U of M Spring Practice in the Books

By: AP
By: AP

SALINE, Mich. (AP) -- Rich Rodriguez didn't show much of his ballyhooed spread-option offense Saturday, but his defense looked like it might merit some attention, too.

The new Michigan coach watched the offense score three touchdowns and kick three field goals during a public scrimmage, the Wolverines' penultimate spring practice, but said plenty of work lies ahead.

"We're kind of on track," Rodriguez said, "but our guys realize we've got to have a great summer. We've got to be faster. We still have a ways to go."

A few hundred fans attended the session at Saline High School. The Wolverines were there because extensive renovation work at Michigan Stadium has rendered the facility unusable until August. The team will conduct its final practice Wednesday.

The offense alternated quarterbacks Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan most of the day and both led early scoring drives. After a field goal on the opening possession, Brandon Minor scored on a short touchdown run. From there, the defense more than held its own.

The unit finished the day with five interceptions and a fumble recovery.
"After the field goal and touchdown, we wanted to make it tougher on them," said safety Stevie Brown, who picked off Threet late in the afternoon. "That's what (defensive coordinator Scott Shafer) is all about. He really pushes getting out there and getting turnovers."

Saturday's cold, windy and rainy conditions also hampered the Wolverines' passing game. Whatever the reason, Rodriguez said he expected the defense to be the stronger unit.

"The defense came along about how I expected," he said. "The defense should dominate. If they don't, we're going to have some issues."

Michigan was 9-4 last season and finished No. 18 in the final AP poll after defeating Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Coach Lloyd Carr announced his retirement after 13 seasons two days after the Wolverines lost their final regular-season game to Ohio State.

Michigan lost seven starters from last season's offense, including quarterback Chad Henne, left tackle Jake Long, tailback Mike Hart and receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. The outlook is sunnier on the other side of the ball, where just four starters have to be replaced.

Brown said the defense might have to the best unit while the offense learns the nuances of the spread-option.

"Our offense is doing real well, but we know that we have to be out there every play and be the best we can," he said. "We can

He'll have a battle of his own when practice resumes in August. Brown, Artis Chambers (two interceptions Saturday) and Brandon Harrison are in the running for the two safety spots after the departures of Brandent Englemon and Jamar Adams.

Threet, a redshirt freshman who transferred last season from Georgia Tech, and sophomore Sheridan appear to be the only candidates for the starting quarterback job, but Rodriguez said he won't have a depth chart until the week before the Wolverines' Aug. 30 season-opener against visiting Utah.

Neither player has thrown a pass in a collegiate game.

The offense ran several option plays during the scrimmage, and Threet said the hardest part is the attention Rodriguez's schemes require.

"A lot of is the reads," he said. "Just getting used to reading the whole defense to make good reads."

It helped, he added, to have Rodriguez standing behind him throughout the day as he called plays. "That's been really helpful for us," Threet said. "He knows it inside and out."

Rodriguez, hired in December after seven seasons and two BCS bowl game appearances at West Virginia, said only about 70 percent of the offense has been installed during spring sessions. He expects much more to develop when the team returns to Ann Arbor in August.

Minor, who also scored on a short run midway through the scrimmage, appears to have the best shot at the starting tailback job, but Kevin Grady also saw plenty of snaps out of the backfield. Minor rushed for 385 yards and a touchdown last season filling in for the oft-injured Hart while Grady missed the entire season after suffering a knee injury during spring drills.

Tight end Carson Butler is the only starting wideout returning. Junior Greg Matthews, who had 39 catches last season, was a popular target during the scrimmage but several players rotated into the offense throughout the day.

Mark Ortmann and Stephen Schilling, the only returning starter on the offensive line, got most of the snaps at the tackle spots while Tim McAvoy, David Moosman and Cory Zirbel shared time at center. All the new names on the line have seen some game action.

The coach did not address his court battle with his former employer, which is seeking to force him to pay a $4 million buyout. Rodriguez insists that West Virginia failed to live up to verbal promises made after the contract was signed, including the reduction or elimination of the buyout clause.

The university sued him Dec. 27 and it appears likely the case, being heard in Monongalia (W.Va.) County Court, will drag on into the coming season.

Michigan begins Big Ten play Sept. 27 when Wisconsin comes to Ann Arbor.


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