"It's a lot easier being a drug dealer than an AAU coach" - this guy. Tell me something I don't know. I mean, don't think but have never tried either.
In the half-hour we spent on the field talking to players at Sunday's Media Day, the theme of this offseason and fall camp was clear: change is here. For the offense, that means a change in coordinators, and with that a significant difference in how they practice. The tempo is being pushed like never before in Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan, and that also affects the defense, which is dealing with change of their own, as the coaching staff on that side shifts roles while the defense moves from a 4-3 under to a 4-3 over.
I caught up with Dennis Norfleet, Jake Ryan, and Wyatt Shallman to discuss these changes and more, including Ryan saying he feels fully recovered from the ACL tear that limited him to just five starts in 2013. Tomorrow, I'll have further player interviews with the significant portion of the team that hails from Cass Tech.
You're getting work in the slot now pretty much exclusively, it sounds like. How comfortable are you at that position right now?
I'm getting a lot better. The wide receiving crew is really helping me out a lot. Coach Hecklinski is a great coach, he's getting me to feel comfortable when I get in there and getting me comfortable with my plays, so I'm doing pretty well.
What's been the biggest difference with the new offensive coordinator, the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest change is we're moving faster, up-tempo. We're a lot better as an offensive crew, we're more than a team, we're a family, so that's what makes a big difference to us now.
With that big increase in tempo, it sounds like you guys are getting more reps in. How much of a difference has that made in terms of getting more comfortable in the offense?
It's a making a lot of difference. It's a big difference because we have a lot of rotation, everybody gets to know their plays, nobody's going out there not knowing what they're doing, and if they don't they have people to tell them if they go wrong. That's a big difference.
How do you see your role being this year? Obviously you're playing the slot, but there's a lot you can do, so how do you see yourself being utilized in the offense this year?
I'm just doing my job, you know. If I get open space, I do what I do best, you know. I'm also being a role model for the younger players that came in. We're basically working as a team in everything that we do.
At returner, you obviously have a lot of experience there. Coach Hoke said you're getting a lot of the reps there but that there are a couple freshmen who are also coming in and making a push. How do you feel at returner right now, and is that a place you feel you can make a really big impact?
Kick returning has always been something that I go into the game and everything, you know, willing that I want to return a kick [for a score] every game. We've been rotating a lot, we've got a lot of players that are competing, spots that's not really set out for who starts where, so we're just having fun in camp right now and competing.
It sounds like both at slot and returner that you're working a lot with Freddy Canteen. What have you seen out of him in the spring and fall so far?
Canteen's becoming a better young man, not just a football player, just in life. He's been looking up to the older receivers, like Devin Funchess, me, [redshirt senior walk-on Anthony] Capatina. It's just a lot of people he can look up to, to become a better person, both in our lives and football.
You keep mentioning how you guys have come together as a team. What's been the biggest change since last year, and do you feel like as an upperclassman now you're really grown into a leadership role?
When I came in, I did things that upperclassmen always told me was wrong that I didn't think were wrong, but now that I'm older I can see what they were talking about. You know, it's more than just a game. We're trying to win a championship, the Big Ten, so as we go along that's the focus of our days. That's what we're ready for.
[Hit THE JUMP for Jake Ryan discussing his transition to middle linebacker and his full recovery from the ACL tear, and Wyatt Shallman talking about his role in the offense and the changes in style under Doug Nussmeier.]
Cole and Clark impressed [Bryan Fuller]
Our annual attempt to glean useful things from the Big Ten's visit to fall camp is here. BTN analysts have a slight bias towards the positive, as Gerry DiNardo demonstrated before last season…
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage," BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
…so take overall tenor with a grain of salt. As per usual, I've translated these from twitterese. This year only DiNardo and Dienhart are reporting; Howard Griffith is there but just hangin' out yo. Dienhart has an article and everything. If there's no link, it's from the article.
"Much like last year a team with more talent than most teams in the B1G. Recruiting rankings are accurate in most cases." –Dinardo
"Long hard physical practice—they got a ton of reps, often times splitting staff and team in half to get more reps." –Dinardo
Rep rep rep is good news, as when Michigan does show bits of practice the pace is often not inspiring. Anything that seems to be oriented towards making Michigan competent at speed is welcome.
"Like a lot of places offensive scheme is starting to be blend of more than one offensive philosophy." –Dinardo
As long as that's running a lot of inside zone from shotgun and under center, okay.
"Jumped out: Gardner, Norfleet, Charlton, Poggi, Speight, Cole, Ojemudia, Pipkins, Clark, Henry, Mone, Glasgow." –DiNardo
That's a pretty long list of guys to jump out at you. Speight's inclusion is a little weird since in another tweet he says that Morris and Speight are pretty even for the backup QB job. Mone is the only freshman mentioned. (Peppers had to miss this practice for class.)
[AFTER the JUMP: shortin' out and dyin', De'Veon Smith credit plea, naggers.]
Five-Star Back Enjoys Visit
2016 five-star NJ RB Kareem Walker visited Michigan last Wednesday; he told 247's Steve Lorenz afterward that he enjoyed the trip ($):
"It was a great day," Walker said. "They have a nice campus and I like the coaches. I met a lot of the coaches and got to talk to Jabrill (Peppers) and spent some time with him as well."
With Mike Weber committing that evening, Steve asked Walker whether having a highly touted back in the class ahead of his would affect how he viewed Michigan, and Walker said he's "not really worried about competition." In fact, he said he "wouldn't mind" playing with another top back.
Walker also visited Ohio State during the week and told Sam Webb that he felt comfortable at both schools. His recruitment should stay in a holding pattern for a while now; he doesn't plan to take any more trips until after his upcoming junior season.
Another 2016 ball-carrier, four-star Southfield (MI) RB Matt Falcon, visited U-M last week and liked the intensity of the practice he watched, per Scout's Allen Trieu ($):
"When I went to Michigan, everything was good up there," he said. "I saw the practice. They were just in shells, shoulder pads and shorts, but there is a different kind of intensity up there at Michigan. I like it."
Falcon also visited Michigan State last week; he told Trieu that both in-state schools are showing high interest in him. Neither have come through with an offer yet, but that may just be a matter of time—Ohio State has already put one forth, and a couple other big-name programs are considering him, as well.
Yet another top 2016 back, NC four-star and former UNC commit Antonio Williams, came up with an interesting way to announce his top six schools—stadium photos:
— Antonio Williams (@A_B_Williams34) August 6, 2014
The tweet itself is self-explanatory.
[Hit THE JUMP for a new blip on the 2015 recruiting radar, how not to handle a commit tweeting word of a new offer, and more.]
Previously: Last year's profiles, CB Brandon Watson, CB Jabrill Peppers, LB Jared Wangler, LB Chase Winovich, LB Noah Furbush, LB Michael Ferns, DL Brady Pallante, DL Bryan Mone, DL Lawrence Marshall, OL Mason Cole, OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty, WR Moe Ways, WR Freddy Canteen.
|Grand Rapids, MI – 6'4", 176|
|Scout||4*, #52 overall
|Rivals||4*, #115 overall
#14 WR, #3 MI
|ESPN||4*, #85 overall
#10 WR, #3 MI
|24/7||4*, #88 overall
#12 WR, #3 MI
|Other Suitors||Bama, FSU, Georgia, UF, MSU, Neb, OSU, ND, Oregon, PSU|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||UA game, but did not play. Twitter.|
He's also got a hudl page.
Hey, remember Drake Harris? He's kind of a big deal. He committed to Michigan State very early as a dual-sport guy who thought he was mostly going to be a basketball player. He re-opened his recruitment when everyone figured out he was an elite football prospect and only a good basketball one.
Not coincidentally, this occurred shortly after his Looney Tunes junior year: 91 catches, 2,016 yards, 23 TDs. It ended with a 243-yard explosion in the state title game against two defensive backs that ended up at Michigan State. It did not matter what OLSM tried:
…even with two guys bracketing him on almost every play, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Harris just came up with outstanding catch after outstanding catch.
That is a star-making performance, and lo, stars were made. By the time he committed to Michigan in April, Harris was the #2 WR on the 247 composite and had the offers to reflect it.
Harris chose Michigan over offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
Then his hamstrings imploded. He missed his entire senior year thanks to issues that were perpetually one or two weeks away from ending; he missed a chunk spring ball thanks to those same issues, and he is now having a problem with the other hamstring that is supposedly minor. At this point, it seems like this is something more than bad luck. But more about that later.
[After THE JUMP: "Randy Moss-like vertical leap." Hello!]
Joe Bolden hype comes in both unapproved and approved forms.
We had the fortune to get a practice report from a deeply anonymous person who wormed their way Inside The Fort, and here is what he or she or it reported, in my words:
Jabrill Peppers is mostly a nickel back but they are giving him a few experimental snaps at safety. While it seems like they are going to start him out there, as the season develops he may get more playing time when Michigan has four DBs on the field by taking that SS spot. Delano Hill's absence complicates things. He was leading at SS before he injured his jaw.
The alarming O-Line lineup tweeted out was at least temporarily a real thing. FWIW, that was Cole-Magnuson-Miller-Dawson/Glasgow-Braden. Kalis was not repping much with the first team. The slash-Dawson in that line above should be taken with a grain of salt—he looked another year or two away in one-on-ones.
That unit was not looking great even by early fall practice standards, so maybe they switch it up. Hoke told the assembled horde at Media Day that they hoped to settle on a top five by next week. They're still in experiment mode.
Jeremy Clark is your leader at SS with Hill sidelined. Brandon Watson is apparently #3 there until Hill gets back. Thomas did not get a mention.
Sigh… Joe Bolden seems to be for real. This is not bad for Michigan in general. It is bad for me because if Bolden starts the opener over a healthy Desmond Morgan I eat a lemon on the internet. But he's continued to get more time than Morgan. Jenkins-Stone is also getting a lot of time, but for whatever reason Ross was held out of this practice so that may be more about his absence than anything else.
Jourdan Lewis may be your best corner. He will push Taylor heavily; they're already splitting reps down the middle and Lewis is outperforming not only him but Countess.
Norfleet looked "f---ing great" and is the #1 slot. No, the insider is not me. I swear. Canteen is practicing both inside and out as they try to figure out their best configuration.
DeVeon Smith is the #1 back. Green and Hayes seemed running neck and neck for #2, with Drake Johnson the last serious competitor behind them. Hoke announced at media day that Johnson was 1b to Smith's 1a, so maybe they're seeing subtler things. Or Green is still on the motivation train.
While Ty Isaac looked pretty good, they're mostly running him with/against scrubs. That seems like an indicator they don't expect to get a waiver for him.
There is some zone read. FWIW. They ran zone read drills under Borges, too.
The defense is "crazy aggressive." They are serious about it, deploying a ton of press—just like the spring game—and using Peppers as a freelance sower of destruction on blitzes. Linemen are shifting frequently, giving the offensive line issues with pickups.
The defensive line should have good depth. Hurst and Wormley were both mentioned as seeming like starter-quality players, and the just-returned Pipkins was praised for his agility. He dominated one-on-one sessions and made some spin moves that seemed "impossible" for a guy his size. OL caveats apply.
Expect a lot of screens. Screens are the way you deal with a wobbly OL.
News bullets and other important items:
- Delonte Hollowell has a cast on his hand and Ondre Pipkins was held out of two-a-days as a precaution.
- Shane Morris is the backup QB. They like the progress he’s made, but he’s the backup.
- Wilton Speight is competing with Russell Bellomy for the third-string QB job. Decision on whether Speight should redshirt will be made in a couple of weeks.
- The first team offensive line should be determined over the next week.
- May use by-committee approach to running backs, but they would like to have a featured back.
- Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith are 1 and 1a on the RB depth chart, with Derrick Green at 2.
- Team is still searching for an identity, though Hoke wants it to be one that can run the ball and have toughness on both sides of the ball. Toughness was mentioned a lot today.
- Brian is probably going to have to eat a lemon.
“Good morning. I’m glad you’re here. Overall, we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made from spring. I think in the practices that we’ve had, we went two yesterday-- really good effort and good competition, which is what we’re striving for at every position but also offense versus defense, the kicking game versus the kicking game, all those things, we’ve come out and competed hard. Now we are not, as far as being a good football team yet. But the way they’ve come to work every day and what they’ve done, I think the identity of this team is still one that we’re developing and trying to develop. I think the team has invested themselves in a lot of ways in each other and in what we’re trying to get done. This next week is a grind and should be because you’ve got some double-day practices in there. We’ll scrimmage sometime during that time, during that week, trying to get reps and see what matchups we like as an offense and defense. Really looking into the situational football standpoint of it, how we match up and how we will match up during the course of the year. Excited about where we’re at knowing that we’ve got a lot of hard work that we’ve got to put into it. Staff-wise, player-wise, trainer-wise, manager-wise, everybody that’s involved. So from that standpoint there’s a lot of positives. From the standpoint of where we want to be, we’re not near that yet.
Can you say anything particular about any injuries that have occurred?
“You know,there are some guys who are banged up. Delonte Hollowell, he’s got a cast on his hand. As far as anything real major besides a couple guys we held out, Ondre Pipkins in two-a-day days, trying not to overwork him. We’re doing a lot with some of the GPS tracking that we’re into. I think the first time around doing all that stuff you’re trying to get some baselines and some data and all that and I think that’s helping us when we go out to practice.”
What can you tell me about your thought process through the kicking game this year? Special teams particularly, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of new faces. So what can you tell me, from long snapper to holder to PK…
“Yeah. Matt Wile has done a nice job in his career so far in the kicking part of it. Will Hagerup, it’s great to have Will back. He’s had a good camp so far. Kenny Allen is a young man who’s walked on here who’s worked really hard and is developing a little bit on kickoffs. He’s a very good punter. Snapper, Scott Sypniewski and Danny Liesman are two guys that are really competing there. Scott we brought in a year ago and were able to redshirt him, but losing Jareth Glanda, that’s a big loss but Scott’s done a nice job in that part of it. When you look at the return game there’s a lot of different guys. Norfleet’s really taken most of them but a guy like Freddy Canteen, a guy like Jabrill Peppers, some of those guys have a skillset that we think is pretty good. And the other part of that is having Drake Johnson back is a real plus.”
I’m curious to know how is the development of your wide receiver group going and the transition to a new offensive system?
“The wide receivers, I think, are learning every day. I think the pressure and the stress that we put on them and how we practice as a whole team but for those guys when you’re talking about formationally getting lined up and the different personnel groups and depending on what the quarterback sees and what he’s pointing and all that, I think they’re learning a lot there. I think with Devin [Funchess] and Jehu [Chesson], Amara [Darboh] coming back is a real plus for us. He’s had a real good camp so far. Again, it’s not like we’re in three weeks of it but he’s done a nice job. Freddy Canteen, I think all those guys, Bo Dever, Da’Mario Jones, all of them have improved. They fit what we’re doing. We’ve recruited them to fit what we’re doing offensively.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Ryan, leadership, Gardner, and more.]