Michigan plans to keep new offense under wraps
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan hired Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, to shake up its scheme with the ball this fall.
The public will get a peek at what the Wolverines want to show offensively when they wrap up spring ball with a scrimmage that is scheduled to last about 45 minutes at the Big House.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke, though, said people in the stands and those watching on TV may not be able to notice new wrinkles.
"You won’t see a lot of differences on Saturday," Hoke said.
Hoke, whose honeymoon seems to be over after three seasons, is counting on Nussmeier being a difference-maker this season because the school is paying him more than $800,000 a year to replace fired offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Players on offense such as returning quarterback Devin Gardner have been exposed to "80 to 85" percent of Nussmeier’s playbook. Hoke said he wanted them to be "uncomfortable," initially by design before slowing down the installation of new plays and concepts.
"We were a little bit behind," Hoke said. "I think we’re catching up."
It appears that Gardner has done enough to keep his job, holding off Shane Morris, who became the first Michigan quarterback to make his starting debut in a bowl game as a freshman last year when Gardner’s toe injury ended his season.
"Devin’s got a little better command of the offense," Hoke said. "Shane was better on Tuesday than we thought he was on Saturday, so he’s making progress."
If Gardner doesn’t have time to pass and running backs don’t have room to run, it may not matter what plays Nussmeier calls.
The Wolverines were among the nation’s worst teams at avoiding negative plays offensively because the interior of their offensive line — between seniors Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield — struggled for much of the year. If the season started Saturday and not Aug. 30 as it will at home against Appalachian State, Hoke insisted he doesn’t know what five players would start on the line.
"It’s too close to call," he said. "I’m glad we’ve got some time."
Michigan might not have to think too long and hard about who the No. 1 running back will be this season.
Derrick Green came to campus last year as a highly touted recruit, but he was out of shape and wasn’t physically ready to push senior Fitzgerald Toussaint until it was too late in a season marred by a late-season slide.
While Hoke hasn’t said the job is his to lose because De’Veon Smith and Justice Hayes along with perhaps Drake Johnson are potential options, it is clear the coach has been impressed by Green.
"He looks better," Hoke said. "His balance is better, vision is better, he’s quicker."
The Wolverines, who didn’t change their defensive coordinator after going 7-6 last season, have shifted their linebackers around in the hopes of helping them produce more for the team.
Jake Ryan was moved to the middle from strong-side linebacker. James Ross went from the weak side to the strong, where teams usually line up a tight end. Desmond Morgan, meanwhile, will have to find a way in the lineup after being a steady starter.
Hoke has turned down chances to say which players in particular have caught his eye this spring and yet he hasn’t hid his excitement about the way junior safety Jarrod Wilson is performing.
"As much as anyone, the consistency he has had this spring has been really pretty good," Hoke said.
Consistency across the board, though, is what the Wolverines desperately need after winning just seven games last year, eight times the season before and earning 11 victories in Hoke’s debut as their head coach in 2011.
"We’re a long way from being any good," he said.
Hoke has figured out winning the Big Ten title at Michigan is elusive. The Wolverines had a losing record in the conference last season. Michigan finished fifth in their six-team division and extended the school’s Big Ten title drought to nine years, its longest skid since it didn’t win a conference championship from 1951-1963.
"We learned some hard lessons," he said. "A lot of us have."