Michigan Football Tidbits: Four practices down — Some observations

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Michigan Football Tidbits: Four practices down — Some observations

(Remember — these reports are our humble opinions.)

The team has not “hit” as often as expected. Scrimmages that have taken place have been very limited. The reason Coach Rod gives is that the team has to work harder on fundamentals.

Coach Rod continues to be very active in practices monitoring the offense and quarterback situation, but Coach Smith is doing much more on-field instruction than a year ago. Coach Rod has even run a couple of “tackling” drills.

Saturday was the first time coaches were not overly happy with practice performance. The offense was sloppy and some of the same mental miscues, such as dropped passes, missed blocks, fumbles, etc., occurred. Next Saturday will be first day devoted exclusively to scrimmaging.

B. Smith and Williams would be our starting safeties, if the season started today. Safety play continues to be an area of concern. B. Smith is one of the most physically impressive players. He is going to be fine defending against the run. He has also been fine in pass defense, but again, like last year, we’re not sure because our passing game still has a long way to go. Williams is much more physical than people think. He will lay a hit on you, but we wonder if the tandem will give us enough speed against good passing schemes. This is why we think Turner is also going to play safety this year.

S. Brown runs drill with defensive backs and with linebackers. However, he looks to primarily be the hybrid linebacker / safety and is always in the game in nickel situations. Again, the deal with S. Brown is we can argue whether he can play football effectively, but there is no doubt that he is one of more athletic players on team. He has taken most of his snaps at outside linebacker.

Forcier had an okay scrimmage. If we did not know better, we would think his arm may be a little sore (pure speculation). His passes were not as crisp as we’ve seen. He really has been throwing a lot since he came to Michigan (in the off-season and now). His “out” passes in particular seemed to take forever to get there.

Hawthorne is an interesting kid. He really looks small compared to everyone else. However, he just seems to have a knack of being part of every play. Best case would be to red-shirt him, but I could see him playing on special teams. Maybe it is the area Hawthorne and Smith grew up in, but it has been impressive that both are only high school kids, yet college-level football does not seem to phase them at all.

For years now, we have had a strong opinion about the state of Michigan’s program. Many of those opinions were not overly positive. We truly believe the downturn occurred at the Tennessee – Michigan bowl game. Last year, the transition was a disaster. As much as fans and posters want to explain it away or justify it, it was simply unacceptable. But believe me, as much as it was unacceptable to fans, the coaches were even more upset.

For the first time in a long time, we’re starting to see a turn in Michigan’s football program. So much so, we’re confident that within the next two years, we will start seeing Saturdays in the fall where a Michigan team actually blows out its opponent. In addition, the days of watching athletic teams like Oregon destroy us are almost over.

Reasons for feeling this way:

Player development: A big part of most top college programs is a very good Strength and Conditioning program. Michigan now has one of the best. This is not a knock on Gittleson and the past program, but the biggest difference is Barwis not only demands complete participation, but also he makes this program competitive and fun for the kids. The physical differences you see in the kids is impressive.

Practices: Not that past practices were not intense, but it was no secret spring practices were an afterthought in the program. Now every practice is a very well-organized event where fundamentals are stressed and stressed. Coaches are very vocal, pushing the kids to be perfect even in the smallest detail. Last year, Coach Rod would always say if we could just play on Saturday like we practice, we will see a different team.

Marketing: Michigan football can no longer just “sell itself.” This is not the world we now live in. Tradition is great and it helps get you in the door, but Coach Rod understands that tradition helps fans more than it does the today’s players because recruits really do not care what happened in the 70’s and 80’s –before they were born. This is the “what are you going to do for me today” mindset. The stuff Coach Rod is planning for the spring game is great stuff. It will start drawing fans who want to feel like they are part of the team, and it will help with recruiting. The marketing of the program will only help recruiting. Those kids who come to spring game this year will be impressed with the direction of the program.

Recruiting: Have my hand waving, to claim that we are the guys who criticized our recruiting efforts last year, especially early on, and especially in the Midwest. For those who have addressed people like us, who complained, especially about Coach Gibson, we say to you — you have short memories. Fact is even Coach Rod stated in the coaches clinic a year ago that recruiting in 2008 would be different than normal. They did not contact kids in Ohio and Pennsylvania until way late in the process. (Our efforts were in the south, since that is where most of our coaches had experience.) But this year is a different story. Our hats are off to the coaches who have really stepped it up early this year, and we like the fact we have offered so many kids.

Facilities: Martin has done a great job with the facilities situation. It is easy to criticize him — many have — but when Martin retires and you judge the whole package, Martin will be judged as a great Athletic Director.

Reaching out to former players: We could go on forever about this, but we do not underestimate the value of having past players buy into today’s program. Coach Rod goes out of his way, not only accepting the past players, but also listening to them, and at times inviting them to address the team. In addition, there were over thirty NFL players last year who worked out with Barwis last summer, at one time or another. This can only help program.

Players themselves: We have to mention them here because few understand just how drastic the change has been on them. Some may say “So what, just do what you are told,” but think about how almost all of these players had a choice of where to go to school. Coaches sat in their living rooms and promised them they would be taken care of. Then they come to Michigan and face a coaching change. Not just a coaching staff change, but a completely new system.

We’re glad to say that, today, the players have embraced the change and optimism is back. The team has an air of energy and confidence that Michigan is good, and soon to be very, very good.

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Written by MaizeMan and ErocWolverine