Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges insists he can count on two fingers in 26 years of coaching the number of times he was happy coming out of a spring game. Today wasn't one of the two, but that doesn't mean the Wolverines made little progress overall.
"We had a really nice spring, offensively," Borges said. "We got a lot of questions answered. We had a chance to do some experimenting, although we didn't use any of it today. We did some things, and turned another page in our offensive approach.
"The people we knew could play pretty much proved they could play. We found a few guys along the way that, I think, are going to be contributors. We've still got a ways to go."
Borges sounded excited about the progress senior quarterback Denard Robinson made in the spring. Between getting away from throwing off his back foot and making better decisions, Robinson made a noticeable leap forward, Borges assessed.
The senior played just one series on the field in the spring game, but that was by design. The offensive coordinator wanted to see more out of junior Devin Gardner and redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy. Gardner tossed one interception in the spring game and generally ran better than he threw, but Borges was upbeat about his overall spring efforts.
Meanwhile, Borges noted Bellomy has been "steady and solid." In terms of running the offense and hitting open receivers, the Texan is someone who will be counted on.
A big question mark heading into the spring involved center, and fifth-year senior Ricky Barnum answered that bell very well, Borges opined.
"Ricky has come a long way, for a position he really hasn't played very much," Borges said. "From a profile perspective, Ricky fits that position better than he probably does any other position.
"He's a smart kid that plays with good leverage and knows how to use people around him. Now that he understands the calls and how to put everybody on the same page, that really makes a difference at that position. You're not forced to block people one-on-one constantly. That's the good thing about playing center - there's very little of that going on.
"He's done a nice job. I'm really happy with Ricky."
Michigan knows it has solid wide receivers in fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree and redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon, but Borges noticed several others stepping up this spring as well.
"[Redshirt sophomore] Jerald Robinson is one guy you're going to see more and more of," Borges said. "He got banged up a little bit, nothing serious. He's a guy you're going to see step to the forefront. He's been very prominent in our practices.
"[Juniors] Jeremy Jackson and Drew Dileo have also been very, very active in our passing game. Those people, and if some of the freshmen come in and show up, aren't awed by their surroundings, they may be able to contribute."
Meanwhile, sophomore Thomas Rawls drew the most spring game notice, scoring a pair of touchdowns and running with significant physicality. The spring game wasn't about entertainment, Borges noted, but finding out more about what the Wolverines have, and Rawls stood at the top of the list of inquiry.
He's responded well, said Borges, who knows he already has a 1,000-yard rusher from last year in redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint and a clutch all-around back in senior Vincent Smith.
"He's a different kind of runner than Fitz, and a different kind of runner than Vince, and [redshirt freshman] Justice Hayes, too," Borges said of Rawls. "He's a battering ram type of guy. He goes in there and when Thomas hits you, you're going to feel him.
"He makes no concessions to the defense. He's got a little bit of stop-and-go ability, but I would not say that's his game. His game is running through people, and making it very difficult to tackle him, falling forward.
"He's done that all spring. You only saw a little bit of it today. In the 14 days previous, we've seen quite a bit of it."
Another performer stepping up to a little more limelight is redshirt sophomore walk-on offensive lineman Joey Burzynski. He's competing for a starting job at left guard, thanks to demonstrating a great grasp of fundamentals, including initial explosion at the line, hand placement, helmet placement while blocking, picking up defensive line schemes and working in tandem with others, Borges explained.
"He worked his butt off," Borges noted. "He's still not in a starting position, but he's competing for one, certainly. He's very coachable. He's worked hard for [strength] Coach [Aaron] Wellman. He's very attentive. He takes every thing to heart. It's very important to Joe that he improve, and a guy like that is going to improve, if that's your approach."
Meanwhile, Borges noted, redshirt freshman Chris Bryant is still learning on the offensive line.
He's suffered through being banged up a little, nothing major," Borges said. "Chris Bryant is going to be a good player. The one thing you've got to understand about offensive linemen, in my opinion, I think offensive line is the most developmental position on the entire football team.
"They've got to go through some growing pains, get a little stronger and more aware. Chris Bryant is going to be a good player. He just needs more of that development."
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