The Wolverines came into spring practice needing to cleanse themselves of the bitter residue left over from last season's dreadful 5-7 experience, which included an unheard of 1-7 mark in the Big Ten. This program that has 11 national championships and 42 Big Ten titles has to hope it has reached rock bottom, and things are moving up from here.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez went to work on the defense first, since that unit was soft and so vulnerable last season that it frequently put the Wolverines in situations where they had to win a scoring contest, in order to win the game. Major changes were in order.
The Wolverines used the month of spring practice to install a new 3-3-5 defensive system, hoping that will make Michigan flexible and capable of stuffing the run and reining in fleet receivers. It's no big deal, since the Wolverines will still need good players making plays no matter what defense they play.
With Greg Robinson entering his second season as defensive coordinator, his familiarity with the personnel and their comfort level with him calling the shots, should both be moving up the chart. The real test won't come until the fall, but Michigan leaves spring ball feeling guardedly optimistic that things are getting better.
On the offensive side, things got more interesting and less clearly defined at the quarterback position, where returning starter Tate Forcier is being seriously pressed for the top job by fellow sophomore Denard Robinson. Since last season, Robinson has made a significant jump, and his performance in the spring game reinforced the popular notion that he could well be starting for Michigan when September rolls around.NOTES, QUOTES
--In late March, thieves broke into Michigan Stadium and swiped a six foot by eight inch chunk of turf out of the signature "Block M" in the center of the field. Crews replaced the section in time for the spring game, and before the coming season, the entire FieldTurf playing surface will be replaced with a product called Duraspine.
--Mark Moundros was moved from fullback to linebacker this spring, and played with the defense in the spring game. But after a score, Moundros was called on to move across the line and block for the offense as it tried for the extra point.
--Under a directive from head coach Rich Rodriguez, sophomore quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson practiced most of the spring without green "non-contact" jerseys, forcing them to face live game situations, and be hit on a regular basis.
QB Denard Robinson -- The sophomore demonstrated significant improvement as a passer this spring, and thus enhanced his position in the competition for the starting job. Robinson had three touchdowns in the spring game, two via the pass, and one rushing. He added two more scores in a staged overtime period that ended the spring scrimmage.
DB Cam Gordon -- The redshirt freshman seems to have made a smooth transition from the offensive side, where he played wide receiver, to the defense. Gordon demonstrated a knack for physical play at safety.
LB Craig Roh -- Roh has put on 20 pounds since last season, and seems more comfortable in the hybrid linebacker role on the UM defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What we're trying to do is tweak a few of our packages to fit the different types of schemes that we're facing offensively. I think we've gotten better, but there's still work to do." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez on re-tooling his defense.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: After two straight losing seasons, and two years without bowl trips, the heat is on Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez to produce. The Wolverines need a winning season, a respectable Big Ten record, and a post-season date. To that end, the offense will be stronger behind a deep and experienced line, and the young quarterbacks should be sharper and the mistakes minimized. If the defense has made the marked progress that the Wolverines are talking about, improvement should be made, and a winning season is not out of the realm of possibilities.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines hope they will benefit from the intense and protracted competition at quarterback, and the end result will be a more competent individual leading the huddle. They expect both Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier to play since they give the offense variety, but the alternating act might be wearing on the team, and the combatants. Senior Perry Dorrestein and Stephen Schilling, and juniors Mark Huyge, David Molk, and Kevin Koger, give the Wolverines a potent bunch up front, which should make Michigan's offensive operation smoother and more productive.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The crisis on this side of the ball continues, but the hope in the Michigan camp is that a change to a 3-3-5 configuration will let the Wolverines make better use of the talent on hand. Michigan saw CB Troy Woolfolk and DL Ryan Van Bergen excel this spring, and found roles for DT Will Campbell and CB Justin Turner. The lack of depth that haunted the Wolverines last season was addressed, and Michigan should be able to roll in fresh players regularly, and keep its edge.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: With no experienced punters or kickers on the roster, spring made for an interesting time for the Wolverines. All-American Zoltan Mesko's likely replacement at punter is incoming freshman Will Hagerup, while redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons will get first crack at the place-kicking job. The return game is solid with Darryl Stonum bringing back kicks and Junior Hemingway returning punts. Junior Tom Pomarico returns as the long-snapper, giving the Wolverines a solid starting point for forming this unit.
--RB Vincent Smith sat out contact this spring while recovering from surgery.
--WR Roy Roundtree scored a touchdown in the Michigan spring game on a 97-yard pass from QB Denard Robinson.
--QB Devin Gardner, an incoming freshman who enrolled early and took part in spring ball, threw an interception in the spring game, but also had several nice runs in his debut.
--CB Troy Woolfolk had a strong spring, but was forced to sit out the spring game due to a hand injury.
Previous Report: 04/21/2010