ANN ARBOR — Less than three months into Doug Nussmeier’s tenure as the Michigan football team’s offensive coordinator, it’s appropriate to label the Wolverines’ offense a work in progress.
During a spring practice interview Saturday with the Big Ten Network, Nussmeier emphasized that much. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke stuck to that line of reasoning after the conclusion of the final spring practice and a 45-minute scrimmage at Michigan Stadium.
Nussmeier replaced Al Borges in January, and the offense he has been installing at Michigan has been kept under wraps thus far. On Saturday, it didn’t appear polished and was at times overshadowed by the defense.
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“Is there room for improvement?” Hoke asked rhetorically. “Oh my gosh, no question. We need a lot of improvement. The way it’s being taught and everything, it’s been real positive.”
Hoke did give some insight into the development of Nussmeier’s offense.
“The one thing I’ll tell you is that he’s done an excellent job with the teaching part of it and the details,” said Hoke, whose team opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Appalachian State. “It’s been a lot for the kids and we’ve put them in a lot of uncomfortable situations through the spring and asked them to learn a lot and see what stuck a little bit.”
Nussmeier did not speak Saturday with the media and is scheduled to speak this week. Quarterback Devin Gardner, however, has already seen the benefit of new energy.
“We’ve been really consistent and we’ve been able to cut down on negative plays,” Gardner said. “That’s the big thing he’s always talking about and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Furthermore, Gardner was candid in discussing what Nussmeier has brought and how it has helped Michigan’s consistency.
“He’s insane,” said Gardner, who split Saturday’s snaps with freshmen Shane Morris and Wilton Speight. “He demands perfection. Even when you have a big play, he finds something that can be improved, something like, maybe next time this won’t be such a big play if you do this again. Everybody understands that and we try to be as perfect as possible. That’s his personality. It’s great for us, because that makes us want to be more perfect.”
Devin Funchess, converted from a tight end to a wide receiver, agreed.
“Coach Nuss, he’s a guy that brings a lot of energy and he wants us to match that,” Funchess said. “This offense, if we’re not bringing energy, we come out slow. But when we bring out energy, we come out fast and get to the defense and show them we have control of the ballgame.”
Did Michigan bring adequate energy to its spring game?
“At some points I think we did,” Funchess said. “But sometimes, we miscommunicated and made mistakes.”
The Wolverines spent the first 75 minutes of Saturday’s session working through drills inside of the stadium — their first practice outside since the start of spring ball on Feb. 25 — then had a controlled scrimmage for the final 45 minutes, in which no official stats were kept.
Questions remain around a trio of inexperienced running backs in freshmen De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green, and redshirt junior Justice Hayes, as well as around the offensive line that continues to regroup following the graduation of tackles Mike Schofield and Taylor Lewan and a subpar 2013 in which UM was among the nation’s leaders in negative plays.
“Inconsistent,” Hoke said, when asked about UM’s offensive line. “There were a couple good runs in there that they did a pretty good job with, but we need to be a little more consistent in the protection game. Through the course of 15 practices, there’s been some little improvements made.”
NOTES: Former Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson were on the sidelines as was five-star recruit Jabrill Peppers, a cornerback from Paramus, N.J., who is part of this fall’s incoming class. … Sophomore defensive back Jourdan Lewis and freshman wide receiver Freddy Canteen made the biggest impact Saturday. Canteen emerged as one of Gardner’s top targets, while Lewis opened the scrimmage by intercepting Gardner. … St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Miller worked at both center and at guard Saturday and during the spring. “Jack’s had his best football to this point, and we expect a lot from Jack,” Hoke said. “He’ll keep improving.” … The attendance was announced at “just over 15,000.”