March 26, 2013

Borges talks early spring practice

All eyes remain on Michigan's offensive line, waiting to see how the interior fills out. While U-M offensive coordinator Al Borges won't answer that question definitively - because he can't - he gives an update on how it looks.

First off, Borges believe this offensive line, whatever its final configuration, will turn out to be an upgraded run-blocking unit over 2012.

"Yeah, I do," Borges confirmed. "I think it will be. I think there will be some growing pains, because they are new guys. They have another year in the system, and even though some of them didn't play, they've heard the words.

"And they have played. We've had bowl practices, and a lot of these kids were in spring practice last year. This isn't brand new to them. Game time is brand new, and that's a whole different issue. They've heard the numbers, they've heard the words, and they pretty much know what to do."

When asked to assess the interior, Borges noted redshirt freshman left guard Ben Braden is doing a good job, while mentioning the solid efforts put in by redshirt junior right guard Joey Burzynski and redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller. Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis is also competing with Burzynski at right guard.

"There are no standouts," Borges cautioned. "I would not even venture to say that.

"But I would say this - every one of those guys has improved. How much, I'm going to save my judgment until we're done, for that. Every one of them, from the time we stopped playing in the bowl game, to now - I'm talking more about the new guys - has gotten better. They know it better."

They all have an excellent mentor in fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, Borges assured.

"He made a statement to start with, just by deciding to play another year here, which I think is pretty cool - a pretty cool sign to send to the rest of the team," Borges said. "Begin with the successes he's had, and he's taken an active role in being a leader, which I think is awesome. That will help our team immeasurably.

"As we continue to go through it, he, just like the coaches, can help mentor some of these younger players. It's helpful in so many ways, not the least of which is that you have a solid left tackle that is a proven commodity. In all those things, he's been really, really good.

"Believe me, we all sleep a little better knowing that position is taken care of and he's decided he wants to be an active leader."

As for those running behind the offensive line, little will be definitive until Michigan sees how healthy fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is in the fall, and how good the talented incoming freshman backs look in fall camp. For now, Borges noted U-M's backs are getting equal opportunities.

The Wolverines do feature a couple of players with some of departed third-down back Vincent Smith's skills, he acknowledged.

"We've got a couple of guys who are potentially that," Borges said. "Now Vince was pretty smart. Vince had played a lot, and they're not to that level, but guys like [redshirt sophomore] Justice Hayes and [redshirt freshman] Drake Johnson, both of them have excellent hands and are good option-out runners. They could be that."

Those two, and junior Thomas Rawls, all possess solid pass-blocking skills, according to the offensive coordinator.

At wideout, everyone knows about fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, along with seniors Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson, Borges said. But there's an increasing buzz about a pair of lankier pass catchers, 6-2, 213-pound Amara Darboh and 6-3, 193-pound Jehu Chesson.

Borges insisted both have enjoyed strong moments early in spring ball.

"Those two have demonstrated in the first few days that they have some big-play ability," Borges said. "They've won a few jump balls, lost a few, but we haven't lost them all.

"Both of them have really good straight-line speed, particularly Jehu. Amara is fast, too. Amara is feel-fast - probably more feel-fast than he is time-fast. His time isn't terrible, either.

"They're big receivers, rangy receivers. We wanted to get some bigger kids in there. The little guys have done a great job for us, but we did want to get a little more range at the position, and those two offer it you. We'll see how they develop as this thing goes, but so far, so good."

Borges grinned when acknowledging that junior quarterback Devin Gardner texts him about how the Russell Wilson-type pro quarterbacks play. There is a daily discussion about Michigan's offense, and how it will look moving forward.

"Those are athletic quarterbacks, and he's an athletic quarterback," Borges said. "He kind of sees himself in that mold, and I kind of see him the same way. You've got to look at some of the stuff they're doing, and particularly because it is pro football.

"Running quarterbacks by design has not been a really popular thing to do in pro football over the years, and all of a sudden it kind of is, and particularly last year. As long as you're not running the quarterback too much, to where you get him hurt, it's all good to look at.

"He's looking at it, I'm looking at it, we're talking about it every single day. Every day. He'll call me at night, and we'll talk for 10 minutes about something."


• Borges repeated the stance that sophomore tight ends A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess are progressing in the needed parts of their games - Williams with pass catching and Funchess with blocking. That said, the offensive coordinator waved off any notion that Williams is going to be a prime target.

"Not that he's going to be the next Tony Gonzales," Borges said. "We don't want him to be a glorified tackle, either. We'd like to still have him have a part in our passing game.

"Every player on the team brings a certain role to the table. A.J., because of his size and his strength and his ability, the greatest asset he contributes to our team is his ability to block. We want all our tight ends to be as multi-dimensional as their skills will allow.

"If it means catching a few more passes, which we'd like to see him do, we're working on that, just like we're working on his blocking. At the end of the day, if I told you I thought A.J. Williams was going to catch 60 passes, I'd probably be lying to you."

• Redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy has looked very solid in Michigan's early spring practices, according to his position coach and offensive coordinator.

"He's up to about 213 pounds, he's throwing the ball really, really well," Borges said. "He's gained some confidence back. He probably lost a little bit - who wouldn't, I guess. But he's had a really good six days of spring football.

"He's such an intelligent kid. He takes to coaching exceptionally well. He just needs to get back in the arena. Who knows when that's going to be, but get back in the arena and show his wares. He's determined to do that.

"He's a very, very determined kid. As he grows more in the position, he will be a very good quarterback. He's certainly shown it out here in the first six days."

Borges acknowledged that the experience of coming in at Nebraska and replacing starter Denard Robinson proved difficult, and that Bellomy has persevered and is ready to prove himself.

"He's aware the perception isn't what he'd like it to be," Borges said. "He's highly competitive, as I think most of our kids are. When it's all said and done, he's going to give you his best effort. Not that he didn't in the past -- he did. But he's just a little more seasoned now.

"When you don't have a good game, it's a natural thing for anybody. A quarterback tends to blame himself probably more than he should. The result of the Nebraska game was not all on Russ Bellomy. That's for sure. We didn't play very well."

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