Several Wolverines Stepping Up

Which freshmen passed the eyeball test? Who are the most likely to play in their teammates' opinions? Who's the guy you haven't heard enough about, but likely will this year? We answer those questions and many more here in this media day segment, providing several interesting tidbits picked up Thursday outside the locker room on David Underwood, "Michigan Mike" Hart, many of the other freshmen and others.
First, though, to the running back situation, where some assumed a "by committee" approach was a foregone conclusion. That was before Underwood reported at 215 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than last year's playing weight. The difference? A sense of urgency he didn't have last year, running backs coach Fred Jackson said Thursday, mainly because he entered with the "I'm Chris Perry's backup" mentality.
If the season were to start tomorrow, Jackson said, Underwood would be "the guy" thanks to his desperation mode. "He's been good," said Jackson. "He's been very good."
Underwood had another explanation for his improved conditioning. "No more Number 4 [combo] at McDonald's," he laughed.
The freshmen backs, meanwhile, have both been impressive in the early going. Max Martin weighed in at a less-than-expected 201 pounds but is "a cross between Chris Perry and Anthony Thomas," Jackson said, while Hart is listed at 194 pounds. Hart insisted in the spring he'd been hovering around the 190 mark, but Jackson was nonetheless surprised at how thick he was.
The early word on Hart, from Jackson – he plays lower than his 5-foot-9 height ("if that makes any sense," Jackson laughed), and has extremely quick feet, even at the collegiate level. In fact, Jackson said, only one back he's coached – Tshimanga Biakabutuka – is in Hart's class in that category.
Hart remains adamant he wants to play early, and is working hard toward that goal -- a few of his teammates simply shook their heads when asked about some of his moves. In the meantime, Jackson was shaking his head about another true freshman – Roger Allison. Jackson called Allison "unbelievable," adding the Lake Orion native has a chance to be "the best fullback we've ever had here." High praise indeed given he's only been hitting for a week, but it's deserved, Scott McClintock insisted, noting going head on with Allison is like meeting a runaway semi at the bottom of a mountain.
To the injury situation now, starting with a pleasant surprise. While it seemed obvious at one point Jeremy Van Alstyne would be lost for the year, the defensive end – who had an excellent spring before suffering a knee injury just days before the spring game – insisted he could return at some point this year.
"I want to play," said Van Alstyne, who was in uniform and walking without a limp. "My rehab is going great … I'm ahead of schedule."
Doctors won't take any chances with Van Alstyne's future, but prodded further, Van Alstyne insisted again there was a chance he'd return at some point this year. Meanwhile, Jake Long – in a battle with Rueben Riley for the right tackle spot – is reportedly looking solid as ever. His teammates called his recovery from smoke inhalation "miraculous," adding he didn't get much reprieve when it came to strength and conditioning once he was cleared to work out – and didn't expect any. The big guy, now listed at 335 pounds, doesn't seem satisfied just to be there.
Finally, while doctors have indicated Steve Breaston should be back at 100 percent, he's still experiencing some soreness in his pinned foot. Still, it's feeling much better than it was even a week ago, Breaston said, and improves every day.
To the defense now, starting in the secondary. Teammates say Marlin Jackson has become extremely comfortable at cornerback after a readjustment period this spring, and Ron English concurred. English was beyond pleased at Jackson's conditioning and added Michigan's secondary will be better because of it.
Just how good will it be?
"They should be the best secondary I've ever coached," said English – high praise from a guy who doesn't dish it out in large portions. Markus Curry might be the most underrated cornerback in the nation, he added ("I'm already thinking about how much I'm going to miss him next year," he said), while Ernest Shazor is simply a monster.
Curry, meanwhile, raved about Gabe Watson, noting he's had an outstanding early start to fall practice. Most of the praise, however, went to another defensive lineman – Larry Harrison. When Doug Karsch, preparing a column for the print version of The Wolverine, asked several offensive coaches and players which player stood out as one who doesn't get the credit he deserves, Harrison was a near unanimous decision. In fact, several said, he was a big part of the reason the defense got the better of the offense in goal line scrimmages yesterday.
Another defensive lineman – freshman Tim Jamison – has left defensive line coach Bill Sheridan smiling after many of this week's practices. The raw talent is obvious, and the sooner he learns the playbook, the sooner he'll see the field. Jamison, though, wasn't certain how soon that would be. He admitted to being a bit overwhelmed by what he still had to learn, adding he was doing his best to absorb everything.
Alex Ofili, on the other hand, has taken his game to another level. Challenged by Lloyd Carr this spring, Ofili took his conditioning extremely seriously this summer and could be a significant contributor on the line as a result.
Other quick tidbits from Thursday's media day:
Lloyd Carr singled out Adrian Arrington as a freshman receiver making an early impression, but Arrington said of the three, one seems most prepared to play – and it's not him. Doug Dutch, he said, already knows the playbook inside and out, and though he's not tall (listed at 5-foot-10), he's the strongest of the three and extremely fast … Scott McClintock marveled at the number of plays freshman Chris Graham has made in practice this week, noting while he's "a little reckless" at times, he's always around the ball … Asked about Chad Henne's potential, one teammate responded, "He's Superman" … Tim Massaquoi, whose season last year was dampened a bit by a few costly drops, spent the summer concentrating on simply catching the ball. He'd become too concerned about what he was going to do after he caught the ball, he said, and needed to get back to basics. Teammates insist it has paid off … Garrett Rivas has added yardage to both his kickoffs and field goals and hopes to handle double duty this year. He's been pleased with his accuracy so far this fall ... Jamison, Chad Henne and Jamar Adams were three of the more physically impressive of the freshmen ... Freshman John Thompson's name was listed on the roster, but he was not in attendance.
Watch for more from media day in the days to come …