RAYS OF LIGHT: SPRING PRACTICE NOTES

In the first part of this week's chat with former Michigan All-American and current Big Ten Network studio analyst Marcus Ray, he shares his extremely favorable impressions from the first spring practice of the Jim Harbaugh era. Numerous player performances are highlighted. Podcast included.

There was a buzz in the air inside Schembechler Hall yesterday. Jim Harbaugh called it the start of the New Year. It was a mood befitting his first spring practice as Michigan’s head football coach. Big Ten Network analyst and former Michigan All-American safety Marcus Ray was on hand getting background for upcoming BTN programming, and took note of a team that isn’t short on talent.

“The cupboard is not bare. I think that’s what has everybody excited,” said Ray. “They’ve got a lot of guys fighting for reps. I saw some stuff on offense where they’re going to line up in a pro formations sometimes and just run the ball or play-action. Then they have multiple formations… a little shotgun… some of the stuff you see other schools run. They’re just trying to figure it out, but the one thing I do know is they’re going to be in shape because they did a lot of running. I was teasing Jabrill Peppers about it. He said, ‘ boy, we’re going to be in shape Big Bro.’ I said, ‘ yeah, I don’t know if you’re going to win a game, you’re definitely going to be in shape.’ (Laughter). So he and I had some fun with that yesterday.”

One of the primary objectives Harbaugh promised to begin working on immediately was cultivating an extremely competitive environment. There were signs of that prioritization in the very first practice.

“Everything is set up for competition,” said Ray. “They would have conditioning right in the middle of practice.”

“At the end of practice, at the beginning of practice, and in the middle there was some kind of conditioning competition where guys were running and competing… where guys are getting in shape and they’re also getting tougher, stronger, and faster. It was good to see that everything that was built into the practice had competition written all over it.”

When it came highlighting top performers, Ray indicated that there were a number that stood out, but cautioned reading too much into any observations (good or bad). It was, after all, the first practice of a new regime and it was unpadded.

RAYS PERFORMANCE NOTES

“I thought Jourdan Lewis looked real good once again. I told him that I don’t want him to be grabbing and holding. Why play great coverage and then and then get a flag when you didn’t even need to grab the guy. He is just aggressive, young and feisty.”

“I thought Drake Harris… I thought he looked pretty good. I saw him catching some balls and running routes. He didn’t get much action last year when he first came because of his injuries and things but to just get a chance to see him play… I was impressed with Drake."

“I thought Wilton Speight looked excellent. I didn’t see every rep he took, but when he threw the ball he got my attention. His ball placement was excellent. He seems like he can see over the line well, and he had command of that offense.”

“(Maurice Ways) looked pretty good too.”

" Ojemudia played some techniques that I think he would have missed last year… Ojemudia made a couple of plays guarding the perimeter and playing his technique. He stood out."

“Last but not least I was impressed with Jabrill just being able to make the adjustment on day one to safety at the college level. He was communicating, he was fired up, and was trying to get the guys around him lined up. I heard him with my own ears making checks trying to be the quarterback of the defense and really taking his run support serious. Wherever he needed to be on the field he was getting there in a hurry. Pads or no ads, that’s how you train yourself, so I think that’s going to be an upgrade. Looks like he was at the free safety.”

“I thought the receivers got the best out of seven-on-seven and one-on-one, but I think when they went to the team stuff I think the defense had their way. It was competitive and those kids seems like they were embracing the change.”

TheWolverine.com Podcast: Marcus Ray on safeties, more

Former Michigan safety and Big Ten Network college football analyst Marcus Ray keeps close tabs on rising U-M redshirt freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers. So Peppers' tweet about defending the middle of the field didn't escape Ray's notice. He talks about that and more in this exclusive audio segment.

RAYS OF LIGHT: “WHEATLEY WAS A STEAL”

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Former Michigan standout and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray breaks down Jim Harbaugh’s recent hires of Tyrone Wheatley, Mike Zordich, and Jedd Fisch. The he shares his thoughts on Michigan competing with Ohio State in the aftermath of the Bucks national championship.

Sam Webb: Tyrone Wheatley is back in the house as the running back coach. I’m curious to your take on that to see another one of your own back coaching in Ann Arbor.

Marcus Ray: “Honestly out of everything that I’ve seen that’s my favorite hire that has taken place. I watched Tyrone when I was in high school run the football for Michigan and I fell in love with the way he played football. One of the reasons I came to Michigan was because of Tyrone Wheatley along with about 20 other guys that played in between 84-whatever it was, 93. Here is the thing, when I met Tyrone on one of my visits and we spoke, he was always a humble personable guy. He had his own personality, but he would open up to you. I was a high school senior on that August the 1st weekend, I don’t know what it was called back the, when the primetime were getting that special little visit before the season started. I was on that visit and Wheatley was a guy that I really just connected with. When I got there, he was a guy that took me under his wing. Now I blew him up (in practice). Do not get it twisted, I had to ring Tyrone’s head (laughter).”

Sam Webb: Now you know how this works. We can always go check. Wheat is the guy that we’ll get on the air and he’ll say yay or nay on whether that happened, so I’m going to give you the opportunity to retract that statement if you feel the need to do so.

Marcus Ray: “Well I’m not. I’m not going to retract it because I got underneath his chin and I can’t wait, so we can go dig in (Michigan’s video coordinator) Phil Bromley’s files together. I’m going to tell you something about Tyrone, when we played together in Oakland that was when we really bonded and it wasn’t easy. I knew he was going to be a coach one day and I knew he was going to be special. We took our experiences from Michigan to Oakland and we stayed in contact. That was the one thing. Then once he was finished playing, we still would connect and he was telling me, ‘Ray, I don’t care where I’ve got to start. I just want to coach and maybe one day I’ll be a head coach.’ Tyrone is smart. He brings everything you need to the table from a running back position at the pro level, at the college level in coaching. The kids are going to love him. He knows the game. He is really an offensive mind and he adds a lot of value. He can walk into any room, any household in American and stand toe to toe with anybody. I think Tyrone was probably the best hire so far in my opinion and Michigan’s running backs I think are going to be rejuvenated and he was coached by Fred Jackson who was there together and so Michigan just couldn’t lose in that situation. I just think Tyrone is everything that you’re looking for. That’s another steal from the NFL and he is going places.”

Sam Webb: I agree. If you look on the other side, I think that’s a real theme for this team, you mentioned NFL experience, it is up and down the board. Yesterday word out of Youngstown, we talked about the guys that were interviewing for the second defensive back coach position, obviously Roy Manning being one of them and you had Chuck Heater and Mike Zordich. Word came out of Youngstown this week… I believe it was the play by play guy from Youngstown State that reported it and said Mike Zordich will be the guy headed to Michigan to be the second defensive backs coach. He is a Youngstown guy. He played in the league for a long time. Coached in the league for a spell and is now slated to be the second secondary coach at Michigan. I’m curious about how much you know about him, but another Ohio guy who should be able to help on the recruiting side of things and a guy with some pro experience to boot.

Marcus Ray: “Number one, he was a great football player. I watched him play at Penn State. He was pretty good. He got drafted late, but he made a lot of plays. If you want to talk about tough Zordich is a tough guy who is smart and then he played a long time in the NFL. I think the whole deal with that hire has to do with Northeast Ohio. Michigan needs a guy and Jim Harbaugh needs someone who can go into Youngstown, Cleveland, Warren, Lakewood, Glenville, the whole Akron deal. You need someone who can walk in there who is home grown and can take who you want and who you need in recruiting. Zordich coached I believe five or six years at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School. That’s really where he made the jumped. Youngstown and then went to I believe Philadelphia as a quality control guy. You can get on the fast track in coaching if you get with the right people. It’s all about relationships. That Northeast Ohio, that’s the best football played in Ohio, arguably to me the best state for football. After what I’ve been seeing the last couple of years, I think Ohio has the best brand of football and you need a guy that can go in there and go to war with anybody because that’s where it is, Northeast Ohio. I know everyone in Columbus won’t like me saying that but that’s the truth. Now you get a guy who has NFL experience. Last year, he was at Youngstown. When you hire a guy who hasn’t coached a long time in college, you have to teach him how to recruit though. Recruiting is different. Some guys can walk in and light up a room, some guys can talk the talk, some guys don’t have to say much. When you hire a guy who comes from the NFL and he has not done a lot of recruiting than you have to do it collectively and show him that he’ll learn the tricks of the trade. I think when you talk from a pedigree standpoint, Zordich is going to command the respect and those kids are going to listen. He’s a smart football coach and I believe he’ll be able to coach technique and when you put Zordich with Greg Jackson, I just think Michigan is putting something together. They shouldn’t have any excuses in the coaching department this year. You can’t use this whole we’re not developing talent. Guys are being handpicked. Zordich is a smart guy. Roy Manning is someone that I would have liked to have seen get another opportunity at Michigan. He can flat out recruit. Roy was in a position last year where I don’t think he got a fair shot. I don’t think he was in a position where he was supported. I think he was a rookie at coaching corners and that didn’t work in his favor and he wasn’t around the type of people that could have developed him as a young coach. If he would have gotten a chance to stay on this staff then I think he would have got what he needed. Things happen the way they happen, congratulations to everybody. I think Zordich is a good hire too. Once we get rolling and I get a chance to go to practice and study film with these people, who’s naughty and who’s nice. That’s what I’m looking forward too.”

Sam Webb: I’m curious if you can break something down for me. Last week, I want to say that Pete Schrager from Fox Sports reported that Jedd Fisch, former offensive coordinator from Jacksonville Jaguars will be on staff as the pass game coordinator. I added to that heard that he would also be the wide receiver coach. I’m curious when you have a separation as far as title is concerned, where you have an offensive coordinator and a pass game coordinator, how does that dynamic work?

Marcus Ray: “It works in this fashion. One coach focuses on the pass packages, the air game exclusively and the other guy works on the running game. The passing game coordinator is going to deal with protection, route combination. He’s going to deal with down and distance plays that you may call. He is strictly dealing with that. Then the run game coordinator, he is looking at blocking schemes, he’s looking at formation. He’s looking at different types or run plays, whether you want to be a zone read team or an off tackle power team. That’s what makes Ohio State unstoppable offensively. They spread you out to run and then the pass game goes right with it. I actually saw Cam Cameron and Les Miles do this 20 years ago. They could get into a lot, Michigan ran it all the time, but Cam wanted to put it in the air. So those two guys actually gameplan it and they break the defenses down. The graduate assistant or the quality control guy would go and bring up all the coverages that Oregon ran for Ohio State. All the coverages that they ran all year, what did they run and then the pass game coordinator would like at it and say this team is an 85% man to man team. So I know these are the routes that I’m going to call. These are the plays that I’m going to call. This is how I’m going to design it or they blitz 60% of the time so we need to be in this type of protection. That’s what the pass game coordinator does. The run game coordinator will say alright, on first down, they line up in an eight man box versus this look and we need to run this play and then run off tackle or set it up. Then when those two minds get together that’s when you’ll see the play action passes, the screens and the draws all come together and then you got two guys discussing what we should do offensively every time you see a football.”

Sam Webb: On game day when it’s time to call the plays how does it work?

Marcus Ray: “They actually talk about it and sometimes the head coach will give the authority on who is going to do what, but believe it or not Sam, it is mostly scripted. They’re already in agreement on the first two series or first 15 plays on what they’re going to do. Then they call plays based on how the flow of the game is going. If you’re sitting at second and one on the ten yard line going in. Sometimes the passing coordinator is not yelling, hey let’s throw the ball and if both guys are working together and that’s what meetings and that’s what all the game planning comes from. So on gameday, you really don’t have much bickering but some calls can go either way, fourth and one on the 45, going in, do you play action or do you line up and pound it. Those are times when you may have some conversation, but people are on the same page well before they even get into the game.”

For much more from Ray including his take on Michigan competing with Ohio State in the aftermath of its national title win, press play below.

Sam Webb: Tyrone Wheatley is back in the house as the running back coach. I’m curious to your take on that to see another one of your own back coaching in Ann Arbor.

Marcus Ray: “Honestly out of everything that I’ve seen that’s my favorite hire that has taken place. I watched Tyrone when I was in high school run the football for Michigan and I fell in love with the way he played football. One of the reasons I came to Michigan was because of Tyrone Wheatley along with about 20 other guys that played in between 84-whatever it was, 93. Here is the thing, when I met Tyrone on one of my visits and we spoke, he was always a humble personable guy. He had his own personality, but he would open up to you. I was a high school senior on that August the 1st weekend, I don’t know what it was called back the, when the primetime were getting that special little visit before the season started. I was on that visit and Wheatley was a guy that I really just connected with. When I got there, he was a guy that took me under his wing. Now I blew him up (in practice). Do not get it twisted, I had to ring Tyrone’s head (laughter).”

Sam Webb: Now you know how this works. We can always go check. Wheat is the guy that we’ll get on the air and he’ll say yay or nay on whether that happened, so I’m going to give you the opportunity to retract that statement if you feel the need to do so.

Marcus Ray: “Well I’m not. I’m not going to retract it because I got underneath his chin and I can’t wait, so we can go dig in (Michigan’s video coordinator) Phil Bromley’s files together. I’m going to tell you something about Tyrone, when we played together in Oakland that was when we really bonded and it wasn’t easy. I knew he was going to be a coach one day and I knew he was going to be special. We took our experiences from Michigan to Oakland and we stayed in contact. That was the one thing. Then once he was finished playing, we still would connect and he was telling me, ‘Ray, I don’t care where I’ve got to start. I just want to coach and maybe one day I’ll be a head coach.’ Tyrone is smart. He brings everything you need to the table from a running back position at the pro level, at the college level in coaching. The kids are going to love him. He knows the game. He is really an offensive mind and he adds a lot of value. He can walk into any room, any household in American and stand toe to toe with anybody. I think Tyrone was probably the best hire so far in my opinion and Michigan’s running backs I think are going to be rejuvenated and he was coached by Fred Jackson who was there together and so Michigan just couldn’t lose in that situation. I just think Tyrone is everything that you’re looking for. That’s another steal from the NFL and he is going places.”

Sam Webb: I agree. If you look on the other side, I think that’s a real theme for this team, you mentioned NFL experience, it is up and down the board. Yesterday word out of Youngstown, we talked about the guys that were interviewing for the second defensive back coach position, obviously Roy Manning being one of them and you had Chuck Heater and Mike Zordich. Word came out of Youngstown this week… I believe it was the play by play guy from Youngstown State that reported it and said Mike Zordich will be the guy headed to Michigan to be the second defensive backs coach. He is a Youngstown guy. He played in the league for a long time. Coached in the league for a spell and is now slated to be the second secondary coach at Michigan. I’m curious about how much you know about him, but another Ohio guy who should be able to help on the recruiting side of things and a guy with some pro experience to boot.

Marcus Ray: “Number one, he was a great football player. I watched him play at Penn State. He was pretty good. He got drafted late, but he made a lot of plays. If you want to talk about tough Zordich is a tough guy who is smart and then he played a long time in the NFL. I think the whole deal with that hire has to do with Northeast Ohio. Michigan needs a guy and Jim Harbaugh needs someone who can go into Youngstown, Cleveland, Warren, Lakewood, Glenville, the whole Akron deal. You need someone who can walk in there who is home grown and can take who you want and who you need in recruiting. Zordich coached I believe five or six years at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School. That’s really where he made the jumped. Youngstown and then went to I believe Philadelphia as a quality control guy. You can get on the fast track in coaching if you get with the right people. It’s all about relationships. That Northeast Ohio, that’s the best football played in Ohio, arguably to me the best state for football. After what I’ve been seeing the last couple of years, I think Ohio has the best brand of football and you need a guy that can go in there and go to war with anybody because that’s where it is, Northeast Ohio. I know everyone in Columbus won’t like me saying that but that’s the truth. Now you get a guy who has NFL experience. Last year, he was at Youngstown. When you hire a guy who hasn’t coached a long time in college, you have to teach him how to recruit though. Recruiting is different. Some guys can walk in and light up a room, some guys can talk the talk, some guys don’t have to say much. When you hire a guy who comes from the NFL and he has not done a lot of recruiting than you have to do it collectively and show him that he’ll learn the tricks of the trade. I think when you talk from a pedigree standpoint, Zordich is going to command the respect and those kids are going to listen. He’s a smart football coach and I believe he’ll be able to coach technique and when you put Zordich with Greg Jackson, I just think Michigan is putting something together. They shouldn’t have any excuses in the coaching department this year. You can’t use this whole we’re not developing talent. Guys are being handpicked. Zordich is a smart guy. Roy Manning is someone that I would have liked to have seen get another opportunity at Michigan. He can flat out recruit. Roy was in a position last year where I don’t think he got a fair shot. I don’t think he was in a position where he was supported. I think he was a rookie at coaching corners and that didn’t work in his favor and he wasn’t around the type of people that could have developed him as a young coach. If he would have gotten a chance to stay on this staff then I think he would have got what he needed. Things happen the way they happen, congratulations to everybody. I think Zordich is a good hire too. Once we get rolling and I get a chance to go to practice and study film with these people, who’s naughty and who’s nice. That’s what I’m looking forward too.”

Sam Webb: I’m curious if you can break something down for me. Last week, I want to say that Pete Schrager from Fox Sports reported that Jedd Fisch, former offensive coordinator from Jacksonville Jaguars will be on staff as the pass game coordinator. I added to that heard that he would also be the wide receiver coach. I’m curious when you have a separation as far as title is concerned, where you have an offensive coordinator and a pass game coordinator, how does that dynamic work?

Marcus Ray: “It works in this fashion. One coach focuses on the pass packages, the air game exclusively and the other guy works on the running game. The passing game coordinator is going to deal with protection, route combination. He’s going to deal with down and distance plays that you may call. He is strictly dealing with that. Then the run game coordinator, he is looking at blocking schemes, he’s looking at formation. He’s looking at different types or run plays, whether you want to be a zone read team or an off tackle power team. That’s what makes Ohio State unstoppable offensively. They spread you out to run and then the pass game goes right with it. I actually saw Cam Cameron and Les Miles do this 20 years ago. They could get into a lot, Michigan ran it all the time, but Cam wanted to put it in the air. So those two guys actually gameplan it and they break the defenses down. The graduate assistant or the quality control guy would go and bring up all the coverages that Oregon ran for Ohio State. All the coverages that they ran all year, what did they run and then the pass game coordinator would like at it and say this team is an 85% man to man team. So I know these are the routes that I’m going to call. These are the plays that I’m going to call. This is how I’m going to design it or they blitz 60% of the time so we need to be in this type of protection. That’s what the pass game coordinator does. The run game coordinator will say alright, on first down, they line up in an eight man box versus this look and we need to run this play and then run off tackle or set it up. Then when those two minds get together that’s when you’ll see the play action passes, the screens and the draws all come together and then you got two guys discussing what we should do offensively every time you see a football.”

Sam Webb: On game day when it’s time to call the plays how does it work?

Marcus Ray: “They actually talk about it and sometimes the head coach will give the authority on who is going to do what, but believe it or not Sam, it is mostly scripted. They’re already in agreement on the first two series or first 15 plays on what they’re going to do. Then they call plays based on how the flow of the game is going. If you’re sitting at second and one on the ten yard line going in. Sometimes the passing coordinator is not yelling, hey let’s throw the ball and if both guys are working together and that’s what meetings and that’s what all the game planning comes from. So on gameday, you really don’t have much bickering but some calls can go either way, fourth and one on the 45, going in, do you play action or do you line up and pound it. Those are times when you may have some conversation, but people are on the same page well before they even get into the game.”

For much more from Ray including his take on Michigan competing with Ohio State in the aftermath of its national title win, press play below.

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