Finding dependable replacements for fullback B. J. Askew and tight end Bennie Joppru is shaping up to be quite an ordeal for the Michigan football team.
Sophomores Sean Sanderson and Tim Massaquoi – the heir apparents at fullback and tight end, respectively – are not making the progress that Michigan coach Lloyd Carr would like at this point in spring practice.
Carr announced yesterday that he is holding Sanderson out of spring drills because of academic reasons. Massaquoi missed all of winter conditioning while recovering from a hernia surgery, which is holding him back in the spring.
“He’s done a good job, but he’s not where he needs to be,” Carr said. “We have to keep working there.”
Carr, who has been frustrated with Sanderson’s development since the end of last season, said that he didn’t know whether the 6-foot-3, 289-pounder would be able to compete in the fall.
While it seems that Carr still expects Massaquoi to earn significant playing time at tight end next season, he has refocused his attention on redshirt freshman Brian Thompson at the fullback position.
Thompson, recruited as a linebacker out of Saginaw’s Nouvel Catholic High School, has Carr drooling over the possibilities of lining him up in the backfield.
“What I see there is a young (former Michigan fullback) Aaron Shea,” Carr said. “This kid is really athletic, and I think it’s going to be a great move for our team.
“I feel very comfortable about our fullback position, because it was a concern. It’s going to be difficult because B.J. did so many things. But I think Brian Thompson has a chance to be a great fullback.”
Carr is also looking very closely at Kevin Dudley at fullback, citing the major improvement he has seen in Dudley’s blocking this spring. At tight end – with Massaquoi hobbled off and on – converted quarterback Andy Mignery has made a strong surge for playing time next season.
Taking the lead: Sophomore Pierre Woods is well on his way to earning a starting role at the SAM linebacker position, the roaming linebacker spot that Victor Hobson held down last season. Carr tabbed Woods his leading man at this point in spring practice, even though Woods is still adjusting to his recent move from defensive end.
“Pierre has a knack for getting to the football, and I like where he is right now,” Carr said. “Pierre gets better every day.”
Woods, who was one of the top defensive ends in the country coming out of high school, made his presence felt countless times on special teams last season. His fire and intensity were most noticeable on kickoff return coverage, especially in the Outback Bowl against Florida, when he corralled a Gator return man, grabbed his towel and threw it into the air in celebration.
Carr said Woods is working hard to mold himself into a linebacker.
“He’s playing on his feet as opposed to putting his hand on the ground,” Carr said. “He’s playing much lower. The first instinct of a player who has his hand on the ground is to play too high. When you’re too high, you don’t have the leverage to defeat a blocker. Your power comes from your legs.”
Woods is also learning the mental aspect of playing the SAM linebacker spot. Carr said Woods was working on reading motion from the tight end and fullback and where to align himself at the start of each play.
Carr has also been encouraged by the performances of Lawrence Reid and David Harris, both of whom are enjoying more playing time thanks to the absence of starters Carl Diggs and Zach Kaufman, who are recovering from knee injuries this spring.
Quick hits: Redshirt freshman Steve Breaston has been hobbled throughout spring practice with a minor injury to his hamstring. Breaston should compete for time at punt and kick returner, as well as wide receiver, when he is healthy.
Carr decided to move redshirt freshman Darnell Hood from tailback to cornerback. Carr said that Hood agreed his best opportunity to play was on defense.