ANN ARBOR - The rites of spring in the state of Michigan - the cherry blossoms are set to explode in the coming weeks, the steelhead fishing in the Huron River is so good, some of the fishermen are even telling the truth about what they catch, and the morel mushroom hunters hope that soon there is significant fungus among us.
But potentially absent from that long-established seasonal list this year is the intrasquad game at Michigan Stadium which signals the close of spring football practice for the Wolverines. Tradition aside, no spring game is a distinct possibility.
University of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, weary of too much talk about injured tendons and ligaments and flexors and rotator cuffs, is also wary of any circumstance that might compound the situation and further crowd the waiting room at the office of the team's orthopedic surgeon.
Carr, who called off the 2003 spring game due to inclement weather, said this week that unless the Wolverines can get through the remaining practices unscathed, he will likely scrub the spring game and opt for a less risky format. The Wolverines might just go through a light workout and not hit each other again until August, when they begin preparations in earnest for the Sept. 2 opener against Vanderbilt.
"We'll decide that probably after Thursday," Carr said. "If we had stayed completely healthy, then I would love to play some type of spring game. But on Saturday we had a couple of guys [get hurt]. When you add that, and if you have any more, it's pretty tenuous. We just have to find out after Thursday's practice who is going to be available Saturday, and then we'll make a decision."
The most significant loss of the spring was wide receiver Antonio Bass, who was supposed to be auditioning at quarterback. He was taking part in a conditioning drill in mid-March when, while trying to regain his balance, planted his foot and had his knee give out.
Bass needed two weeks for the swelling to subside, and then he had surgery on his knee. Carr, who had hoped to use him at quarterback this spring to develop depth at the position, delivered a grim outlook when asked if the Jackson, Mich., native would likely be available in the fall.
"It is a significant injury," Carr said. "I think it would take an extraordinary rehabilitation for him to come back, but I've seen guys do things I never thought they could do. I don't rule him out, but he's got a lot of work in front of him."
Bass, a standout high school quarterback who practiced at the position some last fall and was used to throw the football on gadget plays several times last season, was considered a potential backup to starter Chad Henne. The injury to Bass leaves redshirt freshman Jason Forcier and true freshman David Cone as the team's primary backups at quarterback.
This spring, Carr has also seen the Wolverines lose redshirt freshman linebacker Chris McLaurin, who appears headed for a second round of shoulder surgery, and sophomore wide receiver Mario Manningham, who missed a chunk of practice with a sprained knee.
Sophomore receiver Doug Dutch was out at the beginning of spring workouts with the lingering effects of a knee injury from late last season that ultimately required arthroscopic surgery, while a shoulder injury kept offensive lineman Justin Schifano out of contact this spring. Safety Brandent Englemon and running back Jerome Jackson are both rehabbing from injuries and not part of whatever plan Carr opts to use on Saturday.
Carr said he did not expect the injury to Bass to threaten the 6-2 sophomore's playing career, but it could keep him sidelined most of the season, and make an injury redshirt in the fall a viable option.
"I'm not a doctor, but it was a significant surgery and I cannot speculate on when he will return," Carr said. "Antonio's attitude is so good and he is very optimistic and very positive, but I think it would be late in the season, if it happened. And I'm not speculating on if it will happen."
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