a long day for the opposing defense.

There is a red flag, though, but it may relate to Brown’s injuries. There is a concerning disparity in Brown’s numbers in games against non-conference and conference foes last year. In five non-conference contests, he eviscerated the competition. He averaged 248.7 passing yards per game, completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged 10.1 yards per attempt, and threw nine touchdowns to two picks. On the other hand, in six conference contests, Brown averaged only 167 passing yards per game, completed 54.1 percent of this tosses, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, and threw more picks than scores. Plus, his rushing yards per carry dropped from five to 3.4 against conference foes. The question is whether this decline should be attributed to improved competition accustomed to Brown’s tendencies or the concussion he suffered in the heart of ACC play. It is most likely the latter, but this is something on which to keep an eye. All in all, Brown likely will join Tre Roberson, Devin Gardner, and Braxton Miller as the most dynamic Big Ten quarterbacks. Brown just needs to remain healthy to do it.

4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State | Sophomore – 6’4″, 220 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,955 20 10 58.9 -68 4
Career Totals 2,955 20 10 58.9 -68 4
(Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

(Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

In terms of pure NFL talent and potential, there is no better quarterback in the Big Ten than Christian Hackenberg. In fact, other than Jameis Winston, there may be no better NFL quarterback prospect in the nation than Hackenberg. He oozes NFL potential. At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Hackenberg has the size and build that NFL executives desire in their franchise quarterback. He also has a big arm and clean release that allows him to complete deep outs without needing to put extra oomph into his them. He possesses all of the tools needed to have a long professional career. He exhibited them last season, putting together one of the best seasons a true freshman can have. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 picks, and annihilated several school freshman records in the process. NFL personnel are giddy to see how Hackenberg nurtures and grows his professional potential during his sophomore season.

However, the point of this exercise to preview the Big Ten’s best players for 2014, not for the NFL Draft years down the road. Hackenberg certainly has the ability to be the best quarterback in this conference, but he may be headed for a sophomore slump instead. Hackenberg lost his superstar safety blanket in Allen Robinson, who arguably just had the best two-year stretch by any wide receiver in Penn State history. Last season, Robinson led the Big Ten with 97 catches and 1,432 receiving yards, accounting for 46 percent of his team’s production. With Robinson’s departure, it is unclear how Penn State will fill the void. The Nittany Lions’ three returning wideouts combined for only 35 catches and 398 receiving yards in 2013, and none of the four wideouts Penn State landed in its 2014 recruiting class are expected to make an instant impact. There is no sure candidate to move into the featured role on the perimeter. Penn State may be loaded at tight end, which will help alleviate the problem, but Hackenberg’s performance very well may dip next season unless a wide receiver or two elevates their game.

The problems do not end there for Hackenberg. He also must worry about a shaky, inexperienced offensive line. Penn State returns only two starting offensive linemen from last season, but that was before one of them—Miles Dieffenbach—tore his ACL in spring practice. With only one healthy returning starter on the offensive line, albeit his left tackle, Hackenberg may not have the time and protection he needs to make the throws he wants. And this is all happening while he tries to learn a new offensive system after head coach and quarterback guru Bill O’Brien left Penn State in the offseason for the Houston Texans. Hackenberg has all the talent in the world—possibly the most of any quarterback in the Big Ten—but circumstances out of his control may cause him to slump in 2014.

3. Connor Cook, Michigan State | RS Junior – 6’4″, 219 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,755 22 6 58.7 76 1
2012 94 1 1 52.9 -3 0
Career Totals 2,849 23 7 58.4 73 1
(AP)

(AP)

Early last season, Michigan State’s quarterback situation appeared to be in shambles. In the preseason, four candidates vied to be tabbed the starter—Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook, Tyler O’Connor, and then-true freshman Damion Terry. Yet, when the season opener arrived, none had separated themselves from the pack. Maxwell was the named the starter for Week 1, but it was only a formality. Multiple quarterbacks saw live game action the first few games as the competition spilled over into the season. It was not until Week 3 when Cook finally wrestled away the job and became the starter.

There will be no such mess this year. After leading Michigan State to its best season in over two decades, Cook is the clear-cut starter. Initially, there was not much about him that stood out. He was nothing more than a game manager. In his 10 regular-season starts, Cook averaged only 204.5 passing yards per game, and his completion rate exceeded 60 percent only four times. If there was one thing that did stand out, it was his ball security. Only four of his 277 pass attempts during those 10 starts resulted in picks, equating to a stellar interception rate of 1.44 percent. Cook’s dearth of costly errors allowed Michigan State’s emerging rushing attack and elite defense to win games comfortably.

Then, in the postseason, Cook demonstrated that he could be much more than a game manager when his team needed him to be. Facing top-five foes Ohio State and Stanford in the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl, respectively, the Spartans needed him to be the best quarterback on the field. Cook delivered. He averaged 318 passing yards per game, 8.4 yards per attempt, and threw five touchdowns while completing 60.5 percent of his passes. It was the first time all season that Cook threw for more than 300 yards, and he accomplished the feat in back-to-back games against the toughest teams he had seen all year. It was the sign of a quarterback who can produce on the biggest of stages.

Now, the question is whether Cook can repeat his postseason display week after week this season. It seems possible. Michigan State returns its star running back Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns, and a solid corps of wide receivers. The biggest concern is the Spartans’ offensive line. Last season, Cook was so calm and poised in the pocket because his jersey remained fresh from grass stains. The Spartans’ offensive line allowed only 1.21 sacks per game—tied for the 14th-best in the nation. However, Michigan State lost three starters there. If the Spartans cannot reload at the position, Cook may be pressured into making the mistakes he did not make in 2013. Nonetheless, Cook is a safe bet to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. However, the offense likely will rely more on pounding the rock with Langford than airing it out with Cook, which is why Cook falls behind the next two quarterbacks on this list.

2. Devin Gardner, Michigan | 5th-Yr Senior – 6’4″, 218 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,960 21 11 60.3 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0 21 1
Career Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7 658 20
(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

To the surprise of many, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke repeatedly claimed throughout the spring that Devin Gardner was in a quarterback competition with Shane Morris. After the Michigan spring “game,” during which Gardner struggled, Hoke stated the battle between Gardner and Morris was close and would continue into the summer and preseason camp. This news left media and fans speculating as to whether Morris could actually pass Gardner on the depth chart before August 30th.

In a word: no. Unless Gardner injures himself in fall camp, he will be the starter in Week 1 and for all of 2014. It is foolish to bench a fifth-year senior quarterback who just had one of the best statistical seasons in school history. Gardner totaled 3,443 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2013—both figures are the second-most by a Michigan quarterback in a single season. His 2,960 passing yards were the second-most ever by a Wolverine, too. They were also the second-most in the Big Ten last season.

Gardner did this efficiently, too. His 8.6 yards per attempt were the highest in the Big Ten—this number actually improved to 8.8 in conference play—and he maintained his place in the Michigan record books as the quarterback with the highest career efficiency rating.

Gardner showed off his legs as well, becoming one of only two Big Ten quarterbacks to rush for double-digit touchdowns (11) last year. And he did all of this without any sort of assistance from the ground game and behind arguably the worst Michigan offensive line ever. Gardner is a playmaker that can go off for 350 total yards and three touchdowns amid total and utter chaos on any given Saturday. Heck, he did it five times in 12 starts last year. This is how one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks plays, not someone wearing a headset on the sideline or shifting out to wide receiver.

This does not mean Gardner is without faults. It is quite evident that Gardner has trouble with his decision-making and taking care of the football. Last season, with the entire weight of the offense on his shoulders, he understandably tried to force too many plays and locked onto his No. 1 receiver too often. This led to 11 interceptions. Although only three of those were in his final eight starts, there were too many other passes that should have been intercepted that were dropped (see: Northwestern). It does not help that Gardner also has a tendency to hold the ball like a loaf of bread when he scrambles. Consequently, he fumbled the ball 11 times, losing six of them—both of which were the worst in the nation. At this point of his career, it seems unlikely that Gardner will remedy this problem.

There are question marks around Gardner, too. How will an offensive line that allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation last season hold up after losing two tackles in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to the NFL? Will a running back finally emerge to take some of the load off of Gardner? Who will step up at wide receiver behind Devin Funchess? How quickly will Gardner learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s system? They are all valid questions, but Gardner has already proven that he can be one of the most productive quarterbacks even when everything else is breaking down around him, including his own body. So, if these questions are answered in a positive light and Gardner is not forced to take a beating on every single play, well, that is a terrifying thought for the rest of the Big Ten.

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State | Senior – 6’2″, 215 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,094 24 7 63.5 1,068 12
2012 2,039 15 6 58.3 1,271 13
2011 1,159 13 4 54.1 715 7
Career Totals 5,292 52 17 59.3 3,054 32
(Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

(Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Although the placement of the previous nine quarterbacks on this list can be argued to no end, there is no debate at the top. Braxton Miller is the clear choice as the Big Ten’s best quarterback. Miller has terrorized defenses the past two years in Urban Meyer’s spread offense and undoubtedly will do it one last time as a senior in 2014. He does this because he is the most explosive quarterback in the Big Ten. He was the only one the conference to throw for more than 2,000 yards (2,090) and rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,068) in 2013. His 8.2 yards per pass attempt were the second-best in the Big Ten; his 6.3 yards per carry were by far the best among Big Ten quarterbacks.

In addition to yards, Miller has quite the knack for putting points on the scoreboard. His 36 total touchdowns—24 passing, 12 rushing—were a league best, and he did not even play a full season. Miller will never be the quarterback who can stand in the pocket and make all of the throws, even though he has improved his accuracy each season. But it does not matter. His playmaking ability is the reason why he is the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.

Miller is not superhuman, though. He is fairly durable given his smaller stature, but he is very vulnerable to being on the wrong end of some vicious hits because Ohio State runs him so frequently. Accordingly, Miller has been knocked out of several games throughout his career, although the injuries usually are minor. However, a knee injury he suffered early against San Diego State not only kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of that contest, but also for the following two games. Miller missed enough time that backup Kenny Guiton attempted 109 passes last season. With Guiton gone, the Buckeyes no longer have the luxury of a rock-solid backup in case Miller goes down for a substantial period of time once again. Miller needs to have his healthiest season yet, but he likely will miss snaps at some point. The question is just how many.

Miller also must cope with personnel changes. Miller may not have the same protection he had last season as Ohio State replaces four starters on the offensive line. Generally, the Buckeyes reload at all positions, but their offensive line recruiting has been somewhat spotty in terms of maintaining depth. If the replacements struggle to perform to expectations, Miller may not have the same number of opportunities to make big plays like he did in 2013. Additionally, Miller’s rushing numbers may dip with the departure of bulldozing running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL.

Hyde, who topped 1,000 rushing yards last year, opened up holes for Miller because defenses had to pick their poison when Ohio State ran the read-option. Until one of Ohio State’s young, talented running backs proves he is worthy of such attention, defenses will focus on containing Miller. Nonetheless, even with these changes, it would be a surprise if Miller did not have another season with 3,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns. This is why he is the Big Ten’s best quarterback, the favorite to win his third straight Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and a Heisman Trophy contender.

Do you agree with our list of the best Big Ten quarterbacks in 2014? Where did we go wrong? Please let us know in the comments below. With the Big Ten’s quarterbacks ranked and previewed, we next will take a look at their teammates in the backfield: the running backs. Keep checking in to Maize and Go Blue as we continue to preview the 2014 football season each day until August 30th arrives.

Countdown to kickoff: 87 days

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014


Devin Funchess, Jake Butt

Countdown to kickoff: 98 days

Saturday, May 24th, 2014


Countdown to Kickoff-98_edited-1 copy(Photo by MGoBlog)

Countdown to kickoff: 100 days

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014


Countdown to Kickoff-100_days

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Michigan and Notre Dame to close rivalry under the lights

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


UM-ND

The last meeting for the foreseeable future between college football’s top two winningest programs will take place the same way it has the past three seasons — under the lights. NBC will televise the Michigan-Notre Dame game at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Night games have been good to Michigan as the Wolverines have won two of the three played, but the one loss was two years ago in South Bend when Michigan was held without a touchdown and fell 13-6.

While Michigan leads the overall series 24-16-1, Michigan hasn’t had as much success at Notre Dame Stadium, trailing 8-7-1 all-time. This fall’s matchup will give the Wolverines a chance to even it up before the teams take an indefinite hiatus.

Michigan has won four of the last five in the series and six of the last eight, but that doesn’t mean the Wolverines have dominated. Last season’s 41-30 victory in Michigan Stadium was the first to be decided by more than one score since 2008. The previous four were decided by an average of less than five points. In fact, each of Michigan’s wins from 2009-11 was decided in the final two minutes.

It will be the second game of the season for both teams. Michigan opens on Aug. 30 at home against Appalachian State while Notre Dame hosts Rice.

It’s safe to say that there will be a lot of hype entering the final meeting and both teams will want to end the series as the victor. Notre Dame passed Michigan in all-time winning percentage at the end of the 2013 season, so a Michigan win on Sept. 6 would likely give the Wolverines the lead back.

Five-Spot Challenge: (Belated) Kansas State results

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014


Night game

Football season ended a month and a half ago with a loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and since we all wanted to put that one out of our memories as quickly as possible, now seems like as good a time as any to go back and hand out the prizes for the Five-Spot Challenge.

Congratulations to first-time contestant IceStormed for winning the bowl edition. His total deviation of 218 was a dominant performance over the other 13 challengers. While he wasn’t the closest on any single question, his deviations were consistently low throughout. He was only 16 away from Shane Morris’ passing yards, seven away from Tyler Lockett’s receiving yards, nine away from Jeremy Gallon’s receiving yards, and 65 off of the total combined offensive yards. For his win, IceStormed gets a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Ebenszac came in second, 61 points behind IceStormed. His prediction of 718 total offensive yards was the closest, only 37 away from the actual of 681. HTTV134 and BigHouseBrandon tied for third, just four points behind ebenszac. Myrick55 and Jim Mackiewicz were each the closest to Morris’ passing yards, just four away, while Myrick55 was also the closest to Lockett’s receiving yards (two away) and Michigan’s longest field goal made (one away). However, he underestimated the combined offensive yards and that hurt his chances of winning the week.

No one correctly predicted the final score, though IceStormed was close with his prediction of 27-13 Kansas State. The average combined score among the 14 contestants was Michigan 31 – Kansas State 26. Ten of the 14 picked Michigan to win.

Congratulations is also in order to the full season winner, Maizenblu62. His season-long point total of 156.5 topped HTTV134′s 147. Jim Mackiewicz came in third at 143, while ebenszac (135) and freezer566 (132) rounded out the top five. Maizenblu62 wins a pair of tickets to the 2014 season opener against Appalachian State. I will be in touch via email to work out the details.

The Kansas State results and the full season standings have been updated.

Thanks for playing the third season of the Five-Spot Challenge! We hope you enjoyed it. We had a total of 12 different weekly winners and awarded $270 worth of M Den gift cards throughout the season in addition to a pair of tickets to the 2014 season opener. Feel free to send us your feedback on what we can do to make the game even better as we head into next season. You can leave a comment below or shoot us an email at maizeandgoblue@yahoo.com.