Michigan Spring Practice Report
The University of Michigan’s basketball team lucked out with great weather in the NCAA tournament. First hey played games in Los Angeles, California and then San Antonio, Texas. The weather was beautiful, even for a game played indoors. Their football compatriots, however, were not so lucky. Michigan Spring practice occurred in terrible weather. Much to the dismay of Wolverines fans, the spring game originally scheduled for Saturday 7 April, was cancelled because of weather as well as the tentative make up day, Wednesday 11 April.
Going into this spring, the Wolverines had a number of questions that needed to be answered. The most obvious question is who will start under center. However, Michigan also needs to figure out how new assistant coaching arrival Jim McElwain will fit into the offense and how, if possible, to keep the momentum on defense rolling.
Seriously Though, Who is Playing Quarterback?
The biggest question for Jim Harbaugh is who will start at quarterback. Unfortunately for them, the NCAA gets a say in this decision. The fate of the much-heralded Mississippi State transfer Shea Patterson remains in limbo. Despite Patterson announcing his decision in December, Harbaugh told reporters at the start of spring practice that he still has not heard of a final decision on Patterson’s eligibility. Patterson reportedly is practicing as if he is eligible for the starting job, a good sign for Wolverines fans. However, Ole Miss formally objected to his transfer which in turn triggered a law suit Patterson. This situation appears to be far from over.
Patterson’s eligibility effects where former starter Wilton Speight lands. Speight previously stated he would consider returning to Ann Arbor for his final season if Patterson is deemed ineligible to play. Harbaugh also left open the door for Speight’s return to Ann Arbor. However, one has to assume that Speight will need to make a decision soon. He might not be able to wait around for the NCAA. If Speight does end up going to a new program, it would be beneficial join sooner rather than later so that he can learn the playbook and adapt to the new surroundings.
If neither of those two can play that would leave Harbaugh with redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters who steered the Wolverines to 3-2 in the games he played in. Dylan McCaffrey who redshirted last year and early enrollee Joe Milton. It is tough to say who has the advantage in that race. Conventional wisdom might assume Peters, but after a disastrous Outback Bowl it really is an open race. The spring game should provide Harbaugh with some data but do not expect a final decision until after the NCAA decides on Patterson
A Gator Among Their Midst
A second item that will be interesting to see play out this spring and into the fall is what impact will new wide receiver coach McElwain will have on the passing game. Michigan ranked 11th in passing offense in conference last year. In fact, in 2017, no Michigan receiver ranked in the top 20 of the Big Ten’s receivers.
Now, certainly the Wolverines’ quarterbacks did not help these rankings in anyway. Better play by under center would have resulted in higher rankings for the receiving corps. However, in a number of games the receivers did little to bail out their quarterbacks, including the in the Outback Bowl. For comparison, Michigan’s fullbacks had more touchdown catches than the wide receivers.
McElwain certainly has his work cut out for him. Early reports from spring practice suggest he is diving into his new job head first. Receivers are reporting an increase in tempo from last year and many have noticed the passion McElwain appears to be bring practices.
Maintaining a Dominate Defense
One of Michigan’s problems last year was losing starters. In 2017, the defensive coordinator Don Brown had only one starter returning. This year the Wolverine defense returns nine starters. Certainly, the two departing starters, Mike McCray and Maurice Hurst Jr., are giants among men. However, one must assume when nearly the entire linebacking corps and defensive line returns, the unit is in a good position.
That said, even with one of the better defenses in the nation last year, Michigan gave up at least three touchdowns in their four biggest losses, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, South Carolina. Strong statistics can only keep Brown (and by extension, Harbaugh) safe for so long. Brown will need to return yet another top defense to keep this Michigan team in position to win games.
The Way Forward
Without a spring game it is difficult to determine how the team is fairing. The administration and insiders remain upbeat. But that is to be expected at this point in the year. The state of the quarterback specifically, but the offense as a whole, should concern Wolverines fans. However, with Don Brown at the helm of an experience defense, it appears Michigan will be competitive against the best of the Big Ten.