Progress is the word that describes what we saw today from Michigan’s duo of competing signal callers. Each player had his moments. Some may have been disappointed by what could be perceived as inconsistency, but both players displayed a lot of growth. The moving pocket was in frequent use on the day and it appears that the coaching staff will take advantage of the nimbleness of their young QB’s. That’s especially the case with Gutierrez. Coach Carr was pleased with the spring performances of both of his prospective field generals. “I think both of them competed extremely well,” said Carr after the scrimmage. “I think both of them made significant improvement. I think in the last week Clayton Richard really made some strides. There is wonderful competition there and that bodes well for us and for them.” Senior receiver Braylon Edwards also liked what he saw from both quarterbacks. “Both pay attention to detail,” said Edwards. “Matt is a guy who can get out of there with his feet and make things happen. He likes to scramble and he’ll pull the ball down at any second and defenses have to respect that. Clayton is a guy that has a strong harm. He throws a 95-mph fastball. A lot of times there are certain throws that guys can’t make, but he can. His arm allows him to do that. So a lot of times you’ll see a play that maybe some quarterbacks wouldn’t go to or turn away from, and Clayton will throw it there anyway and it will get there. They both have good footwork, but the difference is Matt’s REAL good with his feet and Clayton has a REAL strong arm.”
At runningback, David Underwood started out the day in impressive fashion, hitting the holes hard and even breaking a long gainer down the sideline. He continued to gain the tough yards (minus one de-cleater courtesy of Ryan Mundy) throughout the day. As impressive as David was, Jerome Jackson may have been even more so. The kid just has uncanny vision between the tackles and displayed a nice burst threw the holes. He also broke a few big runs and while he may not possess the long speed to go 80 yards, he’ll move the chains every play and give you the occasional 40-yarder. Tim Bracken was the nimblest of the trio and looks to be right there in the race, but this one is still too close to call. “What I hope to see in a runningback is a guy that comes out the other end after getting hit,” said Carr. “…A guy that after he gets hit, he’s coming forward. He’s fighting for the extra two or three yards that make the difference between 3rd down and 3 and 3rd down and 6. I hate to say anything without watching the film, but I know based on the spring that Jerome has had a very good spring. I think David Underwood has had a very good spring and Tim Bracken has had a very good spring. Pierre Rembert will hopefully come back stronger in the fall.”
Along the offensive front we didn’t see David Bass at center. Leo Henige got the nod with the number #1 group, but Mark Bihl came in later and both looked effective. Pat Sharrow, along with his long snapping duties on special teams, also centered the ball with the 3rd unit. Jake Long gutted it out on a bad toe at right tackle for much of the spring and was hobbled a bit Saturday. The battle between he and Ruben Riley continued during the game. Ruben held his own on the day, showing good footwork and a nice punch out of his stance. On the other side Mike Kolodiej looked good in the absence of Adam Stenavich at left tackle. He has really come far in the past year and held his own against some very good edge rushers all day.
At tight end, Tyler Ecker continues to be the man. He caught everything thrown his way and shows deceptive ability after the catch. Tim Massaquoi looks even bigger physically, but he struggled holding on to a few passes.
On defense, the most interesting observation was the amount of 3-4 that they played on the day. Lamarr Woodley played standing up a great deal of the time and looked comfortable doing so. This defense will certainly take advantage of the wealth of talent that it has at linebacker, but it was obvious that they held back quite a bit. There are numerous zone blitz possibilities out of that scheme that will surely be on display come fall.
The star of the linebacking corps was none other than Pierre Woods. He’s scary good! He pressured the QB, dropped into coverage, and he laid the boom on his opponents at every opportunity. In a nutshell, he was everywhere! Barring injury he could have a very special season. Shawn Crable looked a lot like Pierre…. just a much slimmer version. The quarterbacks had trouble throwing over him all day, as he skied to disrupt a number of passes on the afternoon. Weight and strength gains are what it will take for him to get to Wood’s level. On the inside Prescott Burgess continued to look comfortable dropping back in coverage, but he didn’t stick out quite as much as the aforementioned two. “We’ve got really good depth at linebacker because Joe Sarantos really came on,” Carr said. “If David Harris can come back, the n I think we’ve got really quality depth and players there. McClintok has had a great spring but I don’t think we played him at all today. We’ve got guys who can play that position. And I think Lamarr Woodley and our edge rushers are going to be very good. “
Along the defensive front the loss of Jeremy Van Alstyne for the season hurts, but Gabe Watson looked like a force in the middle. Alex Ofili also showed flashes by blowing into the backfield a few times. Carr singled out both players for their performances during spring ball. “I guess with losing Jeremy we’re going to be thin there on the inside,” Carr said. “But Gabe Watson is a dominating player in there. Larry Harrison, who we’ve worked this spring at both the nose tackle and the tackle position which we call the end position, will probably move strictly to the end position. A guy that has really come on this spring is Alex Ofili. Alex has really had a good spring. He’s competed and that’s a real plus for us because he’s a guy that has ability.”
Aside from the linemen already mentioned, another that grabbed my attention was Will Paul. He looked very very good during the scrimmage. He showed great quickness off of the ball and utilized excellent leverage to get into the backfield. When he improves his strength the kid looks like he can develop in to the force.
That leaves us with what was the story of the day…the defensive backs. At safety, observers will be hard pressed to find a better tandem than Ryan Mundy and Ernest Shazor. We all got a taste of what Ernest could do last year, but Ryan showed everyone today what we’ve been saying about him for quite some time. The kid has got IT! He can run extremely well and brings a level of physicality to the table that not many knew he had. When he hits a ball carrier, he arrives with a few things on his mind ready to express himself! David Underwood felt the pain today on a crunching hit that knocked him off his feet. The middle of Michigan’s defense is going to be a very dangerous area. On the corner Marlin Jackson looked right at home, but what may have been even more impressive was how effective the backups were. The performances of Grant Mason and Darnell Hood were encouraging. Mason in particular showed well covering deep passes displaying nice recovery speed.
For our unofficial stats from the game, click here.
We’ll cover all these topics and more on the Michigan Insider Radio Hour. Join myself, Tom Beaver, Mark Ouimet, and Don Hoekwater Sunday from 9-10 am on WTKA 1050.