and... i like them? I think I like them.
2012 big ten media days
The B1G Media Days Experience
Allow me take you on a journey. It begins in Ann Arbor and proceeds west via I-94, past the forested hills of Battle Creek, the lakeside vistas of Benton Harbor, and -- what's that smell? Ace, did you fart? You did, didn't you. Oh, my bad. That's just the natural smell emanating from the greater Gary, Indiana area. And we're not on I-94 anymore. And we have to pay a toll. And another one. We just paid a toll for a mile's worth of highway because in the greater Gary, Indiana area, they pump sulphur into the air and stir gold into the asphalt.
The skyscrapers and highrises of Chicago loom. They are glimmering beacons of Midwest culture thrusting out of a flat and fertile land of corn fields and cattle farms. Batman was filmed here, did you know? Those batmobile scenes took place right where Siri is telling us to go. Our blue dot freezes as we are swallowed by the vast labyrinth of tunnels and underpasses.
We are lost.
Not to fear! Our superior instincts tell us we're somewhere right below the Hyatt Regency, host to the 2012 B1G Media Days extravanganza. We emerge from the depths of the city 30 minutes later and arrive, frazzled but totally exhilarated, in the lobby. Well done, B1G, what a posh venue. So posh I have momentarily forgotten the correct number of syllables in "concierge". Too posh. Its well-to-do clientele don't seem to acknowledge that a high profile football event is taking place ... somewhere in here. Look at them with their boring black attire and pompous black suitcases and stupid blackberry devices. Don't they know that very famous people -- Denard Robinson fergodsakes! -- are currently inside the double doors of this, this ... completely empty ballroom.
"Excuse me, ma'am. We're here for the Big Ten Media Days. Says here it's in Ballroom AB."
"This is Ballroom AB."
"But there's no one in there..."
"This is the Hyatt Regency Chicago."
"You want to be at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place."
And that is the story of how Ace and I barely made it to Brady Hoke's speech last Thursday.
(more after the jump)
You don't want to know what I had to do to secure that seat
The media day roundtable session took place just a couple of hours before Denard Robinson delivered his keynote address at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. This meant, unfortunately, that in my half-hour at Denard's table the majority of the questions related to the speech, how he prepared for the speech, his nerves before the speech, his pre-speech nerves compared to his pre-game nerves, Kirk Cousins's speech, and so on.* What follows is my best effort at collecting relevant, non-speech quotes, as the speech did a decent job of speaking for itself.
Was timing something that got sacrificed last year somewhat because you guys were learning a new offense?
I think that did hurt us. Us not having timing, that was a key issue. My footwork, I was thinking so much that my footwork was everywhere; throwing off my back foot was one of the things I messed up a lot on. That’s what I’m trying to change this year, I’ve been doing that [during the] offseason and working on that timing. Now we’re not thinking about the offense because we know the offense and we have confidence in ourselves. We know the offense and now we have the opportunity to have success in the offense.
Was the problem that you were thinking about too many other things last year, especially early?
Yeah, earlier in the season I was still learning the offense, trying to get the basis of the offense. Towards the end of the season, that’s when it started coming along, because I was in the offense enough to know the offense.
MGoQuestion: Compared to last year, now that you’re more comfortable in the offense, do you expect to have more input into the game plan? Will Coach Borges give you more input in terms of which plays to call?
I think so. I think Coach Borges, he’s always open-minded, he always asks, “what do you think about this?” That’s the kind of guy he is. If I don’t feel comfortable doing something, he would ask me if I feel comfortable doing it. That’s just Coach Borges, that’s just his personality, that’s the way he coaches.
MGoQuestion: The offense really seemed to evolve last year as you got more comfortable and as Coach Borges got more familiar with the personnel. How would you say the offense changed over the course of last year, and where are you guys today compared to where you were at before last season?
I think we’re way past what we were before [last season]. We’ve built this chemistry in the offense and we feel confident and comfortable with the offense. When it comes down to making the reads and making the right checks and getting us into the right play, I think we all know how to do it now.
MGoQuestion: Schematically, were there changes that Coach Borges made once he got more familiar with your game and the rest of the offense?
He made little tweaks, but I feel like he made game plans, and whatever he’d feel would be successful, that’s what he used.
MGoQuestion: Do you expect this year to be any more or less involved in the running game than you were last year?
I don’t know, you gotta ask Coach Borges. If you want me to run the ball a hundred-some times a game I’ll run it. Whatever it takes for us to win, that’s what I feel anybody on our team would do.
When you’re watching a defense—let’s say it’s Alabama—what do you look at? When you’re, as a quarterback, studying a defense just casually … what do you look at?
You look at the coverage. I’m a quarterback, so I look at the coverage first. You want to see little hints that they give you, like if there’s a safety coming down, how far is the linebacker up to the umpire, how close the safety is to the umpire—if the safety is right on the umpire he’s probably coming, or he’s got to cover somebody, stuff like that. You might see the corner bail before his time, so you can tell that’s probably a [cover] 3 or 4, something like that. Just looking at what kind of coverage they’re in, if the corner is flat-footed or is he on his toes, little things like that you want to look at.
UNEXPECTED ANSWERS TO CORNY QUESTIONS
Did you ever envision in your wildest dreams ending up where you’re at today?
Oh, man, to be honest with you I didn’t. I didn’t know how far I’d go. I was just telling Kovacs and Taylor last night, in high school I didn’t think I was a D-I athlete, so now I’m here and it’s like it’s all a dream.
You didn’t think you’d be a D-I athlete?
Yeah, in high school I really didn’t. I really didn’t think that until I got my first offer from Florida my junior year.
*I've unearthed exclusive footage of this portion of the roundtable.
Media days provided a chance for Taylor Lewan to show off his new, "vanilla" approach to interacting with the media as he continues to mature into a team leader. Of course, this is still Taylor Lewan, Finger 'Stache Enthusiast, so even when he's aiming for bland the conversation inevitably veers in the direction of colorful. Here are some excerpts from his roundtable session covering Alabama, the left guard competition, hosting recruiting visits, his playing weight, and some unfortunate news regarding the twosie:
RELEVANT FOOTBALL STUFF
MGoQuestion: Now that you’ve been in the same offensive system for a year, how much of a comfort level do you have in the offense, and how have you seen it evolve since the beginning of last year?
It’s a lot more exciting just going into camp and jumping right into it. Last year we had to take it slow, obviously, because we didn’t know the plays yet. I think it’s going to be exciting just jumping right into it and having the offense evolve even more than it did last year.
MGoQuestion: It seems like four offensive line positions are set, but left guard is still up in the air. What do you see out of the guys that are competing for that right now?
Joey Burzynski, he’s a redshirt sophomore, and then Elliott Mealer is a redshirt senior; both guys are really capable of playing the position. I think it’s a good problem to have when you’ve got two guys battling it out like that, and I think nobody’s job on the offensive line is set in stone.
MGoQuestion: Kyle Kalis has been mentioned as a guy who could come in and play. How much of a challenge is it to come in as a true freshman on the offensive line?
It’s unbelievably hard. Unbelievably hard. Just developing as an offensive lineman is probably the hardest thing to do at a college position. Kyle definitely passes the eye test when you look at him. He’s a big fella, looks strong. Everybody’s technique needs work, but we’ll see when camp rolls around.
MGoQuestion: At running back, the status of Fitz Toussaint is obviously up in the air right now. What do you see out of a guy like Thomas Rawls, what does he bring that may be different than what Fitz does?
Thomas Rawls, he runs angry, and he runs aggressive. He’s capable of doing all the things Fitz can do. One guy that’s really overlooked, and I was talking to Denard and Jordan about this yesterday, is Vincent Smith. Vincent, he’s without a doubt pound-for-pound the toughest guy on our team, and he’s like 5’6”. He’s unbelievable.
MGoQuestion: Have you started watching film on Alabama yet?
MGoQuestion: What kind of challenge does their defensive line pose? Are you paying attention to matchups yet?
I don’t know numbers yet or anything, but they’re a really good team. That’s the great part of Alabama; you lose five first-round draft picks and you’re gonna have five coming up after that. I’m real excited to play this game, I’m excited to see Michigan in this game, and Dallas isn’t a bad place to play, either.
MGoQuestion: Them playing a 3-4 defense, you don’t see that a lot in college football. Does that pose a different challenge for you as an offensive lineman?
Yeah, it changes blocking schemes here and there, but there’s no reason we should have a problem with that. In some ways that helps our passing game a little bit, flaring out and picking up blitzes, with three down linemen. In some ways it can help our inside zone or our power. There’s just a whole lot of things that go into it and if we come to play, we’ll be successful.
Does their defense remind you of your defense in terms of creativity, the number of blitzes…
Yeah, absolutely. Actually, they’re real similar. I’m excited to see what happens there. I don’t know if they twist and stunt as much as we do, but we’ll see what happens.
KOVACS VS. LEWAN, PART II
MGoQuestion: Jordan was over there saying you’re boring this week. Is that good for you? Is that an adjustment to make?
Boring, he said?
Boring and ugly, actually.
Well, I’ll agree to that first part. I’m not ugly. But I don’t know, I wouldn’t say boring, just focused on the goals at hand right now.
[Later] Jordan said to tell you that he called you ugly.
That’s twice now that I’ve heard that. I’m not happy about it.
Maybe he’s testing the vanilla-ization of Taylor Lewan.
You tell him that, uh… just don’t tell him anything. Tell him he looks lovely today. He looks like an accountant, actually.
LEWAN'S HUSKINESS/SMALL CHILD
Last year, Craig Roh said to call you husky because you’re self-conscious about your weight.
You can call me husky all you want. You can feel these hips if you want, too. I’m 310 pounds. There’s gotta be a little love, right?
But seriously, he was praising you for harnessing your…
…your volatile nature.
[laughs] I used to, actually, when I was younger, in high school I was always worried about how I looked. Craig, how’s it look? Right here, in this area. [Your torso?] Yeah, you gotta make sure it at least stays flat, you know?
What about how Craig looks right now?
He’s fat. Tell him I said that. [What about his hair?] His hair’s awesome, you don’t like it? I think the flow is unreal. But Jake Ryan has the best flow in the league, hands down. Write that down.
[After Lewan discusses bringing his weight from 250 lbs. as a freshman to 310 lbs. now] Do you think about that though, that you’ve kind of added a small child?
I’ve added a small child to my body. So, you’re just calling me fat to my face. I feel like we can get past this together. No, I’ve never woke up in the morning and thought, “you know what?” [rubs belly, laughter ensues]
But seriously, do you think you can play at this weight?
The goal was always to get past 300 pounds, so I know coming in that the biggest thing I could do to hide my child is to eat healthy as much as possible, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
MGoQuestion: Jordan mentioned you taking a role in recruiting, hosting players and stuff like that. What’s it like hosting players on campus?
It can get awkward, almost. You don’t know the guy at all and you’ve got to take him around for the night. I enjoy it. Me and Pat [Omameh] kind of praise ourselves with recruiting. We’re the best there is, that’s how we look at it. It depends on who you’ve got; some are talkative, some aren’t, you’ve just got to feel them out and see what they want to do.
MGoQuestion: Do you take any credit for landing any of the guys on the team?
I couldn’t do it. Well, I don’t know. Actually, I’m gonna say yes. Me and Pat, we hosted Jack Miller, we hosted Eric Magnuson, Kalis, a bunch of guys. I don’t know if I’d take credit, but definitely, I enjoy the recruiting process.
ON FIELDING CALLS FROM NFL AGENTS
Have agents been contacting you?
I don’t know. I get a lot of phone calls from numbers I don’t know, and I just don’t pick them up; there’s no reason to. My focus is on the University of Michigan, and there’s no point jumping into something and getting in trouble like that, because that’s not who I am.
When did you start getting phone calls?
I don’t know. Last month. But I don’t answer any of the phone calls. No one’s talked to me because I haven’t talked to them.
TAYLOR'S TWOSIE: RETIRED
MGoQuestion: Were you surprised by the attention paid to the twosie?
Yeah, I don’t know why that was made to be such a big deal. I got that thing for my teammates and all that stuff, for us to enjoy, mess around on it. The media kinda turned it into its own kind of monster, I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t really use that thing anymore. When you’re trying to give off the image of being a leader on this team, you probably shouldn’t be riding a two-seater bike. [Ed-S: FALSE!!!]
Taylor Lewan on Kovacs: "He looks like an accountant."
The roundtable session at media days takes on a remarkably repetitive nature, a product of giving reporters two hours to move freely between tables and fire away questions. Inanity ensues. Perhaps no player serves as a better example of this than Jordan Kovacs, who in the 40 or so minutes that I spent at his table fielded approximately 7,432 questions about his journey from walk-on to All-Big Ten safety. I mean, of course this happened:
Reporter: Do you ever get tired of questions about being a walk-on?
Kovacs: [laughs] Yeah, I was just asked that.
Jordan Kovacs is tired of being asked if he's tired of being asked about being a walk-on, and would someone please help me out of this wormhole?
Anyway, here's some select quotes from his roundtable session. I'll post Taylor Lewan's later today, and Denard Robinson's will go up tomorrow.
RELEVANT FOOTBALL STUFF
MGoQuestion: Now that you’re in the second year under Greg Mattison, do you expect the defense schematically to change at all in terms of playcalling? Do you expect it to get more aggressive this year?
I think he’s going to be the same Coach Mattison. He’s always been aggressive, and I don’t know if you can get more aggressive [laughs]. But I think we’re all more comfortable with the scheme and he’s more comfortable with us. Like I’ve said before, we really look forward to this season with the defense because nobody on this defense has been in the same defense for two consecutive years, and that’s what we’ll have this year, so we really look forward to that and we really look forward to seeing how far we can take this defense.
MGoQuestion: When you’re looking at film of Alabama, what do you see out of A.J. McCarron? What does he bring that you guys are going to have to defend against?
He’s improved a lot. He’s improved tremendously. I think at the beginning of last year he was not nearly as good—I mean, that’s obviously when they were in the quarterback battle—but he was not nearly as good as he was at the end of the year. At the end of the year he was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, if not the best. Obviously he’s got a great arm, and I think that his running game helps him so much, I think that really opens up the passing game for him. He’s a tough quarterback, a tough kid, and I hope we can make him a little uncomfortable back there, but with their offensive line that’s not going to be anything easy.
MGoQuestion: There’s been a lot of roster turnover over the past few years, especially in the secondary. What kind of challenge does that pose to you guys as a team, especially in practice; is that tough when the guys behind you are constantly changing?
Yeah. That’s always happening. I know Coach Hoke always says it but it’s true that there are always expectations for the position and for the ballplayer. Whoever is at defensive tackle for us, there’s expectations to be great, not that they’re going to step in and be great but that they’re going to work hard this offseason and pick up right where Mike Martin or Ryan Van Bergen or Will Heininger or wherever those guys left off. Obviously those are going to be big shoes to fill but that’s how it is at Michigan.
MGoQuestion: The defense was really good last year at limiting big plays, but then against Ohio State and also against Virginia Tech, they were able to go over the top a little bit. Was that a schematic issue or a matchup issue—what happened over the last two games?
We didn’t play very well, from a defensive backs standpoint. Obviously against Ohio State we gave up quite a few big plays; Virginia Tech it wasn’t as many that cost us, we played a little bit more bend-but-don’t-break defense in that game. We did not play well enough from a defensive standpoint in either of those games, and it starts with the defensive backs. That’s something we worked on a lot in spring ball. It’s not an issue of athleticism or anything like that, it was just guys not being on the same page, and we’ll get that corrected.
So what you’re saying is it was a mental thing?
Yeah, there were more mental errors. A couple of the routes were tough. Ohio State kinda gave us a route that really cost us, it was a tough one to defend.
You know, I don’t remember exactly. It was tough to defend with our coverage; there was some miscommunication, we misplayed it.* Sometimes that’ll happen and you’ve just got to get it corrected and that’s what we did. We played a little better in the second half, as we did against Virginia Tech, and we ultimately won the game.
BEST DEFLECTION OF A STUPID QUESTION
I’m going to have you #1 on my AP ballot in the preseason. Is that a good call or a bad call?
I think that’s a call that doesn’t really matter. Where you start means nothing, it’s where you finish. So, tell me where we’ll finish at the end of the season, and I’ll tell you whether that’s a good or a bad call.
SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT
What is it like defending Denard in practice?
Yeah, it sucks.
How much do you follow the recruiting stuff?
I don’t really follow any rankings, but you meet the kids and you hear through word of mouth from the players. But at the end of the day, the whole rankings system—I didn’t have any stars, and I’m here today, right? Not one. So yeah, I don’t keep up with it too much.
Are you ever a player host?
I’ve hosted a couple. I think Taylor is the key recruiter, and Roy; we’ve got our go-to guys.
KOVACS VS. LEWAN, PART I
We talked a little bit about Denard and how he hasn’t changed. What about Taylor?
Unfortunately, Taylor, he hasn’t changed. I’m just joking, but you can write that. Taylor, I can’t describe how much I think he’s matured, and I’m sure you see that as reporters. He’s vanilla this weekend. He’s been told to be vanilla this weekend. I don’t even think he needed to be told that, because I think he’s more focused than ever before. I think he understands how far we can take this team, and he’s really harnessed it and he’s really looking forward to it. I can’t say enough about his leadership. He’s got those young offensive linemen in there and he’s really working hard with those guys.
Do you think the vanilla-ization of Taylor has taken away from his aggressiveness on the field?
No. I think we need him to be vanilla off the field. Taylor is one of those guys that… first of all, he’s ugly. But he’s a very aggressive ballplayer; he’s one of those offensive linemen that you hate to play against but you love to have him on your team, because he’s just nasty, he’s ugly—I don’t know if I said that—but he’s a mauler. What offensive linemen do is not pretty, but you love it when they do it for your team.
Just tell him I said that.**
*My guess at the time was Kovacs was thinking of OSU attacking the seam against Michigan's cover 2. Brian concurred when I chatted with him today; Michigan ran a cloud cover 2 where the corners had deep responsibility at the free safety defended underneath, a coverage they only used against the Buckeyes, which could explain the confusion.
**In case you're actually concerned about an offense-defense rift or something, this was entirely in jest. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion later this afternoon.
The formal stuff was transcribed for us. The rest of it was not. So Ace and I will slowly but surely post transcripts from whatever audio we got from the coaches and players. Stay tuned. Also follow us on twitter for updates and witty commentary. (@AceAnbender and @Heiko25)
Brady Hoke's Small Group Session
The media have mastered the swarming technique.
You talked about the guys that are suspended. Will they be allowed to practice?
“I don't know yet.”
What do you think about having such a tough first game?
“I think it's great. To be able to play a team like Alabama, the reigning national champs, and focus on that—as you do every year—the first game, that's a great opportunity.”
Are the players excited as well?
“Well, I'd hope so. We'll find out better soon.”
What has Denard done this offseason to improve himself?
“Well, I think he's worked real hard on his fundamentals and mechanics and being a leader. His conditioning level is probably as high as it's been since he's been here. I just think he's doing what it takes to perform and compete.”
Expectations are high, higher than last year. How do these guys to live up to that?
“You go out every day, you work together, you prepare together, and make sure on those Saturdays that you're prepared to play your best.”
Because you've been limited in your contact with everyone, do you put that on your leadership that some of these guys have had these off-field transgressions?
“You always do. You always do. That's all part of it. It's a growing and an educational process that guys go through, and they're paying the price because there's consequences.”
Are you saying to your leaders, though, that you need to get your own guys in line?
“Oh, yeah. No doubt.”
You're not allowed to watch in the summer, obviously, but based on reports that you've got who are some of the guys who have had a good summer?
“I think Will Campbell has really had a great summer. From what I hear in talking to him and the seniors there are a lot of guys who have done a nice job. I think the one thing that's been good is we had 30 freshmen come in six weeks ago, they've had a little more time to be around those guys more than maybe in years past.”
When you talked about Penn State kids you said you'd keep your business your business. Does that mean you're not going to recruit them?
How quickly can that program bounce back?
“They'll do just great. They've got a great coach. I'll tell you, Bill is a good man. They'll do great things; they're a good university.”
Have you reached out to Bill?
“I've talked to him.”
There was nobody on that roster…
“No, there was nothing…”
If there was somebody that wanted to come, would you take them?
“You've got a team chemistry that you're worried about, and I think that's a big part of it.”
Can you give your thoughts on the rivalry with Ohio State and going head-to-head with Urban Meyer?
“It's not about coaches, it never is. It's about the players who are on the field, it's about two great schools.”
Is there anyone injury-wise who's in doubt for the start of camp?
“I don't think so. I'll get final word on that on Monday.”
Is [Toussaint's and Clark's status] something you're just going to think over the next week or two? What goes into all of that?
“It goes into if they're meeting the standards of being a Michigan football player. There's consequences that they'll be working through right now.”
When word came down on the sanctions from the NCAA to Penn State, what was your thought as a coach about the severity?
“There's so many victims involved here, for me to comment on it like I'm an authority on anything, which I'm not… it's sad in many ways.”
From a coach's perspective, how hard is the loss of scholarships, etc.
“Every school's different. I think that's such a great name in college football and such a great university, who knows? We'll just have to see what the future brings.”
This obviously isn't a typical opener. Do you split your practice time in the fall like you always would, or is there special attention paid to that first game?
“We'll do what we normally do. There's a lot from a offensive, defensive, kicking standpoint that we'll put in, and the fundamentals and techniques. As we get closer to game day we'll focus more in on what they do, which is pretty good for us anyway because there's a lot that we do that they do, so our offense and defense can gel against each other.”
Some schools wouldn't play a non-conference opponent like Alabama. What are the benefits from your perspective about why to play a game like that, especially in the last couple years with the BCS?
“What I think is you go to Michigan, you coach at Michigan to play the best. If you want to be the best you have to do that. For us it's a great opportunity. It's going to be a fun game, we'll learn a lot about us—win or lose—and I think that's a big benefit.”
Talk about the Michigan State game. Is that the biggest game as far as the Big Ten is concerned?
“For us that's always a big game because it's an in-state rival game. They've been kicking our butts pretty good lately, and that's something we don't like. That game and then obviously the Ohio game is as big a game as there is on the schedule.”
When will you choose about the legacy jerseys and who's going to wear which ones?
“Some time, in the future.”
Will that be before the season starts?
An open position like left guard that's still up in the air, at what point in the fall do you want that decided?
“I think it depends a little bit who it is, because of the continuity some of the older guys have. If it's a younger guy, so be it, there's no entitlement; we'll just go day-by-day with it and evaluate it day-by-day.”
When you bring in the freshmen on campus, how does it help in terms of acclimating and development of team chemistry?
“Number one, they get acclimated maybe a little bit to the academics. For some of them, like any of us, that's big. Their time management skills, all those things, that becomes important, then how we lift, how we run. There's a multitude of things. Then being able to get around your teammates and get to know the older guys. In the older days, you had three days with them, then the next day the veterans came in and it was kind of a culture shock. Now, with everybody being on campus all summer, the academic year has extended itself, I think it's great for them to have that opportunity.”
Do you have a preference in terms of eight games versus nine games in Big Ten conference play?
“I really don't. Whatever's best for the conference. I think we have a great conference and it's very competitive. You want to have the ability to play some of those Alabamas, those games too; whatever's best for the conference.”
Would it be strange, though, to play in a year where you play four home games and five road games in the Big Ten?
“Yeah. It'd be different. The good thing is everybody has to do it.”
Are those things you talk about in your meetings?
You always prepare for your season opener, of course, but have you prepared more for this game? More film viewing, more studying…
“I don't think so, to be honest.”
This is pretty meta.
File photo, since Heiko took pictures and then left the conference room to ask Hoke more questions
Heiko and I are in Chicago today and tomorrow for Big Ten Media Days. Here's the transcript from Brady Hoke's presser, with questions about the status of Fitzgerald Toussaint, Penn State transfers, Denard, and the non-conference schedule, as well as a little Sparty trolling at the end.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Head Coach Brady Hoke.
COACH HOKE: Number one, thanks to everybody here for coming and traveling and supporting the Big Ten Conference. I can't tell you how excited we are as a team to be representing such a great league and to represent the University of Michigan is something that's very special to all of us.
We're excited about the upcoming year. We're excited because of the hard work that our kids have put through since the end of the Sugar Bowl and the things that they've done as a team.
I think the leadership is really what's important for us. Last year we had a group of seniors that came together and did a tremendous job of leading the football team. And I think at the same time those guys who were juniors or those guys who played a lot of football understand now it's the expectations are in their hands.
And we're excited about that. We had a disappointing year a year ago when you do not win the Big Ten championship. And at Michigan we've not won that championship since 2004.
So we have direct goals ahead of us and what we want to do and we're excited about that. Our schedule is one that is a great opportunity and a great challenge for us. We played 10 out of 12 teams that are Bowl teams. We play five of those teams on the road.
And so for us it's going to be a great challenge and a great opportunity. Our focus and how we approach each day and how we as a team have the work ethic and the commitment and the accountability and respect and the trust for each other, that's what will make us successful.
But we're glad to be here. Glad to see you, kind of. But we're glad you're here. So thanks.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. At least according to the media you're the favorite in the league after one year. You're perceived to be back. What do you think of that?
COACH HOKE: Not much, to be honest with you. I think we were picked fifth in our division a year ago. I think the 1997 team, I think pre-season was picked right inside the top 25 by a lot of people. And that ended up being a pretty good football team. We don't put too much stock in that. It's like anything in life, it's not where we start but where we finish.
Q. Leadership, who has stepped up so far at this point and who would you like to see step up a little bit more?
COACH HOKE: As a staff we don't have an opportunity to be with those guys all summer, because of the NCAA rules, and those kind of things. But I think you can see the three guys we brought are just a part of that with Denard and his development, and I think Jordan Kovacs is an amazing story, number one, but how his leadership has grown. And then Taylor Lewan, who is going to be a junior for us. But I think he's really taken a lot of responsibility.
Q. With two teams in the Leader's Division [not bowl eligible], possibility of Penn State taking a step back long term, is there a competitive balance issue, do you think, in the league? Is there a fairness issue consequently that needs to be rectified?
COACH HOKE: I think the only thing I can tell you is this is such an unbelievable circumstance. And I'm sure Commissioner Delany and everyone else, you wouldn't see this coming. But at the same time, life's not fair. And whether it's fair or not, it doesn't matter. We have a schedule to play. Our focus is on the University of Michigan, and that's what we're going to keep focused on.
Q. How have you and your staff reacted to the sudden availability of Penn State players?
COACH HOKE: To be honest with you, we kind of made a decision -- I'd be lying if I didn't say we didn't look at the roster to some degree -- but we've kind of made a decision that we're going to stay and recruit the guys and keep our business our business.
Q. Can you talk a little bit more about Jordan and what you expect of him in leading the defense coming up this season?
COACH HOKE: Well, you know, he's a guy who had to walk on twice to play at Michigan. And I think because of his love for his teammates, his love for the game of football, his intensity, how he approaches every day from a work ethic standpoint to being a great teammate, and that's what we talk about every day.
And he's truly one of those guys, terrific teammate, his development as a player, we're very fortunate, he's a very instinctive guy, a very smart football player, and I think his teammates see that.
Q. Have you made a determination as to whether Fitz Toussaint is going to play against Alabama or not?
COACH HOKE: No, both of those young men, they're-- obviously there's a standard of performance we expect at Michigan from an academic standpoint to a community standpoint and to an athletic, competition standpoint. And we have -- they're right now indefinitely suspended.
They're going to pay the price for poor judgments which a lot of 18 to 23-year-old kids make and then we'll make a decision down the road.
Q. What do you expect to see out of Denard Robinson this year?
COACH HOKE: I think when you look at it, and going through spring and just his overall concepts-wise when you look at the offense, I think that's much better. And from the point of our terminology and what we call things, and I think it's had an opportunity for Al Borges to maybe grow a little bit more within the offense. And I think from that point of it, and probably more specifically is how he has really become a guy you can count on when it comes to leadership and how his work ethic is and those things that he's done.
Q. You've spoken about this before but you decided to take your team or a good chunk of your team out to the West Coast to go through sort of a Navy Seals training session. What precipitated that decision? What did you see them get out of it?
COACH HOKE: Well, everybody wants to focus on that one four-day period or three-day period. That started in January. We do leadership seminars with our seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. The seniors are a little more encompassing to some degree. And we did it at Ball State.
Our strength coach, Aaron Wellman, came to this after two years at Ball State and trying to grow our leadership and it's just part of that seminar or whatever you want to call it.
And with our guys it was something that they learned a lot about themselves, number one, individually, which is important. And, secondly, they learned about themselves as a senior class.
And when you talk about the team and the commitment to each other and the accountability, when they did the different things that the Seals put them through.
Q. We heard Urban Meyer say maybe the Big Ten lacks a little speed and athleticism in comparison to the SEC. I was curious, with Alabama on your schedule, what strengths do you think your team and maybe even the conference has on those top SEC teams?
COACH HOKE: I think it's a hard question, really, to even answer. Because I think everybody's different. I think when people make the mistake of lumping the conference in not having speed or whatever it might be. When we're playing the reigning national champion, they're a terrific football team and they've done terrific things. We're excited about the opportunity to go into a great venue, different venue, obviously, and go line up and see what happens.
Q. You mentioned Alabama. Talk a little bit more about your non-conference schedule?
COACH HOKE: I think obviously September 1st is a day that most people in this room understand that great game that we'll play down there and it's a real privilege to have Troy Calhoun and the Air Force Academy come into Ann Arbor because of the significance of those kids who are out there for Air Force and their duty to country.
I think UMASS is a moving up program and a new head coach and obviously the great national rivalry we have with Notre Dame playing them down in South Bend at night. So we're excited about the non-conference schedule.
Q. You were the beneficiary of the Bowl system last year; you didn't have to win the division to still go to a BCS Bowl. How would you feel if you were on the tail end of that at some point in time?
COACH HOKE: Probably not that good. But it was out of our control. We don't control that part of it. So I wouldn't feel very good about it.