Football

Michigan football eager to evaluate its depth in spring game


With a handful of key contributors from last year’s roster preparing for the NFL Draft, the Michigan football team held a draft of its own this week. A video tweeted by the team briefly captured snippets of the festivities, and by some accounts it looked like an NFL Draft that many players dream of being a part of one day. 

In place of war rooms filled with NFL head coaches and general managers, however, were teams of Michigan assistant coaches huddled around their desks. In place of a lavish NFL branded backdrop were spreadsheets projected onto screens displaying the depth charts each team filled up. And in place of the NFL commissioner was Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, calling out selections for the Maize and Blue scrimmage teams. 

Sure, the draft was for a game that won’t count toward the record books and will be seen by relatively few people. But for those in that draft room — whether it was the Wolverines hearing their names called or the coaches filling their rosters for the intrasquad battle — the annual maize versus blue spring football game gives them a sneak peek of what they have to work with and what they need to work on.

While weeks of going against each other in fall camp is rewarded with a chance to face a different opponent, it’s still spring. Daily practices against each other will be rewarded with, well, more practicing against each other. But with the doors open at the Big House, creating as close to a game-like situation as possible this time of year, Michigan is ready to find out who will step up. 

“It’s really really cool to see guys that haven’t played yet,” defense coordinator Jesse Minter said Tuesday. “This is really the first time they might play in that environment, even though it’s not all the way it’s the closest thing we can simulate to a game between now and September.”

That’s what the spring game is all about. While known starters like junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy will certainly get their snaps, it’ll be those who haven’t played much — perhaps those selected a little later in this week’s draft — that will bring the most intrigue. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Minter is ready to evaluate depth at each position and see how specific players’ progress in practice translates to a game simulation. Whether that’s transfers who’ve had plenty of game experience but none with the Wolverines — like sophomore linebacker Ernest Hausmann who transferred by way of Nebraska — or players who have been on the roster but haven’t seen game action in a while, the spring game is a great opportunity to start seeing who’s who. 

Junior cornerback Ja’Den McBurrows and senior linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green are two of those players returning from hiatuses. Both didn’t see game action last season due to injuries, and both are ready to make statements about the team’s depth and where they fit in it.  

“Both guys are excited to get back in the fold,” Minter said. “Ja’Den is a guy competing, there’s some playing time available in the secondary, so he’s a candidate for that and he’s had a good productive spring. … (And Hill-Green) brings a great value to our defense, great leader, great communicator.”

On the other side of the ball, the offense won’t have to deal with the disruptive atmosphere of road crowd noise or an unfamiliar defense, but offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore still sees it as a prime look into how the unit is coming together. 

“You’re in a game-day atmosphere, especially guys that haven’t played in a game-day atmosphere … just seeing how they react,” Moore said. “So that’s the biggest thing for us. … It’s seeing those young guys and seeing how they react in that atmosphere and just (letting) them all have fun.” 

The chance to get back in front of fans at Michigan Stadium during the offseason will certainly bring its fun moments, but it’s also a serious opportunity for Michigan. Moore recognized that — not just by lauding players he’s excited to see perform, but also by declining to reveal specifics about his draft when asked.

Many of those specifics will be revealed come Saturday, and as the Wolverines reveal the makeups of their maize and blue rosters on the field, they’ll begin unveiling strengths and weaknesses up and down the depth chart as well.  



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