Kyle Wright needed to put a strong performanced together in the spring game to help defend his case for being the starter in 2007. This spring was Wright's first action in practice since suffering a season-ending thumb injury last October. He showed glimpses of improvement throughout the spring and in the spring game. Wright led his team to a victory in the spring game, which will sit well with the coaching staff in the off-season. However, his numbers were not that impressive as he completed 7-of-14 passes for 60 yards. He threw a 5-yard touchdown to Sam Shields just before halftime on a nice pass. Earlier in the drive, he found Shields for 24 yards after two defensive players ran into each other allowing Shields to pick up another 15-20 yards after the catch.
Charlie Jones is proving his case as the team's primary back-up to Javarris James. Jones showed a quick burst through the line of scrimmage and led all running backs with 39 yards on 11 carries. He also caught two passes for 14 yards. Jones had a solid spring and showed a sense of urgency in trying to get his spot on the depth chart back. In his career, Jones has rushed for 713 yards and 10 TD's with a 3.7 yards per carry average. The numbers don't jump out for the senior, but has proven he can get tough yards in tough games. Look for Jones to be the primary back-up to James until freshman Graig Cooper is ready. Derron Thomas did not enjoy the same kind of success Jones did in the game, but did have opportunities. He led all running backs with 16 carries, but managed just 13 yards. Thomas was dealing with hamstring injuries this spring, which hampered his development. However, a player like Thomas can't afford to take time off when he is fighting for playing time.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Sam Shields made two plays in the game that showed he is capable of being a playmaker. Shields caught a sideline out pass and avoiding two defenders as he raced up the sideline for a 24-yard gain. Shields has been working on being more physical this spring and it paid off when he created some space just before catching the touchdown pass from Wright. Shields went up against Randy Phillips for most of the afternoon, which is a good challenge for him. If Shields continue to develop, it will help take pressure off of Wright. Ryan Hill is expected to be a contributor this fall, most likely as a slot receiver who can periodically make a big play, but did not make a catch in the spring game. Hill is not a big player and often times gets hidden in the defense. Hill will need to develop is initial burst off the line to create space in order to be a factor on offense. Tight end Chris Zellner made some tough catches in the game and is in a battle for the starting spot. Zellner is a solid player and will be used a lot in blocking situations.
Chris Barney, Andrew Bain, John Rochford, Chris Rutledge, and Ian Symonette were the linemen in the game for the Orange team. Out of the group, Rutledge has been the biggest surprise of the spring. He has primarily played tackle in his career at UM, but was switched to right guard this spring with the injuries to Jason Fox and Derrick Morse. Rutledge has filled out and is likely to be a top-eight lineman this fall. Barney had a tough time going up against Eric Moncur and Courtney Harris in the spring game, and is still develops. Symonette should be an exciting player to watch because of his size once he gets experience.
Calais Campbell is ready to challenge UM's single-season sack record of 17 and knows the difference between a 10-sack season like he had last year and a 17-sack season is consistency. Campbell recorded three sacks in the scrimmage and would have gotten the predicted five sacks if he received more reps. He's developing into one of the leaders on the team especially with the guys his age and younger. Vegas Franklin did a good job of being around the ball and always seems to make a sack in spring scrimmages. Franklin, already a senior, is looking to become a third-down specialist this spring much like Javon Nanton was a few years ago. Josh Holmes has been a pleasant surprise this spring according to defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and he was productive in the game. Steven Wesley appears to be at least a year away from being a factor in the defensive end rotation.
Tavares Gooden, Eric Houston, and Demetri Stewart were the team's linebackers. Gooden has his work cut out for him to crack the starting lineup. He played well in the spring game, but still lacks that fire he had when he was a sophomore in 2004. He was a confident young player then and finished with 83 tackles. His season-ending injury in 2005 has changed his make-up and is not the same player he was. This will be his fifth year in the program and is just trying to fit in the rotation. Houston and Stewart should be solid contributors on special teams. Houston is one to watch and is healthy, which is something he's battled since his arrival to UM.
You have got to make plays in the secondary if you want to earn playing time in 2007. Chavez Grant made a strong case for himself with coming up with a big interception at the 1-yard line. Grant saw Kirby Freeman wanted to go deep down field to Khail Jones for the second consecutive play and he read the pass, cut in front of Jones, and came down with the pick. Grant played a lot last year in nickel and dime situations and is likely to have the same role this year. Anthony Reddick has regained his strength and speed that he lacked a year ago and has impressed defensive coach Wesley McGriff with his ability to play cornerback. With Kenny Phillips and Lovon Ponder at safety, Reddick's best opportunity to see the field might be at cornerback even if he is not a full-time player at the position. Carlos Armour looks good in pads with his 6-3 frame, but allows too many passes his direction and commits too many pass interference penalties to warrant substantial playing time.
Christopher Stock can be reached at email@example.com
Spring Game Analysis: Orange Team
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