BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY & BENJAMIN SZILAGY, Staff Reporters
A cloudy, overcast day at Michigan Stadium this past Saturday provided the backdrop for the Michigan Wolverine football team, and 20,000 fans watching their annual Spring Game. It wasn’t a typical, long, spring game practice, but a few younger players showed their skill, both on offense and defense.
Senior quarterback, Denard Robinson only played one series with the first unit on the field, and then, his day was done. Coach Brady Hoke wanted to use most of the time, to see what redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy could do.
Bellomy played with the second unit, and looked tremendous on the field. Devin Gardner, the current backup to Robinson, didn’t play like a backup. He played with the first unit, and couldn’t complete more than a couple of passes. The only play he could complete were handoffs to running backs Thomas Rawls and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
““Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids,” said Hoke about Bellomy and Gardner.
Speaking of Rawls and Toussaint, both were very physical, as Rawls had two touchdowns on the day. Toussaint will still remain the first running back on the team, while Rawls will battle for the backup position, along with Vincent Smith, and Stephen Hopkins. It seems as if Rawls will be the big tailback in goal line situations.
The only change on the offensive line, in which is going to be a competition was Elliott Mealer on the second unit, while walk-on redshirt sophomore, Joey Burzynski on the first unit.
As of now, everyone that played where they were last year, still has their position heading into the 2012 football season. Positions will obviously change throughout the summer, as battles will begin between players to who will start.
Don’t be surprised if you see Gardner line up at wide receiver a couple of times in practice, and even as the third backup to Robinson and Bellomy. This will be a big competition throughout the summer, although Hoke believes otherwise, at least for now. “Well, it’s Devin,” said Hoke after being asked who is number two quarterback is right now.
The offense is quick and even the wide receivers are looking great. Roy Roundtree is emerging as the number one receiver, in front of Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Jackson, and Jerald Robinson and Drew Dileo. The number one jersey could be passed out by Hoke this year, although it’s not for certain just yet.
The offense should be more explosive than last year lining up some talented players on the line and in the backfield. Don’t be surprised to see Michigan perform better than last year, especially on offense.
After 14 practices, Team 133 entered Michigan Stadium for its last practice of the spring, which was open to the public on Saturday.
The general theme of the spring game was physicality. Both Head Coach Brady Hoke and Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison stressed that the wolverines are more physical now than this time a year ago. But their body of work is only beginning.
“The thing I would say starting out is we have a long way to go,” Mattison said. “When watching from the side and seeing what I thought I saw, we’ve got to become a lot more physical. We’ve got to improve a great deal over the summer.
“The good news with that is our staff and this program believes in working very hard at improvement over the summer and not just lifting weights. I think we’ll make a lot of gains this summer.”
When Hoke was asked if he thought the format of the spring game was to make sure the defense had a better day than the offense he bluntly said the defense didn’t have a better day.
“We’re too soft in the middle,” Hoke said. “Way too soft in the middle of the defense. Some of the read plays, they were too lateral defensively in my opinion instead of what we like to call knock-em back football. We didn’t do that.”
Despite the semi-negative reviews, the defense made plays during the scrimmage.
Junior Jibreel Black, who has moved positions from defensive end to a defensive tackle, spent time in the offensive backfield and blowing up the line of scrimmage. One play in particular, on a read option, Black sacked Devin Gardner for a ten yard loss. Senior Craig Roh, who also switched positions, adapted to his new role very well.
Another player that needs to step-up for the defensive line is senior Will Campbell. Campbell, who was a heralded five-star recruit out of Detroit Cass Tech, has struggled to live up to expectations. However, Campbell has taken upon himself to improve and fill the shoes Mike Martin left behind.
“We need him to be a football player,” Mattison said. “We need him to not just knock people around, but tackle the football. Will and I have talked long and hard about that: that the ball is the issue, not how many lumps you can put on that guard or center. Will’s getting it. Will’s getting it and Will’s the key.
“Will’s a big key because you’re only as strong as you are down the middle. That’s going to be our whole deal this year because we’ll be fine outside.”
An area though that’s appears to be very solid is Michigan’s secondary. Sophomore Blake Countess hasn’t missed a beat this spring building off an impressive freshman season. He read Gardner’s pass attempt to junior Jeremy Jackson and jumped the route, reading the play the whole way. Senior Jordan Kovacs also made plays but had a quiet game, only joining in on gang tackles.
The defense did suffer one casualty though during the game. Sophomore Desmond Morgan injured his knee when rushing off the edge trying to make a play. Instead of finding his target, Fitzgerald Toussaint stepped up and took out Morgan’s legs sending him flying through the air. The severity of the injury was not revealed after the game but did not appear too serious.
Mattison does believe that this group will take steps over the summer to become closer to what he calls a “Michigan defense.”
“I don’t know if we’re way ahead [of where we were last year],” Mattison said. “The thing is we didn’t call many defenses today. I think I only probably called four defenses the whole day because I wanted to see how they were going to play under the gun.
“This group wants to be really good. Sometimes maybe you don’t believe what I’m saying, but we make more gains at Michigan in the summer with what they do on technique than a lot of programs.”
It’s too early to tell if this unit will become a “Michigan defense.” But if last season is any indication, Team 133 will be the closest we’ve seen to Mattison’s vision for the program.