The opening practice of Michigan week began like most practice viewings the media is afforded: plenty of stretching, defensive personnel observations; and a sampling of two or three unit drills with a few teaching nuggets that could be construed as "interesting" to avid readers.
With approximately 10 minutes remaining in practice, I turned to Dan Silver of NDfootballglory.com and offered (sarcastically): "It'd be nice to see the cornerbacks run over here and start going one-on-one with the receivers for once…I'm pretty sure I can get open against the walk-ons standing there with blocking pads."
Less than 10 seconds later, as if by personal request…(feel free to scroll down to read the final section below).
After breaking the huddle with a chant of Wolverines! (insert 1984-Red Dawn reference here), the defense began practice with pursuit drills and a first nickel unit consisting of the following:
- Defensive Line: Darius Fleming, Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, Kerry Neal
- Linebackers: Brian Smith, and Toryan Smith
- Defensive Backs: Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil, Kyle McCarthy, Harrison Smith, and Sergio Brown as the nickel back over the slot.
The second nickel unit followed, featuring:
- Defensive Line: Steve Filer, Hafis Williams, Sean Cwynar, John Ryan
- Linebackers: David Posluszny and Anthony McDonald
- Defensive Backs: Gary Gray, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Ray Herring, and Leonard Gordon as the nickel over the slot.
When the first nickel unit returned for a second rep, Robert Blanton replaced Raeshon McNeil at LCB and the rest of the group (of 10 above) remained the same:
Likewise, there was one change to the second unit nickel, with McNeil replacing Leonard Gordon as the nickel defender over the slot.
Though there's not much I try to glean from a pursuit drill to open practice (other than personnel), I can report that senior CB Darrin Walls can flat out run (much faster in backside pursuit downfield than his fellow cornerbacks).
Box Drill The receivers opened with their standard box drill in which each receive runs through multiple reps catching four passes (thrown from about 5-yards away) running around four cones (a square):
- Michael Floyd implores: "No drops!" when the first five rotate through with a perfect 16/16 performance (there were a few poor throws to ruin any relevant observation thereafter)
- Duval Kamara catches a rocket (thrown from five yards away, mind you) and offers a quizzical look/smile to his "QB," Director of Football Personnel, Tim McDonnell (McDonnell is a former college wide receiver at Holy Cross).
- Roby Toma makes an effortless catch behind him, drawing praise from Floyd.
- A braided Robby Parris fights off a limp from the previous drill to quickly navigate the square, breaking low to catch the final pass.
Routes, In-Line Blocking, and Teaching Points
Seven receivers are called into three groups: The Z-Receivers, on the quarterback's far right (Michael Floyd and John Goodman); the X-Receivers, on the quarterback's far left (Golden Tate, Deion Walker, and Shaquelle Evans); the F-Receivers, in the slot (Duval Kamara and Robby Parris). Kamara joins the X-group for one rep.
The X-Receivers begin with work against a Cover 2 defense with the objective to get inside position on the cornerback (on a quick slant); to break that slant/in-route deeper toward the safety on his side; and to then break hard to the outside for a 12-yard out route:
- Tate and Coach Ianello communicate to Walker that he needs to get more depth on the final portion (the out) of his route.
- After a poor throw by McDonnell (he had a rough day and is usually on point) to freshman Shaquelle Evans, Tate offers across the field: "Hey Goody (John Goodman), can you QB?"
- Tate and Ianello pause to talk about two different techniques to "open up" the defending cornerback in press coverage (turn him in the direction opposite of the receivers final cut), and explain the move to Evans who previously offered a very sloppy rep (didn't get off the line vs. a walk-on with a blocking pad giving 75% effort).
- Floyd and the Z-Receivers begin with square-in routes, the highlight of which is a poorly thrown ball to which Floyd responds, "Come on Drew Bledsoe!" Floyd must have missed Bledsoe's arm in the 90s…
- Kamara and Parris work on crack-back blocks vs. inside linebackers (after motioning toward the ball) and with lead blocks outside after motioning in, then back out to the slot.
And just when you thought our 40-minute viewing session couldn't get any more repetitive…
One-on-One: Cornerbacks vs. Wide Receivers
Of interest: Crist (mainly) and Clausen were the quarterbacks for the best, most competitive 10 minute-period the media has viewed this season (Jeff Baumhower apparently has video of first-string DL vs. first-string OL).
Notable Moments in Press Coverage:
- Deion Walker is blanketed by Sergio Brown on a deep ball down the sideline but Brown never looks back and Walker makes the catch.
- Kamara receives physical coverage from Gary Gray on a slant route but makes the catch and offers a (baiting), "Come on G-Squared!"
- John Goodman runs an out route but appears to be wearing Jamoris Slaughter as a sport coat as the sophomore CB shadows his every move and dives to break up a perfect pass, drawing a huge reaction from his fellow cornerbacks.
- Freshman Shaq Evans gets a clean, quick release off the line vs. Leonard Gordon but runs his square-in too deep, allowing Gordon to cut in front of him and break on the ball…Evans still makes the (leaping) catch.
- Walls cuts off Toma's in-route (square-in) and picks off the pass (easily) and returns it to the end zone, pitching to DB Coach Corwin Brown for the score.
- Sergio Brown attacks Golden Tate at the line, cutting off his crossing route. Tate muscles back into position but Brown breaks up the pass.
- Floyd deftly pushes Raeshon McNeil (I'd have called it) on a square-in, creating huge separation for the easy catch.
- Robert Blanton abuses Walker in press coverage and Walker resorts to running behind Blanton to get across on a slant. "You're gonna get your QB killed running behind him!" explains a cornerback from the peanut gallery.
- Robby Parris absolutely torches Darrin Walls on a stop-and-go for a catch.
- Deion Walker makes the play-of-the-day: a one-handed, diving catch low to the ground on a square-in vs. nearly-perfect coverage by Gary Gray. Walker's receiver teammates are immediately fired up as Walker chuckles at Gray's expense.
- John Goodman beats McNeil deep down the sideline but the pass is thrown out of bounds.
The corners begin to play "off" from this point forward. Not quite full bail technique, but its obvious that slants are not a route-option for the receivers at this point.
- Gordon is beaten by Shaq on a stop-and-go but Clausen's throw dies 10 yards short (Clausen might have read his stop incorrectly).
- Toma's hook route allows a bit of separation vs. Slaughter but the freshman can't handle the slightly high throw.
- Tate fakes a go-route and runs a nice comeback to beat Blanton who delivers a frustrated hit after the catch.
- Floyd runs by Slaughter as if he's enrolled in a college in Reno and Clausen delivers a perfectly thrown 40-yard bomb.
- Deion Walker runs a gorgeous route vs. strong coverage by Sergio Brown. Walker pressed Brown deep, broke off to the post for two steps before planting (on the second step) back inside for a perfectly-timed catch (dig route, I suppose).
- As we're ushered out, McNeil wears Parris out with physical play at the line but Parris muscles him for the short reception.
- Kamara beats Gray on an out route.
I'd trade the last month of daily-then-weekly practice viewing time for a replica of those final 10 minutes every Tuesday.