i refuse to even consider this a possibility
How much further along is your defense right now than when you started four weeks ago?
“We’ve come a long way. We are obviously 14 practices in. Starting from scratch really in essence for the third year in a row, so the challenges were there, you know, and obviously my hat’s off to our guys. I thought they approached it in a positive manner. I think they’ve got a pretty good handle on what we’re doing. We’ve got a number of pressures in. The bulk of our coverage concepts are in, and I was able to kind of at least get all the concepts in. Not all the patterns and so forth that accompany those, but there will be nothing now that’s brand new to the guys. It’ll be a concept that they can relate to as we move forward.”
Guys were talking about how most of the stuff’s the same [and] there’s just the one new coverage. Whatever new changes you are bringing to the system, how do you think they’re adjusting to them?
“Well, you know, one of those concepts is pretty involved and there’s a lot of moving pieces and the players have a lot of accountability because they have to handle all the checks and so forth, and I think we’ve done a really good job of handling the responsibility and accountability piece of it as well as functioning from a concept standpoint. So yeah, I’m pretty pleased. And it’s really—you know, football’s football. The reality is football’s football. But, you know, that concept’s pretty different and I think the guys have handled it really well.”
You talked about the linebackers earlier in Florida about some new guys and guys who hadn’t proven themselves. How have they progressed over the course of the month?
“Well, you know, I think Noah Furbush has done a good job at Sam. Obviously we’re doing a lot with Jabrill and he’s logging some minutes there and doing a very good job. Ben Gedeon has had an extremely positive spring, so I’m excited about his progress and where he’s at. Mike McCray has stayed healthy and continued to take steps moving forward, as has true freshman Devin Bush. And Mike Wroblewski, we moved him from defensive end to linebacker earlier on in the spring practice period and it seems to have been a good move for us. He’s still got some work ahead of him, but he’s doing a very, very good job.”
How much of Jabrill’s time is now spent at linebacker? How much are you dividing it?
“Eh, he’s probably 70/30, but he’s doing a lot of things. You won’t see it on display Friday, that’s for sure, but he’s doing enough stuff that keeps his plate full. There’s no question about that.”
Seventy [%] linebacker, thirty [%] other stuff?
“Yeah, I would say about that. But, you know, it’s not gonna stay that way. It’ll end up increasing as we move forward as we’re trying to do things package-wise to offset the other people.”
[After THE JUMP: D-line rotation, Jabrill, the art of the mustache. One of those things may not have actually come up.]
When he’s doing that and he’s at that position—you said you had a player last year that did the same thing. Can you see him pick it up that quickly?
“Yeah, he’s already picked it up. He’s playing at a high level there, so I’m happy with him. From a coverage standpoint it’s everything we expected. I think he’s picked up the linebacker pieces pretty well as well. So, you know, making good progress, but like everybody else he needs more time, more reps.”
Are you able to do more creative things or different things than what you’ve done in the past with a player like Jabrill?
“Yeah, we’ll be able to do some stuff but, you know, that position’s always been occupied—you know, the last three guys are all in the NFL that I’ve coached that have played that position so it’s a pretty—you expect a lot at that spot. We’re gonna get what we expect. There’s no question.”
Who else plays that spot? Is there another guy who can do what Jabrill does?
“We’re playing Noah there, Noah Furbush. He can’t do some of those things, but there’s a number of those things he can do and we can function as a defense with him being there if we had to.”
Will Devin Bush see the field this fall?
“Uh, yeah, I’m not really looking at—I mean, obviously that still remains to be seen, but I’m very happy with his progress at Will linebacker.”
Do you have a term for that position that Jabrill and Noah are playing?
Jim said the quarterbacks will be live on Friday. What do you want to see from your defensive line now that they can hit them?
“Well, you know, we gotta rush the passer. The reality is you gotta get better against the same color jerseys. That’s the reality. We’ve done a good job, and obviously there’ll be some limitations from what we’re gonna be able to do from a defensive perspective. Which is fine, because you wanna find out who can win the one-on-ones and those kind of things. Gotta go get ‘em!”
MGoQuestion: With guys like Winovich and Kemp, do you see them sticking at End or do think they could also play a little bit at Backer* or Sam?
“I think Winovich and Kemp are both in the right spot. Obviously Carlo’s been here for a short period of time. We fooled around with him standing up a little bit. I think he’s in the right position now. Now it’s just a matter of, you know, like every other freshman he’s got to get his feet wet. He’s got to go through the learning process, and, you know, we’ll let that run its course.
Winovich is playing well at End. Obviously techniques, fundamentals he needs to get better at but we think we got him in the right spot.”
We’ve seen a lot in the last couple years about the defensive line and rotating because they said that they had depth and then by the end of last year there wasn’t as much. How many guys do you trust in that defensive line to rotate?
“Well, we’d like to be seven or eight guys. I mean, you certainly want to be a pair and a spare. You’d like to be up to seven or eight guys, eight if possible.”
What are you at now do you think? That you trust.
“You know, I think we’re approaching that number. I really do. Once we get through summer workouts and get everybody back healthy there plus the influx of the young guys, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Good to work with Brian [Smith] again?
“Yeah, Brian’s a great guy. He was a tremendous player, tremendous leader. Won a national championship as a player and helped me coach a team that went to the national championship game. I still lay awake thinking of Armanti Edwards from App State on occasion [Ed-A: same], but I’m glad to be back with him. He’s a great dude.”
News bullets and other items:
Reon Dawson and Jaron Dukes are medically retiring.
Freddy Canteen and Moe Ways recently had shoulder and foot surgery, respectively. Canteen’s status with the program is in the air; Ways should be back in 3-4 months.
Speight, O’Korn, and Morris are getting more snaps than the other QBs, but they’re all still making at least one “big mistake” every practice.
Devin Bush Jr. had his best practice of the spring on Saturday.
Harbaugh responded to Gene Smith’s comments because he felt a shot was fired across Michigan’s bow and, after waiting many hours, thought he needed to do the same. Just never, ever tell him that he likes to get in twitter wars because it’s a form of competition.
Harbaugh said it doesn’t matter to him what time of day games are played; a night game or lack thereof doesn’t faze him.
What did you see out there from your group today, and what were you looking for specifically here today?
“Uh, you know, good, competitive football fight. Getting better: in a lot of areas we are and in a lot of other areas not bad and other and all areas we need to keep improving, so…the guys are grindin’.”
Did your quarterback rotation go about how you wanted, and what did you see out of those guys?
“Uh…you know, there’s—like I told them, there’s, you know…we’re looking for a quarterback to move the team and not make the big mistake. They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day, so we’re not—we’re just gonna keep plugging away and keep getting better, keep giving them things they can improve on, things they can take and use. Looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that’ll be another good test, but they’re getting a lot of tests right now. Strides are being made, but we’ve still got a long row to hoe.”
What does it do for your fans and for your team to come out here in this setting at Ford Field and open it up?
“I think it’s great in the way of sometimes spring practice can get monotonous. Some would even say boring. There’s no game that comes at the end of the week. It’s something different. Something to make it livelier, special—that’s what we get out of it. To have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even the cameras, even the TV cameras—even if they didn’t have film in them, you know?”
They don’t anymore.
“Touché. So even if you had a camera that wasn’t actually recording anything guys would work hard. Guys would enjoy it more. People are watching, so that’s a good thing for us.”
With the quarterbacks, are you still repping them evenly or are you changing that up some?
“I’d say there’s Wilton [Speight], John [O’Korn], Shane [Morris] getting more. It’s not dead even anymore, no.”
Would it be Wilton, John, Shane in that order?
“I can’t even make an order right now. It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them. You can tell in the way they play and just continuing to be able to play loose and play smart and continue to get repetitions. Continue to get looks and learn—that’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action. We’re going to make it game-like in the spring game. Everything’s going to be real tackle football live; the quarterbacks, everybody. There’ll be live bullets for them, so that’ll be a nice, good-size task for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
How is the growing of a relationship with Brian Smith going? He’s new to you.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s great. He’s doing great. He’s learning the defense fast and we’re working together, working a lot more time together with the safeties and corners and spending a lot more time together. Everything’s going pretty smoothly.”
We talked to Jourdan [Lewis] in Florida and he seems really comfortable, maybe even more confident than he did a year ago. Where’s he at right now in your estimation in terms of his growth?
“He’s doing a hell of a job. Kid works hard, works his butt off. He’s been playing really well this spring. I think part of his comfort now is its year two in a system that he pretty much knows. Only new thing really [is] one new coverage that we put in that’s kind of changed things, but it’s a fun coverage for the corners. It’s a fun coverage for the secondary. I think the comfort level of playing press-man all last year and coming right back and doing it again this year really is comforting.”
Did he exceed your expectations at all last year from when you first got him?
“Well…being honest, watching the prior year on film, we watched all the games and he was impressive then. I was impressed with him, Strib[ling], Clark, those guys to be able to play man the way we wanted them to play man. To be able to handle that transition last year, that was impressive. All three of those guys. And now the carryover is very helpful.”
Where can he still get better?
“Jourdan? Woo, that’s a tough question. He’s pretty dang good at what he does. I think the biggest thing for him is just maintaining that level of play that he has, staying competitive. You know, maybe if I was being critical of him, use of his hands downfield. But he’s doing some really good things.”
I’m sure you’ve had other guys who are at the top of their game. How do you go approach them different than maybe a normal player?
“You don’t. You don’t. You just coach them the same, be consistent with all of them. At times you use guys like him and Strib as examples, but you gotta be consistent when you’re coaching. That’s what I try to do. I hope I’m doing that for those guys.”
Do you see him having an influence on Stribling and Clark?
“Well, you know, certainly his accolades from last year. His work ethic on the field. Very competitive guy. Those things, we all wish they rub off on a lot of guys and so in our room that can have an effect.”
Do you see him ever more vocally--
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He gets fired up on the field. Quiet off the field, but in between the lines he’s pretty vocal.”
[After THE JUMP: A new coverage, safety depth, the Glasgows, and Jabrill: not just an LB]
So Jay, how’s your new house? I saw you bought a house on Twitter.
“Uh, I have no heat. Gas got shut off even though I tried to not have it shut off, so I haven’t slept there yet. No heat. It’s about 35 degrees in there. Not great.”
MGoQuestion: Are you guys still going to use the shield punt formation this year?
“We’re going to have a bunch of different things. Shield will be one of the things that we do. I think we’re going to be kind of hybrid—a little bit of everything.”
MGoFollowUp: What led to that decision?
“To basically change it up?”
MGoWe’reOnTheSamePage: To switch it up, yeah.
“I think when you look at what teams are doing nationally I think out of 120 teams probably 75 or so, maybe 65-75 that are some variation of hybrid, meaning they’re not really pro-style, they’re not really shield, they kind of go back and forth; it’s a little harder to identify. Those are the teams that generally have the most success, so probably go that route.”
We saw a lot of Wheatley working with Butt and that first group when we were in Florida. How has that evolved? Is he still among those fighting for that other spot?
“Yeah. I mean, we traveled six guys to all the games so there’s really no other spot to be won. There’s certain jobs to be won, maybe, in terms of, ‘Hey, you’re going to do this role on this play’ but I wouldn’t think of it like that in terms of ‘Hey, this guy’s fighting for that third tight end spot.’
“We want to put guys in positions to do things that they’re good at anyway, but he is doing well and he’s one of that group of guys that kind of rotates with the ones. There’s really four or five of them, though.”
With a guy like Jake, as good as he is and experienced, how much of a comfort is he for whoever emerges at quarterback to know that Jake’s probably going to be open and he’s probably going to catch the ball?
“I would imagine it’s pretty nice. I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine that’s a pretty great thing to have him and Amara and then eventually Jehu out there. That’s got to make you feel really good throwing the ball.”
Can Kenny [Allen] punt and kick field goals if needed?
“Certainly. Yeah, Kenny’s very good and he has a very good sense of how much he can handle physically and he’s not going to wear himself out, so he can certainly do it all.”
Doesn’t seem like an ideal situation though, is it?
“Mm, no. Ideally yeah, you’d have a different person for everything but the really ideal thing is to have the best guy at each spot. If he happens to be the best guy at each spot then we’re good with that, but there’s still a long ways to go. And those guys, that’s one position where you can really develop quite a bit in the offseason more so than some other spots where it’s more just strength and conditioning. Specialists can actually improve their craft more than some other spots, I think.”
Have you had a chance to do many returns yet, and are there any different guys mixing in than what we saw last fall?
“I wouldn’t say different expect for new guys like Kareem [Walker]. But Jehu and Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill, Dymonte [Thomas], Kareem. I mean, I think that group as a whole is really, really good. I’d be surprised if there’s a better group as a whole in the country. All those guys are pretty dangerous.”
You mentioned four or five other tight ends. Who’s in that group, and is it a little deeper than it was last year, would you say?
“Umm, it probably is. I mean, at one point or another this spring we’ve had Jake [Butt], Ian [Bunting], TJ [Wheatley], and Sean McKeon and Gentry with the ones obviously doing different things. I’d like to put everyone in a position to succeed. TJ can do things different than Gentry; just naturally they’re very different body types and they have different strengths and weaknesses at this point. But yeah, at one point or another each of those guys has been with the ones.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Butt, best tight end in America; recruiting a dominant trait; why Gentry moved to TE; Ol’ Skillet Hands hype]
What led to the decision to come here?
“It was just a great opportunity to work with coach Harbaugh. He’s had a lot of success everywhere he’s been, so honestly I just wanted to be a part of that and learn from him. And also the chance to work with coach Brown, who I’ve worked with before and I’ve played with. It was a chance to meet up with him again and work side by side, so I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
Difficult transition at all going straight to Florida like that and not even knowing any of the player’s names at this point, it’s such a quick decision?
“Yeah, I mean, everything happened fast. The whole process, just learning names out on the field the first day. But like I said, I’ve worked with coach Brown before in the past so that made the transition a lot easier for me. But just spending extra time trying to get in the playbook myself, learning it along with the players, was a fun process.”
What was Jim’s pitch to you coming to Michigan?
“Well, he didn’t really have to pitch too much. Michigan kind of speaks for itself. It’s a great university and they’ve had a lot of success in the past, and just the opportunity to be here I couldn’t pass up.”
More enjoyable to play for coach Brown or to work with him?
“Well it was great to play for him in that defense that he has. It’s changed a little bit over the years but not much. It’s still the same philosophy, so as a player you love that style of defense.”
We’ve heard a lot about the front seven in his defense. How does that impact the back four?
“He always does a good job stopping the run and it makes teams one-dimensional, so it helps us out.”
MGoQuestion: What are the characteristics of the ideal free and strong safety in this defense?
“Well, we like guys that have length, that are athletic, that can play man-to-man. You know, those are some of the things that we look for. At the end of the day, football players- guys that are football players, tough, [and] love to play the game.”
[After THE JUMP: it’s a press conference of course Jabrill comes up]
MGoQuestion: Which receivers have impressed you the most since spring started?
“Well, you know, we haven’t had Jehu [Chesson]. Amara [Darboh] has had a very good spring so far. Really working hard at his craft. I mean, just you would think—you know, it felt like he just picked up where he left off against Florida. Grant Perry, same thing. Really good spring so far. Picked up where he left off. Drake Harris had a really good last two days. Had his best day today. Really making some plays with his—we all know he’s a basketball player, right? But he’s shown that ability. And then Ahmir Mitchell’s come in and he’s competing. These guys are supposed to be in high school right now and he’s practicing as hard as he can. And Moe Ways has improved a lot. Moe Ways, I’m not sure I can remember a drop in spring. I think Moe Ways leads us with the least amount of drops, so it’s been a good—you know, those guys have all come in and they’ve all done a nice job coming back and kind of letting us pick up where we left off.”
What kind of things are you able to do with them this year now that you’re not building the foundation like last spring? How much further ahead?
“Yeah, well, we’re a little light on numbers until the next batch comes in in terms of we’ve got four or five guys coming in. So in terms of what we’re doing, we’re just building off of what we did and asking these guys to really push themselves and fight through it and they’ve become really well conditioned, and then you’re able to tweak a route or tweak a release or change some things up. ‘Hey, this is how we did it all of last fall. Here’s you on film’ rather than ‘Here’s Allen Robinson on film’ or ‘Here’s Brandon Marshall on film,’ [it’s] ‘Here’s you on film. How can we make that better?’”
With so few, are you able to do more individual tweaking?
“Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of where we’re at right now is you can really hone in and focus in and spend the time getting Ahmir caught up to speed, time getting Grant ready to play outside and inside, really focusing in on Moe Ways playing both spots on the perimeter and just kind of making those ‘Hey, in one-on-ones, here’s you running the route; here’s you last year running the route. Look at the difference.’”
After what Amara and Jehu gave you last year, what do you still need from a third wide receiver or a fourth wide receiver?
“Um, well, we need more production. We need someone else to be in that range of 40 or 50 catches. We need Amara and Jehu to be in the range of 75 catches. You know, they need to get up and the third receiver then needs to bring his numbers up. Maybe our third receiver had like 20 catches or something. Let’s get to 40. Let’s get to two more first downs a game. You know, give us two more first downs a game. Give us one more explosive play a game. Keep us on the field for one more drive, and then allow us to play with more guys. Let’s play with more receivers, you know, and get more guys ready to go. It’ll be fun to see what these guys can do.”
[After THE JUMP: if you would like to be considered for the starting quarterback position please leave your application at the front desk]