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Spring Bits: Offense

Spring Bits: Offense Brian April 15th, 2019 at 1:12 PM
hello sir [Bryan Fuller]

Spring has spung. Let's get it:

Gattis Effect: Check

Sideline play cards: yes.


i'm trying to figure out if this is a Zavier Simpson reference [Patrick Barron]

Tempo: yes. Under center snaps: no. Huddles: no. Passes under 30 yards in length: yes. Harbaugh talked the talk about handing the keys to Josh Gattis upon his hire, and so far the walk is being walked.

The overall effect wasn't quite Moorhead-era Penn State, though it was reasonably close. The recent football experience Michigan's spring offense brought to mind was in fact the Frost-era UCF team that Michigan played shortly before that program ignited. That OL got absurdly whipped—Michigan's DL got a collective +67.5 in UFR—and Frost managed to chisel out 275 yards rushing all the same. 87 of those came on one play:

UCF spent the whole game running this split action where outside runs are threatened to both field and boundary. I hated it. Every play felt like one mistake from a touchdown. Several mistakes were made and UCF got chunk plays on them because half the defense was busy running the other way.

That UCF team was coming off a legendary 0-12 season and Frost did well to get that group of bunglers to 6-7, but that was largely about the defense. His offense that year was 120th because it was all smoke and mirrors trying to cover up for a dearth of talent. The next year: 6th.

Gattis did this a ton. Michigan had an extensive jet package that was paired with action the other way, often QB run action. McCaffrey's rushing touchdown has a touch of this, with McCaffrey waiting a split second, attempting to sell some flare or crossing action the other way before bursting into a gap:

Other plays were more explicitly about threatening both edges of the field simultaneously. In between Michigan hammered inside zone. The quarterback run game was frequent and diverse—that bit did remind me of Penn State—and baked into the structure of the offense that last year's arc keepers were not. Those arc keepers were really effective but seemed to have no connection to the passing game, because Pep and Warinner were coordinating different offenses. Now there will be one.

Michigan added speed option, and added the IZ-to-speed option look that the D struggled with from time to time last year. They have OZ opposite jet motion. They've got a bunch of short passing looks, and every play someone's trying to take the top off. Spring games can only be so encouraging; this was maximally so.

[After THE JUMP: position by position]


A clear pecking order: Patterson, then McCaffrey, then Milton, then McNamara. Patterson was the only QB to hit guys over the middle with the timing and confidence to set up yards after the catch. McCaffrey and Milton were more likely to default to the fade route down the sideline.

Shea Patterson looked more comfortable running the Gattis-ized offense than he did for most of last year. He took one sack when the pocked collapsed and Jordan Anthony got a free run at him, and even that was probably the right decision given the situation. When he was kept clean it was a lot of this:

Step up in the pocket, check one crosser, no, second guy yes:

The faith Patterson has in his interior OL to make that step up is a new thing for any Michigan QB in the last, what, ten years.


meep meep? [Fuller]

Dylan McCaffrey continues to make onlookers blink and look owlishly at their drinks whenever he starts moving. His family's entire raison d'être is to be inexplicably fast ostrich people, and he is the final evolution. He didn't actually do a ton of passing because he had so many called runs, and he looked exactly like he did last year.

He did not seem to have the command of the offense that Patterson does, which is in direct contradiction of various practice reports. Those should be taken with a grain of salt, as always. I expect that McCaffrey had an off day passing. He's going to be the least disastrous backup QB in a minute, and next year he'll enter as the presumed starter.

Joe Milton looked like a guy who's still a year away. He had one of the better fade attempts in the game, hitting Erik All down the sideline. He also did this:

He ran decently, but not as well as McCaffrey. His accuracy was improved, but not on Patterson's level. Milton was always going to be a multi-year project after a sub-50% completion percentage in high school, and he's still in the building phase.

Cade McNamara only got in during walk-on time after "halftime" and his performance must be taken in context. He was more likely than any QB other than Patterson to look between the hashes; he was particularly taken with an intermediate crossing route that he hit a couple times and had broken up a couple more. His accuracy was shaky, with a few balls well behind his man. QB runs were off the table in walk-on time so we didn't get to see his mobility.

McNamara did pass the first test, which is to look like a plausible Big Ten quarterback. A similarly-ranked, similar-stature QB in recent history didn't: Alex Malzone. Malzone's first spring appearance was a blizzard of throws behind the LOS, the last of them on a two-minute drill that went four-and-out with three or four of those passes barely downfield, if at all. McNamara was well past that. If he can clean up his accuracy he gives off a Patterson-esque vibe.

Running Back

404. With Evans suspended and Turner and Charbonnet out with injuries there were a few Tru Wilson carries before Ben VanSumeren and a bunch of walk-ons got the rest of the day. VanSumeren looked like Ben Mason. The walk-ons did not pop out. Wilson did have a trademark blitz pickup on one of his few snaps.

This concludes potentially relevant information about running backs.

Wide Receiver


feet don't fail him now [Fuller]

Tarik Black didn't make anyone's highlight package but did have a shake and bake that took a short gain into the endzone. Now wrap him in cellophane.

Oliver Martin had a touchdown called back when Patterson was ruled to have been sacked:

Gray stops running when he hears the whistle but Martin torched him off the snap; Gray completely whiffs his jam there. Martin came to Michigan with that kind of release-maven, route-artisan rep but has been overshadowed by the DPJ/Collins duo during his tenure. I don't know if that's going to change this year, but if and when Michigan loses a WR or two to the draft Martin will have a couple of years to live up to his own not-inconsiderable recruiting hype.


i'll take recruiting staffers crowing on twitter if Bell pans out [Fuller]

Ronnie Bell is likely in the same boat, waiting for 2020 when the top of the depth chart is a little less crowded. He added a little bit of data to his burgeoning "is going to be a hit" resume, shaking a Metellus tackle for a big gain:

He could find a niche as a slot guy, I suppose, but I'd like to see him prep for being an outside threat next year since the early returns on his deep stuff are more Manningham and less Eddie McDoom. Man, poor damn Eddie McDoom. Born two years too early.

The new McDoom: Mike Sainristil already featured in an embed above catching an angle route from Patterson. That was out of the backfield, and he was a frequent focus of Michigan's extensive jet package. That is almost by default, admittedly. There is no other plausible slot waterbug on the roster, so Sainristil gets the KJ Hamler stuff. He too dusted Metellus on a crossing route similar to the Bell embed above.

He should be fun but I'm also interested to see how Giles Jackson translates, because that kid's highlight reel is all kinds of ridiculous. Looking forward to Michigan using a slot bug as something other than a freak show for the first time since Steve Breaston.

Tight End


the golden hour, football edition [Fuller]

I do not have blocking takes because I am a man, not an instant-evaluation machine. Both Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon made deep, contested catches. In a post-Gentry world it would be nice to continue getting downfield production from the TE spot. Eubanks seems like the better bet, but McKeon was way ahead of him as a blocker—remember that McKeon's issues last year were because he got a whole new offense put on his plate and pretty much only his plate when Michigan hurriedly installed the arc stuff.

Erik All was one of the most impressive players to last into the walk-on session. He got some early time, too, and made a contested catch of his own:

Yes, that's the dreaded slot fade. All is not a tight end yet and honestly… does he have to be one? He gave off a Funchess vibe as a WR. It's possible they just let him stay at WR under Gattis. Either way it's a redshirt for him despite the impressive start. There's no room for him yet.

Offensive Line


coming for yoooou [Barron]

It's impossible to get anything detailed on OL live unless that's the only thing you're watching so this will be some feelingsball. That feelingsball: pretty good. Michigan frequently delivered VanSumeren three yards downfield, whereupon he was whistled down. In a bonafide tackle football game those three yard gains are 5-7. The backup line did similarly well. The obvious caveat is the DT situation, which is Not Good.

Since we're talking about four established Big Ten starters any data you get from a spring game is 1% as useful as 13 actual football games, anyway. We more or less know what the line is going to be like aside from right tackle. The backups performed about as well as the starters but the DT situation for the twos was Ben Mason and Mazi Smith, a converted fullback and a freshman. So… yeah.

The one development that does feel meaningful is the semi-frequent deployment of outside zone. To say Michigan's OL does not seem to be built for OZ is an understatement. Watching Mike Onwenu trundling behind the backside DT last year was inevitable and slightly sad.

But part of threatening the sideline is having OZ and variants thereof in your back pocket. The McCaffrey TD above is OZ for most of the line (Runyan, the exception, pulls around the TE for a kickout). Michigan ran a lot of OZ drills in the open practice. They're going to try to make it work. And despite a RG who will look like a fish out of water every time they try it it's got a real chance if Cesar Ruiz is a dude. This may be true. OZ gets a lot easier for a center if he can do this to a 330-pound draftable NT:

If they're worried about getting blown downfield that reach step outside gets a lot more effective. Ruiz is the rare player who has the power to do the above and the agility to maybe put some David Molk in his game. And if the C gets a reach block on OZ the other blocks don't matter. A lot hinges on Ruiz taking a step towards the Rimington.


Mayfield looks the part [Barron]

Meanwhile right tackle is the kind of battle where the contenders split snaps with the 1s and 2s because it's that close. Jalen Mayfield and Andrew Stueber are those contenders. If forced to pick a winner your author would go with Stueber, because he's a year older and has a couple hundred live-fire snaps under his belt. It's only good for Mayfield and Michigan that this is enough of a competition to split snaps. Mayfield looks like he belongs most of the time, though Hutchinson did get him on a spin move in some drill-work early.

The other young OL of interest, Ryan Hayes, is much bigger than last year. He is still not big enough and was deployed during the walk-ons portion of the scrimmage. He is on track to contend… in 2020.

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April 15th, 2019 at 1:32 PM ^

Ohh yaaasss, this content is getting me fired up! Go Blue!

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April 15th, 2019 at 1:35 PM ^

At first you look at the offense and you’re like “oh man this doesn’t look promising”.

then you take a second and think, throw Nico, DPJ, (hopefully) Evans, charbonnet out there and damn this could be good.

thinking of a 5 wide set with nico, dpj, tarik, bell and sainristil makes the blood rush to my gentials. even if I just see it once I’d be happy.

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In reply to At first you look at the… by northernmich

N. Campus Tech

April 15th, 2019 at 1:46 PM ^

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East Quad

April 15th, 2019 at 1:41 PM ^

OL - What about Big Mike?  No comments?


April 15th, 2019 at 1:44 PM ^

Starting 11 on offense this year will be the best Michigan has had since 2006, and based on the recruiting rankings why wouldn't it be.

QB: Shea Patterson (#4 overall)

RB: Zach Charbonnet (#38 overall)

WR: DPJ (#12 overall), Tark Black (#116 overall) Nico Collins (#138 overall) Oliver Martin (#181 overall)

TE: Eubanks (#344 overall), McKeon (#854 overall)

OL: Runyan (#1138 overall), Bredeson (39 overall), Onwenu (#87 overall), Ruiz (#47 overall), Stueber (#365 overall)/Mayfield (#268 overall)

Everyone has pretty much developed exactly like the "experts" said they would.

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In reply to Starting 11 on offense this… by 1201

SMart WolveFan

April 15th, 2019 at 2:25 PM ^

But you said Harbaugh can't recruit.

In reply to But you said Harbaugh can't… by SMart WolveFan


April 15th, 2019 at 2:48 PM ^

No I did not and I don't appreciate you putting words into my mouth. I did say in the podcast thread that there isn't enough talent and depth on defense and there isn't. The author of this site spent a half hour talking specifically about that. Ultimately it comes down to recruiting and development, one or both have to improve. Recruiting on the offensive side of the ball in 2016 and 2017 was good and UM is going to reap the benefits of that this year. On defense there has been too much attrition and too many recruiting misses and reaches the past few years. Guys UM was counting on starting or being big contributors like Solomon, Singleton, St Juste, Hudson, Irving-Bey, Mitchell, CMH, etc are all gone. It's why the staff brought in Dana from CMU and are still looking to add the DT from Rice. They know they lack talent and are (rightfully) trying plug holes. The scary thing is outside of a handful of guys the 2018 and 2019 defensive recruits are mainly projects and guys not expected to be anything more than "just guys." Going to need to hit the transfer portal hard these next few years because they aren't signing enough talent to beat the OSU's of the world.

Profile picture for user RockinLoud

In reply to No I did not and I don't… by 1201


April 15th, 2019 at 3:49 PM ^

...they aren't signing enough talent to beat the OSU's of the world.

This is the harsh reality that everyone needs to understand. UM has never had a talent advantage since probably 2003. I mean look at this!!:

The only year we had a coaching advantage, we won (2011), even then just barely. For nearly 2 decades now OSU is just flat out more talented, had equal or better coaching, takes the game more seriously, and this is the result. BUT THE REFS IN 2016!!!! Yeah maybe UM got hosed in the one game, whoop-dee-do, what about the other 16 games?

You are absolutely correct, the last couple years of recruiting are not near good enough to beat OSU with any consistency. Maybe Gattis is amazing and we somehow pull out a win this season, but unless UM improves recruiting - or I guess if OSU somehow miraculously gets worse at recruting, which I find very unlikely - as much as it pains me to say it, I don't see much changing as far as beating them in football.

Profile picture for user ThePolishFalcon

In reply to ...they aren't signing… by RockinLoud


April 15th, 2019 at 4:21 PM ^

This isn’t popular around here but you both are correct with recruiting.   Michigan has brought in big classes and got a boost in recruiting rankings as a result, while OSU is bringing in talented and balanced classes with much better talent all around.  

Too many inconsistencies in Harbaugh’s classes.   

In reply to This isn’t popular around… by ThePolishFalcon


April 15th, 2019 at 5:31 PM ^

Michigan signed the #1 class in the B1G in 2019 but on a per recruit average OSU and PSU were both higher. OSU wouldn't touch some of the guys Harbaugh brought in. Heck neither would most of the other power 5 schools. 

Profile picture for user jwfsouthpaw

In reply to ...they aren't signing… by RockinLoud


April 15th, 2019 at 4:23 PM ^

Michigan objectively out-recruited OSU this past cycle, but overall I think this take is correct.  The problem is that improving recruiting in the long term means that Michigan has to beat OSU on the football field with some kind of consistency.

This is the chicken-or-the-egg issue and why this argument plays out ad finitum. It is easy enough to say that Michigan needs better talent to consistently beat OSU.  But it is equally difficult to see how that talent is attracted to Michigan without demonstrating the actual ability to win honest-to-goodness marquee football games against its primary rival.

New coaches can help recruiting in the short term, but winning at recruiting over the long term requires sustained success.  The coaches and players have to find ways to win those ever-so-close games that have haunted this program since the #1 vs. #2 Game more than a decade ago.  Here's hoping.

In reply to Michigan objectively out… by jwfsouthpaw


April 15th, 2019 at 4:48 PM ^

While I agree that beating OSU is going to help land better recruits I don't agree that that's the reason UM hasn't been recruiting better. There has been too much attrition and too many recruiting reaches by this staff that have nothing to do with the outcome of that game. It's pretty clear if you take the time to look back at the number highly touted recruits who have left the program and the caliber of recruits towards the bottom of the last few classes. Last year UM had commitments from Quintel Kent, Joey Velazquez, and Tyrece Woods before the season even started and none of them had other power 5 offers. If they were developing similarly rated guys into big time players I'd say ok but they aren't. Instead they're sitting at the bottom of the depth chart taking up roster spots and what's worse is guys who should be in backup roles are now being thrust into starting positions and people think that's a sign of good scouting when it's really just the byproduct of so many departures and recruiting misses.

Profile picture for user SMart WolveFan

In reply to The problem is that… by 1201

SMart WolveFan

April 15th, 2019 at 5:04 PM ^

Two guys in high school and someone signed to another school are "..sitting at the bottom of the depth chart taking up roster spots.." ?

I see we're jumping the shark before we even leave the harbor with this account.

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In reply to The problem is that… by 1201


April 15th, 2019 at 5:24 PM

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Spring Bits: Offense


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