[I walked into the scrum mid-answer.] “Camp’s really been fun lately. I’m actually enjoying camp. You know, getting to spend time with the boys playing football. It’s crazy because usually different teams go do activities, but we just wake up, come down to Schembechler and practice. And that’s fun, to spend time with the boys.”
Do you think losing last year to injury changed your perspective on that, wanting to be back around and involved?
“Yeah. One thing that my injury taught me is just to be thankful. There’s people that can’t walk. I’m just grateful, grateful to play football.”
Obviously a lot of talent on the defensive line; you guys showed it last year. Do you ever think about if you were healthy, what it could have been?
“Yeah, I wish I’d be out there to be with the boys, but everything happens for a reason.”
With you back in the mix, can you talk about that depth a little bit?
“It’s really good. Coach calls it like he doesn’t really have starters, he has a two-deep group and everybody—basically anybody could play if [inaudible].”
Is it the depth that stands out most about the defensive line or is there something else that stands out to you?
“What do you mean by that?”
What stands out about the group?
“What stands out? We have a lot of veterans back, that’s what really stands out. We have so much leadership from the defensive line, and what’s really positive about the D-line is all the old heads we have.”
Why is that important? We know about the physical part of the defensive line, but the mental part.
“Mental part? Sorry, I’m lost.”
The leadership: why is that important as opposed to all the guys coming back?
“Oh, leadership! Because we have so many young guys—a lot of young guys. It’s good to have that leadership because it shows the younger boys what to do, and the vets throughout the whole thing have just been good leaders and everyone’s been backing them up.”
What’s Don Brown like to play for?
“Oh man, I love it. Coach Brown, he’s a fun coach you want to play for. I don’t know. Coach Brown, he’s just a great ol’ guy.”
What does he do that you like?
“He just brings the juice to every practice. In practices and in meetings he always has his juice. So much energy from Coach Brown.”
You talked about being thankful and you talked about the old heads a little bit. Do you find yourself in a position where you’re talking to the younger guys like, ‘Hey, don’t take this for granted.’?
“Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah, I talk to mostly all the freshmen. I took them in under my wing and just told them to be grateful because there’s no other place like Michigan. Everybody just likes and enjoys the struggle of being out there.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Young Toothless in repose [Fuller/MGoBlog]
What’s it like for you to be back in the mix?
“It’s great. I really missed playing football. Mostly I just missed the camaraderie, I feel like. When you’re hurt, you’re not playing, you have to sit out. You don’t get to play with your friends—these guys are your best friends, your teammates, guys you work all year with to achieve your goals, and not being a part of that really hurts.”
How much did it bother you down the stretch last season to watch and not be a part of it?
“It…the thing that bothered me was I felt like I was hanging my teammates out to dry. I know we played a lot of up-tempo teams and you need depth against those teams. You can’t expect four or five guys to go out there and play every snap against a team that’s snapping the ball every 15 seconds. So, I felt like I could have done more. I felt like I was kind of hanging them out to dry, for lack of a better term, out there, so that kind of hurt pretty bad.”
You were saying at the linemen camp that you felt you were healthy and ready to go. Are you able to assess it better now that you’re actually going against people?
“Yeah. I mean, there’s no substitute for a 300-pound man trying to block you. So, it took a couple days to get back in the swing of things but I feel great. I feel 100%. Feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Everything’s going great.”
How about the depth as it stands now? They’re talking about rolling lines.
“I’ll let Coach Mattison and Coach Harbaugh talk about the depth chart. It’s not really my place to talk about it.”
Harbaugh was saying that Michael Onwenu is possibly his favorite player on the team—or favorite of the freshmen, that he’s going both ways. So are you going against him and working with him?
“Yeah, he’s a mountain of a man. He’s a big guy. He was playing defense and giving us looks as an offensive guard in individual, you’re just like, ‘This kid is huge.’ And he picks up on everything really quickly. If you can play offensive and defensive line both as a true freshman or you’re rolling through depending on the day, whichever side of the ball they want you to play, that’s pretty impressive.”
If you had to guess, how much would you say he actually weighs?
“Um…I think the most recent weigh-in was about 375, so I think that’s the heaviest on the team by about 50 pounds. That’s a pretty wide margin on a college football team.”
But he still can move well at that size?
“Yeah! He moves extremely well for a guy who [inaudible].”
You felt earlier you could have done more last November. Medically, you weren’t allowed to play, right?
“No, I wasn’t. It’s just the feeling like I was I was out there with my guys. Maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. It was just a weird feeling sitting at home. I’ve been traveling basically every game since my redshirt year, and so watching on the couch instead of being there, it was just a little strange.”
Does that make you reassess things, not coming back by the end of the season?
“Yeah, it’s just like this game does end and having it taken away so abruptly—like, if I was a true senior or something that could have been my last game, [the game] against Rutgers. It kind of makes you take every day and cherish it and not take it for granted.”
What was the rehabilitation period like for you and the recover period like for you?
“I spent six weeks in an immobilizer. Just a little wedge thing right here to keep it still to let it heal. But our strength training staff and our athletic training staff was great, especially Jason Williams, a Michigan grad. He took probably about an hour out of his day every day to work with me for God knows how long. Probably like two weeks straight. So, that was great and I really appreciate the strength staff and the athletic training staff for that.”
What’s your reaction to the new boss on defense?
“He’s the man. He’s awesome. It’s a little different being coached by him. He’s not as big of a screamer as our past defensive coordinator but he gets the point across. He’s a great guy. His defense is awesome and we’re excited to play in it this year.”
[After THE JUMP: the origin story of Young Toothless and a little technique talk with McCray]
How’s the competition going?
“It’s going well. Typical camp stuff, so we’re supposed to keep it in house but everyone’s doing a good job. Everyone’s competing the way they should be. No one’s trying to back off. No one’s trying to give anyone any leeway. It’s just good, healthy competition.”
What’s the second camp [like] under Jim Harbaugh compared to the first one?
“Hmm. That’s a good question. Hold up with this. What he’s been stressing a lot is the toughness of it. The first camp, I think a lot of us were getting acclimated to his coaching style but the second one, now that we’ve been under his belt for a year-- even the young guys, they’re having to get this crash course in Harbaughism. I personally enjoy it. I’ve got no problem with it, but it’s definitely been an increase in I’d say intensity, maybe, is the best way to put it.”
Is it fun to watch the kids go through it the first time?
“Yeah! It’s always fun. Chris Evans is my roommate. I talked to him the first day of camp and I was like, ‘Hey, Chris. Ready for camp?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, dog. I’m so ready.’ I was like, ‘No, you’re not. You think you’re ready but you’re not. Just give it a couple days.’ But he’s doing well.
“I think all the freshmen are taking well, but there’s definitely those first few days where they’re like ‘What did I just get myself into?’ They’re adjusting well now. Everyone’s doing well.”
Is Chris working at running back and receiver or is he mostly at just running back?
“He’s been doing both. I kind of pay attention to him when he’s with us because we’re doing running back stuff. We get off from our play and we kind of huddle and talk about the play that just happened. I haven’t really seen him leave the running back huddle but if he has I’m typically not in the area where he would be there.I wouldn’t be surprised if he has.”
Jim said good things about him.
”Yeah, he’s a good guy.”
Jim said that about him as a player.
“Yeah, he’s athletic. Very athletic.”
You’ve been full go?
“Yeah, I’ve been through all the practices.”
Any discomfort with anything?
Have we talked to you since the forklift incident?
For those of us who weren’t there, talk a little bit about—I mean, how did that happen? Give us the rundown on that.
“You know, I was stretching at the track and there was a [claps] incident. But I’m not supposed to talk about it. Coach said chill on it so I’m gonna chill on it, but it was just an unfortunate incident. It happened. I’m glad I’m on the other side of it.”
[After THE JUMP: A rejected Charizard tattoo; fat man 7-on-7]
[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.]