“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
It was the best time I'd ever had at a Chili's. Nothing whatsoever distinguished it from an average visit to Chili's. The beer was light American lager. The chicken was a bit dry, the cheese the usual half-step up from stuff you'd get in a great red-labeled cube. The waitress was a cheerful slab of the Midwest, and the bill was perfectly reasonable. I grinned and laughed and fought off bouts of body-encompassing tiredness.
An hour or so before I'd sat in Notre Dame Stadium as everyone else filed out. Once they were gone the next twenty minutes were filled with intermittent bursts of laughter. Those weren't enough, so I punched my friend in the arm. The punching and the laughing were good, as they forestalled a short circuit.
When the band marched out, we thought that was our cue. I grabbed one of the souvenir mugs as we exited. When I got home I crudely carved "28-24" on it with a steak knife. It's in the closet. Our walk back was half-accompanied by the band. We met a goodly chunk of my family walking the other way, exchanged excited greetings, and then went about the business of getting out of town. We got to the Chili's just as the adrenaline wore off and the stomach reasserted itself.
A few minutes before everyone filed out Denard Robinson zinged a skinny post to Roy Roundtree on third down and finished the job himself. In the first half Robinson had snuck through a crease in the line, found Patrick Omameh turning Manti Te'o into a safety-destroying weapon, and ran directly at me until he ran out of yards.
He knelt down to give thanks, and that felt inverted.
The next morning sun poured through huge windows in Goshen, Indiana, as I collected items for that week's Video of All Varieties. I'll usually watch some but rarely all unless I'm trying to suck the marrow out of a particularly savory victory. Notre Dame 2010 was one of those. I watched Martin and Van Bergen and others talk in the tunnel afterwards. I watched the highlights, watched the presser, got to Denard, and…
So this thing you dared not hope for starts to coalesce just from the things that happen on the field, and then yesterday morning I was struck by a sense of profound gratefulness when I watched the MGoBlue video of Denard's postgame presser:
I love how he smiles all the time and wears his heart on his sleeve and goes "AHHHH" when someone mentions Roundtree blocking for him and seems about as amazed as everyone else as what he's doing. I love how he drops to one knee after he scores in a way that seems genuine in a way I couldn't comprehend until I saw it. I love that if you ask him he'll sign your forehead. I was going to let my skepticism overwhelm, to wait until it was obvious that 2010 was not going to be 2009, but I lasted two games. I'm in the tank again.
Though Denard turned out to be human (somewhat, anyway) I am still in the tank for him. This offseason a small child in New York City wrote Denard about what it means to be a leader and Denard sent a letter back with a picture:
I need this person to be successful. This is such a relief.
It's no secret I've been one discontent blogger ever since the Mississippi State game transpired. In retrospect a lot of my criticisms don't make sense. I thought Michigan should keep Rodriguez after the Ohio State game and fire him after the bowl; I ripped David Brandon for not firing Rodriguez before the bowl if he was going to do the deed. I knew Denard Robinson was the most awesome dude ever and I still assumed he'd transfer. When I interviewed people for the Tim/Tom opening I asked each of them if they disagreed with something I'd written in the past year or so and asked them to argue about it with me; seven of the ten sought tactful ways to remind me that I'd posted "We Are ND*" above the press release announcing Hoke's hire. One just said I'd embarrassed myself with my pettiness. This turned out to be less useful of a question than I'd hoped since by that point I agreed.
That discontent is an overreaction to a real thing. We're going to get the last great Rodriguez blowup in about a month when John U Bacon's Three And Out hits shelves. It's going to put an inbred culture on display. If Michigan doesn't learn from these three years they'll eventually find themselves right back where they were in 2008, obviously behind their greatest rival with nowhere to turn.
Meanwhile, the athletic department has done an about face from the open Rodriguez days back to a culture of paranoia. I kind of liked it when Rodriguez reached out in a futile attempt to win hearts and minds; now it seems we've returned to the days when the fans were tolerated at best.
In place of openness we get marketing. I am increasingly worried that Michigan is drifting towards the bread-and-circus model you see not just in pro sports but at Michigan State, Ohio State, and especially Penn State where the allegiance of the diehards is taken for granted and the fringes are courted with fireworks and rawk music. I fear the day that Brandon unleashes the fandom bread bowl upon us.
I hate that I hate parts of the stadium experience now and fear those moments will expand rapidly. Never has Notre Dame fandom looked so rational. In this environment there's a risk you disconnect from the program in small or large ways. I've talked to a lot of people for whom that's the case. I don't know—maybe it's just getting older.
Denard overwhelms all reservations. He is pure. He grew up poor in a place infinitely far away from the manicured lawns and Whole Foods of Ann Arbor but came to Michigan because they said he could play quarterback. He says he never thought about leaving when Rodriguez was fired. Michigan is never going to recruit anyone like him ever again.
And there are so many guys like him on the team: Vincent Smith, who is 5'6" and is featured in every insider email I get as the scrappiest grittiest toughest guy the coaches love. He's from Pahokee, which may not exist in five years and will never, ever have another kid commit to Michigan. Roy Roundtree and his Donald Duck impression. Ricky Barnum, whose mom was really sick when he was a freshman and who thought about transferring but stayed. Ryan Van Bergen, who committed to Carr and stayed through Rodriguez and wondered where the alumni had been the last three years. Craig Roh, who runs up and down the stairs in Haven Hall if he gets to class early. David Molk, who drops f-bombs in press conferences that no one minds. Taylor Lewan, who has a mustache tattooed on his finger to impress the ladies. Troy Woolfolk and his werewolf alter-ego. Jordan Kovacs, student-body walk-on. Kevin Koger, twitter handle "KogerNotKroger."
Lewan, Van Bergen
There are no Pryors here. Each of these guys has endured the last three years of crap more gracefully than the university or I have and is still here, trying to set right what started going wrong a long time ago. Whatever reservations I have about the program and its direction are overwhelmed by a fierce desire to see these kids win. Rodriguez may not have been able to keep half the kids he recruited, but the ones who stuck around… man. Denard is their king.
In the course of doing this every year I look at the previous year's preview; last time around I linked to a couple of fantastic pieces. You should read Orson's again just because you should. The piece by Brian Phillips on Pele and David Foster Wallace's Federer essay, though, is relevant to our interests.
In the midst of describing one of these Federer Moments where sport allows us to transcend the limitations of our own bodies, if only vicariously, DFW circles round to the cancer-stricken nine-year-old ceremonial coin-tosser at Wimbledon, William Caines. This is going to be one long blockquote without a paragraph break. I think it's important, though:
I’ve always wondered what Wallace meant by circling back around to talk about William in the middle of what is for the most part a genuinely happy-seeming celebration of Federer. The image of the cancer-stricken child seems to have no part, that is, in the enthusiasm that motivates the essay, and yet the edge of unease it introduces brings a powerful and not unreligious strain of skepticism into the pseudo-theology of Federer. Clearly no athlete and no delight in sport can answer the “big, obvious” question about what could possibly justify a tiny child suffering a devastating physical illness. If Federer is there to reconcile us to the fact of having bodies, Wallace hints, then the reconciliation he offers has limits and outside those limits is a large and unanswerable despair. I called the awareness of this despair “not unreligious” because while it may seem like a mere challenge to belief, a sort of renegade anti-Federer atheism, the feeling that seems to follow it into the essay seems to me to have more in common with the longing for bodily mortification that is often a weird corollary of profound religious experience. That is, if we begin with a sense that something is intolerably wrong, and the power of Federer or Pelé is to make us feel that that thing is actually right (or at least tolerable), then William introduces a larger sphere of consciousness in which we realize that the reconciliation was flawed and the thing is actually wrong and intolerable after all. But that second, larger wrongness, as I read it in Wallace’s essay, and this may be unfair, because again, William is only a tiny grain of doubt within what is generally a really positive piece of writing—that second, larger wrongness doesn’t stem from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is false, it stems from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is incomplete, that it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t stick. It only lasts a moment, and then you’re left not knowing when God will take you up again, which is an anxiety that actually bubbles up at times in the writings of the saints. And that seems to be a condition in which a heightened consciousness of mortality, one that may well express itself as a yearning toward suffering and breakdown, is hard to escape.
If we are being very generous and very convincing, DFW-level, Brian-Phillips-level convincing, this is Denard Robinson in the Michigan zeitgeist. Something is intolerably wrong and the Denard reconciliation is incomplete and we are going to have to accept that, like the Hart reconciliation was incomplete, and just take the Denard Moments as they are—as parts of an imperfect whole. Our compensation for the things that have happened is just this, the last few words of the thesis statement of the Federer article:
…just look at him down there. Look at that.
(First post! So we're trying to use more direct quotes from now on. Let's see how it goes.)
General: Seven [practices] left ... Proud of attitude and effort to improve. "Where we are? I don't know ... I see times out there when we're approaching a Michigan defense. And then I don't see it enough times. We gotta see it on a more consistent basis."
Seeing more of what you like? I am seeing more. "What I look at at every single position is technique. I'm seeing great improvement on their technique. I can't accept [excuses like] being a long camp and a lot of hitting, why I get tired and why I don't use my technique. There's going to be games when you're going to be out there more than you have to be. You got to rely on your technique."
Two-deep: "We have not filled out a two-deep. The scrimmage tomorrow, that will be a big key. We're going into our house -- we're going to the Big House -- and if you can't play like you have to play, then you're telling us a lot."
How many guys do you feel comfortable playing? For next weekend, "I hope it's 22." Needs to have 22 capable guys, and have seven more days to get 22. Won't ever be a coach who says we lost a game because a guy got injured.
What are your impressions of Troy Woolfolk? "I'm really, really impressed with a senior -- with a new staff, with a new system -- with a guy that comes out every day and says 'I'm going to do what you tell me to do, I'm going to do it how you tell me to do it, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to do it.' ... I think his technique is improving."
"I don't see any signs of (the ankle injury) at all."
On cornerback competition: "We've got a number of guys still battling for it ... One day you might say, 'this is the guy,' and then he may not be as consistent the next day." Happens to just about everyone. Can't name anyone in particular. Have to wait another week. "They're all in same boat."
On defensive standouts: "A lot of guys, different days." Mike Martin, Troy ... "probably would leave it right there" ... are guys that have more good days than bad. Needs everyone to be consistent all the time. "Those two guys haven't done it every day, either."
Marvin Robinson and Jake Ryan ... haven't heard about them in a while: "Marvin was a little bit sick, got through that. He's a guy, two days ago, [had me saying] 'yeah that's how I want you to play.'" Maybe today too, but hasn't watched film. Jake was out with minor injuries for almost a week, but came back yesterday. "(He) right away had a great hit." He knew what to do when new defenses went in, because "when he came back he didn't miss a beat."
"Our SAMs would also be guys that, in our sub or nickel packages, would be pass rushers." As such, Jake is playing SAM and big part of sub/nickel package.
Josh Furman? He is inconsistent.
Harder than anticipated to improve defense? "No, it's Michigan."
Battle at WILL linebacker: "A young man by the name of Desmond Morgan has shown some great signs." He got a little nicked up the past couple of days. They do a thing called "production points" where the coaches gives players points whenever defensive plays are made: interceptions = 10 pts, fumble recoveries = 7. tackles = 3.
"Hawthorne was in 10 plays in the live scrimmage, and I think he had 24 or 25 points. So I'm sitting here thinking, 'Wow, we got a guy right here.' And then he twisted his ankle a little bit, but he'll be back."
"A defensive player can have his technique be perfect every play, but if he doesn't make plays, you're not going to have a great defense."
"Jones showed some great things." Morgan, Hawthorne, and Herron. "All of them had their moments ... Now who's going to put the moments all together? That's what we've got to figure out."
Demens? Demens has been running with ones, had some good hits, but still not completely consistent.
Scrimmage: "I was pleased early." Got to be consistent. "When you're into your 60th or 65th play, what are you going to be like then? And that was what bothered me: I didn't see them stay the way they started out all the way through."
Is Craig Roh on the D-line? "Craig Roh is a rush. He's a rush outside linebacker for us. [Ed-M: This is a term for a 3/4 OLB with his hand on the ground. #FEARSOFGERG] Craig, Jibreel Black, and even the young kid Frank Clark. All three of those guys are working hard at that position."
Rapport with Denard: "I got on him today. He didn't play every play of yesterday's practice, and I yelled at him during stretch today: 'Boy, you must be as fresh as a daisy today,' and he gave me something back.' I love him."
The wide receivers are his adopted children. Goes over and talks crap to them every day.
General: "Our practices are not for the faint of heart. We get after them pretty good." It has been a real real grueling training camp. (We want to) see what they're made of when they're tired." But they're going to taper the intensity as gameday approaches.
On Denard: "He's picked it up. What we're trying to do is wean him a little bit. From the pass game perspective, we're not giving him so much that he's overwhelmed. It's what I call a starter set."
Right now this "starter set" of plays is about 65-70% of the SDSU playbook.
"As he feels better about it, we'll feed him a little more, particularly in the pass offense."
Chris Barnett? Talk to the hand. Or Hoke.
Starting RB: "Mike Shaw is definitely one of our ... if we played tomorrow, he'd probably be our starting running back." Has had a "heck of a camp, as has Fitz, and Stephen Hopkins, and Vince Brown" -- oopsies -- "Vince Smith." Smith is doing more situational stuff (aka 3rd down) but can still "run from the home position. We're not eliminating him from the fold that way."
There wasn't a lot of hype on Shaw before camp because of his hand injury. "He was not a participant in a big part of spring football ... I didn't really have a good bead on him other than what he had done before."
Freshmen? "We have two kids that are going to have a great future, but at this point, Justice Hayes is still developmental, and Thomas has had an injury that set him back ... Probably somebody will redshirt, but it's still too early to tell."
Expect to see just Shaw, Fitz, Hopkins, and Smith at this point. Rawls has missed a couple weeks with the injury, but he's back.
O-line: "We feel pretty good about our first five guys, first six guys, maybe even seven guys." It's a chemistry position, and likes the way it's shaking out. Funk is a very good technician. "He coaches them to the bone on the steps and all the things you gotta do to play that position, and they've come around."
Receivers: "I think you're going to see more than Junior and Roy out there." Hemmingway and Roundtree will start outside. Grady has done good job, and so has Gallon. Jeremy Jackson has good range because of his size. "Drew Dileo, he'll go in the middle and catch the ball. He's fearless." Will rotate often to keep players fresh because injuries occur more often when players are tired. WRs run a lot in camp, especially, but the coaches will be backing off on them for this last week.
Right tackle battle: "Mark Huyge has been very consistent. Mike Schofield has developed a great deal since spring - athletic, runs well. There will be a role for him, too." Feels good about the position. Good depth.
On Barnum: "Ricky is as athletic as anyone on our line. Ricky is a tough guy." Biggest problem is that he's a little underweight, but he's gotten stronger, doesn't get pushed around, and "looks like a back out there sometimes when he runs."
On scripting opening plays: "In the old days I used to script a lot more." Would script up to 25 plays, but is doing less these days. Never got to the last 10 plays, so stopped scripting so much. Just wants to call what they practice. "If you practiced it, you should do it in the game, otherwise that's bad economy of offense."
An esteemed Big Ten Network analyst said that Denard is going to be out of the shotgun more. "Dinardo said that, didn't he. Esteemed? Nah ... " JK. "Gerry if you're out there, you know I'm kidding."
"Shotgun is not deuce(?). We're tailoring the gun more to his skills ... We're going to use Denard the way he can best exploit the defense."
Which of his past offenses will this resemble most? "None." Nucleus of offense still same as when he started in 1986. QB skill set still most important aspect, so gotta tailor to that.
Thoughts on giving Devin PT? "I'm not promising anything on that, and if I was I wouldn't tell you anyway."
On last weekend's scrimmage: "Physical nature was good on both sides of the ball." Saw ability to create big plays, but too many self-inflicted wounds. We have to remedy that before we play. "When you're transitioning offenses -- and trust me guys I've done this a bunch, OK? -- you can survive if the damage you do (to yourself) is not excruciating ... you're going to have some pain, but if those aren't things that are catastrophic, you can survive."
Ryan Van Bergen
General: "We've had our ups and down like anybody would in camp." Still striving for consistency. "You probably question your commitment if you're not fully into it in practice. We go full pads every day. We bang everyday."
How much more physical, maybe percentage-wise, are the practices compared with last year? "I don't have the stats in front of me [zing!] but statistically offensive line and defensive line, we bang everyday. We probably have periods of five minutes each. We probably have close to ten periods that are full-go offensive line (vs) defensive line, and that's not counting individual periods where the defensive line is servicing the defensive line and we're going against each other. We're very physical." Very.
Are you 5-tech or 3-tech? Currently playing both "depending on situations, who we're playing. Right now I've been repping both of them, and I'm comfortable with both of them. I've played both of them in the past. Fortunately I'm 290 lbs now. The last time I played 3 technique I was 260 and I don't think that went too well. I'm much more comfortable with the weight I'm at."
"I prefer 5-technique because I get to go against my bud back there." (Hi Taylor!) "Me and Taylor, we're real competitive. You know, we're good friends -- best buds. We got rings. It's no big deal."
Does moving people around hurt D-line chemistry it at all? "I can see how that's the perception, but that's not the case at all. The D-line has been together for so long. When you have that many reps with each other, regardless of what positions you're playing, you're still pretty comfortable with each other. Everybody has been together long enough that we feel chemistry regardless of who's in."
On Frank Clark: He's got raw athleticism. He's a fast guy, did track in high school. Coaches have been impressed.
Did you say something about rings? "No, it's just that me and Taylor, we're best buds. We talk about it sometimes."
Personal record between him and RVB? "It was 2-1 (Lewan) before today, and then we did 1-on-1 drills. He beat me today. But a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right? So it's all good."
How's the O-line chemistry? Good. Lots of guys competing for positions. Mike Schofield especially. "He's everywhere. Right guard, right Tackle, left tackle, he's all over the place. It only makes everybody better. He pushes me, he pushes Huyge, he pushes Patrick Omameh, and that's awesome."
On Chris Bryant: "He's shown a lot of improvement. He got his weight down a lot, he's shown a lot of athleticism for a big guy. As far as playing this year, I'm not positive -- I'm not a coach, but I think he's doing some really good things, and I'm excited about his future."
Is this offense as efficient as last year? "We'll get four yards, and that's successful for us. We're much more into nickel and diming it, just moving the ball up and down the field. Controlling the game. That's a big part of us now, and how Michigan has been for a while."
On Barnum: "He's improved so much. He's playing like a redshirt senior." With Schilling gone, Barnum picked it up. NBD.
Molk's leadership? Quiet, sturdy. Like a rock.
Borges' coaching style: "There will be times in practice where he'll get up in our faces and tell us you need to do this this and this. Other times sit back, he'll get up on the thing where you film practice, what's it called?" The lift. "The lift! Thank god, you guys are smarter than me. He'll get up on the lift, and he'll call the play, read the defense, and he'll be out of it." Doing both is good for the offense.
Apologies for the brevity of the updates, but I wanted to talk to a bunch of different people instead of going in-depth with anybody in particular.
Denard is adapting to the new offense well. He's getting the footwork down, and should be good to go by the start of the season.
Denard is looking forward to the opportunity to stay a little healthier this year, with less of a load carrying the ball on his shoulders.
Fullback John McColgan "is one of the toughest guys I've ever seen in my life."
The upperclassmen are the leaders in the backfield, but the young guys came in because they wanted to compete. Having a number of talented players back there makes everybody better.
Thomas has never had the opportunity to meet Mark Ingram face-to-face, but he really wants to. As a Flint guy, he really looks up to Ingram.
Even though Stephen had a couple fumbles last year, it was out of character for him. "I've never been a fumbler. I had maybe two in my whole high school career."
The new offense is a good fit for his skills, and he's looking forward to it.
The new offense is still going to put up points, because that's the goal of any offense. However, the pace will be slower to control the ball instead of running as many plays as possible, so scoring might drop a bit. That doesn't mean it's any less effective.
There are some differences for the wideouts going into the new offense, but it's nothing they can't adjust to.
There's definitely an emphasis on blocking for the wideouts in the new offense. If you can't or won't get out there and block, you won't play.
He's always had trouble being able to gain weight. He was on a similar diet as Ryan Van Bergen. The trick to gaining weight is to eat only the right things, but eat until you're full, and then just a little bit more. Sometimes, Taylor had to lie down in bed for a little bit after a meal and hope it didn't come back up.
It's exciting to be back down on the defensive line with his hand back in the dirt. "I don't want to worry about the past," but he's excited about the defense going forward.
It's been tough to play in a different defense every year, but again, he doesn't want to dwell on the past.
He had a relationship with Michigan's current coaching staff when they were at San Diego State. They had offered him a scholarship when he was a sophomore.
Matt had been planning to go to Boise State, but when Michigan hired the new staff, he set up a visit here. The plan was to head to Nebraska for a visit the following week, but he fell in love with Ann Arbor and committed to the Wolverines. Even though his visit was in January, the weather didn't bother him.
Jerald Robinson has great potential, and "doesn't know how good Jerald can be." He has good size and athleticism, and just needs to keep working hard to see that potential realized.
Jeremy Gallon has been impressive in fall camp. "Let's hope he keeps progressing."
The goal for the safeties is to not have a "second-best strong or free" safety, but have guys who are capable of stepping in at either safety position.
Jordan Kovacs is a tough, smart player, and that's what's helped him be a contributor here. That should continue going forward.
Thomas Gordon is performing well at nickel, and he's also trying to become a contributor at one of the safety positions. They want him to be able to do both roles. Troy Woolfolk is the same way: he's contributing at corner, but they also want him to have the ability to rotate in at nickel.
Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes have really helped push the others at the position to improve, because despite being freshman "they're coming in here like they're sophomores." He's as happy with those two as he's ever been with a pair of freshmen. (Fred kept returning to the freshmen, regardless of what he was asked).
John McColgan is a solid option at fullback. He's doesn't have the skill set of Kevin Dudley (glorified lineman in the backfield) or Chris Floyd (who had plenty of ability with the ball in his hands). However, he's a very smart player, and will get some opportunities, including in the pass game.
The left side of the line is mostly set: Taylor Lewan at left tackle, Patrick Omameh at left guard, and David Molk at center. On the right side of the line, there are pretty much three players for two positions. Ricky Barnum (guard), Mark Huyge (tackle or guard), and Michael Schofield (tackle) have separated themselves from the pack.
You always worry about depth, but it is definitely a concern this year. They'll have just a couple backups on top of a "solid top six." They're addressing depth going forward with recruiting.
Cam Gordon is most impressive in his love for football, and his strong desire to improve his game and get better.
There are a lot of players on the defensive line who are versatile enough to play multiple positions. Craig Roh, Jibreel Black, and others could see a bit of time on the inside, even though they're primarily defensive ends.
Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark are some impressive freshmen. (Note: Seeing Clark, he was taller than I thought, but also much skinnier: he looked like the second coming of Davion Rogers - OK, maybe not that skinny. Still, it sounds like he'll have an opportunity to play this year).
Now seven practices in, the kids are "learning more with each practice." They're bringing energy to practice, but need to sustain that throughout to show they can compete late in games and in the season.
The team is healthy, and there's lots of competition
Two-a-days start tomorrow. The adversity of two-a-days can "teach you about who the leaders will be on the team."
On padded practice: "guys are willing, wanting." Need to see consistency between the morning and afternoon practices. Will be in full pads for 3 days of two-a-days this week. Guys are anxious to establish themselves. Want to prove to coaches and teammates how they've progressed since spring.
On kicker Matt Wile: "Obviously he's a San Diego guy. His dad was one of our orthopaedics at San Diego State." Lance Ortega was his kicking coach, the staff knew him. Matt is a 5th generation Michigan grad.
"He's doing well. I think this is a big stage. That mental part of going out there, until you get on Main Street and have 110,000, you've gotta see where the guy's at." He can do a good job coaching himself with fundamentals, etc. Doing punting, KOs, and FGs right now. "I'd be very comfortable" having a true freshman handle those duties.
On running backs: The young guys missed some time finishing up summer school. Rawls is talented, has done a good job. Backfield is unsettled. Need to show consistency from practice to practice. "We'd like to have one guy who could tote it 25 times." Maybe a couple situational guys, 7-10 carries for a secondary back.
"Our base run play will be the power play, and that's no secret." Denard's talents, and opposing defenses wil adjust what they do. 10-15 snaps running for Denard. "The objective is to win, and we've gotta do what it takes to help Michigan and this team win." He's fitting into the offensive system. "We're fortunate enough that he has some other things that he brings to the table."
Denard is a great kid. "Leadership qualities really start to stick out more and more [for upperclassmen]. That's what I've liked that he's done in camp."
On rooming, Koger: "Seniors are rooming with freshmen. Part of that is to get to know them. Set the example, set the expectation." Koger extensively praised for his demeanor and selflessness, the sacrifice he'll give for this team. "He's a tremendous guy. I'm talking about things not on the football field."
The offense question again: "You've got a system that you wanna run, but you're not going to be putting a square peg into a round hole either." Al Borges has a coaching pedigree that proves he can adapt to different personnel. He'll get playmakers the ball. "At the end of the day, we've still gotta block up front, and knock people off the football."
On Mattison: great coach, great integrity. Builds great relationships with players. "He's coached a lot of football, coached a lot of guys. He brings so much from a knowledge standpoint."
On captains: "They won't get picked for 2 more weeks. The team will vote."
On countdown clocks: "Those are important football games. Those are big rivalries."
On the defense and standouts: "I don't think we've played to the standard that's going to be acceptable, to this point. We need to be more physical at the point of attack."
"Tom Gordon has had a good summer. Kovacs has really taken ownership." Kovacs is one of the guys who shows urgency in getting to the football. Kenny Demens also mentioned as a standout. Nathan Brink shows toughness as a DT/DE. JB Fitzgerald: "you talk about another guy who stands out as far as his leadership goes, and selflessness."
On the two-deep: They'll start penciling that in by the end of the week. "We're gonna scimmage pretty good in six days on Saturday. We'll put them in a lot of situations and see how they respond."
On Woolfolk: Troy Woolfolk has progressed well. Has taken some senior ownership of the team. Had a minor hamstring injury yesterday, there's enough competition at that position that they could afford to rest him and be cautious. JT Floyd and Courtney Avery competing at CB. "We don't have the greatest competition everywhere. I wish we did, because that makes us better."
On McColgan: a tough guy. "When you look at it, he's one of the true fullback bodies that you have." TEs will get a chance to play H-back as well.
On this still being Michigan [tremendous van river]: "I think I've made this comment before: This is Michigan. There won't be any excuses. If we don't win the Big Ten Championship, we've failed these kids, as coaches."
On the offensive line: Elliott Mealer: "He's competing." The rest of the guys: "Our left side of our line with Taylor back, and I think Ricky Barnum's done a nice job. Molk's back." Omameh at right guard. "Patrick and Elliott and Mike Schofield and Huyge - I think that's great competition."
On the backfield again: "I think there's some guys back there who can do it. All of them have shown signs of being able to run the ball like we'd like."
Notes from Brady Hoke's small-group interviews on Friday.
Pregame traditions: The Victors Walk will return this year. Brady has never touched the banner (he was already on the field as an assistant), but isn't yet sure if he'll do it going forward.
Captains will be voted by the team in the third week of camp.
Medicals: Teric Jones, Terry Talbott, Christian Pace are all done for their careers. Scholarship numbers: "I don't know... It's maybe 81 guys on scholarship right now.
On the #1 jersey: "They're going to have to earn it. And they're going to have to earn #2 after Vince [Smith] is gone." #1 will always be a receiver, and #2 will always be a DB.
"Football now at this level - for good or bad - is 12 months a year." It's hard not having coaching contact with the players in the summer, but he trusts they did the right work. "A guy like Denard who's played a lot of football and has a voice on our team, you give him that [summer leadership] responsibility." The strength coaches can help with workouts, but it's up to team leadership to hold guys accountable.
Strongest positions: "I think the wide receivers as a group, from what I can digest coming back, have done a good job. I think the O-line have done a good job." It's not fair to evaluate the overall talent level on the team at this point, but "I like our kids, how they've reacted to a transition." They're not a finished product at this point though. "We'll always have those discussions" about who will get serious playing time, but at the end of the day, the coordinators will get a lot of leeway, with Brady helping.
"I tell our coaches, when we start [summer camp] on the 9th, assume [the players] know nothing." They'll re-teach fundamentals to make sure everything is up to par. They didn't follow this approach following the 1997 season because they thought they could get by with three returning starters on the defensive line, and it backfired at the start of the '98 year.
Defensive line and offensive line are the two most important positions on the field. Everyone wants a great quarterback, but you can't move the ball (or stop the opponent) without winning battles up front. I think Al Borges [a QB-centric coordinator] would tell you that our offensive line has gotta be the lead for our football team."
Michigan is fortunate to have so many rivals. Lloyd did a great job handling the number of rivalry games, so Brady learned from him.
Possessing the ball, running it, and taking care of the football is an important part of team's success. "Mike Martin I'm sure would love to get zone-blocked all day long."[ed: bler.] The pro-style offense brings a different physical aspect that helps build team toughness. They need to hold onto the ball to help the defense, and the pro-style offense brings that. "We like points, don't get me wrong," they aren't going to hold the offense back from scoring, though, except in end-game situations.
Freshman contributors: "As we look at our depth, the two backs will get a chance. There's maybe some depth issues we have a little bit up front on the offensive line, there's maybe some depth issues on the defensive line." They might use freshmen to fill those roles, but he can't say which ones until he sees them play in camp.
"I think it's a shame - and I said this in my initial press conference - that we splintered or fractured, or whatever you want to call it, because that's not Michigan. We've moved forward from there." On "Michigan Man": There are just some guys who have integrity, love for Michigan, etc., that deserve the distinction.
"My expertise is not offense, and never will be. That's why we've got a great offensive staff." He meets with Borges about the offense twice a week during the season, and they discuss the offensive gameplan. "For me to go to Al and say 'we need to do this' ... that'd be a mistake." [ed: yes!]
The first thing Denard said to Brady was "Coach, I'm all-in." The value of a Michigan degree was important to his dad and him. He even said he'd help the team at another position if need be - but that didn't need to happen. Denard's speed is impressive, but his instincts and vision are great as well. "We're going to still keep some elements of what the spread gives you, because of his ability. But we're going to move to be pro-style offense, which he happens to be pretty good at that, too."
"There's no better running backs coach in the country" than Coach Jack. If they're three weeks into fall camp and there's still no starting RB emerging, then the concern will start to set in. He wasn't surprised or disappointed that nobody emerged in spring. They want to have one lead back carry the load (about 20-25 carries), and have a couple other guys help out with some carries. Stephen Hopkins can play both fullback and running back. He didn't shy away from blocking in the spring, which is encouraging. "Thomas [Rawls] is a bigger back who's got really good vision and balance and has explosion to him. Justice, I think he's got a real explosiveness to him, but also is physical enough to run over a guy."
"Kevin [Koger] I think is a guy who's on the line of scrimmage in some things we ask." There should be more tight end playing time available as well, because they'll use some bigger sets. Steve Watson has a great work ethic, and his skill set is a great complement to Koger. With so many tight ends on the roster, there will be some packages where they can get in and play FB as well, as an Aaron Shea-like position.
There are some pretty tough guys at wideout, which is where evaluations start for every position. WR blocking is crucial to creating big plays. "I think Junior has got a chance to be really a good player, I like Roy's work ethic, I like his attitude, I like Odoms's attitude. There's more guys there: Jerald Robinson has done some things that I'm a little more pleased with." He has matured, as players often do in their first couple years on campus. Junior has been doing great.
The players will weigh in at the start of fall camp. From the guys that have stopped by to talk to Hoke in his office, Taylor Lewan is 304. "By the time he's done, he'll be a 317 pound left tackle, or 320." All the other guys look pretty good. Molk is a bit bigger.
"I was talking to Bo a little bit - Pelini - and he had to build a confidence in the defense. We have to do that too, but the only way you do that is by stopping people." They still need to identify some guys who are playmakers, and put those guys in positions to succeed. That will take more than just fall camp.
Mike Martin has good movement skills, which is why they've been able to use him in different ways (along with his intelligence). That doesn't mean he is a perfect player, and they gave him some technique things to work on over the summer. Martin has the potential to be mentioned among some of the great defensive linemen at Michigan. He needs to improve using his hands.
Will Campbell has dropped 17 or 18 pounds - he was out of shape this spring. "Hopefully he doesn't eat it all back in the next 8-10 days." He has enormous potential that hasn't been realized yet. "Part of that is moving back and forth on both sides of the ball, and really finding a home. I think he's learning how to play up front, the expectations of how you have to play up front." He's had the opportunity to work with his teammates this summer, and hopefully he's taken advantage of that.
Craig Roh has matured, and has a better approach to the game now.
Jake Ryan can cause a lot of havoc on defense "because of the fanaticism that he plays with." He plays at a high level of energy, and the scheme needs to adjust to the personnel on the roster right now. "When you look at some of the different packages within a defensive scheme, I think there's some things he'll do a tremendous job with."
Kenny Demens is healthy now. He got scheme work in spring, just didn't do as much of the physical aspects because you want to be careful with shoulder injuries.
JB Fitzgerald needs to play more consistently to see significant playing time. "We'll have hopefully enough guys to have a rotation in there." They want to have guys playing hard for four quarters, which means depth is important. "He's had a really good summer, I'm sure of that."
Marell Evans did some pretty good things in spring practice, but there are some things he has to do better. "When you look at him from a guy who can be a good special teams guy for you, he fits that role. That's a big deal, because we need to play our best players on those teams also."
"I think Carvin [Johnson] had a good spring. He's a guy who is passionate and hungry and loves to play." He'll compete for a safety position. He's an intelligent competitor who likes to drop big hits. Courtney Avery had a good spring as well. "There will be a great competition between Woolfolk - because Troy'll be healthy - Courtney, JT Floyd will be healthy, and a young man named Greg Brown." Fall camp is important for Marvin Robinson, because he didn't get all 15 spring practices due to a class schedule. JT Floyd and Troy Woolfolk are both moving around fine and doing everything.
"We probably have more safeties than we do corners at this time, but it'll be fun to watch those guys compete." Corners need to learn to have a short memory if they get beaten.
Kicking will be resolved in fall camp. The young guy will be coming in (Matt Wile), but even during camp, they might not know because "kicking on State Street is different than kicking on Main Street." They won't know how guys kick in front of 113,000 fans until they get the chance. Dan Ferrigno will coach the kickers, and he's studied the fundamentals of kicking. However, they trust that the kickers are getting good advice from their external kicking coaches. "We're not settled in anywhere, honestly." There will be competition and expectations in fall camp.
Will Hagerup has an extremely good leg. "It's a weapon for you, and we want to make it part of our offensive package. From fakes and things that we might have to pooch punts." He needs to keep working on the finer points.
There are some candidates in mind for return duties, but it's too early to say who it might be.
Ohio recruiting: "There's a lot of familiarity, being from there." He's been recruiting there for 20 years. Michigan has 2 Heisman winners and plenty of great players from the state. Recruiting in the midwest is going to be an important part of the effort, but "also we're very fortunate that we're a global education." You can recruit nationally at Michigan, in addition to hitting the base areas. Georgia, Texas, Florida, California are other places to get talent. Big Ten Network is a good selling point for out-of-area kids, because it's nationally available.
Recruiting others' verbal commits: "We have a Signing Date for a reason, and that's the first Wednesday in February." In Brady's experience, the contact with soft commits has been from the kids reaching out, not the other way.
"Guys recruit well because they're honest and they work at it. Period. Michigan's not for every player. It's hard academically, and we're gonna have expectations of how you go to class."
It's tough to get junior college players into Michigan, so they won't really pursue that route. He didn't recruit JCs much at Ball State or San Diego State, either.
Jim Delaney's meeting with the Big Ten coaches on Thursday wasn't addressed specifically to Hoke and Fickell (whose schools he singled out in his speech at the podium), but to everyone, a reminder of the value of the Big Ten brand, and the importance of upholding that brand. "It's probably something that we all needed to hear to some degree. But at the same time, it's something that he felt - as the guy who leads this conference - he needed to make sure that we all were on the same page." Every conference commissioner that Hoke has encountered has taken advantage of similar opportunities. With so much change happening in the Big Ten (new coaches, new team), it was a good time.
Game day is more fun and easier with tough practices during the week. Even Hoke is hoping to have fun coaching.
It'll be a tough situation to play against San Diego State this fall, because there's a great group of kids there. They'll be a good team, with a 5th-year QB and a solid running back, and all 5 OL starters back. "Tremendous linebackers, that unit will be real solid for them." Rocky Long is a tough, no-nonsense coach.
Hoke is open to Full Cost of Attendance scholarships at Michigan, but there's a question of how far it goes. It is different from paying players, though. "I honestly don't have time to figure it out. That doesn't mean I don't care about it." It could create a bigger gap between the big and small schools. "Right or wrong, there's a division. We're fortunate because we're Michigan, with 110,000."
Hoke hasn't thought about proposals to raise minimum GPA requirements. [The interviewers tell him Bo Pelini and Kirk Ferentz said they support it, but SEC coaches were not in favor]: "I can't understand why" [Sarcastically].
Hoke notes coming on Monday. Apologies for minimal editing, but I'm eager to leave the living hell that is McCormick Place.
Why does Denard smile playing football? "It's a game, and I enjoy playing it. Obviously I'm still playing, so I'm still smiling."
Even though there was a switch in offensive scheme, Denard said his first thought was to do whatever it takes to play. Denard doesn't worry about outside perception that he can't throw. He and his teammates know what he can do, and he'll show it on the field. The timing with receivers is looking good. "We've got some deep routes in there, and we have some routes where they can make a choice and get open. It's a good deal."
The biggest thing Denard has been working on this offseason is his footwork. "Keep my feet underneath me so I can make throws anywhere I want to throw it." Stepping up in the pocket is another adjustment he's making. Getting timing down with receivers is another area for improvement.
The team has been working hard all summer. They're getting bigger, faster, and stronger. "The seniors and I, we organized the workouts and 7-on-7s. That was a big thing for this year." Everybody was ready to participate in the offseason workout.
Denard never got to a point where he was leaning toward leaving Michigan. It was tough when Rich was fired, "That's the guy that recruited me, but at the same time, I was with my teammates and my family." David Molk and Ryan Van Bergen gave him the best advice, along with Mike Barwis. They told him that there's no better school or family than the University of Michigan. After he got fired, Coach Rodriguez told Denard to completely buy in to Hoke's system, and he would continue succeeding. It meant a lot to Denard that he told him to continue buying in. Coach Smith (now at Indiana) also told him to buy in 100%. "I bought into Coach Rod's offense, and I'm buying into this offense."
Brady Hoke's first message to the team was to hold each other accountable. "We're Michigan, and we're supposed to compete for the Big Ten every year." "What we've been doing lately is holding each other accountable." If guys aren't doing what it takes to win a Big Ten Championship, their teammates are on them.
The national attention is different after coming from a small town. "It's alright, it's good. I don't do crazy stuff anyhow" so it's not harmful. He likes being recognized around campus, too. It's easy to ignore media hype. "I don't too much care for the hype."
Asked about the Ohio State/Michigan State clocks: "We do have a countdown for the Western Michigan game, so that's the main thing right now. That's the main thing. That's a big game, we have to prove ourselves." Denard grew up watching the Florida/Florida State rivalry, but the Michigan/"Ohio" game is a much bigger rivalry. "It's the border. We fight for Michigan, and they fight for Ohio."
Denard was nicked up a lot last year, but "playing football, you're gonna have nicks and bruises, so you've gotta play through that."
"It's still going to be exciting, we've still got the guys we had last year." There are explosive receivers, and some good running backs. "I know all of them are gonna be ready to play."
Denard isn't usually a vocal leader, but when he has to speak up, he will.
There was no issue getting guys to come to workouts this year. There was pretty much 100% attendance at voluntary workouts, which was not the case last year.
"You get a feel for when you want to run and when you shouldn't run. If you see an open receiver, don't miss him. You want to get him the ball."
Despite last year's individual success, Denard always maintains drive to improve. "How I look at it is always work like I'm second string or third string." He plays and works out with a hunger to improve.
Denard isn't much of a celebrator, so he's not worried about the effects of the new taunting rules that can take scores of the table.
Denard has gained 5-10 pounds since last season.
"I did a lot last year. It's going to be hard to say I can do any more than I did last year, but I think I can do a little more, I can outdo what I did last year."
Low expectations? "They say the 1997 team was one of the teams that was underrated."
Whenever Darryl Stonum earns his way back on the team, he'll be welcomed. "I want him to be back on the team, but it's up to Coach Hoke."
The offensive line has gotten a lot bigger, but they're still mobile.
Denard's improvement: His arm has always been good, he can throw touch passes and the long ball. His arm strength isn't a question: he mangled one of Kevin's fingers with a pass in practice. It's still bent (pictured at right).
"I honestly feel like we don't have a #1 [receiver]." There are a number of guys that can step up and be the top target on a given day. Still sounds like a blessing and a curse to me.
"Dileo, he's deceptively quick." He did well on returns last year, and is now improving his route running and hands.
Jerald Robinson has good hands and body control.
The freshmen don't work out in the same groups as the returning players, and they can't participate in 7-on-7s due to their schedule. They've come out to play catch with some of the guys, though.
Chris Barnett is an established pass-catching threat, and Kevin's advice is to work on blocking. "It's a long season; if you don't play in the first game, you might play the fifth, sixth, seventh game."
In 7-on-7s, Koger is usually covered by Carvin Johnson or Brandon Herron.
Marvin Robinson is a big hitter. It doesn't take him a long run-up to build power.
Troy's return has brought some enthusiasm to the defense because he's a funny guy, and a fun guy to be around. JT Floyd is back as well. "Troy, he's a veteran, he knows where to be at, when to be there, he knows how to disguise coverages well, he drives on the ball really well.
Carvin Johnson is not the fastest, biggest, or strongest guy. "But he has a knack for making plays, he's always around the ball." Kevin has trust in the safeties to make plays.
There's a lot of competition among the linebackers, and there are spots up for grabs. Whoever plays the best in camp will earn starting positions.
Brandon Herron is a fast guy, and Koger has to beat him with technique, and Demens is a strong guy who you have to beat with separation, because if he gets his hands on you, you're done.
"Look at Wisconsin last year, look how many points they put up during the season. They ran a pro-style offense. They ran tight ends a lot of the time. It's proven that a pro-style offense can put up a lot of points."
The offense wants to control the tempo of the game this year. The defense is ready to get back onto the field whenever they need to, but the offense can control the ball.
Outside of Denard, Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway are some of the big play guys. Kevin jokes he'll be happy to catch any passes at all this year because there are so many good options for the offense.
Coach Hecklinski has done a good job with the receivers, making sure they do what they have to do.
A lot of the running backs haven't gotten much game experience, so it's exciting to see who will emerge.
There's been a lot of improvement since last year's defense. The seniors especially are working to leave the school the way they want to be remembered. "We've all been through it together. We know what needs to be done. We don't want to have any problems. We don't want to have it be like last year."
"At the end of the day, we don't want to say that Michigan beat Michigan." What happened in the past is gone, and they're excited about what's going to happen in the future.
Martin likes what he saw in the film from spring practice. Everyone looks excited to play defense, and get out on the football field. "There's a lot of worry; guys were doing a lot of thinking on the field." Now, guys are able to not think and simply execute their assignments.
On Greg Mattison: "The guy eats and breathes excellence." He's a great teacher of the game. Hoke and Mattison have credibility, and have proven that they know what they're talking about.
There's a big emphasis on being tough and hardnosed on defense. Hoke gets in the D-Line's faces specifically, because they're where the defense starts. Everything "starts and ends in the trenches." Previous Championship defenses at Michigan were defined by words like "toughness," etc.
Martin, Van Bergen, and a couple of young guys will get a lot of small-group attention from Coach Hoke in practice. Technique and fundamentals are stressed every day. Hoke, Mattison, and Montgomery are all on the same page and teaching the same things. Hand placement, footwork (down to the inches), hip movement, etc., need to be second-nature to the D-linemen, because they can't be overthinking on the field. The coaches are detail-oriented. They also are learning to adjust to the offensive formation without having to think about it.
"I've never seen more clocks in a building. I always know how many days there are until whatever game it is." It's a constant reminder of what is coming ahead. "We know what we have to do come September 3rd."
It's fun to watch film with Coach Mattison because there's active involvement by people, instead of a lecture-type format. They're always learning, and picking Mattison's brain. "Watching film and seeing me drop back, it just looks funny."
The four-man front makes it easier on the point of attack for the defensive line, because somebody is going to have a one-on-one matchup, and there are fewer double teams.
"His attitude and his mindset has totally gotten better." He was in a bit of a comfort zone before, where he wasn't constantly being pushed to improve, because he was a backup. Now he's being counted on, and has answered the call. He's a key component of the defense, as the 3-tech is a key part of Mattison's defensive scheme. "He answered the call and step up to the play. Q's been doing a great job behind him."
The team likes watching Ravens film, because it's a good comparison to what scheme they're going to be running. Otherwise, Mattison doesn't talk about his NFL success (HALOL Charlie Weis). Watching the guys who are the best at their positions helps the players realize what little things they need to do to improve. "I think all the guys are always picking stuff and trying to make their game better."
The defensive line is doing a good job at the point of attack, but their main room for improvement is making the second move and getting off a block to make plays in the backfield.
There's more accountability among players in the weight room this offseason. The new strength staff also puts an emphasis on getting bigger and reps to failure.