September 2, 2013
Monday Morning Moosman: OL play must improve
Former Wolverine offensive lineman David Moosman watched the game from a bar in San Francisco. He details his experience and then talks about where U-M must improve going into next week's game. His biggest target? The offensive line of course.
"I want to do whatever helps the team win! So maybe we should get some nachos?" Great! Whatever helps the team win! There is no way that could possibly be bad. Here at the Michigan bar out in San Francisco, The Blue Light, everyone was trying to do whatever they could to help the team win. Everyone here had Michigan on their minds. For an hour.
For the leaders and the best, this is a significant amount of time. The first three fight songs all start in my corner and resound from wall to wall. The last five were yelled from the crowd by a small contingent of ardent zealots.
The smells of the summer flow forth from the screen from the sweeping shots of Ann Arbor. The Solo Cup Salute runs like a wave over the tailgaters here and at the game. And the nachos provide the fuel necessary to sustain the energy well through the game.
As for the game
The Michigan offense had a great day with a solid start. There will need to be a lot of improvement to see some real success this year, but there is a good foundation of athleticism and talent.
Quarterback Devin Gardner did exactly what we want. He's getting comfortable in the pocket. The line gave him plenty of time to get a good read on the wideouts and get the ball to the right target. His throws need a little fine-tuning, but he's throwing to the right guy for the most part, which is a big first step.
The coaches are giving him the solid, high-percentage throws -- not very complicated routes, and lots of time to throw the ball.
He also had some easy hand-offs, but they need some work. Too many times Gardner was stutter-stepping to the hand-off. This shows a lack of repetition. His steps should be second nature
from where on his foot he pushes off, to the exact distance he should meet the running back. It should be the same every time. It wasn't. This will get better as the season goes on and both Gardner and the running backs get more comfortable with each other through repetition.
When Gardner was given the opportunity to showcase more of his athleticism with his feet he did so confidently and competently. He didn't try to push things and be a hero, he took what he could get and that's smart.
What isn't smart was how he was holding the ball. Far too often he was holding out away from his body. Running backs coach Fred Jackson always preaches the "Five Points of Pressure" -- the key to not fumbling. This served Mike Hart well throughout his career. The five points of pressure on a football are the fingers over the tip, palm against the ball, the forearm on one side, the bicep on the other tip, and holding it tight against your body. He was holding the ball like a loaf of bread away from his body. This may prove disastrous down the road.
One should never hold the ball out, even when going over the goal line. Be safe and get your body over the line with the ball. There are too many times that someone reaches with the ball and fumbles.
What was great about him taking off was the support he got downfield. The third-level blocks from the receivers made it easy for him to get those extra yards. Third-level blocks refer to the secondary of the defense. The first level is the line, then the linebackers then the secondary. There was always someone downfield blocking. Even Gardner got a block on the reverse to Dennis Norfleet, which is great to see, brash but shows commitment.
The running game looked to be off to a solid start. We don't have a dominant fullback like one should to have a pro-style offense. On short-yardage situations, Joe Kerridge was met in the backfield and didn't get any movement. A fullback is a blunt instrument. He's not back there to do anything but make a hole, even a tiny one. But if you're getting plugged as a fullback, then you're taking up space. The last thing you want on short yardage.
The whole short-yardage play on the day was sub par. The interior of the line showed a lot of energy, which is great. They were flying around and laying the wood. But they played too high. When it came down to the goal line, our helmets were always above the Chippewas. We got movement and the touchdowns, but only because we were stronger.
Right guard Kyle Kalis and center Jack Miller put together some great double teams. They were seamless, got great movement, and then got a second-level defender. The three younger guys played hard, but they played young.
On pass protection, the three interior linemen would often bury their head into the defender. This is great on a run, but in pass you need separation. You need it to see, and for control. The fourth touchdown, where Central overloaded the right side of the line, we could have easily picked up the blitz. Miller needed to pass Kalis off of his block so Kalis would be free to take the linebacker. They didn't because they had their heads buried on their defender.
Everybody has to work on their backside cut-offs. When we sweep the ball out to the left, we obviously have someone blocking out in front. But the blocks that are just as important are the ones still on the right, the guys coming to clean up. If the defenders are blocked by the backside cut-off blocks, then there is a cutback lane open for the running back. This is sometimes where the biggest breaks come from but they weren't there Saturday.
Next week look for these cutoffs with the downhill defense of the Irish. Neither side is confused as to how this game will be played. The Irish are going to bring pressure from all over the place, so the boys up front will have to have their eyes up. We are going to line up and prove that we have the better players. We'll need to control the clock, and you do that by running the ball with authority and security. No fumbles. No tackles for loss. It will be our run game versus theirs for the soul of the game.
Head coach Brady Hoke has built his reputation on a solid offense and defensive line, with consistent special teams. This is the crux of any good team, and Michigan has hung its hat on this concept for years. We have the horses this year to pull the cart. Keeping the same level of enthusiasm, while ironing out some wrinkles here and there will put the Wolverines in position to play for the Big Ten Championship. There is no other goal.
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