It’s the time of year when sports fans around the country
are ripping up their NCAA brackets and sorting through pages of
stats trying to decide whether to start Eric Chavez or Melvin Mora
at third for their fantasy baseball teams.

But it’s also the time when football coaches around the
country get bombarded with questions about quarterback
controversies, injuries and new recruits — time for the
spring football scrimmage, better known as the Spring Game.

The Michigan football team has been practicing since March 13,
but its spring practices end this weekend. The final spring
practice will be this Saturday at Michigan Stadium and is open to
the public. Coach Lloyd Carr said that the format has not been
decided yet, but said that there will be some game-type
situations.

“We are not going to divide the team up because we just
don’t have enough guys to do it,” Carr said.
“Hopefully we will be able to give everybody the game-type
experience that is always so much fun and really the most important
thing to take out of the last practice. We’ll have 25,000
people there and it’s a great opportunity for young players,
in particular, to get exposure.”

Carr said that, up to this point, the spring practices have been
going remarkably well, especially over the last two weeks. He added
that almost all of the players have improved, and he credited that
improvement, in part, to the football stadium’s new turf.

“We have been outside more than any year since 1990, when
we went to grass in the stadium,” Carr said. “We have
gotten into the stadium every Saturday except for the first
one.

“So we’ve had the advantage of getting great film
outside as opposed to the not-ideal inside. Plus, (it helps) the
kicking game. So I think the players enjoy it a lot more. From that
point, I think it’s been a very good spring.”

Everyone wants to know who is going to replace John Navarre,
Michigan’s school-record holder in passing yards who helped
lead Michigan to last year’s Rose Bowl. Redshirt sophomore
Matt Gutierrez is the favorite for the position and has impressed
Carr.

“Matt (Gutierrez) has had a really good spring,”
Carr said. “He runs the football team like a veteran guy.
He’s just one of those guys who’s a great competitor.
All the things I have said about him in the past are true. He
really is a take-charge kind of guy in terms of the quarterback
position.”

But there is plenty of competition for the spot. Spencer
Brinton, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility, has
not been able to throw the ball hard throughout the spring practice
because of a shoulder injury, but Carr said that sophomore Clayton
Richard has improved significantly over the last couple of
weeks.

Richard has had to make some adjustments to his game because he
played most of his high school career from the shotgun. But Carr
was very optimistic about the progress that he has made.

“Yesterday, I think he had the best practice of the
spring,” Carr said. “He throws the ball and the ball
comes out of his hand very quickly. He has a great release and he
has a strong arm, and I think he’s only going to get
better.”

Two of the other big questions for the spring are at running
back and right tackle. The tackle spot was vacated by second-team
All-America Tony Pape, and will be especially important if Richard,
a left-handed quarterback, wins the job. Carr said that he has been
impressed with freshman Jake Long, who has been playing through a
turf-toe injury this spring and hasn’t missed a practice.

“When a guy can go with a turf-type (injury) where he is
not going to make it any worse … you like that
competitiveness,” Carr said.

Carr dodged questions about who was leading the pack at running
back. He said that all the competing backs have earned the
confidence of the coaches and that they have all gotten better.
Pierre Rembert missed practice this week and has not impressed Carr
as much as some of the other backs.

“I would say that he has not had a great spring,”
Carr said. “And I don’t think he’s played like
he’s capable of.”

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