Thanks to a generous friend with an extra ticket, I was able to attend Michigan’s scrimmage today. No pictures or video were allowed in the stadium, and I won’t comment on specific schemes or formations, but here are a few player-specific notes from my view in the box seats — please keep in mind that these are one person’s observations of one scrimmage from high up in the stadium:
- Unless something crazy happens between now and September 4, Denard Robinson is your clear starter at quarterback. The quarterbacks weren’t live today, but Robinson still managed to carve up the second-team defense (running the first-team offense, of course) with his legs and his arm. His made good decisions with the ball and his passes were on the money, and he took a QB draw 40+ yards to the house — only Denard makes that play, and he made it look easy.
- Devin Gardner, running mostly with the twos, looked at times like a seasoned veteran, but he had a couple throws — including an ugly interception to Marvin Robinson — that reminded everyone he is just a freshman. His natural ability could lead to him seeing the field this year, but I think it’s safe to say he’s probably a year away from really pushing for the starting job. Really like his poise in the pocked and running ability, however, and it would have been interesting to see what he could have done if the quarterbacks were live. Tate Forcier started with the threes but saw snaps with the ones and twos as well — he looked solid throwing the ball, but made a couple poor reads on zone running plays.
- It was great to see Vincent Smith out there running with the first-team offense, and he looks 100% healthy — the coaching staff even put him back to return a kickoff, which has to be a good sign about both Smith’s and the coaching staff’s confidence in his knee being back to normal. He did fumble after getting cracked on a reception (didn’t see who made the hit, but it was a good one). The most impressive back, however, may have been Stephen Hopkins, who has dropped some weight since the spring and looked much quicker while still running through tackles. I didn’t think he’d be more than a situational back this fall, but after seeing him today I think he has a real shot at not only being in the rotation, but starting.
- Kelvin Grady had a very impressive day, making some great catches on seam routes from the slot, getting a lot of yards after the catch on screen plays, and scoring a touchdown on an end-around. He should have an impact this fall from a number of positions on the field. On the flip side of that coin, Terrence Robinson struggled with drops all day — I’d be surprised if he sees much time at receiver or punt returner if those issues continue. Jerald Robinson showed the most promise of the freshmen wideouts, and Je’Ron Stokes had a couple nice catches as well.
- On defense, I was most impressed with the play of Mark Moundros, who showed good instincts in the run game and had a couple really nice hits — he was playing alongside Obi Ezeh with the ones, with Jonas Mouton sitting out in a green jersey. Interestingly, it was Moundros playing in the middle with Ezeh at WLB. Still not sure how I feel about a converted fullback sliding into the starting lineup, but if Moundros beats out Ezeh at MLB, it’s because he earned it. Jibreel Black also made some nice plays — he could be a guy who contributes right away as a pass rusher. Also, his physical resemblance to Brandon Graham when he’s in a uniform and pads is eerie.
- J.T. Floyd and James Rogers were the cornerbacks on the first-team defense. Floyd looked solid, but Rogers got picked on a couple times and got hit with a pass interference flag after getting beat deep by Jerald Robinson. The secondary in general looked very suspect — they were playing a lot of soft zones and gave up too much underneath and up the middle. The good news is they didn’t give up any bombs if you exclude the flag on Rogers, but the offense moved the ball pretty easily through the air.
- From the few kicks we were able to see, Brendan Gibbons looked like the best kicker, but he still has to get more consistent from inside 40 yards — just can’t afford to miss those kicks. Will Hagerup had an up-and-down day punting the ball — had a couple that traveled around 50 yards in the air, but also had some 30-yard kicks. The kicking game could be an adventure this season.
- One last note: Take this for what it’s worth, but I didn’t see Austin White out there in uniform today, and he definitely didn’t see any playing time. Not sure what his status is with the team, and I’ll have updates when there’s some news to report there.
For more, make sure to follow me on Twitter, where I posted my initial thoughts on the scrimmage, and make sure to check back to the blog for more season preview content as we get closer to kickoff. Your thoughts and questions, as always, are welcome in the comments.