- Teresa Mathew/Daily
By Jake Lourim, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published August 16, 2014
On the second play from scrimmage in the Michigan football team’s open practice at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner dropped back and fired a strong pass over the middle.
Near midfield, junior wide receiver Devin Funchess pulled down a one-handed, 40-yard reception over senior defensive back Delonte Hollowell, and it seemed maybe the Wolverines had put some of their offensive woes from last season behind them.
But defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s unit tightened up, the young offensive line faded and the running backs trudged into the piles they encountered so often last year.
After Funchess’ early grab, the offense struggled to move the ball against both first- and second-team defenses. Gardner took every snap with the first team, while sophomore Derrick Green, sophomore De’Veon Smith and redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson shared the load at running back.
Still, much of the focus was on the much-maligned offensive line, which lost tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to the NFL Draft. True freshman Mason Cole earned almost all of the first-team reps at left tackle, and he individually earned some praise from coach Brady Hoke.
“He didn’t have one penalty, didn’t have one hold,” Hoke said. “He lines up against a pretty good guy when (senior defensive end Frank Clark) is on that side, a guy who can get off the ball and can torture you a little bit. He just is very consistent. To be honest with you, I think sometimes that’s the least of my worries when you look at it.”
Redshirt sophomore Erik Magnuson, redshirt junior Jack Miller and redshirt sophomore Ben Braden started at left guard, center and right tackle, respectively. Redshirt junior Graham Glasgow started at right guard but injured his ankle early on and was replaced for most of the night by fifth-year senior Joey Burzynski.
Redshirt sophomore Kyle Kalis, who was the leader at right guard before a back injury sidelined him, should be back Monday, according to Hoke.
The rotation Saturday was more stable in comparison with last season, but the three running backs gained just 33 yards on 20 carries with the first team, and the blocking issues haven’t gone away.
Gardner finished 9-for-18 with 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was also sacked twice, fumbled once and was forced to throw the ball away several times against an aggressive defense that did not let up.
Hoke and the offensive line have maintained that the unit has been more successful in fall camp, but pressure on Gardner and struggles for the running backs raised concern.
“I don’t think you can pinpoint anything particular,” Hoke said. “You’ve got to play with good leverage, you’ve got to be positive with your footwork, your hips have got to get down the field and you’ve got to finish blocks.”
Hoke added that the offense ran the ball fairly well one practice earlier in the week, but he reiterated the need for consistency.
Green started at running back with the first team. Hoke said he was the leader of the three heading into the scrimmage, with Smith close behind, followed by Johnson.
The offensive line was a major emphasis in the off-season and in camp as it tries to give Gardner time to make plays. Nussmeier also experimented with different two-tight end sets to use more blockers. And Hoke also mentioned that the vision among the running backs could have been better.
But the offensive line remains what it was after spring camp and after last season: a question. In the next two weeks, Hoke will be looking for an answer.
NOTES: Early in the scrimmage, freshman wide receiver Maurice Ways caught a 41-yard pass down the sideline and a 20-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone from third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy. Hoke said it was Ways’ best day in some time. … Sophomore quarterback Shane Morris took all of the reps with the second team. He, too, faced significant pressure, mostly against the first-team defense, but scrambled out of pressure for a five-yard scramble early in the scrimmage. … Redshirt sophomore Amara Darboh, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, caught three passes from Gardner for 23 yards. … Sophomore running back Ty Isaac, a USC transfer, was held out of the scrimmage with what Hoke called a “stinger.” Hoke expects him back Monday. … Redshirt junior Keith Heitzman and redshirt freshman Khalid Hill each received reps with the first team at tight end.