Air Force's ability to consistently get the edge on Michigan's defense was the most frustrating thing about Saturday's game, and many theories have been proffered as to what was supposed to be happening, why it wasn't, and why we will or will not die on the rest of the schedule.
I'm of the opinion that Michigan's scheme was predictable and that as soon as Air Force started blocking Kovacs they were out of ideas.
Here's Air Force's first play of the second half. Denard Robinson's just gone 58 yards to put M up 21-10 and a poor decision by a Falcon player to fall on a squibbed kickoff sets the Falcons up on their own 12 yard line. Michigan has just sat in the locker room for 20 minutes getting coached up; Air Force comes out and runs the same triple option they've been running all game.
It does not go well.
Okay: I called this "near half-flex" for Air Force. Michigan is in their 4-4 under, which I know is actually shifted towards the nominal strength of the formation and so is technically an over. Michigan aligns to field, not strength—so they would flip their formation if it was on the other hash.
Against Air Force, Michigan brought Gordon down into the box and made their formation basically symmetrical. Mattison:
Jake and Thomas were the exact same position in our scheme. A lot of people play the same scheme.
Kovacs is playing center field. Earlier in the game, he was not getting blocked and doing Kovacs things. Like this:
Air Force was all like Eff that to the A and started blocking him. That took out Michigan's edge defender and opened up the corner. Michigan didn't really adjust.
Air Force's "triple" option" wasn't really that. They occasionally ran the dive to keep the defense honest but when they did that the QB just turned around and give it, no read. Here they're running the option with the token dive fake. Already in the above frame, bad things are happening.
Will Campbell(1) is tackling an Air Force lineman who's trying to get out on Bolden. He'll succeed at this, allowing Bolden to flow freely for the rest of the play, but he'll pick up a second defensive holding call doing so. On the edge, Gordon(2) is the optioned guy. Michigan is playing him to pitch like they have been all game. Kovacs(3), is the destination of the flexback.
In a second or two, Michigan is going to eat cut blocks:
Thanks for participating, Clark and Morgan, but you've been elimidated. Try again next play. Meanwhile, downfield…
…the ref is ANGAR at Campbell and Jordan Kovacs is decidedly not coming up to stop the pitch.
Why is Kovacs taking that angle? Why is he not attacking the run? That's an eligible receiver he is in man coverage on. He's got no one behind him, and there are two other receivers going vertical. He has to respect this guy as a receiver, or he could give up an 88-yard touchdown.
At this point it's pretty obvious, but Kovacs doesn't have good options.
Gordon forces the pitch. Michigan has Bolden ready to hit the QB if necessary, but he doesn't know that, and that's not the scheme.
The scheme is getting cut to the ground 13 yards downfield.
Presenting yet another ten yard run on a pitch. WSG Will Campbell holding flag.
[After THE JUMP: Air Force twists its mustache!]
“I guess the first thing I would say is -- happy that we got a win. You know, not pleased the amount of yards that we gave up and not pleased with the option responsibility at times. You just want everybody to know -- I’ll take the blame for that as a coordinator. One thing we always talk about with our defense is we will always have enough bullets and always have enough in our package to be able to stop anything that somebody does. You know I think for a number of reasons, we maybe didn’t have enough or enough adjustments or I didn’t adjust soon enough to take away what they were doing. As far as the players, I really am proud of them for how hard they played. That game could have been disastrous had they not played as tough as they did on a number of situations. The thing watching the tape, in the crunch time at the end of the game, I looked out there at the end of the tape, we had seven freshmen and sophomores in there at one time, right during the heat of it. But I don’t fault our players. I know there’s things they could have done better. That’s always the case. Technique-wise, if anything, I point to myself as far as not having a little bit more expansive plan going into that game.”
I don't either. See Brady Hoke's century-long tenure. What do you mean I posted it Monday? Get out of town.
This been all banners and Never Forget and all that business for a long time. Michigan's secondary woes didn't start with Rich Rodriguez, who merely carved out a crevasse of hopeless abyssal despair previously unknown to man from a moderately deep trench of hopeless abyssal despair. The secondary has not been good for a long, long time.
But it was last year. I'm about to put up the "coverage" metric the blog tracks. Points are awarded for DBs close enough to receivers to make a play on the ball (even if the ball is caught) and subtracted when guys are open enough to get YAC or easily convert first downs on third and medium situations. If you're batting .500 here you're doing pretty well. Drum roll:
|1||WMU||6||11||-5||A lot of this was Herron, frankly.|
|2||ND||17||18||-1||Good deep in press man.|
|5||MINN||10||5||5||Tony Gibson –6.02 x 10^23|
|6||NW||13||15||-2||Not bad. Some issues getting RPSed.|
|7||MSU||9||12||-3||That's not too bad against a senior QB.|
|8||Purdue||11||6||5||Excellent number given the ratio.|
|9||Iowa||11||14||-3||Good recovery after weak start.|
|12||OSU||11||30||-19||Not so much.|
The OSU number stands out as the only truly bad day of the year not easily explained away by a linebacker who hit the bench after the game in question. That was not entirely on the secondary. Greg Mattison NFLed himself, changing up Michigan's scheme and putting his charges in positions that were untenable or close to it. Even so Michigan's pass efficiency defense rocketed from 103rd to 36th in a single year.
How did this happen? EXCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVE MUST CREDIT MGOBLOG.
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||Sr.*||Blake Countess||So.||Courtney Avery||Jr.|
|Raymon Taylor||So.||Terry Richardson||Fr.||Delonte Hollowell||So.|
I know. I know. This ish be cray. I have no idea what that means. I saw Ace tweet it at some point and thought about crayfish probably.
|step for step|
|all over this dude|
|beats Jenkins block|
|the oh shiiiiiii|
Michigan returns their top three corners from a year ago, all of whom were pretty good. The depth has been whittled down by the departures of Terry Talbott and Tamani Carter, but they've got a couple sophomores and a touted freshman and should be okay unless they get a flood of injuries. Give them a year and it'll be time to forget Never Forget.
JT Floyd is the headliner in so many ways. After the Penn State game pictured above I said he'd run "three of the worst coverages I've ever seen," and time has done nothing to change that opinion. He got yanked after that game; his last two games UFRed in 2010 were a –8.5 against Iowa ("oh my God the slants") and the –9 against PSU ("awful, awful, awful"). Everyone was openly petrified that he would play; this space predicted Courtney Avery would start and Countess would usurp Floyd's spot posthaste. Instead Countess usurped Avery's spot and Floyd developed into a pretty good Big Ten corner.
The highlight was his game-sealing interception against AJ Jenkins…
…and Floyd was no one-trick pony. I kept an owlish watch on him as he played to the point where I checked his coverage on plays that didn't go anywhere near him. The results were pure Ripley's. He may have sucked containing runs/screen to his side but…
…I still think he's the best corner Michigan has right now. I base this off plays when opponents run twinned routes and I can see a Woolfolk or Countess cover the same slant on the same call; almost invariably Floyd is hugging the receiver tighter. This is not the best example because the QB set him up for this one but whether it's in man or zone Floyd seems to get more plays on the ball than anyone else in the secondary:
Meanwhile, count the long receptions Floyd's given up this year… I've got one, an undefendable Michael Floyd fade on which he had a rake at the ball. When they go after Michigan deep it was Woolfolk and Countess getting most of the exposure. That's good enough for me when trying to figure out who's good in an area of the field you only see when someone hasn't been good (or one of Michigan's quarterbacks has decided they're tired of being on the field).
I know. OMG. Floyd stands alone as the most soaring, magnificent demonstration of the differences between the last staff and this one.
This is not to say he turned into Charles Woodson. He was consistently subpar on bubble screens and other run-support tasks, which was especially frustrating since he is the boundary corner. He, like everyone else, got smoked by Posey in the OSU game, and he still seems to lack a certain something when it comes to deep speed. When I broke down Michigan's "NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE BALL" coverage, a few different coaches got in touch with me to tell me this was something commonly called "trail" coverage. Trail is something you do when you get beat and can't look for the ball; it's supposed to be a plan B when you're really good. For Floyd, it was plan A.
Which, fine. More than fine. Hallelujah. The guy can play. He's got flaws, only some of which will get worked out, and his top end is a stray All Big Ten vote or two and a seventh-round pick, and who cares about any of that when JT Floyd can play football.
TONY GIBSON MINUS ALL OF THE POINTS
Minus all of the points.
[After THE JUMP: Kovacs! A lack of long touchdowns! Depth!]
PREVIOUSLY ON "MGOBLOG WRITERS DRAFT BIG TEN TEAMS IN AN EFFORT TO IMPRESS ONLOOKERS IN THE WORLD'S LEAST EFFECTIVE MATING RITUAL"…
PICKS were made to start, and
PICKS were made to continue, and
PICKS were made to continue continuing, and
We join our COURAGEOUS DRAFTERS on the VOYAGER II SPACECRAFT at THE EDGE OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM. HEIKO is on the clock for the second pick of round WHATEVER.
We put a JUMP in this one because we probably should have been doing that all along.
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Patrick Omameh (OG, UM), Fou Fonoti (OT, Michigan State), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, UM), DeAnthony Arnett (WR, MSU)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL), Jordan Hill(DT, PSU), Baker Steinkuhler (DT, UNL), Craig Roh (DE, UM), Max Bullough (LB, MSU), Kenny Demens (LB, UM), Ryan Shazier (LB, OSU), J.T. Floyd (CB, UM), Isaiah Lewis (FS, MSU), C.J. Barnett (SS, OSU)
KICKER(S): Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
BRIEF EXPLANATION: He had 31 knockdowns, 10 dominators, and allowed zero sacks last season as Michigan State's starting right tackle. I have no idea what some of those things mean, but they all seem like good things.
SNARK: "... poised to blow up in the mold of previous Michigan cornerbacks like Woodson, Hall, and Jackson." Who are you, Angelique Chengelis?
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OT, UW), Keenan Davis (WR, IA), Travis Frederick (C, UW), Spencer Long (G, NEB), Jake Stoneburner (TE, OSU), Brian Mulroe (G, NW)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU), Mike Taylor (LB, UW), Ricardo Allen (CB, PUR), Ibraheim Campbell (S, NW), Will Campbell (DT, MICH), Ondre Pipkins (NT, MICH)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: I won't pretend to know a ton about Northwestern's offensive line, so I'll trust Phil Steele (Mulroe: preseason second-team All-B1G), the coaches and media (honorable mention All-B1G in 2011), and the NFL draft boards (CBSSports has Mulrue as NW's top draft prospect) in making this selection. Mulroe has solid size at 6'4", 295, and he's lauded for his athleticism; he'll be the guy pulling when I run POWER. With this pick, I've locked up the clear-cut best interior line in our draft, and it might not be particularly close.
SNARK: See, Heiko, the interior line is the part of your offensive line that... oh, I give up.
CURRENT O: Denard Robinson (QB, M), Rex Burkhead (RB, Neb), Jeremy Gallon (Slot, M), Kofi Hughes (WR, Ind), Kenny Bell (WR, Neb), Jacob Pedersen (TE, Wis), Michael Schofield (OT, M), Graham Pocic (OL, Ill), Ricky Barnum (OG, MICH), James Ferentz (C, Iowa)
CURRENT D: John Hankins (NT, OSU), Kawaan Short (3T, Pur), Marcus Rush (DE, MSU), Jon Brown (MLB, Ill), Gerald Hodges (OLB, PSU), Jordan Kovacs (SS, M), Thomas Gordon (FS, M), Micah Hyde (CB, Iowa), Josh Johnson (CB, Pur)
EXPLANATION: Michigan goes into 2012 with its best safety tandem since...? If you can answer that question, you get to be there next time we're trying to figure that out for Hail to the Victors. Anyway I've got both, meaning I have complete and utter immunity from big plays, and now I also get to smugly stand by as Brian tries to explain why my ludicrous fumble recovery rate is all luck, dammit. Gordon isn't the flashiest of free safeties but even if he's Brandent Englemon, with this defense he too can spend most plays reading Infinite Jest.
He gets some help in that endeavor from Johnson, who the Mathlete says was the Big Ten's best cornerback last year. Hammer & Rails is of course biased but..
After having a season where he recorded 64 total tackles, 2 interceptions, and broke up nine passes, Johnson showed us that he is perfectly capable of hanging with the top receivers in the Big Ten.
He's right-sized for the position, can tackle, and his coverage, while knocked because he was operating with no safety help, is no worse than any of the guys taken above, especially the Michigan duo who just went off the board.
SNARK: MarQueis Gray was up to 6'4-250 last I checked. You haven't even drafted Keith Nichol; you've got Andy Mignery.
[ED: After the jump, everyone drafts more quarterbacks. Seriously.]
Background image by mgouser hillhaus
A thing I noticed this offseason while going over the depth and usage of various Michigan defenders is that Mattison used a lot more nickel than we gave him credit for. One thing Ace noted was that we're (finally) recruiting more cornerbacks. We shrugged a bit while losing two more CBs to playing time transferitis this fall, but I don't think we should be shrugging so much.
A little background (skip this if you already know personnel terminology and usage): Defensive coaches tend to match their personnel to the types of players on the field for the offense, NOT the formation. In general the number of backs and tight ends will be matched by linebackers, and the more that come out for receivers the more DBs the defense will send out. Three wide receivers generally means five defensive backs (i.e. nickel), two wide receivers equals four DBs (e.g. 4-3 or 3-4), etc.
The classic personnel shift is on 3rd and long, when the steady rock-pounders make way for the seven-yards-or-bust fellas. But it happens so often despite the situation that it's more accurate to see the game of matching personnel as another strategic aspect of the master's football game.
The offensive personnel is usually expressed in three digits meaning # of RBs, # of tight ends, and # of receivers, respectively. So 113 means 1 RB, 1 TE, and three WRs. Sometimes they'll call that same "eleven" personnel, referring to the first two digits. Examples below; click embiggerates.
How the matching up occurs is up to the coach. You could, for example, play a run-first OLB whenever a fullback is in, and sub him for a more rangy linebacker when the the fullback runs off the field for a tight end who's a known receiving threat. This happens all the time, but it's hard to track the defenses' reactions since we can't tell one linebacker in a formation from another in UFR. We do have data from which we can determine how many receivers were out there at any given time, and it's clear from these data that the more receivers the more defensive backs.
|WRs in Game||DL||LBs||DBs|
The last row is important because it shows Michigan left its base 4-3 Under set for an extra defensive back far more often than otherwise, usually at the expense of a linebacker. We didn't go to a nickel every time three receivers stepped on the field, in fact there were 22 plays charted where Mattison put his 4-3 personnel against four-wide (mostly against Northwestern and Purdue). But the charts not only say that Michigan was forced out of its base 4-3 set often; it says we played more Nickel downs than 4-3.
|Receivers in Formation|
If I remove 4th quarters and all plays that occurred when Michigan was up by more than one score, the 4-3 just barely edges the Nickel, 147 to 140. This isn't opponents trying to play catch-up. It's two things: the personnel that Mattison inherited, and the spread offense forcing Michigan to adapt to it.
Why all the nickel and diming? The first part is a story about outside linebacker. Early in the 2011 season Michigan played Brandon Herron and Brandin Hawthorne at WILL, while at SAM we lost Cam Gordon to injury and his backup was a redshirt freshman. That freshman, Jake Ryan, was earning his way toward more playing time, but in the meantime we still had Carvin Johnson taking snaps at free safety while Thomas Gordon was in at the nickel role. Watch what happened at about mid-season:
That is Gordon moving to free safety and splitting time with Woolfolk, while the freshmen linebackers had their usages increase. Greater faith in Jake and Des explains some of the variance, however the real story is matching personnel:
|San Diego State||2.51||4.38||1.88||43.21%||44.44%||6.17%||6.17%|
I pointed out the two extremes on the schedule with boldation: Northwestern used about twice as many receivers in their formations as Iowa did, but there was a limit to how many defensive backs Michigan would counter with. The nickel served as well for 4 WR as for 3, yet accounted for 4 in 5 plays. However when the opposition went to 2 WR (Iowa), Mattison could spend a majority of the game in the 4-3.
When Michigan's on offense. Nothing is out of the ordinary yet, but when we turn the tables and show how defenses have reacted to Michigan's personnel it gets interesting:
|Season||Avg. Receivers in Formation||Avg. DBs in Formation||Difference|
This is not including anything when Michigan was more than a score down, but the season averages counting everything say about the same thing. I went through the plays and even a few youtubes and yes, in 2010 they played one-high against us despite spreading the field to pass as much as Purdue. Michigan went bigger in 2011, and got more defensive backs, which is counterintuitive except for one factor: opponents in 2010 really really really feared the running game, and tempted Michigan to pass.
Okie dokie. | Greg Shamus via ESPN
One more table to break this down by Michigan's opponents last year, 4th quarters and two-plus-score leads excised:
|Opponent||WRs in formation||DBs in formation||Difference|
|San Diego State||2.44||4.89||2.4|
Nothing really jumps out except perhaps more spread in close games, and SD State's apparent paucity of linebackers (weird—didn't they just have that guy who recruits lots of linebackers there?) Actually that's Charlie Strong's 3-3-5, and the GERG numbers from 2010 are similar due to the same effect.
What it means for this year. Alabama and Air Force aren't going to be spread it out—their challenges are elsewhere. However the Big Ten schedule is spread-heavy, with Ohio State joining the ranks of the many-receivered. Due to recent attrition, Michigan goes into 2012 with just six scholarship cornerbacks for three positions that will be filled half the time. It's a good thing the coaching staff has four guys coming in at corner to replace the one expected departure. These days, in order to keep up with the Joneses, that nickelback position has to be considered as much of a starter as, well, a third receiver.
“Well. I can tell you this. It’s fun to be back out there. Do I look like I’m 25? Because I sure feel like it. Tell you what, it’s fun to be out there catching again. It’s fun. That’s what you do it for.”
How long do you hope to keep doing it?
“I don’t know, maybe 30 more years. Who knows? As long as Brady keeps me. Who knows, he might not want to keep me very long. Who knows. I tell you what, this part of the season is what you really really look forward to coach. This is the teaching time. This is the molding of your team. Wellman, he gets the lucky part. He has them more time than anybody now with the new rules. But we get to have them and get to coach them and get to be around them. Especially when you’ve got some great kids and you’ve got some guys who are fun to coach, and that’s how the first couple days have been.”
What can you glean from just a few practices?
“Nothing really other than they have worked hard in the offseason. You don’t know anything until the pads come on. I think on the defensive side of it, though, when you install the defenses, because there’s carry-over -- they’re a lot more alert. They understand it a lot better. Last year at this time it was probably like they were talking a foreign language. Now they kind of understand it. When that happens now you can get into the little things that make that defense better because they do understand it. I’ve been pleased with their awareness and their interest in learning.”
What do you mean by little things they pick up on?
“Well, like in every defense, for example, you can draw it up and you can say, ‘You have this gap, you have this responsibility, you should align like this,’ but when a guy really starts understanding what the whole defense is about, then you can say, ‘Okay, when they’re in this formation, I can expect this.’ Or ‘when they motion like this, beware of this.’ You’ll hear a corner, for example, yelling out on the motion to the linebacker now, ‘Get ready for the end.’ Well a year ago they’re just hoping they’re aligned right. And just kind of trying to play their responsibility. And those are the kinds of things that happen once you’ve had the same group for a couple years.”
Last year it took a little while for the defensive line to gel. Will it be quicker for this group?
“I don’t know. I don’t know, and I’m not trying to be vague. You never know about your team until the bullets start flying, until you start really really getting tired, getting banged up, hitting. How does a team react then? That’s something why Brady runs a very very physical camp, and that’s why that part of it is something you have to work through and you have to make sure you can handle it, because that’s what it is in the Big Ten conference, so we don’t know that.”
MGoQuestion: Have you bought into the philosophy of rotating defensive linemen?
“That’s always something I like to do. You have to find out who earns the right. It’s always been a deal that you earn the right to be on the field as a Michigan football player. I don’t care what the reason is or why there should be a guy going in there. You don’t go in there until you earn the right. In fact I’ve been at places before where the starter would get after the second team guy because he wasn’t doing well enough because he needed somebody to come in for him. If you’re a great football player, you need a little bit of a break every once in a while in a tough, physical game, but you don’t want somebody to go in there that can’t handle his responsibility and help that team win. That’s what this is all about, to find out who -- is it 15 guys? Is it 11? Is it 12 guys? Is it 20 guys? Who earns the right to be out there during the heat of a game.”
Have you had the chance to look at Jake Ryan as a rush end?
“No. We’ve only had two practices. That goes along with the same idea that you put your best 11 on the field wherever they are. Obviously if a guy’s used to playing one position and you have to move him, you may not be as good. But that other guy coming in, the combination of the two might make you just as good.”
How comfortable are you with the thought of him playing there?
“I can tell you this: any time Jake Ryan is on the field, I feel good. Based on how he has worked and -- now again, he has to go through this camp also, but Jake Ryan has really really worked extremely hard. I’ll be interested to see how he does because now it’s [not] new to him either. I don’t know what he gained. He had a very very good offseason as far as strength gains and weight gains and that sort of thing, too.”
Do you have enough confidence in Cam Gordon to move Jake Ryan down?
“Based on the spring and based on last year, I’d say yes. The key again -- everything starts all over today. That’s what everybody has to understand. It doesn’t matter that Craig Roh has started three years. Everything starts all over again every season. You expect a guy that has played three years to really be advanced in how he plays. Cam Gordon went from safety to SAM linebacker. That was a transition for him. He’s gained weight, he’s gotten stronger, now let’s see how he does when we start hitting, and then you’ll know.”
Has Thomas Gordon been able to pick up where he’s left off?
“Again, all I can go by is what Aaron says that they did in the offseason and two practices. Based on that, I’m very optimistic. Maybe a week from now. Maybe two weeks from now …”
You set statistical goals for your defense. When do you start talking about those as a team?
“We have set goals that we have written on a board, written on a wall -- that’s every year. Those goals are based on Michigan. Those goals are based on what is expected to be a winning defense. Those goals are set so that if you reach those, you’re playing Michigan defense. Every team that comes in has to get it to that level to be able to do that. We don’t lower our standard for what we see on the practice field. We have to raise the practice and the talent and the level and that kind of thing to get to that goal … Everything that you do in a practice: pursuit drill, running to the football, tackling, technique work, all of those are what allow a player to then get the numbers that make those goals. That’s our job as coaches and that’s their jobs as players is to work to get good enough to obtain those goals.”
What are some of those goals?
“Well the nubmer one goal is win. That’s the number one goal on our goal board. There’s a third down goal. I don’t know the numbers -- there’s a point goal. All those things. I don’t talk about those in public. They’re in our team, but they know exactly what the number of points you would love to hold them under to be successful.”
Are they realistic goals?
“Do you think I’d give an unrealistic goal? Let me just say this: I think last year, I think they probably obtained a number of those goals in a number of games. Again, I don’t mean to say anything -- all I’m saying is when you look at great football teams, and what it takes to win, you establish set parameters that you have to do. Third downs, red zone, turnovers, missed tackles, all those kinds of things, and then you set what you have to do to be successful in NCAA football. And they know they have to achieve that. If you achieve it you should win, and that’s what the bottom line is.”
Do those goals stiffen in your second year?
“No. You don’t put the goals to what you [or] somebody perceives as your talent level. You put the goals of whoever is playing defensive football has to do to be successful. I would imagine, out of 124 NCAA teams, a lot of them would have the exact same goals. That is kind of what is the formula for winning on defense. So you, as a coach, you have to make sure your players are doing what they have to do to achieve those goals.”
How much more responsibility does Frank’s absence put on Brennen Beyer?
“I think you always have to have -- no matter who it is -- you always have to have a plan B. You always have to have that, and you never go in there with the idea of, ‘Okay, I got a good guy here. I hope he stays healthy.’ No matter what, you always have to have two and you’d like to have three deep of guys -- and they’re always competing. When you have a great defense, then that guy that’s number two or number one, he might want to look over his shoulder, because there’s always somebody that’s going to be there to take the position. I think you always have to go in with that idea.”
MGoQuestion: How has Brennen Beyer’s weight gain (20-30 lbs from spring) affected his speed?
“In the first two practices, again, no pads -- the biggest thing is probably he feels very comfortable at that position now. So he’s had a whole spring going from the SAM linebacker standing up to have his hand on the ground all the time. I don’t think it was 20-some pounds. I think he was like 10 pounds and he got a lot stronger. He just seems more and more comfortable there. That’s what he played in high school, and I think he really feels good about that position.”
The players say they’re more comfortable with you. Are you more comfortable with them?
“I don’t know if you’re more comfortable. I like these guys, I can tell you that. I like these guys because all I do is watch them from when the season was over with through the winter conditioning through summer conditioning, in two practices -- you know what, these are our kind of guys. Whenever you had good people that work really hard and try to be Michigan, then all you can do as a coach is try to do everything you can so that they can feel like Mike and Ryan and those guys did when they walked off the field that last game. You do everything you can so that they can be successful. They’ve been very alert. They’re a fun group to be around. I told them today when [I walked] in there, I said, ‘God, the greatest time of the day is this meeting,’ because you see all those guys and they’re attentive and all that.”
What have you seen from Alabama’s offensive line on film?
“No question. I’m with Brady 100% on that. Watched a lot of film on them. We studied them all offseason. You watch them and they’re very very talented. They’re very physical, and they’re very big, and they’re very experienced. They’re a very very good offensive line.”
What kind of reports have you gotten from Aaron Wellman on Ondre Pipkins?
“It’s so early, you know. You have a guy who a month ago he’s in a class somewhere in high school, and then all of a sudden he’s at the University of Michigan. It’s just too early.”
Has Kenny Demens stepped up to his leadership role as senior middle linebacker?
“So far Kenny’s been like the other backers -- he’s doing what the’s supposed to be doing. Again, when the pads come on and we start hitting, and you’re in the dog days and everything like that, now you can kind of label a guy a leader. That’s where you earn it. These two practices right here, that’s just coming out and doing what you’re supposed to do. It’s not really where you measure anybody. ”
When will you hit for the first time?
“I don’t know. Is it Friday? Friday, full pads. I thought we were hitting the last two days -- I wasn’t sure, ya know, we were … That’s the other thing that Brady’s done a great job of. When you get a more mature team or a team that’s been around the same system, they learn how to practice. Nobody on the ground. And you can get a pretty physical, pretty aggressive practice with no pads on because they protect each other but still go really hard. That’s what you see if you watch an NFL practice. In the rules, they don’t even allow them to wear pads most of the time. They still get some really good practices. And that’s the same thing that we’ll try to do more, too.”
How do you explain last years’ turnover success?
“The one reason is because in our system, we strip in every phase of practice. So any time a ball carrier is running with the football, our defense is trying to get that ball out. When you're not doing live tackling, we’re doing strip--you’re always tugging at that football. The biggest reason--the biggest reason why we had more success on turnovers is because guys ran to the football. The reason you get turnovers is because guys are around the ball. Think of how many times you’ve seen a game where a guy fumbles and the ball’s just lying there and you're going, ‘Come on, somebody get on it!’ Well a huge part of our defense is effort and running to the football because when you do that, you’re going to have more success tackling and you’re going to have a chance to get turnovers, and that’s big for us.”
And is that something you have to teach the freshmen?
“Definitely. We’ll do circuits in practice with that where we’ll practice that, and they see it real clear. Our upperclassmen have done a great job of trying to pseed up the freshmen on what is expected. So much as where you’re watching the tape and something goes on, a senior may say to them, ‘You don’t do it that way. This is Michigan.’”