[I sat down shortly after the start of Mattison's roundtable.]
"Watching them this summer, you know, we're not allowed to be around them but I'm hearing what they've done and they've really taken care of business. They've worked really hard this summer, which shows that they have the same goals for their group as we do."
How many different places are you going to use Taco, or are you going to center in on one spot for him? And talk about what he brings to the table.
"The entire group of guys by their positions, tackle and nose, end is called 'end' or 'anchor', those are the two outside guys, they know that they have to know both positions. The reason for that is teams that trade the tight end, when you're an end you become an anchor, anchor becomes an end, that kind of thing, nose and tackle—and it helps us with our rotation. We've found this out over the years and it's happened more and more—teams that run spread offense, really one of the reasons they do that is if you have a really good defensive line or experienced defensive line, they try to wear them out, they try to get that defensive line to not have the impact that it would have in a game by taking a little bit of their gas away. So we want to have the ability to plug a lot of guys into different positions.
"Also I think whenever you are at a position and you know the other positions, you know better how to play it. I think the days are over where 'I am a this position and that's all I do,' and you're going to get in trouble doing that because all of a sudden somebody goes down or gets nicked up and you need to take the next-best guy and put him in somewhere. Experience helps you with that. These kids have heard the same techniques, the same expectations for three and four years, it's easy for them to slip into another position."
And then Taco, talk about...
"Taco will start out—he played both the anchor and the end, but we'll play him more as the open-side end this year. With him playing that position will be Chase Winovich. Chase has showed some great things this spring, having never played the position, but he's a young man that we're looking for—he's got a lot of things going for him. He's very aggressive, very fast for his size, he's gotten bigger, and that gives us the two that you're looking for, at least, at that position."
And Taco, talk about his contributions, speed and size, what he brings...
"Taco's got great leverage. He's a six-foot-five guy, so he's got long leverage, which allows you to keep separation. He plays very physical. He can run. He's an athlete, he was an outstanding basketball player. And he's got great experience now. He's played a lot of football since he's been here and now I think he really feels about about—you know, he's ready to really go."
[Hit THE JUMP for Mattison answering many questions that aren't Taco talk-abouts.]
You mentioned at media day that year two makes things so much easier—or more familiar, I should say. How’s it feeling?
“No, not easier. But feeling good right now. Coming off of a very good practice today, so feel good about the way our guys are working. Feel really good about the way we practiced today. There was quite a bit of good scrimmaging. Feel like our team is building a callus now that bodes very well for us. I mean, it was not. It was a little more [purulent] than about a week ago, but now it’s starting to harden. Feel good about that.”
Your quarterbacks now compared to a year ago: do you feel like they’re about where they were or in the system for a year, does that help them?
“Definitely has helped them. Right now we’re—I hate to compare—but we’re better. We’re better at that position than we were eight, nine days into camp last year.”
Have you narrowed it down? Is it down to two guys? Have a rank order?
“Yeah, not just two. I mean, Shane Morris is doing good, having a good camp. Wilton Speight’s having an outstanding camp. John O’Korn’s having a very good camp. The quarterback play’s been really good in camp, right from the first day. Been very pleased with that. They’ve…they’re completing balls, they’re running the team, they know what they’re doing. They’re competing at a good, high level. It’s been good. Yeah.
“I’m trying to think through different camps. I’ve said it to myself: this group of quarterbacks is playing really well. Better than most camps that I’ve seen from the start. Sometimes they struggle with their accuracy and struggle with different things, communicating, fumbled snaps on the ground. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing solid play that’s improving, too. It started good and it’s getting better every day. Hope we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today, but we had a good day today.”
Are there any other positions where you’re seeing as fierce a competitive battle as you are at quarterback?
“Uh, there’s…there’s some good play. Some good—young guys are playing very well. Devin Asiasi had a heck of a day today. Michael Onwenu is somebody I’m—you know, he’s one of my favorites. Doing a heck of a good job. Ben Bredeson is doing an outstanding job. Rashan Gary is a really good football player. The young linebackers are playing really well. The young receivers are doing a heck of a good job. Chris Evans is maybe one of the most outstanding of them all. Khaleke Hudson’s doing an outstanding job. Dylan Crawford’s doing a good job. So, yeah, it’s been good. Quinn Nordin’s doing an outstanding job. Those guys, some really good players in that class have heated some of the competitive waters at multiple positions. It’s a good thing.”
How many freshmen do you expect to play this year?
“Right now it’s competitive and I don’t see any of our older guys just giving their jobs away. Don’t see that happening. Not through the nine practices. Not saying that for one minute, so it’s still to be determined. There’s some competitive, heated-up waters. More than you see on really probably any team I’ve ever been on where a group of new guys…they’re showing that they’re on track to be either starters or backup players. It’s still to be determined.
“They’ve got to do it over the course of the next couple weeks, but it’ll be exciting to watch. Some of them will, some of them won’t. The best players are going to play, regardless of class year that they’re in. As I’ve said, we’ve got a lot of veteran players who like their starting jobs. It’ll be a battle.”
Last year you waited until the first snap at Utah to reveal the starting lineup. Do you imagine that’ll be the same this season, too, with the quarterbacks and rest of the roster?
“I haven’t decided yet.”
[After THE JUMP: I guess you could say this press conference was…[/puts on sunglasses] suspended.]
[I jumped into the scrum mid-answer] “…I was behind both Worm and Earl [Willie Henry] both playing those. They were both great players and both playing the same position so making sure when I got my time I was making plays, got the sacks, the hurries, everything like that. I contributed a lot against the pass and made sure I was stout against the run also in that 3-4 defense. As an end I made strides and as I got more playing time I contributed more and made more plays for the team. That was something I was able to do and I’ve been waiting to do for a while. As my snaps increase as a senior and going back to [being] a 4-3 end, I believe my production is only going to skyrocket, also.”
What do you think of these new threads?
“Oh, I like them a lot. I grew up wearing Jordans since I was a little kid. My mom had me as a baby wearing Jordans. I like the look of it. Jordan’s an icon not just in a football aspect but as a mogul, as himself, he’s somebody who you can go anywhere in the world and somebody will know he’s Michael Jordan. So to have this brand paired with Michigan, which to me is also a brand iconic in itself, I feel like it’s the perfect fit.”
It still means a lot after 10 or 12 years? All that still carries something to you?
“Oh yeah. I know Jordan hasn’t played in a while but at the end of the day he’s still an icon and not only is he the greatest player of all time to play the sport of basketball but I feel the Jordan brand is not just basketball. It expanded to baseball, golf, whatever it is and now football, but NFL players have been wearing it for a while. It’s a brand where, I heard Charles Woodson say ‘excellence.’ It’s a brand you can be a part of that—it’s a small group that’s a part of the Jordan brand because of that excellence and what he stands for.”
We asked Don Brown about your weight loss. How much have you lost?
“I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I was 285. Today I weighed in about 275, so I lost about 10 pounds from last year which was because we were in a 3-4 end and now we’ve switched over to a 4-3. I’m allowed to get my speed back, get that motor going, which I felt better this spring training. It wasn’t necessarily bad weight that I had on last year, but it was baggage that I didn’t need and it allowed me to be a lot faster off the edge and get that speed that we’ve worked at.”
He said ‘Would you rather be a slug or a bullet?’ Did he say that to you?
[laughs] “Nah, I haven’t heard anything.”
So you’d rather be a bullet?
“Of course, of course. I need that speed coming off the edge. It’s something that our team needs. He wants me to be that pass rusher that we need.”
[After THE JUMP: the “Jabrill Peppers decking people” tag is more versatile than we imagined.]
With guidance from Jake Butt, Ian Bunting is poised for a breakout year. [Fuller]
MGoQuestion: This seems like the year where you're going to see the field a lot more. What's the biggest thing you're doing to prepare for that?
"Just getting the little tweaks I'd say is the most important thing, especially at—the higher level you get to, whatever you do, the distance between being good and being great gets smaller and smaller. So I think that little tweaks like footwork or just understanding more of the whole concept or of the whole play or the whole offense, it's the little things like that that I'm going and I have been focusing on to get better."
MGoQuestion: Working behind a guy like Jake Butt, what's he been able to impart on you as an All-American?
"He's been very influential. He's been a great teacher, a great role model since I've gotten here. I'm very appreciative of that. We are always competing, him and me and the rest of the tight ends. We compete with each other but we also help each other. We're not a selfish group, like our room is very close-knit, but we also understand that we're always going to be going up against each other and competing with each other, and that just brings out the best in everyone."
MGoQuestion: Does it help knowing that Jim Harbaugh is going to be happy to play two, three, four tight ends?
"Yeah, we love it. That's music to our ears. Last year we had four-TE sets, so we love that. In our opinion, the more tight ends we have on the field, the better. If there's any opportunity for us to get on the field and make a positive impact on the game and help us win, we're all for it."
[inaudible] ...with everything you guys have got going, the returning offensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers.
"I think we can be very, very dynamic, very explosive, and very smart football-wise, very intellectual. There are a lot of guys that have been here for a while. Coming into the season not having to learn a whole new offense, there's definitely something to be said about that. The sky's the limit."
Do you expect the ball to be thrown your way a decent amount this year?
"That is not up to me. I don't make those decisions. But I would not complain. As a tight end, you love blocking, and you love catching the ball and doing what you can with it after you catch it. That's what the tight end does, especially nowadays, it's kind of an evolving position. It's not as much a glorified, other lineman. It's really evolved. As you can see with Jake, he's been a big part of that evolution. I don't know how many catches he had last year but he had a lot of catches and he did a lot with the ball after he caught it. We want to improve on that and take that to a whole other level this year."
Is taking it to a whole other level making rap videos?
"(Laughs) Yeah, I love doing that stuff. I did a little bit of that in high school. One of my best friends who lived two blocks away from me, Pat Foley is his name, he actually started a production company in high school, it's called Hued Productions. They're down in Atlanta now going to school and also doing that. He's great at what he does. In high school he just had a makeshift little studio, so we were just like, yeah, let's mess around and make some music. We both love music, and we did it, made a few songs, made a music video right before we all left for college. I guess people like it."
MGoQuestion: What's the reception from the rest of the team?
"They all love it. A lot of the guys were in the video, too, so that was a lot of fun. It's just something that is a passion of mine outside of football and outside of school. For now, that's going to get pushed to the side and it's going to be football. It's going to be focusing on winning football games for a while now."
MGoQuestion: It seems like with Harbaugh that blocking is the path to get on the field. (Bunting: "Yeah!") What have you done to take that next step?
"A lot of blocking, in my opinion, is footwork. We work on that all the time with each other, on the field during practice or even just when we have seven-on-seven or something, just spend a little time afterwards just working on footwork, steps for different types of blocks. As much as we like to catch the ball, we love blocking too. It's just fun. It's fun to go and hit someone."
[Hit THE JUMP for Grant Newsome discussing the difficulty of facing M's defense in practice and John O'Korn crashing my interview with Moe Ways.]
If you listened to The Michigan Insider Tuesday morning you heard them run interviews with some of Michigan’s assistant coaches, including Don Brown. We thought you, our beloved readers, might like reading a transcript of what coach Brown had to say. When you finish reading you should head to The Michigan Insider’s channel on Audioboom and listen to the rest of what Sam and Ira discussed. After all, the cool people like it.
What are your impressions of Jabrill Peppers, and talk about the various ways you can line him up and use him as a linebacker/defensive back.
“Great job, that’s what we’re going to do. Talented guy, very fast. He can get from point A to point B very efficiently. Extremely intelligent football player. Has a knack for handling concepts, so, you know, I said it in the spring and I’ll just continue to say it: we’re going to give this guy a lot to do. He’s going to have different jobs based on the package. And calling him a linebacker’s probably not fair. Calling him a hybrid’s probably not fair, because we’ll ask him to do a lot of stuff. That’s the beauty of guys like him, you know. You have to set them and they give you a unique ability to cover from the linebacker position and you don’t have to substitute.”
Coming in new to this defense, how big of an advantage is it to have a defensive line with some experience and depth because I imagine it all starts there?
“Always does. You know, first off, really excited to work with coach Mattison. He does such a great job with the guys. Great football coach. But we feel like we’re going to be, with Glasgow getting back in the mix and maybe some of the guys that we brought in, we’re going to let it play out but we should be eight to nine guys deep, which certainly allows rotation. It allows guys to play fast, be fresh, and take advantage of every repetition. If they’re knocking those guys back, that’s a good thing. It certainly will help with breaking in virtually a brand new linebacker corps right across the board. So that helps. It really does.”
Do you have concerns with that? That seems to be the question with everyone as far as the linebackers--
“No, not really.”
You like the guys you have?
“I like the guys I have. Obviously we’ve talked about Jabrill. Noah Furbush is working at the Sam position as well and, you know, he’s 238 pounds running a 4.5, too. That’s a pretty good thing. He’s just not—he’s not a household name, but, you know, I feel good about him. Ben Gedeon has played some. You know, his role has definitely changed because now he’s the guy. It’s his show. He’s got to run it. We’re excited about him. Mike McCray, again…I’ll knock on my head, I guess, for wood. Let’s keep him healthy. I think he’s a very, very good football player. And I can comment on Devin Bush because he was with me in the spring. Feel like I’ve got a pair and a spare, and hopefully that just grows with the development of the guys that we have here.
“I like Wroblewski. We moved him to Mike backer about practice six, and that ‘s a hard deal. You get about nine or 10 workouts of playing Mike backer, but I see him significantly growing throughout camp and hopefully Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Josh Uche and Devin Gil and those guys will just…they’ll have great modeling because the guys in front of them know what they’re doing, so that’s a beautiful thing. And we’ll see if we can get a couple of those guys in the mix and get them going at least in some of our packages.”
You talked about the linebacker corps. How important is it for them to have the secondary that you guys have?
“Unbelievable. You know, the first thing that we talk about on the back end [is] you better get your hands dirty in the run game now. It’s not those guys up front have the run and us guys back here have the pass. It’s an 11-man deal, and they have gaps to fit, run places to fit, and I see a willing group, so that’s important. But again, when you can lean on a veteran secondary that can play coverage one-on-one, defend ‘em one on one it allows you to be extremely multiple with what you’re going to do to kind of occupy the quarterback’s attention.”
[After THE JUMP: “If I tell ya, I have to take ya out.”]
[I didn’t label these MGoQuestions because it was a one-on-one interview]
Where would you say you’ve made the biggest gains from last year to this year as far as technique’s concerned?
“I think just kind of honing in on the little details of my technique. That was big for me, going back and watching past years and seeing where I need to improve and kind of honing in on the smaller details of things. Getting off blocks, finishing tackles, finishing plays were the biggest for me.”
With Don Brown coming in, are you guys going to be dropping into coverage a little bit more or is it about the same as what you’ve done in the past?
“Pretty similar. But his motto is ‘Solve your problems with aggression,’ so we’re going to get after the quarterback. We’re going to be blitzing a bunch. We had aggressive defensive coordinators in the past as well. Coach Durkin got after the quarterback as well, so it’s not too much of a change for us.”
Technique-wise, what does Coach Partridge or Coach Brown preach to you most often?
“Just really getting off blocks and finishing tackles. That’s the art of playing linebacker. You’ve got to get off blocks. You can’t stay on blocks, you can’t trade one for one. You’ve got to finish plays.”
You were saying you feel like you’ve made pretty big strides as far as shedding blocks?
“Yeah, I think so. Spring’s a big fundamental time for us and I think altogether us linebackers got a lot better in that regard.”
How do you get better at that? Is it through drills, is it through live reps, or can you study it on film? What helps the most?
“I think it’s a combination of all of them. You start with the drill. You start not against another person and you hone in on the technique, but once you get to a live period sometimes you forget all that and you fall back on your technique and you evaluate it at film [sessions] and try to improve.”
What, if any, differences are there from last year’s defense to this year’s defense as far as your assignments are concerned?
“The biggest difference?”
Yeah, if there are any.
“Pretty similar. I mean, for me personally it’s just being more vocal and making the calls as a Mike linebacker. Play a lot of man coverage. No secret there. We’ll be blitzing a lot so we’ll play a lot of man.”
[After THE JUMP: Learn how Carlo Kemp became Chris Wormley’s psedo-son and which NFL players’ film Amara Darboh watches]