Football tour notebook: Fun takes from Michigan practice
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The sixth stop on the annual bus tour had us in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to check out Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.
[ MORE: 5 things I learned at Michigan practice ]
I got a chance to see Harbaugh’s much-talked about freshman class, led by defensive tackle Rashan Gary, who certainly looks the part.
All eyes will be on the quarterback spot for the Wolverines, and I got a front row seat to see John O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Shane Morris compete.
Check out some of my fun takes from Monday’s Michigan football practice.
Most impressive player: We didn’t see much of Jabrill Peppers. But we did see TE Jake Butt. And, he looks poised for an All-American season. No doubt, Butt will be a security blanket for the new QB.
Top specimen: At 6-6, 302, DE Chris Wormley is a beast who can play inside or outside. He is a walking Coke machine.
Impressive newcomer: DE Rashan Gary arrived in town as the No. 1 recruit in America according to scouting services. He looks the part, showing a burst off the edge. He could be a monster for this uber-talented defensive line.
On the rise: Wilton Speight. The 6-6, 243-pound junior QB looked good for most of practice, showing just enough niftiness with his feet along with a strong arm.
Best drill: Wideouts were forced to sprint five yards, pick up a tennis ball, cut to the right and catch a ball. The ultimate test of dexterity and focus.
Nagging question: Are the linebackers up to par?
Under the radar: WR Grant Perry. The 6-0, 196-pound sophomore is a good route runner who shows nice hands. He may be the No. 3 option at receiver for Michigan. Also, under the radar: WR Maurice Ways.
Number: 6, Big Ten wins for Michigan in 2015. That equaled the amount the Wolverines had in 2013 and 2014 combined.
New defensive coordinator/LB coach Don Brown is called “Dr. Blitz.” So, you know this is gonna be a fun defense to watch. The former Boston College DC led the Eagles to the best defense statistically in the nation a year ago. He was an active coach on this day and has a LB unit with some potential. I like freshman Devin Bush.
All eyes are on the QB spot, just like last season. There isn’t a lot of experience on the depth chart. But Houston transfer John O’Korn has starting experience. He is battling Wilton Speight and Shane Morris with O’Korn and Speight leading the way. In the end, I wouldn’t be shocked if Speight lands the job. He’s a steady force who looked good last year when forced into action. He moves well for a 6-6, 243-pound QB and he throws well. Speight just may be the guy when it’s all said and done.
Michigan had two big video boards installed on its practice fields—one inside and one outside. It shows real-time practice action. Videos of game tapes also can be viewed on the big monitors.
Who will be the third WR? It’s a battle between Grant Perry and Drake Harris. Both are very talented for a unit that will rank among the best in the Big Ten.
The staff was working out offensive lineman Michael Onwenu at defensive tackle. The guy is a load at 350 pounds and would make the front even better on defense.
Keep an eye on true freshman RB Kingston Davis. He is a 6-1, 245-pound load who is the type of big, physical back that Jim Harbaugh likes. The problem: Can he get reps with De’Veon Smith, Drake Johnson and Ty Isaac ahead of him?
The three fastest players on the team? They are WR Jehu Chesson, CB Jourdan Lewis and LB Jabrill Peppers.
Whoever wins the QB job will have a multitude of weapons to throw to headed by 2015 Big Ten Tight End of the Year Jake Butt along with wideouts Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. Each player had more than 50 catches last season. They joined Indiana and Florida State as the only teams to return three players who had 50 or more catches from 2015.
More juice is needed from the ground game. I am not sure holdovers De’Veon Smith, Drake Johnson and Ty Isaac can provide it. The Wolverines haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Denard Robinson in 2012. The last Michigan running back to run for 1,000 yards was Fitz Toussaint in 2011. Maybe a true freshman can help.
The secondary looks strong led by corner Jourdan Lewis. He lacks size but has savvy, instincts and confidence. He broke up or intercepted 22 passes last season, which was the fourth most in the nation. He will team with Channing Stribling to form a nice secondary. And safeties Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill are good seniors.
Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers figure to each play some offense this year, injecting some playmaking skills into the unit.
Fullback is a key position on this team. And, there is a battle between Henry Poggi, Khalid Hill and Bobby Henderson.
Yes, there was a lot of attrition at linebacker, but I’m not worried. The time is now for Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray. And Jabrill Peppers is in a spot where he really can thrive. True freshman Devin Bush may end up crashing the starting lineup. And I love Noah Furbush, a rangy athlete.
Left tackle Grant Newsome is just a sophomore. Mason Cole looks good at center after moving from left tackle. Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden are road graders at guard. Erik Magnuson is a strong right tackle. The key: Newsome. Can he hold up at the most key spot on the line?
This d-line may live up to its massive hype. When Ryan Glasgow went out with injury last season, the defense slipped. Well, he’s back. As is massive tackle Bryan Mone, who missed 2015 with injury, along with Maurice Hurst. And true freshman Rashan Gary looks like the real deal at end as does fellow true frosh Carlo Kemp. Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton are formidable veterans.
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