Rays of Light: Spring is Test Prep, Not Test

Former Michigan standout and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray breaks down spring quarterback competition, the "BUCK" position, Jabrill Peppers' progress, and more.

Quarterback has been a position of great interest this spring and also a source a panic on the part of some fans.  The breakdown of the progress made through four practices given by Jedd Fisch a few days ago didn’t do much to change those emotions, but according to Marcus Ray any panic at this point is premature. Each of Michigan’s signal callers definitely has a ways to go, but they have time to get better.

“Fisch knows these players a lot better than anybody,” said Ray.  “It is kind of like being a parent, you know your child better than anybody else, but from my observation, I would agree wholeheartedly from what I’ve seen from these quarterbacks.  When you start off with Wilton Speight, he took a lot of reps last year on that scout team and that’s one of the advantages I think he has going into it.  He’s thrown more balls, he’s run a ton of different plays just from being the scout team quarterback all year.  As I watched him develop, it is clear that he can see beyond the line of scrimmage…. and it is really not being able to see over the line, it is being able to see through the line.  A quarterback needs to throw in lanes, in between offensive lineman, between the guard and tackle or the center or the guard.  There are lanes right there, so it is really not about being able to see over the lines but see through the line and knowing where you need to go with the football.  I think he has improved tremendously.  If the season started today, I think he might get the nod, or he and Alex may rotate.” 

“I think part of the reason Malzone is getting so much praise for being able to forget bad plays (is) #1, he’s a winner.  That’s almost the #1 trait from a quarterback who comes from a winning pedigree is when bad things happen they keep it moving.  They don’t fall apart.  They look to make their next play or correct all mistakes or find a way to win.  That’s why I think Malzone is being classified that way or evaluated that way, because that’s who he is, he’s a winner.  I believe he won 33 straight at one point? I don’t if (that’s the right number) – but he’s a winner.  When you’ve got a guy like that, he’s going to get better.  He going to throw a pick, he fumbles, or he has an incomplete pass, and he’s looking to move on to the next one and move those chains and find a way to get his team to win. “

“Finally with Shane Morris, I think (Fisch’s assessment) is fair.  I think we’ve all seen that Shane has what I call a hand-cannon, but it just doesn’t always hit when you aim for.  That’s just a habit that he hasn’t broken, I think from a lifetime of having a strong arm and throwing the ball with a lot of velocity.  But you’ve got to have some touch and you need accuracy because it doesn’t do you any good to have a strong arm if you can’t get the ball where the ball needs to go.  I think all three of these quarterbacks have plenty of room for improvement and there is going to be more conversation about this the further that we go along spring ball.  In football, the conversation changes every seven days, especially during the season from game to game.  Right now it is just going from practice to practice and remember, we’re talking about practice.  These kids are going to continue to develop, make mistakes, get better… one day good, one drill good… one day bad, one drill bad.  As a quarterback, you’re only as good as your last pass, so that’s really where I am with those quarterbacks.”
Things have gone a lot smoother on the defense side of the ball where the Wolverines returns experience and versatility.  At the same time, they too are still learning.  That’s especially true at the “BUCK” position.

“The BUCK position in a true 3-4, it is where LaMarr Woodley would play for the Steelers a few years ago.  Sometimes Clay Matthews will line up for the Green Bay Packers (at the BUCK).  (It’s) where James Hall played for Michigan or David Bowens, a guy like that.  Basically it is that hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker who has pass rush capabilities, but is also athletic enough to drop in a zone blitz or drop in regular zone coverage or play man-to-man on the wide receiver or a tight end.  Basically just a guy that can do it all but you never know what he’s going to do based on where he lines up. In a true 3-4, when you say the four linebackers, if you start from the strength of the formation, let’s say the tight end side.  There is a SAM because he is a strong side linebacker.  That’s where the S comes from.  Then the M, MIKE that’s the middle backer, W is a WILL that is a weak backer.  So in a 3-4, you’ve got to inside, so your WILL is the weak side inside and then your BUCK is the weak side outside linebacker.  So he lines up opposite the tight end or if you will, to the split end side.  That’s how most people’s terminology could go as well.  So Royce (Jenkins-Stone) is a guy that I think is just an undersized defensive end, but also is an oversized inside linebacker.”

Jenkins-Stone is a name of note at that position more because of his history as a pure outside linebacker than any notion that he is the favorite at the position.  He does have the advantage of being the candidate most familiar with coverage responsibilities.

Speaking of responsibilities, being the heart & soul of the defense is a job that’s up for grabs.  Redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers is doing his best to claim it.

 “Breezy looks for that action,” said Ray.  “He’s playing at a high tempo, he’s flying around.  It looks like he understands what he’s doing.  He has a lot to prove to himself.  He’s yet to stand up and take that post and live up to the expectations in everybody’s mind, but more importantly his mind and the coaches’ mind.  He’s getting better every day.  He is very coachable.  He takes a lot of reps and it’s important to him.  Being great is important to Jabrill.  He came to Michigan that way.  That’s nothing that he had to learn.  He was hand delivered that way and I like his practice speed.  I think he’s into it.  He’s not a guy that dogs it.  Every rep to him is important and he wants to get it right.  I even saw when he made a few mistakes in the individual drills, Greg Jackson would have Jabrill line up and do it again until he got it right, do it again, and get it right to make sure that he understands it.  That’s what I really like about spring practice the most… there is a lot of teaching going on.  When I say teaching, I mean some fundamentals and there are some X’s and O’s, there is technique and a guy like Jabrill is soaking it all in.  It is just like anything else, all that investing the coaches and Jabrill are making into the defense and into his position I think is going to pay dividends.  He’s physical.  He’s not afraid to tackle.  He understands that that defense is missing a field general, an enforcer and that guy usually comes from the back end.  I think Jarrod Wilson understands that he is the quarterback of the secondary but I think Jabrill knows that they’re missing a guy back there that can separate the man from the football and make his teammates around him better.  You hear Jabrill playing with enthusiasm, a lot of energy and juice and he’s coming downhill.  He’s not afraid, he’s putting his face on people.  He’s still not where Uncle Ray is at that age.  He called me Uncle Ray at this point because he knows I stand there every practice and I watch him like a hawk.  We text each other, and he’ll say, ‘man how’d I look Unc?’  I said, ‘man, you’re coming along.  Just play fast, play physical and read your keys and everything else will fall in place.’  Jabrill is definitely going to be an upgrade at that position.” 

For much more from Ray, press play below


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