THE ANNOUNCEMENT did not inspire confidence in the Wolverines' offense. "We're on schedule mentally," coach Rich Rodriguez stated, following his team's rain-drenched final scrimmage. "Physically, we're behind." In other words: We know what we're supposed to be doing. We're simply incapable of doing it.
Earlier RichRod had sat in his office recalling the first day of spring practice. "If you don't know where you're supposed to go," he had informed his new charges, "then just run in place.... I had a hundred guys running in place."
With his bridge-burning exit from West Virginia in December, Rodriguez, who replaced the retiring Lloyd Carr, brought his ballyhooed spread offense with zone-read principles to Ann Arbor. Four months later there's the realization that his new team is ill-suited to run that attack.
Among the missing from Michigan's roster are athletes like Noel Devine and Jock Sanders, the diminutive but lethal-in-space weapons Rodriguez left behind in Morgantown. Three offensive linemen bailed out of the program, including returning starter Justin Boren, who transferred to Ohio State (and is known in the maize-and-blue blogosphere as Judas), and highly touted quarterback Ryan Mallett, who bolted for Arkansas after only one season. What's more, Terrelle Pryor, the top dual-threat quarterback in high school last fall, chose to play in Columbus over Ann Arbor.
Thus did the Wolverines' spring quarterback battle boil down to a pair of unproven pocket passers. Steven Threet, a redshirt freshman who transferred from Georgia Tech last fall and is learning his fourth offense in two years, finished slightly ahead of sophomore walk-on Nick Sheridan.
If Sheridan looked very much at home, slinging a 17-yard completion on his first pass in the final scrimmage, that may have been because he was playing on his old high school field. With the Big House under renovation and the practice field a muddy construction site, Michigan scrimmaged at nearby Saline High.
That wasn't the only reason the play seemed high school caliber. While both quarterbacks made some nice throws—several of which were dropped—there were many tipped passes, interceptions and fumbles.
"This offense would've been tailor-made for me," said a fiftysomething spectator—former Wolverines All-America Rick Leach, a dual-threat quarterback before dual-threat quarterbacks were cool. During one slapstick interval featuring three picks and a fumbled pitch, Leach showed that, among his other gifts, he is diplomatic. Next fall, he said, "the defense is going to have to really step up."
"If you don't know where to go, just run in place," Rodriguez told his team. "I had a hundred guys RUNNING IN PLACE."
IMPERFECT FIT Rodriguez is getting his message across, but can Threet (above) and the Wolverines execute his vaunted spread attack?
[See caption above]