SALINE – In Michigan’s first spring practice March 15, it really hit junior free safety Stevie Brown that Wolverine football a new attitude.
The team was running a skelly drill, which is designed to improve the secondary’s pass coverage, and the players didn’t run to the ball quick enough.
“(Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez) comes running, knocks over all the trash cans and stops practice,” Brown said.
As Brown and the rest of the team did up-downs, the message was clear: “We’re going to be a fast team, and that’s what he wants to see.”
The regime change showed Saturday, when the Wolverines played their annual spring game. The offense-versus-defense scrimmage was held at Saline High School and was closed to the public.
The team came close to Rodriguez’s goal of running 100 plays during the cold, rainy day. Both sides of the ball ran generic sets. The offense with three starters returning moved the ball downfield fairly well early in the practice, but the defense, seven starters returning, took control for most of the afternoon, intercepting four passes and nearly snagging several more.
“The defense should dominate,” Rodriguez said. “If they’re not, then we’ve got issues.”
The scrimmage, which featured a few option runs that either went nowhere or backward, often frustrated the offense coaches. Rodriguez, who stood about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage with offensive coordinator Calvin Magee for every play, screamed out questioning whether the play clocks were working after multiple delay-of-game penalties.
“We’ve had a lot better practices,” junior wide receiver Greg Mathews, an Orlando, Fla. native, said through shivers. “But weather kind of had something to do with it.”
Still, what Rodriguez called the “least important of all the spring practices” did its goal of giving a look into Michigan football.
The construction that forced the game out of Michigan Stadium or the inclement weather would have, in many years, meant canceling the game. But Rodriguez wanted to give friends, family and boosters a chance to see the team’s new look. The bleachers were about 70 percent full, but many of the approximately 2,500 in attendance left early to get out of the weather.
Like he wanted to show a scrimmage to those outside Fort Schembechler, Rodriguez wanted to display the team’s award winners, too. The Wolverine coaches give out awards at the end of spring practice, but they had never before been announced at the time of the practice.
An award is given to players in each class for achievement during spring practice. Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Will Johnson won the Meyer Morton Award. Brown and running back Brandon Minor shared the Frederick Matthaei Award for juniors. Linebacker Obi Ezeh and right tackle Stephen Schilling, both redshirts, earned the Sophomore Award. And redshirt freshman defensive end Ryan Van Bergen took the John F. Maulbetsch Award.
Redshirt junior center David Moosman won the Dan Dierdorf Award.
The best all-around conditioned athletes in each position group – redshirt freshman David Molk (lineman), senior linebacker Austin Panter (middle) and Brown (skill) – were also honored.
Though the spring game was originally scheduled to be the final practice, one a couple weeks ago was cancelled in order to hold more team meetings. The Wolverines will have to suit up on more time for their 15th and spring practice Wednesday.
“We knew this was coming, sadly enough,” fifth year senior cornerback Morgan Trent said.