You mentioned at media day that year two makes things so much easier—or more familiar, I should say. How’s it feeling?
“No, not easier. But feeling good right now. Coming off of a very good practice today, so feel good about the way our guys are working. Feel really good about the way we practiced today. There was quite a bit of good scrimmaging. Feel like our team is building a callus now that bodes very well for us. I mean, it was not. It was a little more [purulent] than about a week ago, but now it’s starting to harden. Feel good about that.”
Your quarterbacks now compared to a year ago: do you feel like they’re about where they were or in the system for a year, does that help them?
“Definitely has helped them. Right now we’re—I hate to compare—but we’re better. We’re better at that position than we were eight, nine days into camp last year.”
Have you narrowed it down? Is it down to two guys? Have a rank order?
“Yeah, not just two. I mean, Shane Morris is doing good, having a good camp. Wilton Speight’s having an outstanding camp. John O’Korn’s having a very good camp. The quarterback play’s been really good in camp, right from the first day. Been very pleased with that. They’ve…they’re completing balls, they’re running the team, they know what they’re doing. They’re competing at a good, high level. It’s been good. Yeah.
“I’m trying to think through different camps. I’ve said it to myself: this group of quarterbacks is playing really well. Better than most camps that I’ve seen from the start. Sometimes they struggle with their accuracy and struggle with different things, communicating, fumbled snaps on the ground. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing solid play that’s improving, too. It started good and it’s getting better every day. Hope we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today, but we had a good day today.”
Are there any other positions where you’re seeing as fierce a competitive battle as you are at quarterback?
“Uh, there’s…there’s some good play. Some good—young guys are playing very well. Devin Asiasi had a heck of a day today. Michael Onwenu is somebody I’m—you know, he’s one of my favorites. Doing a heck of a good job. Ben Bredeson is doing an outstanding job. Rashan Gary is a really good football player. The young linebackers are playing really well. The young receivers are doing a heck of a good job. Chris Evans is maybe one of the most outstanding of them all. Khaleke Hudson’s doing an outstanding job. Dylan Crawford’s doing a good job. So, yeah, it’s been good. Quinn Nordin’s doing an outstanding job. Those guys, some really good players in that class have heated some of the competitive waters at multiple positions. It’s a good thing.”
How many freshmen do you expect to play this year?
“Right now it’s competitive and I don’t see any of our older guys just giving their jobs away. Don’t see that happening. Not through the nine practices. Not saying that for one minute, so it’s still to be determined. There’s some competitive, heated-up waters. More than you see on really probably any team I’ve ever been on where a group of new guys…they’re showing that they’re on track to be either starters or backup players. It’s still to be determined.
“They’ve got to do it over the course of the next couple weeks, but it’ll be exciting to watch. Some of them will, some of them won’t. The best players are going to play, regardless of class year that they’re in. As I’ve said, we’ve got a lot of veteran players who like their starting jobs. It’ll be a battle.”
Last year you waited until the first snap at Utah to reveal the starting lineup. Do you imagine that’ll be the same this season, too, with the quarterbacks and rest of the roster?
“I haven’t decided yet.”
[After THE JUMP: I guess you could say this press conference was…[/puts on sunglasses] suspended.]
Bama's Gain Is... Michigan's Gain, Too?
Alabama picked up two commits on the offensive line at the end of July, and they're expected to add five-star OT Jedrick Wills any day now. That may not seem like news that would lead a Michigan recruiting roundup, but word from multiple Bama insiders is the numbers crunch in Tuscaloosa will have a direct impact on at least one top Michigan target. Here's 247's Steve Lorenz on four-star IMG OC Cesar Ruiz:
I spoke with Hank South, our Alabama insider this morning, who confirmed that Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy Top100 offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz is NOT a take for the Crimson Tide, and barring more than one change to their current class, would not be regardless
When that news made its way over to the Scout board, their Bama insider, John Garcia Jr., confirmed he was hearing the same about Ruiz and added that four-star NY OT Isaiah Wilson could also get squeezed out by Wills:
Bama took in state OL Hunter Brannon on July 23, a kid who earned the offer at camp (UA wanted Ruiz to camp but he didn't make it). Numbers are tight and tackles are a much bigger need at this time. I'm not even sure they would take both Wills and Wilson should each want to join the class. Like with Nico Collins, a late spot may not be there for Wilson. Things can change but Bama feels good about each, the difference is Wills is much closer to ending his recruitment.
Alabama has been considered Michigan's primary competition for both Ruiz and Wilson. Ruiz said at the beginning of this month that Alabama, Michigan, and Oklahoma were tied at the top of his list; only a few days later, the Sooners landed four-star center Creed Humphrey. If Ruiz sticks to those top schools, his decision may have been made for him—he's also mentioned North Carolina as a school of interest recently but I haven't seen any indication they'd beat out Michigan.
— Zay (@_LayZay_) August 10, 2016
Wilson, meanwhile, set up official visits to Florida State (Nov. 11), Michigan (Nov. 19), and Alabama (Nov. 25), with dates for Georgia and USC to be decided based on his basketball schedule—we'll see if those latter two materialize, as Wilson plans to make a decison in December. In the aftermath of his BBQ visit, he told Sam Webb that Michigan's "family atmosphere" stood out and played it coy about where the Wolverines currently stand:
These most recent Michigan experiences reconfirmed for Wilson why he has the storied program in his top five. They’ve also caused those observing his recruitment to wonder if the Wolverines have moved up his list.
Said Wilson, “my response to that question is, Go Blue!’”
Take that how you will.
Yet another four-star lineman, CA OT Aaron Banks, is set to cut his list down to ten soon. After a better-than-expected BBQ visit, Michigan should make the cut:
"The trip to Michigan was cool," said Banks. "It was nice. It was better than I expected. The school was bigger than I expected it to be. I was with Coach (Tim) Drevno and one of his assistants. We met up with Coach (Jim) Harbaugh but didn't get to spend as much time with him. I met up with Jay Harbaugh some too. Then we went to one of the stores and got some of the new Jumpman gear."
Banks plans to enroll early. Getting him back for an official visit will be of great importance if Michigan wants to push for his commitment.
Oh, and Scout's main analyst in SEC country, Chad Simmons, is projecting that Michigan will get four-star OG TJ Slaton:
This is probably the toughest one out of this group. Slaton likes to keep to himself, a lot about his recruitment is unknown, and he could end up at a number of program. Today though, over six months out, Michigan is the favorite. The Wolverines landed his good friend, teammate Kai-Leon Herbert over the summer, and this only helps UM. Herbert made his mind up when him and Slaton were in Ann Arbor a couple of months ago. Clemson is in this, Florida State is there, and we will see what Slaton does this fall in terms of visits.
While Slaton isn't a lock, he's kept Michigan on top for a while now despite seeing other schools. There's a very real chance Michigan picks up three more elite O-line prospects, at which point one or two current commits might take a look around. No matter how it shakes out, it's hard to see a way in which Michigan doesn't have a great finish at OL.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Again, chances of this existing without Matt are somewhat less. I like to think this would be a thing in the world without the prod from Homesure Lending, but you never know. Matt's sponsoring another Football Eve this year, albeit on Thursday so it's Football Eve Eve. September 1st, 7:30,
Ashley's, first beer's on him.
[UPDATE: We've moved it to WOLVERINE STATE BREWING at 2019 West Stadium to accomodate more people]
FORMATION NOTES: I'm ready to give up on naming these things. A couple of attempts to clarify the lingo below:
This was a Peppers sweep to all the dudes. Michigan has six OL in the game and Cole is in a two point stance to the bottom of the line. This was "ace quad tight bunch" even though that doesn't encapsulate all the weirdness.
Here Michigan has two TEs and two WRs on the field, with Butt lined up in a two point stance and Chesson an inline TE:
I'm calling this "WR hide." If you see it below there's an "inline TE" named Darboh or Chesson or both.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Rudock, starting OL, and the starting WRs the whole way. Isaac did not play and Drake Johnson was limited to scattered snaps as Smith and Peppers took the large bulk of the RB snaps. Peppers also lined up in the slot, at H-back and as a wildcat QB. AJ Williams didn't get much time.
[After THE JUMP: one very big problem M tried to work around.]
[I jumped into the scrum mid-answer] “…I was behind both Worm and Earl [Willie Henry] both playing those. They were both great players and both playing the same position so making sure when I got my time I was making plays, got the sacks, the hurries, everything like that. I contributed a lot against the pass and made sure I was stout against the run also in that 3-4 defense. As an end I made strides and as I got more playing time I contributed more and made more plays for the team. That was something I was able to do and I’ve been waiting to do for a while. As my snaps increase as a senior and going back to [being] a 4-3 end, I believe my production is only going to skyrocket, also.”
What do you think of these new threads?
“Oh, I like them a lot. I grew up wearing Jordans since I was a little kid. My mom had me as a baby wearing Jordans. I like the look of it. Jordan’s an icon not just in a football aspect but as a mogul, as himself, he’s somebody who you can go anywhere in the world and somebody will know he’s Michael Jordan. So to have this brand paired with Michigan, which to me is also a brand iconic in itself, I feel like it’s the perfect fit.”
It still means a lot after 10 or 12 years? All that still carries something to you?
“Oh yeah. I know Jordan hasn’t played in a while but at the end of the day he’s still an icon and not only is he the greatest player of all time to play the sport of basketball but I feel the Jordan brand is not just basketball. It expanded to baseball, golf, whatever it is and now football, but NFL players have been wearing it for a while. It’s a brand where, I heard Charles Woodson say ‘excellence.’ It’s a brand you can be a part of that—it’s a small group that’s a part of the Jordan brand because of that excellence and what he stands for.”
We asked Don Brown about your weight loss. How much have you lost?
“I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I was 285. Today I weighed in about 275, so I lost about 10 pounds from last year which was because we were in a 3-4 end and now we’ve switched over to a 4-3. I’m allowed to get my speed back, get that motor going, which I felt better this spring training. It wasn’t necessarily bad weight that I had on last year, but it was baggage that I didn’t need and it allowed me to be a lot faster off the edge and get that speed that we’ve worked at.”
He said ‘Would you rather be a slug or a bullet?’ Did he say that to you?
[laughs] “Nah, I haven’t heard anything.”
So you’d rather be a bullet?
“Of course, of course. I need that speed coming off the edge. It’s something that our team needs. He wants me to be that pass rusher that we need.”
[After THE JUMP: the “Jabrill Peppers decking people” tag is more versatile than we imagined.]
With guidance from Jake Butt, Ian Bunting is poised for a breakout year. [Fuller]
MGoQuestion: This seems like the year where you're going to see the field a lot more. What's the biggest thing you're doing to prepare for that?
"Just getting the little tweaks I'd say is the most important thing, especially at—the higher level you get to, whatever you do, the distance between being good and being great gets smaller and smaller. So I think that little tweaks like footwork or just understanding more of the whole concept or of the whole play or the whole offense, it's the little things like that that I'm going and I have been focusing on to get better."
MGoQuestion: Working behind a guy like Jake Butt, what's he been able to impart on you as an All-American?
"He's been very influential. He's been a great teacher, a great role model since I've gotten here. I'm very appreciative of that. We are always competing, him and me and the rest of the tight ends. We compete with each other but we also help each other. We're not a selfish group, like our room is very close-knit, but we also understand that we're always going to be going up against each other and competing with each other, and that just brings out the best in everyone."
MGoQuestion: Does it help knowing that Jim Harbaugh is going to be happy to play two, three, four tight ends?
"Yeah, we love it. That's music to our ears. Last year we had four-TE sets, so we love that. In our opinion, the more tight ends we have on the field, the better. If there's any opportunity for us to get on the field and make a positive impact on the game and help us win, we're all for it."
[inaudible] ...with everything you guys have got going, the returning offensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers.
"I think we can be very, very dynamic, very explosive, and very smart football-wise, very intellectual. There are a lot of guys that have been here for a while. Coming into the season not having to learn a whole new offense, there's definitely something to be said about that. The sky's the limit."
Do you expect the ball to be thrown your way a decent amount this year?
"That is not up to me. I don't make those decisions. But I would not complain. As a tight end, you love blocking, and you love catching the ball and doing what you can with it after you catch it. That's what the tight end does, especially nowadays, it's kind of an evolving position. It's not as much a glorified, other lineman. It's really evolved. As you can see with Jake, he's been a big part of that evolution. I don't know how many catches he had last year but he had a lot of catches and he did a lot with the ball after he caught it. We want to improve on that and take that to a whole other level this year."
Is taking it to a whole other level making rap videos?
"(Laughs) Yeah, I love doing that stuff. I did a little bit of that in high school. One of my best friends who lived two blocks away from me, Pat Foley is his name, he actually started a production company in high school, it's called Hued Productions. They're down in Atlanta now going to school and also doing that. He's great at what he does. In high school he just had a makeshift little studio, so we were just like, yeah, let's mess around and make some music. We both love music, and we did it, made a few songs, made a music video right before we all left for college. I guess people like it."
MGoQuestion: What's the reception from the rest of the team?
"They all love it. A lot of the guys were in the video, too, so that was a lot of fun. It's just something that is a passion of mine outside of football and outside of school. For now, that's going to get pushed to the side and it's going to be football. It's going to be focusing on winning football games for a while now."
MGoQuestion: It seems like with Harbaugh that blocking is the path to get on the field. (Bunting: "Yeah!") What have you done to take that next step?
"A lot of blocking, in my opinion, is footwork. We work on that all the time with each other, on the field during practice or even just when we have seven-on-seven or something, just spend a little time afterwards just working on footwork, steps for different types of blocks. As much as we like to catch the ball, we love blocking too. It's just fun. It's fun to go and hit someone."
[Hit THE JUMP for Grant Newsome discussing the difficulty of facing M's defense in practice and John O'Korn crashing my interview with Moe Ways.]
Is this man really the best coach in the Big Ten West?
The Big Ten has now had two seasons in its new alignment and a clear picture of the dynamics in each division are emerging. The East has Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, each led by some of the best coaches in college football – the East has sent a team to the playoff two times in two tries (same as the SEC West and ACC Atlantic). While Penn State struggles in the James Franklin era, and as long as the current coaches remain at OSU, UM, and MSU, the East will likely feature those three teams at the top, in whatever order.
The West is far less certain. A year ago, Iowa was the biggest surprise in the college football world during the regular season as they strung together twelve wins to start the season. They missed the playoff after conceding a late game-winning touchdown after a long, slow, backbreaking Michigan State drive in the Big Ten championship game, and were utterly destroyed by Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes won five games by a single score last season against an easy schedule, but it was still a sensational season – though it may not be able to be replicated.
Big-picture, the West is unclear, for many reasons. The only historical powerhouse in the division (Nebraska) doesn’t seem capable of attaining anywhere near that level of success in their new conference. Mike Riley certainly doesn’t seem equipped to unlock their potential. Wisconsin lost a Rose Bowl-level coach in Bret Bielema and might not be able to find another for a while. More generally, even if programs like Iowa and Northwestern can put together very solid squads every so often, they, and all the other programs in the division, lack the recruiting and the top-level coaching requisite to establish themselves as dominant enough to stay atop the division.
There’s definitely room for the right coach at the right program to own the West in the future. Right now though, it’s unpredictable and should be pretty competitive – aside from Illinois (who may have made a great hire in Lovie Smith) and Purdue (NOPE), the rest of the division should find themselves with winning records and in bowl games, though no obvious frontrunner stands out to win ten games. Odds dictate that someone probably will, but it remains to be seen which program emerges from the muddled ranks of the “pretty good” to win the West in 2016.
[Team previews after the JUMP]