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Posted on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Final thoughts and observations from Michigan's spring football game

By Pete Bigelow

Two players emerged on the defense. Nobody emerged at running back.

Everyone is talking about Denard Robinson. No one is talking about this one key statistic.

Will Campbell’s back home at defensive tackle, and three-year starter Mike Martin is exploring beyond defensive tackle.

Yep, it was a busy Saturday for the Michigan football team. The Wolverines wrapped up their 15 allotted spring practices and showcased their progress under Brady Hoke before heading into the summer. Here are some final thoughts, questions and leftovers in my notebook from Michigan’s spring football game:

Coming attractions

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Jake Ryan

Projecting regular-season results off the spring game seems premature, but the spring game has functioned as an accurate barometer of things to come for the past two years.

In April 2009, Tate Forcier and Roy Roundtree enjoyed breakout spring games, then turned momentum off their performances into starting jobs and breakthrough seasons. In April 2010, Denard Robinson offered a sneak preview of his Heisman Trophy potential.

So who is poised to follow suit in 2011?

Linebacker Jake Ryan, a redshirt freshman who was lightly recruited out of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. His interception of Devin Gardner stands out as his biggest highlight Saturday, but he was an all-around menace Saturday, disrupting the pocket and flying sideline to sideline.

“He shows tremendous speed and energy off the edge, which is something we definitely need,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said.

Even better: “When Jake is on the field, he adds a little something out there, and you can just feel it,” Hoke said. “There’s an intensity.”

Intensity, the intangible the Michigan defense has sorely lacked for three straight seasons.

Breakout candidate No. 2

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Carvin Johnson

Of all the various shortcomings the Wolverines need to improve upon in 2011, here’s one that’s been underrated: Turnover margin. Michigan has finished worst in the Big Ten in turnover margin for three straight seasons. Yikes.

In 2008, the Wolverines finished at the bottom of the conference at -10. In 2009, they were last at -12. In 2010, they ranked the worst at -10. While both sides of the ball bear responsibility, forcing turnovers has been one of the defense’s biggest problems.

In 2008 and 2009, Michigan had 16 and 20 takeaways, respectively, the fewest in the Big Ten. (Last year, the Wolverines forced 19. For comparison, Ohio State led the conference with 30 takeaways). All that is a roundabout way to say that safety Carvin Johnson’s two interceptions Saturday were the sort of opportunistic plays the Michigan defense has been craving.

He wasn’t perfect - he was the culprit who let Robinson break outside for a 55-yard run to start the spring game. But coaches like what he’s done this spring. Not so much his offensive counterparts.

“It’s crazy seeing a Carvin Johnson go from playing in the box to safety,” Gardner said of Johnson’s move from linebacker. “He’s got maybe 12, 13 picks this spring. He’s all over the place.” A ball hawk with athleticism and range, another quality the Michigan defense has lacked.

The Michigan defense

I’ve been asked a lot these past few days whether the Michigan defense will be any better in 2011, and I’ve said yes. It’s the truth, but it’s sort of a cop-out answer. They couldn’t be any worse.

Last year, the Wolverines fielded the worst defense in the 131-year history of the school, allowing an all-time high 458 points and an all-time high 5,860 yards.

Signs point toward the possibility they’ll be better. The 4-3 is a better fit for their personnel, two key starting cornerbacks return from injury, no key players graduated and seven true freshmen defenders who took lumps last year return with some experience.

How much better? I don’t know. But even if the unit returns to mediocrity this year - a middle-of-the-Big Ten defense - that’d be a major victory for Hoke and Mattison in year one.

The real potential turnaround will be in 2012 and 2013 when guys like Ryan and Johnson are experienced upperclassmen, along with guys like CB Courtney Avery and S Marvin Robinson and DE Jibreel Black.

That’s when the Wolverines defense has a chance to be special again. Not only do those players have the athleticism and talent to be successful with more experience, but the revolving door of defensive schemes will be over.

Don’t forget some of the current crop are learning their fifth different system in five years. Michigan went from Ron English to Scott Shafer to Greg Robinson’s 3-4 to Greg Robinson’s 3-3-5 to Mattison’s 4-3.

No wonder they’ve been such a wreck. Consistency in coaching should do a lot for their performance.

Tepid start

His transition to the pro-style offense has been the major storyline this spring, so naturally Robinson’s 5-for-14 passing performance had some fans reaching for the panic button.

What, did you think Shoelace would look flawless in the new offense after 15 practices?

Still plenty of time

Campbell arrived at Michigan in 2009 touted as one of the best defensive recruits in recent memory. So far, the 6-foot-5, 333-pounder hasn’t matched the lofty expectations.

Those expectations have been unfair, and perhaps symbolic of how the recent defensive woes fostered a sense of desperation.

If Campbell would have played at Michigan at any time other than the midst of this nightmarish three-year stretch, he’d likely just be getting ready to make his first contributions to the team. He’ll be a true junior in the fall. He’s barely two years out of high school at Cass Tech.

But he’s already considered a bust in many circles because he couldn’t match the ridiculous hype brought on by ridiculous recruiting fervor, couldn’t be a savior for a bad defense.

To be fair, it’s not entirely external factors. Campbell admits he needed to improve his work ethic.

“I stopped being all lazy,” he said Saturday, regarding his transformation under the new coaching staff. “I’m working a lot harder right now.”

That’s on him. For the rest of us, it’s still worth remembering that there’s plenty of time for Campbell to have a successful career at Michigan.

Pete Bigelow covers Michigan football for He can be reached at (734) 623-2556, via email at and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.



Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

I think the coaching change was a positive one, especially on defense. Although still weak in some areas, U-M now has a very good defensive coordinator for the first time in a long time and it should pay immediate dividends in all phases of the defense, including X's and O's but especially in the area of fundamentals. Pete already alluded to the personnel being a better fit for the 4-3, which a lot of us thought last year, too. However, I feel badly for the offense. Although I like and prefer the new offense, the current roster is more suited for the spread offense and looked like they were just starting to feel comfortable in it when the coaching staff changed. I'm afraid we're going back to the 2007-2008 transition again, just in reverse. RichRod forced a spead offense on a roster that was more suited to a traditional style and now it's just the opposite. I've heard they will tailor the offense around the talent and I hope they live up to that promise.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 9:55 p.m.

just curious as to when .com will mention EMU has a new mens hoops coach ... Freep has it ... Detroit News too ... what is in .com? links to stories about the Lions and Tigers do u wonder why people dont think u care about Ypsi or EMU?


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 6:26 p.m.

Up vote if you have had enough of the poetry. Honestly, it's getting a little ridiculous. The poetry is terrible and it's not funny or cute. Just stop already. I don't mean to be a debby downer here but can we actually talk about relevant issues... instead of trying to show off our massive e-peen with regards to who can write the best poetry about which side of the fence we happen to fall on, the Hoke side or the Rich Rod side? There is no substance at all in that. As for me, Hoke and Mattison are doing a great job with the defense and, as long as D-Rob stays healthy, he is going to greatly improve as the season approaches, and throughout the season.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 7:17 p.m.

Read it or not........ it is your choice :) MEEEEANchigan football will return from the muck, For ThoseWhoStay, it is poetry I will cluck. Go Blue!


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

I did not watch all of the scrimmage, but it still looked like they could not kick a field goal.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 5:58 p.m.

are you going to ware all black if michigan get's embarassed by nd in the first night game at michigan stadium??? hopefully we walk away with a W. . . GO BLUE. . .


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

"What, did you think Shoelace would look flawless in the new offense after 15 practices?" No. I thought that with the repeated statements to the media both Hoke and Borges have made about focusing on his passing and running him less that he'd at least look even to last season (which means he'd make some nice passes and some cringe-worthy ones) and at best look a little bit more like a passing QB. Instead, he looked worse than last year in terms of passing. I know I was one of those people who posted after the spring scrimmage with my hand on the panic button, but after dealing with three springs of RR telling the media everything was roses and all that we want to hear, and then Michigan coming out each subsequent fall looking like garbage, the spring scrimmage really took me to a place of negative flashbacks where we--the fans, the alums, the Michigan natives, etc--were buying into what we were hearing/reading or wanting to and then seeing nothing coming even close to what we were hearing/reading. I'm not saying Hoke is like RR. I still want to believe in him, and he will get at least until near the end of year 2 from me to see improvement just as RR did. Plus, I don't know about anyone else, but I've found that the big things that look worrisome in the spring tend to be problematic in the fall...the two biggies I see are Denard's [lack of] passing ability and Michigan's [lack of a] running game (save a few nice big runs).


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.

Wait wait wait. "I stopped being lazy." and "I'm working a lot harder right now."? You mean the student athletes themselves are partially responsible for their own success? HOGWASH! It's RR's fault Big Will isn't dominating right now!

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

tbf Watson wasn't playing on teams with the worst defense, three years running, in the history of Michigan football, was he? Come on tbf, this has always been about COACHING. Or lack of. TiM Go Blue!

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

"Note to HMLC: if Hoke is as good as you say, you shouldn't have to take shots at RR to make him look better." Note to MCC: Nothing would make most of us happier than to purge the WCiMFH from our memories. It will happen more quickly if the MCC quit bringing him up in virtually every conversation about Michigan football. But so long as the MCC continue to recite long list of people (not including the WCiMFH) whom they blame for the worst three year period in the long and storied history of Michigan football, and so long as they use bizarre standards they never expected of the WCiMFH as a measure of whether or not the current staff is successful, we will continue to point out that hypocrisy and logical disconnect by reviewing the record of the WCiMFH. Don't want to go down that road? Fine. Then don't go there. Good Night and Good Luck


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Gabe Watson didn't blossom or "start working hard" until his junior year. It took four years for Chris Perry to make a difference. Just two examples right off the top of my head. So, according to the HMLC line of reasoning here, it's Carr's fault for not promoting a competitive desire within those two? Big Will was awful his freshman year, getting pushed backwards on just about every play. He was better his sophomore year. He is better this year. It's a progression. Note to HMLC: if Hoke is as good as you say, you shouldn't have to take shots at RR to make him look better.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

"We don't know why he stopped being lazy. You don't. I don't. Nobody but Will does. And a kid who is successful in highschool doesn't necessarily become so because of hard work. He very well could have been riding physical superiority (which he probably had in spades)." OK, we get it. The WCiMFH had no responsibility whatsoever for the team's performance nor for that of individual players. MCC logic. Good Night and Good Luck

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

I don't know, you don't know, we don't know, he don't know, their don't know. OK, we get it. The WCiMFH don't know. Thanks for clearing that up, Dusty.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 9:31 a.m.

We don't know why he stopped being lazy. You don't. I don't. Nobody but Will does. And a kid who is successful in highschool doesn't necessarily become so because of hard work. He very well could have been riding physical superiority (which he probably had in spades).


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:42 a.m.

Did you ever wonder why he decided to "stop being lazy"? Contemplate that for a little while and maybe things will be clearer to you.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

Dusty, so his high school coach could "coach" and his college coach for the last two years couldn't "coach". But his current coach can "coach" which means he will be able to play football like he did in high school, at a high level. Great! TiM Go Blue!


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

"Coaches can't give a kid heart" They can't create the natural desire to compete. That much is true. But coaches can motivate players to raise their game; to give more than the players themselves thought they had in them. That's what good coaches do. Hoke speaks of wanting to give to his players from playing football those qualities that let them go on to be good men and good husbands throughout their lives. If that's just lip service, then Hoke will ultimately fail. The players will sense it and abandon it. But if that's sincere and the players know their coaches are working their tails off to make them better MEN, then those players will respond. And they will run through walls for the coach. That's the kind of coach I sense Michigan now has -- one the players believe they can trust and commit to. And they will run through walls for Hoke.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

The realization that you could be throwing your future away sometimes can, though.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

Coaches can't give a kid heart.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 6:07 p.m.

Yes, we paid the WCiMFH millions to simply chaperon the team. The team's performance? Certainly not HIS responsibility. Good Night and Good Luck

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 4:59 p.m.

LS You weren't embarassed by the Defense LAST YEAR? LS You didn't want to hide in the closet when the FG team trotted out for an attempt last season? LS You didn't want to scream, "Wont somebody help that man?" after the beating DRob took vs the better teams? LS Didn't you feel the need to wear all black for a week after the Gator Bowl last New Years' Day? LS Why is it you NEVER answer any of anyone's questions that have a different viewpoint from yours? LS Why ask why? Why? TiM Go Blue!

Lorain Steelmen

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.

Lets' face it, the spring game, that is spring practice, was a bust. This Ryan kid has crazy upside....but thats' it. Right now, I am not optomistic that UM will be 'better' without RR, than it was with him. The O has long way to go, as does the D. And lets' not even talk about special teams...... Meanwhile, I would say that....IF.....Campbell can handle the middle of the D line, that frees up Martin to move around a bit. So while Martin may gain all the accolades, it is up the Campbell to live up to his recruting hype. Good luck to Hoke, and company. This summer is critical to 'the program'.......let's all hope that the first NGHT game against ND turns out to be a coming out party for the new coaching staff. And not an embarassment.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

jake ryan was a pleasant suprise, this kid's got game. we could have used him last year but iam glad he was red-shirted. carvin johnson also looks very good. . . these two will make a big impact on the defense which will be better in 2011. the offense will be ok if we keep the spread mixed in with pro-style. GO BLUE. . .


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Once was A King; A King from the East. WciMFH to say the least: "You must win," they said. "And you must win now!" "I'll try," said Our King. "I simply don't know how." But he was given no time; No solace, no support. at least that's all the MCC could report So Our King rode away; Crying "It's not me, I'm no choke Dropped in our laps, was a class act named Hoke. Yet we all are Blue, And we all are Maize. Uponst The renewal, Let's fix our gaze! King's not coming back; He shall no longer lead us. The hoke brand of ball, Will surely be the MEEEEAnest. Meango Kiplinger '11 Epilogue: This year with Our King, Would've won at least ten. Beat that old drum, It's the MCC once again...

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

Dusty, I keep helping you and what do I get for thanks? You telling me to "grow up"! I guess I'll just go look at the autograph picture from Coach Carr to my son upon his birth from 1997 to console myself. Good Year for Michigan and me, 1997. Which year was a good year for the WCiMFH and the MCC? TiM Go Blue!


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 9:28 a.m.

Thanks for proving my point, Blu. Grow up.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:38 a.m.

Dusty Using the term "MCC" is some how bad, but calling those that saw that the emporer (RichRod) had no clothes "2nd graders" and "babies" among other far worse things is ok, right? If no, then demonstrate that by commenting on the sister post to this OP.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.

Dusty, I shall take the lead. "(U)nsubstantiated admiration" is not the measure of admittance to the MCC. It's the Pavlovian response to attack anyone who led the charge vs the WCiMFH and his removal that continues to draw the ire. To state that his offense was successful vs the strong teams is in direct contrast to the facts. The lack of improvement in the special teams and the three year free-fall of the defense, all the while passing the buck to anyone and everyone, has steeled the will of many to continue to contest long after his departure. All anyone has to do to remove themselves from the MCC is to disavow any false positives they see in their demigod. Stop blaming great coaches and empty cupboards and move on the promise of tomorrow. Coach Hoke and this football team needs ALL their fans and anyone still looking to the WCiMFH has to have those feelings based on "unsubstantiated admiration". TiM Go Blue!


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:48 p.m.

unsubstantiated admiration Takin things a little too serious there....... Jam some Edgar Winter and take a holiday..... Go Blue!


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

Can we be mature and stop using the term "MCC"? It's incredibly disrespectful on a personal level. It implies that anybody who doesn't agree with all of your opinions about Rich Rod is only doing so because of unsubstantiated admiration. It also implies that there's no logic behind the lack of seething hatred. If you can give me one reason you use it other than to belittle those who don't hate Rich Rod... well, nevermind, because you can't.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 5:59 p.m.

"Beat that old drum, It's the MCC once again. Could not have said it better myself. At least not in rhyme. Good Night and Good Luck

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

The "D" WILL be better! I said that the defense got better the day Coach Hoke was hired and that was BEFORE Coach Mattison came along, so you can take IT to the bank. Not that there is a single person out there who could argue that statement. Even "the village idiot" knows for Michigan the defense only has one direction to go from the last 3 years and that's up. The question is how much better will this "D" be in 2011? A lot better based on what I saw on Saturday and what I've heard since January. Although there will be some players back in old positions from 2010 I think many, almost all, will be somewhere new. This will erase the argument that last year prepped those players for this year's resurgence. Not hardly. How bad was the coaching last year? Case in point. Roh was used totally wrong until the end of the season, after the panic set in following Penn State. Moving Campbell to offense was total surrender by the D-line staff, proving they didn't have a clue on how to handle their players. Like Special Teams, you really have to wonder what the hell was going on during practice from the start of fall until the bowl game. Did any of the coaches watch any film of these guys? It was almost like position players were chosen by their daily horoscope. These players will be better because they understand these coaches KNOW what they're doing. And if they don't get it right, then the coach will find someone who can. Take a seat. The "no excuses" works both ways, for players as well as coaches. So now we will sit and wait, and possibly dream, of a better season of Michigan football. At least now there's a chance. TiM Go Blue!


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

If there would have been scoreboards at the spring game (should have kept the perfect old ones), then this is what they should have posted on them: Once was A King; A King from the East. U of M was unkind; Not a beauty, but A Beast. "You must win," they said. "And you must win now!" "I'll try," said Our King. "It's my most solemn vow." But he was given no time; No solace, no support. 2nd graders tantrumed, Impatience their resort. So Our King rode away; With no smile, with no Coke. Dropped in our laps, An unproven Hoke. Yet we all are Blue, And we all are Maize. Uponst The Crystal, Let's fix our gaze! King's not coming back; He shall no longer lead us. In next Crystal Bowl, Let's hope he don't beat us. -Theo Kiplinger '11 Epilogue: This year with Our King, Would've won at least ten. Now when that happens, We just can't say when... Go Blue.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 10:52 a.m.

I think the d will be much better this year with the coaching staff that knows how to coach these kids up. Big Will will improve knowing he has a coach that knows what he is doing. I figure 7, maybe 8 wins this year and 2012 could be the start of the 10 game winning seasons again. Tim Go Blue!