Mike Lantry, 1972
“The thing I would say starting out is we have a long way to go. When watching from the side and seeing what I thought I saw, we’ve got to become a lot more physical. We’ve got to improve a great deal over the summer. The good news with that is our staff and this program believes in working very hard at improvement over the summer and not just lifting weights. I think we’ll make a lot of gains this summer.”
Blake Countess had a nice INT today. Can you talk about his spring and maybe your feelings on the secondary as a whole?
“The thing that I was pleased with with Blake is I’m always leery of a freshman who has success and then what is he going to be like that next year? You’ll tell really big what he’s going to be like in the spring. Blake has come out every day and worked to improve. Blake has tried to become a better football player. I didn’t see any signs of a guy thinking that he’s arrived. As far as the secondary, I think we have a long way to go yet. You always are looking for guys to step up because you need to find who’s going to play every day, who’s going to go out there and do what you’re asking them to do, and you can’t miss tackles back there. You can’t do that. We had that happen. I think we have to become a better blitzing team out of the secondary. I think we called a pressure, a guy was unblocked and didn’t hit the quarterback in the backfield. That should have been a knock-out hit. Those kinds of things are what we have to improve on.”
Kaleb Ringer got a lot of snaps today. What have you seen from him this spring?
“He’s a freshman. I think we saw, and I think I said before, he should be going to the prom. But the good news is he has been out there to be evaluated and to be coached every day. And hopefully that will pay dividends and show him what he must work on this summer to make coming this early be a benefit.”
You did a lot of shuffling with the defensive line this spring. How much more comfortable are you with them this spring?
“I feel very comfortable with the moves. Very comfortable. I think that might be one of the bright spots of the spring. Craig Roh showed me that he’s got a chance to be a pretty good football player there because he plays with such a good motor and he’s so prideful of his technique. And now when he gets stronger, I think you’re going to have a good 5-technique. Jibreel Black has to really -- the key to him is how strong he gets this summer. He did some good things this spring, some other things he showed why you can’t play at 270 in there if you don’t have great technique. The combination of Beyer and Clark give us a lot more athleticism on the edge. All three of those things … have been very beneficial for us.”
Have Beyer and Clark separated themselves at WDE yet?
“No, they haven’t separated themselves. Beyer is a very strong football player and can run. What Beyer has to work on a great deal is he gets a habit of getting high. He’s got to stay lower. Then he’s going to be a real force I think. Frank, on the other hand, wants to run to make plays before he beats the block at times. He needs to take some of what Beyer does and Beyer needs to take some of what he does. Both of them, I have been very pleased with the two of them and how hard they’ve worked and how hard they’ve tried to improve on what we say they need to improve on.”
Was the defense’s performance today pretty indicative of what you’ve seen all spring?
“Yeah. I think it was. I think you saw we’re going to be a defense where if we lose one or two guys at this point before the freshmen get in here, you’re going to fall off a little bit. I think that’s going to happen when Des[mond Morgan] was out of there. That’s a key guy for us. But it’s forced us to put a younger backer, where you know we need a lot of help, under the microscope. When we watch his tape we’re going to know exactly how he did, and then you’re going to have to say okay we have a lot more work to do.”
Do you think you’re well ahead of where you were a year ago at this point?
“I don’t know if we’re way ahead. The thing is we didn’t call many defenses today. I think I only probably called four defenses the whole day because I wanted to see how they were going to play under the gun. I know Al didn’t call a lot of stuff either. We wanted to make it really really hard nosed. I think this group wants to be really good. Like I said, I think sometimes maybe you don’t believe what I’m saying, but we make more gains at Michigan in the summer with what they do on technique than a lot of programs. That’s a three-month period of them doing it, the same individual [drills] that we’ve done with them for 15 days.”
What have you seen from Will Campbell this spring, and what did you see from him today?
“I see that we need him to be a football player. We need him to not just knock people around, but tackle the football. Will and I have talked long and hard about that: that the ball is the issue, not how many lumps you can put on that guard or center. Will’s getting it. Will’s getting it and Will’s the key. Will’s a big key because you’ve heard me before, you’re only as strong as you are down the middle. That’s going to be our whole deal this year because we’ll be fine outside. Jake Ryan had a good spring. Cam Gordon, you can see he’s going to help us. Our outside will be fine. It’s inside.”
You mentioned the gains you make over the summer. Is Will one of those guys you’re counting on to lead those efforts?
“Definitely. Will is definitely a leader. Will is a guy that has bought in totally to being a senior at Michigan.”
Do you see that this defense is faster than it was at this point last year?
“I do think this might be a little quicker defense than last year. One of the biggest reasons is they understand the defense. That defense last year was all new to those guys. You can’t play defense unless you know what the problem possibly is, so you can play faster. Any time you know the defense well you play faster, and I noticed that this spring.”
How do you shore up the middle of the defense?
“Well I think a lot of it’s technique, but one of the things -- down the middle sometimes means linebackers and taking on guards. One of the biggest things we have to improve on is using our hands and not using high school forms. That’s what some young freshman linebackers are doing right now. But the beautiful thing is they have sleds to work on all summer. Little techniques that will help them be stronger down the middle I think we have in place.”
Keith Heitzman made a bunch of nice plays today. Talk about his progress, and how do you talk about the overall depth on the defensive line?
“Yeah, Heitzman is one of those players that may not pass the eye test when he walks out on the field, but you know what? He’s always around the football. I made a comment one day at a meeting. We were watching the practice film, and I said, ‘You know what? This Heitzman kid, before it’s long, he may be one of those Michigan defensive linemen that just plays hard and tough.’ He needs to get a lot stronger. He needs to get a lot better at his technique, but he’s a young kid, and I think that’s a big thing. As far as the depth, everybody had their day. We have to all have our days. That’s what bothers me. I can name every player that played inside and there will be one play where it’ll be, ‘Yeah! See, that’s what you’re looking for!’ and then you won’t see it on the next one. We need to get consistent. Mike Martin, you’d see it every play you looked at. Will Heininger you might see it every play. Those guys, we need to get that kind of consistency out of that front.”
So many young linebackers will be working on technique over the summer. How important is Kenny Demens going to be in leading them?
“Very important, because Michigan’s always a senior leader -- and Kenny Demens needs to work on it as much as the young guys. So he can be the first guy going and they’ll be following him along, but every guy -- there’s a lot of competition at that position. There’s a lot of competition at every position, but at the linebacker position there’s going to be great competition.”
Where does Brandin Hawthorne stand right now?
“Yeah, I mean he has that ability to make plays. You remember he started some games last year for us. He has the ability to make plays, but the key in our defense is a guy has to be a very physical football player and he has to play with consistency. Guys that make plays put a lot of pressure on the coach to see if you hit it right when he’s going to make a play. We need guys that are going to be consistent all the time. He’s going to be another one of those linebackers that’s going to be in the mix.”
Is it his physicality that needs work?
“Well he’s been a little banged up ever since he’s been here. That would keep a guy from being real physical.”
Did you play him at MIKE out of necessity?
“You had a number of guys banged up. Mike Jones had a hamstring I guess, and Des, and Hawthorne’s got an elbow -- it’s spring. A guy that plays the WILL can also play MIKE. He should be able to play both. The linebacker thing, it’s going to be a heck of a competition before it’s all done.”
Hoke said you broke a sweat in warmups.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah. I broke a sweat in warmups, but it was swell [Ed: I'm 90% sure Denard said 'swell'] watching the guys play. A lot of people say we weren’t going to get started playing the game because the rain and the weather were bad, but we actually got to play and [I] watched them play, and it was fun.”
Were you frustrated at all you didn’t get a chance to play during the scrimmage?
“Uh, it was kind of frustrating, but I love watching other people be succesfull, and talking to the guys making sure they do well, it’s all good. We had fun.”
What did you see from Russell and Devin?
“They were eager to make plays, and they were making plays, but we have to just stay focused and stop with all the three-and-outs.”
Were there things you were telling them as they were coming off?
“Certain things, like make sure you throw the ball faster, [do] a certain step -- three-step or five-step -- some of that stuff.”
Would you be interested in wearing the No. 1 jersey?
“Oh man, that’s an off-the-wall question. I don’t think about it. That’s for the receivers. The 1 is for the receivers. I’m not a receiver at all. I’m a quarterback. I’m supposed to be the best quarterback for the University of Michigan … You can ask Roy that question, not me.”
So you wouldn’t wear it?
“No. I feel like it’s a receiver thing, but if they want to give it to me, I don’t know what I’d do with it.”
(more after the jump)
“I think the body of work throughout the spring is what we always want to make sure -- it’s always difficult when you just get done either a practice or even a scrimmage situation that we had to say who was good, who was bad, who did right, who did wrong, all those things, until you really look at the film. I mean, we can all perceive what we want, but you have to look at the tape. I thought the frustrating thing was we put three snaps on the ground. I don’t care who it is at quarterback nor do I care who it is at center. It’s fundamental football. Had some, on second and long, we jumped offsides defensively, which, second and long is a down and distance that we should be aware enough that’s where teams are going to try to get to that second and five where it’s a little easier for them offensively. I don’t feel like we tackled like we needed to. That’s concerning, but in the body of work there were some awfully good things during the course of the spring.”
What were some of the encouraging things?
“I think we’re tougher as a team than a year ago at this time, the way they come out and play with no pads on, pads on or whatever. That’s an improvement. I think, and I said this to a couple people last night -- the one thing I think we would feel though, point of attack defensively especially up the middle is not near where it has to be before we get to September 1st. That’s bothersome.”
Was the plan to not have Denard really break a sweat today?
“He sweated. We warmed up for a long time. You weren’t here. Yeah it was. We wanted to get, number one, Russell Bellomy as many snaps as we could. Get him with the second group there. And give Devin a chance to run quite a bit with the first group. That’s all part of it, yeah.”
Does the format of the spring game format set the defense up to have a better day than the offense?
“I didn’t see the defense have a better day.”
It looked like Brandin Hawthorne was playing middle linebacker. What have you seen from him this spring?
“He’s been beat up a little bit. He’s got an elbow right now. He’s coming off of surgery. He didn’t have much contact the first week. I think he made some of those wild plays today.”
Thomas Rawls had two touchdowns. How would you evaluate him this spring?
“Oh I don’t know. I think Thomas has had a good spring. He’s one of those guys who hen you look at the body of work, his physicalness -- he’s hard to tackle. You have to give him credit for that. He’s a good football player.”
Jack Miller played a lot today. How has he progressed?
“You know, I think every day he’s learning how to play center at the division I level. I think there’s been improvement and some footwork and the things that you look at from a technical side of it. I think that, and I think he’s got to continue -- strength gains are going to be huge for him this offseason, this summer, in the weight room. But I think Jack’s made progress. I’d like to find out, I think two of the three snaps were him and the quarterback, and it’s usually a matter of both their faults, but we can’t have that.”
What happened with Desmond Morgan’s knee?
“He got, uh, I don’t know. He got hit.”
Desmond Howard, ESPN analyst.
1991 Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan.
What did you think about the receivers this spring? Progress of the young guys?
“I think, Des -- I really like Roy Roundtree. He’s catching the ball away from his body better. I think just throughout the spring. I think Gallon has done a nice job for us. Jerald Robinson, he tweaked his ankle late today, but I think he’s made some growth. I think Jeremy Jackson has showed some great flashes. Drew Dileo is a guy you can count on all the time for being in the right spots. I think we’ve had some growth there. I really think Roy, and this is my opinion, really has improved a lot.”
Today aside, the top three guys at quarterback -- what stands out about their springs overall?
“I guess the first thing I’d say, is there’s a maturation they’ve had as a quarterback a little more. When you’re a Michigan quarterback, it’s pretty significant. I think you’ve seen some of that when you look at leadership, when you look at the fundamentals. I think we’re still not where we need to be or where I would like us to be with tempo, huddle, all those things. I think we need to be a little better there.”
How important will Jordan Kovacs be to the defense this fall?
“Well, you know, I think all 11 guys are improtant, but Jordan’s got a lot of snaps, a lot of experience. Very instinctive, does a great job with our back end, getting them lined up and his communication -- football intelligence, is a higher level. You have to have a guy like that back there. He’s not scared. I mean, he’ll put his face on you and that’s what you want when you talk about safeties.”
What did you mean when you said the defense didn’t have a better day overall?
“Well we’re too soft in the middle. Way too soft in the middle of the defense. Some of the read plays, they were too lateral defensively in my opinion instead of what we like to call knock-em back football. We didn’t do that.”
We didn’t really see much of a deep threat today. Who is the receiver who will be that guy?
“I think Roy has the ability to get some separation. Jerald Robinson would be the other guy.”
What were you hoping to see out of Bellomy today?
“Oh, you know, number one, it’s really his first kind of real snaps in Michigan Stadium. I don’t know how many people were here, but TV, all that kind of stuff -- just see how he handled himself, how he handled the huddle. I ind of ripped him one time because I didn’t think he commanded the respect he needs to command in the huddle. And he’s a young kid. He’s smart, knows the offense, and there was one throw that got away from him. That was a mechanics situation, but again, until you really look at it and analyze it and all those things, he handled himself okay.”
Are you going to consider handing out the No. 1 jersey this year?
“Yeah, we’ll consider it.”
Is Denard a possibility for it?
“We have a 115 guys on the team. They’re all possibilities.”
What did Burzynski do to put himself with the ones?
“[He] plays very consistent, plays with good leverage and good technique.”
Did he do something to beat out Mealer?
“No. You use the word ‘beat out’. Elliott didn’t start last year. There’s competition every day. They’ll compete all through summer.”
If you were to name a No. 2 quarterback today, who would it be?
“Well, it’s Devin.”
You talked about Roy’s improvement. What specifically has he improved?
“I think he’s catching the ball with his hands more, not catching it into his body. And his route running has continued to improve.”
Is that something that comes with maturity?
“Yeah. I think it does. But also because he’s played in this offense for exactly 14 months now.”
Now that you have a couple months off, how key is it for the leaders to continue leading the team?
“It is critical that they’re accountable in every action from the social issues to the academic issues and the competition issues that you need to have as a football team.”
With Fitzgerald Toussaint and your other running backs, do you feel like your running game is in pretty good shape?
“Between him and Fitz and Thomas -- everybody forgets about Joey Kerridge has had a tremendous spring. Paul Gyarmati is a fullback. Hopkins, I am so excited about Stephen’s growth as a fullback. He can be a big back in the I situation down at the goal line. He’s really come on. I think, you know, we’re as comfortable as you can be at this point with our personnel there. And I like them. I like them all. Vince Smith is probably pound for pound the toughest guy on this football team. You like to see that.”
News bullets and other important things:
- Blake Countess is being considered for punt and kick returns.
- Nathan Brink will be out for the spring game.
- Kenny Demens has been held back recently due to a concussion.
- Jerald Robinson has had an AC (shoulder) problem that he's been working through.
“This is kind of an exciting weekend around here for multiple reasons. Obviously we get a chance to go in the Big House and play football and compete, kind of assess where we’re at to some degree. The other thing is with Victors’ weekend, I think 350 or so former players are coming back for an event Friday night and then on Saturday, obviously the game and I think there’s 100 guys signed up to play in the flag football game, [for] which we’ll make sure we have enough trainers around [Ed-S: ...because they're old(!) get it?]. And then that night, Victors Night, something James Hall started seven years ago, we’re going to honor Coach Moeller. It will be a great celebration of the guys that he coached and what he did for Michigan.”
Will there be a team meeting like there was last year?
“Yes. On Friday? Yes.”
You’ve talked about having the Spring Game against anothr team. If you had a magic wand, would you prefer an NFL model where a team could come here for a few days or would you rather just have the spring game against them?
“I think the NFL model. I think you get together for two days. You get together, you plan out practices together as a staff. You do your different situational drills that you may do … I think it would be a great idea to be honest with you. I don’t know from a budget standpoint and all those things, if you’re traveling and doing those kinds of things, who you would do it with. I like that model. ”
Would you also prefer it to be not open to the public or the media?
“Probably not. I think that would be worked out through both schools, how they felt about it.”
How has Denard progressed in terms of limiting turnovers?
“You know, I think he’s done a good job with ball security, which he’s been pretty good with that. I think in his decisiveness and throws, I think he’s made some pretty good throws. I can’t say I’ve seen him make a bad throw but maybe once or twice where you’re going, ‘What the heck was he looking at?’ as a coach, but I think he’s done a good job. I think the mastering of the offense or whatever you want to call it. I think he’s a little better.”
What have you seen in terms of leadership this spring?
“Yeah. Well I think so. I think Roundtree and Kovacs are two guys, I think Patrick Omameh … Will Campbell’s done a good job. I’d be remiss not to name a lot of those seniors, but I think they’re really understanding this is the way we want to go about our business.”
Who are some players on offensive and defensive line that have stepped up?
“I think Ricky, as a center. I think he’s really going to be a good center for us. I think his athleticism, I think there’s still some issues with making sure we’re getting the ball where we need it out of the gun and that part of it. We want to make sure we’re not making the quarterback work too hard for it. Elliott Mealer I think has had one of his better springs. I think he’s grown up a little bit and playing with more confidence. Joey Burzynski, a young man out of San Diego, he’s done a good job and he’s made an impact as a guard in there [and as] a second center or third center. I think Mike Schofield … I think Taylor has progressed, which I think there’s more progression for him still because of his abilities. Schofield’s done a nice job. ”
And on the defensive line?
“The other side of the ball, I think Will Campbell’s made some strides. Looking at Tuesday, I thought was one of his better days since he’s been here. I think Jibreel and Craig played inside. Gives us a quickness and gives our defense an ability to run. I think they’re doing well at the point of attack. I think they’ll be better in the fall because of strength gains and weight gains they’ll go through. Doesn’t have to be a lot, but some. Richard Ash has started to play with a little more confidence. Keith Heitzman is a guy we redshirted a year ago and has shown some signs. And Quinton Washington. If you look at all those guys, none of them are where we want them to be or need them to be, but I think at the same time they’re making some good progress.”
How can you tell that you’re playing physical enough?
“Well we really are more physical than we were last year at this time. When I say that, we’re more physical in the standpoint of we play a little faster, I think the effort down the field -- that second or third block, the point of attack, and I think we’re just playing with better fundamentals than last year at this time. Now by no means are we close to where we want to be.”
How is the punting situation?
“I think they’re kind of neck and neck. One day one of them is really consistent and one day he’s not. The other guy’s consistent. We’re going to do some stuff on Saturday to really put some heat on them and see how they handle that part of it. We’ve been doing that some, but I think in that environment you get a couple more speed guys on there, I think it will be interesting to see.”
Hokespeak translation: Hagerup = inconsistent big leg, Wile = consistent less big leg. We'll see what happens when there are punt cover teams running at them.
What about kicker?
“I think Gibbons has done a really good job. And Matt continues to do a good job, [but] I think it’s Gibbons for sure.”
What about the secondary?
“Well I think Blake Countess is a guy working his tail off all the time. Kovacs, I think Marvin Robinson’s improved. That’s huge. I think Thomas Gordon’s better. I think JT and Courtney and Raymon Taylor are doing a nice job, and Jarrod Wilson’s gotten a bunch of snaps. He’ll take a bunch of snaps on Saturday. I think he’s doing a nice job. And a guy I don’t want to forget -- Floyd Simmons is a guy who’s doing really well for us in the kicking game, but he’s done a nice job in the back end too. ”
Are you set with the kick returners or would you like to wait until fall to experiment?
“I think both … I think Jeremy Gallon is a really good punt returner. I think he’s got great confidence in catching the ball. His vision’s pretty good. He’ll take it burst-wise when we look at the punting game. In the kickoff game I really want to see Rawls and Hayes come along a little bit. Vince Smith’s been back there before. Jeremy's been back there some, but punt-wise [it would first be] Gallon, and the next one would be Countess. He’s very confident in what he does back there. I think Countess is a guy we’ve looked at kick returner some.”
How is the competition between Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer?
“It’s pretty good. You’re talking about two wonderful young kids who, I think, as they continue through the weight room and everything else, both of those guys are going to be good football players. They’re pretty good now, but they both have a very good future. I think it’s daily. Frank’s here one day and Beyer’s here one day. They compete and they’re really friends. It’s fun.”
Is Denard becoming more adept at using his running ability as a third option if receivers aren’t open?
“No, I think it’s probably a place where he’s got to improve that a little bit. I think he’s really conscious of going through different reads. He really wants to make sure he’s letting the play play out. He probably hasn’t taken the ball down and run maybe like he will in the fall.”
With a guy like him, how do you balance using his athleticism with making sure he goes through his progressions?
“It’s a balancing act. You’re exactly right. When you have a guy who has that capability and at the same time, I think there’s things where if he let the dig route come further in it’d maybe be a 15 yard gain, but him tucking the ball down would probably be a 15 yard gain, too.”
What will be the format on Saturday?
“We’ll probably go sixty-some plays. We always have depth problems in the spring, so we’ll go ones on ones and twos on twos and compete. We’re not at the point program-wise because of depth issues on the offensive front and defensive front to draft like you want to. So we’ll pretty much do what we’ve been doing.
Will there be a scoring system?
“Yeah there will. There’ll be a blue team and a white team. I want to move the ball all over. It’s not going to be a true drive. We’ll do some punt before it. We’ll work that part of the game in the stadium. We’ll do some PAT stuff. The kids have been over there doing some of that, but just to do it in the stadium.”
How are you health-wise right now?
“I’m good, thanks.”
What about your team?
“Pretty good. Brink has done all the individual drills. He hasn’t done any full contact with 11 bodies out there, but we knew that going in. We get some boo-boos here and there, but we’re pretty healthy.”
Has Kenny Demens been held back at all?
“He was held back for two days because of a mild concussion deal. Kenny -- and he’ll tell you -- probably could have gone, but we’re trying to be, like we should, cautious with those kinds of things.”
Was that this week or last week?
“It was Saturday and Tuesday.”
Is there anyone who will be out for sure on Saturday?
“Brink won’t go. I think that’s it. Some guys are going to be limited play-wise. We’re not going to run Fitz 30 times. Taylor’s not going to play 60 plays. That’s not going to happen.”
How beneficial was it for Joe Bolden when Kenny sat out a couple days?
“Oh it was really probably a great indoctrination for a young guy. But it’s been good. Him and Kaleb and Jarrod -- I’m real proud of how they made the transition. When you think about it, they should be going to Prom. But I mean, it’s just … that part of it is good to have them.”
Can you talk about the relationship between the spring game and Mott?
“Well I think as you know, that relationship for over 20 years has been special. The football team and the rest of the athletic teams, the athletes going up there and sharing with the kids and being around them, so it’s one that we really think is special. I think it’s a win-win for both Mott and [the football program].”
How have the receivers developed?
“Receiver-wise, I think Roy’s had a really really good spring. I think Jeremy [Gallon] has, and Jeremy Jackson’s improved. Dileo has done a nice job. Gosh dangit … I have to get through the depth chart in my head … who am I missing? Jerald. I think Jerald’s made some good strides. He’s been a little bit beat up. He’s had a bit of an AC separation, but he’s played through it and has done a nice job. I’m excited about him. I know I’m leaving somebody out. I think they all -- you can see improvement. One thing I like about the receivers and I liked about them last year: they’re not afraid to block. They’re not afraid to get up in a safety’s face or a corner’s face, and that’s pretty good.”
Is there any amount of a bounty system in college football, and is that why coaches are hesitant to talk about injuries?
“Yeah … I’ve never heard a coach ever talk about that. I think coaches talk about we have to stop this back or whatever, hold him under this many yards, but that’s part of team defense. I have never heard a coach say we want to dive at his knees. I think it probably has been said, but none that I’ve been around.”
Have you been able to address some of the problems in the secondary that you mentioned at the last press conference?
“Yeah. And again, anything that we saw based on last year we wanted to address. That, underneath coverage where we wanted to see the quarterback throw it more rather than locking in to people, not giving up big plays -- we address it every practice. And I tell you this, just yesterday your job is to address it before it happens. When the secondary isn’t playing deep third like they should, and if they’re not right over the football or if I saw like yesterday a guy’s trying a little too anxious getting up too close to that pile, every time I’ll put an arrow on it and say that’s a recipe for a big play. Now you understand that didn’t now but that could happen during the season and we can’t allow that. That's, to me, what coaching is: preventing something from happening before it happens. We’ve really tried to address that, and in every practice we will continue to address that.”
It seems that Terrence Talbott has been really impressive. What have you seen from him?
“He’s like a lot of our guys out there. We’re trying to rotate through and find out who’s going to step up each day. As you know, our program is about nobody ever really having a position locked. Raymon steps in there, shows some good things. Terrence goes in there and shows some good things. It doesn’t matter but what we’re looking for is a guy that’s going to come out there every day and do it the way we want it every day. We’re getting the ability now to have guys where if somebody for some reason doesn’t have a great day, there’s a guy that can go in and [we can say], ‘Okay it’s your turn, let’s see what you can do.’ That’s at every position. That’s the way we will always do things here.”
Have you been able to see that from Terrence every day?
“I’ve seen him wanting to improve every day. I’ve seen him working on improving every day. I think at the very end of spring we’ll evaluate and say who had the most good days and where does he fit, now? … All of this is a process until we get to that opening game.”
What specifically has he done, though?
“He’s been physical. He’s a guy that’s done a really good job of taking out blocks. He’s done an adequate job of coverage. When we have blitzed him, he’s come hard. All the things a corner’s got to do. You’re just evaluating each day which one does the best at what you’re asking them to do.”
How has Blake Countess looked?
“Blake Countess has had a good spring so far. You know, the thing with a corner is you can have a whole bunch of really good plays and practices and just slip up once and everybody on that field sees it. You’re really looking for the guy that never slips up. That’s the deal. That’s what happens at that position. Blake has come out and has been very hungry. He wants to get better, and that’s something you always worry about when you have a guy that had a pretty good freshman year. What’s he going to be like next year? Again, that won’t happen here. We won’t let that happen here, but we haven’t had to guard against that with him. He’s come out every day and has worked hard.”
Depth was a major concern before. How good is it to see younger guys step up and give you some depth in the secondary?
“That’s good. I think that’s -- and our whole defense, they know the whole system now. If a young man is not physically strong enough, if he’s not big enough, he still knows his system now, and he’s been allowed to play better than when he’s learning it from scratch like everybody was last year. And that’s one thing I’ve noticed about the guys on defense. They appear to be playing faster. When you put something in or when you run a defense and something breaks down, you can just tell them what it was and they go, ‘Oh I got it, I see it now.’ That’s the beauty of being here a second year with the same system.”
How has the defensive line come together so far?
“I would say I’ve been very very pleased with Craig Roh playing the end position. Here’s a guy who’s been a rush to the open side for three years and has done a very good job. Now he’s inside the tight end. He’s played very physical. The key is the technique there, because you’re not bigger than everybody you’re playing against, so you'd better have great technique. Craig has come out every day. Jibreel Black has worked very hard. Shows why we made the move. I think like Ash, like Heitzman, you can go right down the line. They’ve all had moments. They’re the group now where you have to say those moments have to become every play. The coaches are working very hard on getting that done.”
What kind of moments has Jibreel Black had?
“The thing he shows, like we thought, is you’re going to have a faster player in there. So now when a guy beats a block, he has the ability to run some things down. Now on the other end of that, he’s not as big, so you'd better play with better technique. That’s what he’s had to work on the most.”
How does the technique change going from end to tackle?
“Well you have people on both sides of you. The position that he played was the same position that Craig played. You’re almost always out in open space and you only have one guy inside that you really have to deal with. Now you have a guy on both sides of you and you can get blocks from both ways. It’s a little bit more physical in there, but it’s also a place where you can become a faster athlete in there than if you were out there in space.”
How quickly is he learning to beat double teams and things like that?
“Craig has done a very very good job of working on his technique. Craig always does. Craig has unbelievable pride in himself. He’s a very intelligent football player. He wants to be very good, so he knows I have to do it this way, and I’ve been pleased with Craig.”
What about Jibreel?
“The same thing. It’s the exact same position, you’re just in a little farther. One’s getting double teamed from a tight end and a tackle. Another guy’s getting double teamed from a tackle and a guard. So it’s the same position, both of which you better play with great technique [otherwise] you’re going to get knocked off the football, so they’ve worked very hard on that.”
Does it change the way you coach having guys who have been in your system for a year now? Can you do some different things now?
“No. In fact, it’s kind of changed back to the old fashioned way for me personnally. I feel very strongly that we need to get the rush position and the SAM position playing better than it ever did. I’ve enjoyed this spring because I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Jake and Cam and the SAM position and Brennen and Frank at the rush position. The one thing it’s freed you up a little more is you don’t have to spend your whole time on the blackboard putting in defense. You don’t have to take as long putting things in. Now you can spend more time on little things that will help that defense. The players are smarter in that when you say, ‘Hey you have to do it this way,’ [they say], ‘I get it now.’ You can kind of do that to help the defense.”
With the position battles between Jake and Cam and Brennen and Frank, are those players similar or do they complement each other in terms of skill set?
“They’re different in that Cam and Jake are part secondary, part defensive line. In other words they have a lot of pass responsibility that goes with it. Cam Gordon and Jake have worked very very hard at that position this spring. I really believe they’ve improved. I can tell a lot of their technique is improved. Cam probably is, if you asked him, probably says okay now I know I’m a SAM. A year ago he moved from safety down there, and we’ll see. Now he says, ‘Yeah I understand this part of it and I want to be good at this.’ I’m really excited about that because Jake never came off the field last year. He truly played almost every snap of every game. Now it allows you to say, okay, you got a very very good player that can complement him. The same thing is true with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. The two of them are competing every day, and every little step they take is being coached, and now you have a little better speed on the pass rush with them there and you have an extra person. I’m really excited about those guys.”
Did Cam struggle with his transition from safety to SAM last year?
“Not outwardly. And that’s just me guessing that. I would, too. If I was a safety and some old, bald-headed guy came in here and said we’re going to take you from safety and we’re going to put you up on a big tight end, I have to go, ‘Okay …’ Any time it didn’t work well, I’d look over at that coach. This year he’s doing it very very physically and if it doesn’t work he knows why it doesn’t work and he’s got to get better at it.”
So he’s embracing the position now?
“Yes. Yes. I think he feels very comfortable at it. And he’s learning every day how to be a pass rusher. So now you end up getting a guy that’s a little faster that might put some more speed on the field that way.”
Was it a struggle for him not to be able to play last year?
“Well a lot of why he didn’t play last year though was [because] he was hurt. A lot of last year I think, he had a bad back and he was out for about five or six weeks I think.”
How is it now?
“Oh he’s been great. He’s worked very hard in the weight room as all of our guys have, and Aaron keeps doing a great job with him. I see it. I see it on the field where the punch that you had last year, you’d go, ‘Okay …’ But now you say, ‘Oh that’s a good punch. I see it. That guy’s really using the strength a little more.‘ That will happen more all the way through the summer, too.”
How did he hurt his back?
“I don’t know. Just football related. I don’t know how he did it, tweaked it, I don’t know.”
Was that during the summer or the fall?
“It was during the season.”
How has Josh Furman been?
“That’s something you can ask Coach Hoke.”
How do you see Joe Bolden fitting in next fall?
“He’s a guy that should be at the senior prom right now. But he’s really really really done a good job of picking up the defense. I really believe he’s going to be a very very good linebacker. Very good. You could never tell that he was going to the senior prom watching him out there on the field, but just think about that. That young man should be thinking about what tux he’s going to buy or rent. And then he’s out here practicing every day and getting coached harder than he’s ever been coached in his life. Just keeps coming back. Jarrod Wilson is the same way. Kaleb Ringer is in the same boat. You have three guys that really should be taking their advanced calc class and they’re here at the University of Michigan practicing as if they’ve been here for two years. That’s what I think is a real, real plus with them. And they’ve taken care of business in the classroom. They’re doing everything they should be doing, so you have three guys for a whole ‘nother period of time.”
How well did they transition into padded practices?
“They’re football players. I think if you asked them, probably they’d say, ‘Let’s get in pads sooner.’ The only reason there’s a transition is because he’s worried about hitting. I don’t think it’s a problem with these guys. The reason they’re here at Michigan is because they do like to hit. The biggest thing with them is being able to get them lined up. They’re like what the team was last year. They’re learning it all new. I really feel like they’ve picked things up maybe faster because everybody else around them has been able to help them with the call.”
Besides football, what did you want Will Campbell to learn from your teaching and being tough on him last season?
“What the bar was. A lot of times I have higher expectations and goals than what a young man is willing to work for. And really to play defense at Michigan, you always have to try to strive for the very very highest. Just striving for it doesn’t work. You have to now do the footwork, you now have to do the study of film, you now have to get off that block and make a play. If you didn’t make a play that you should have made, that’s not good enough. You have two ways as a coach that you can go about it. If you really really want a young man to be a great player, then you tell him about it every time and show him what he should have done to do that. And let him know that you’re going to tell him about it as long as you’re around him because you expect him to make that play. If you want to just walk away and let it go, then that guy will never get there. I think that’s where Craig found out that I happen to think he was a lot better player than what he was playing. Maybe sometimes he thought it was adequate, but adequate doesn’t cut it here, and that’s the same thing with Will and anybody on our defense, really.”
MGoQuestion: What’s your evaluation of the WILL linebacker position?
“I think our linebackers have improved. I don’t look at the WILL and the MIKE being anything different. I think they’re all linebackers in there. The WILL and the MIKE are really the same position, it’s just one’s closer to the tight end and one’s not. That was the position that I wanted to see a lot of improvement, and I think we have taken steps. Not as much as you want yet, but I think there has been -- they’ve all worked. They’ve all tried. That’s the one thing I like about this defense, and I’m not saying last year’s wasn’t that way because they obviously were, but they come out every day wanting to get better. They really have energy and they really have tried to do it. It hasn’t been perfect at all, but you feel good when you walk off the practice field and say, ‘These guys worked hard today. These guys flew around today.’ I think that’s been kind of everybody.”
Has Desmond Morgan been the standout at that position?
“He’s had good practices. He’s got a long way to go, too. There’s been as many times with Desmond that you say, ‘You’re better than that,’ [as you say], ‘That’s a great play.’ I don’t know I’ve ever been in a spring where everybody’s perfect. You can say they are and you’re not going to have a very good defense. Again, it’s get to that top. Do every play perfect. Maybe that’s unrealistic but I don’t believe that.”
How has Kenny looked at the MIKE position?
“He’s working hard. Working hard. He’s improved on some of the things he’s had to improve on. I think that’s where you look in the spring. Are you getting better? Yes he’s getting better.”
How do you feel about this defense now vs. this time last year?
“I know them better. I’ll tell you, I said this before, maybe in all my years of coaching I’ll never forget last year’s team. I mean, ever. What they did. But there’s something about this defense already where they’re all so eager and they know they have a little tougher job. They have to step up and so you want to help them get there. I’m looking forward to this group. I’m looking forward to what we can do with them.”
What do you mean by tougher job?
“Every year is a tough job here. It really is. Every year. And I’m not skirting the question. I couldn’t have told you anything about last year’s defense at this time other than, it didn’t matter who the guys are, we have to get better, we have to get better. That’s the same thing I’ll say about this defense. They come out eager every day. They enjoy hitting, and now we have to teach them how to hit and how to line up to be perfect at what we’re doing. We’ll see how good they can be.”
Is that your new Sugar Bowl ring?
“Yup. Proud of it.”
"I can sing, but I'm sure you don't want to hear that."
Have there been things that have surprised you since the last time you spoke to us?
“Uh, let me think about that question. No major surprises. I think things have followed suit pretty well. We’ve had a couple kids perform pretty well, maybe better than they have been. Joe Burzynski would be one. Joe’s had a nice spring. He’s done a good job. Elliott Mealer. The two of them are competing for the job, so that’s good. Those two come to mind right away. I’m sure there are others who would be subtle surprises, but those two have done a good job battling each other for that spot.”
How has Brandon Moore looked?
“Brandon Moore is playing right now better than he’s played since he’s been here. He is. He’s still got a little ways to go, but when he is technically sound, takes the right steps and comes off the ball with a little bit of an attitude, he’s a pretty good player. Brandon’s got some talent, but his consistency of play is a little erratic. In terms of understanding what we do, I don’t think there’s any issues there. He’s a smart kid. Now that he understands it, the paralysis through analysis should be gone and pretty much is. He’s as aggressive as I’ve seen him and has demonstrated a certain degree of consistency that’s shown improvement.”
What about the guys behind him?
“Ricardo Miller and Mike Kwiatkowski. Ricardo’s more kind of an H-back or what we call the U position. All of those guys still practice playing on the line of scrimmage, but Ricardo’s a pretty athletic kid. Runs better than any of our tight ends. Still has a ways to go as a blocker. And then Mike Kwiatkowski, if I had another surprise, he would probably be the next one that I mention. Mike’s always been a very good receiver. His only issue has been his ability to play on the line of scrimmage because of the bigger guys, but he’s improved that. He’s a strong kid, he has good power, but he’s done a pretty nice job. Those three are probably in the fold as much as anyone.
If you had to start today, how comfortable would you be with what you have at that position?
“Well I think we’d be fine. Yeah I think we’d be okay. We still need to improve. I’m not comfortable at any position right now game-ready wise. We will use our personnel accordingly. If we feel like that position isn’t as strong as other positions, we’ll find a way to play other positions. If that position gets up to speed and up to snuff, then we’ll let them play a little more. It’s up to them. It’s really not up to us. It’s up to them. We will totally evaluate and assess every player on the team. Playing time will be dictated by their productivity and nothing else.
Who’s stepping up at wide receiver this spring?
“The same cast of characters, you know, save Jerald Robinson, who’s really proven some toughness because he’s been a little banged up, but he’s not bad. He’s done a very nice job. I’ve been happy with Jerald. Jeremy and Roy are doing a nice job. They know what to do. That’s what’s really nice about it. Not just that position -- every position. But they know what to do. We get very few missed assignments now whereas last spring it would be a carnival of missed assignments. And it always is, it’s not their fault -- new system, that’s going to happen. But we just don’t get it anymore from those players that have played significantly. Drew Dileo, again, is consistent, smart, tough. Jeremy Jackson -- Jeremy’s been healthy, and because he’s been healthy, his game has taken another step. It’s good to have him because he gives us some range at the position that we lost in junior. I think those are the guys that have been the most prominent.”
How has the learning curve for the offensive line been like?
“They’re in the same situation, I think, as the receivers or anybody else. They’ve got a much better feel for what to do. You know what’s a significant advantage, and it’s an advantage that you gain -- and that’s playing in a bowl game. When you play in a bowl game and particularly a bowl game that’s in January, you get extra practices and that helps everybody and not least of which is the offensive linemen, particularly the kids that aren’t playing much. You don’t want to beat up the kids that are. That bowl practice was invaluable to some of those young players.”
Is that why Mealer and Burzynski have had a chance to step up this spring?
“You bet. Yes. Absolutely. Darrell had a chance to work with those kids. The issues we had during the season are preparing X amount of players -- usually around 18 guys -- the rest of the team was the scout team. Well other than individual drills, you just don’t get a lot of practical application of the offense, whereas when you get into bowl practices, you’ve got enough time now to go back and look at those kids run your offense, not running an offense off cards. Those reps running our offense for those kids are very valuable. It’s almost like having a second spring football.”
Are you feeling like the chemistry is developing well?
“Yeah, it’s starting to come. A lot of that now, you have to understand, is dictated by the center’s ability to be confident in his position. Ricky is a work in progress still, but as Ricky becomes more and more comfortable in there, it has an infectious effect on the rest of the players. They all kind of take his lead a little bit. Like I told you before, he kind of quarterbacks the offensive line. If he’s on the same page with everybody else, that chemistry tends to take.”
How has Fitz looked?
“He’s been good. Really good. Really good. We’re trying to be careful with him, because he’s kind of proven himself. Not that we’re ever -- a guy’s always going to work. We’re not going to give him an easy way out, but by the same token when we go live and such, he’s going to carry the ball so he keeps well oiled, but we’re not going to run him into the ground and get him banged up, but he’s had an outstanding spring.”
What areas specifically?
“Run the football, his blocking has improved, his receiving -- every area has improved. He’s become more complete, and that was our goal coming in. He’s still not a finished product, no, and I don’t think any of them are, but he’s a kid where as a coach, you’re always looking for a group of kids who you have complete confidence in their ability to do what you want them to do in a game. And I tell them, ‘If we don’t, we’re not going to put you in a game.’ But he’s probably reached that point.”
How much better is he at blocking?
“His biggest issue, and I’ve said it before, was his vision a year ago, but that’s gone away. I see no signs of that being around anymore. It’s just running the ball and seeing the holes and knowing where your help's coming from, but that’s really it. He had to improve his protection -- no issues with toughness, just understanding how to position yourself so you can get good leverage to throw the block. He’s done that. We’re throwing him more balls than we have. He’s a prideful kid, and football’s important to him, so those types of kids tend to get better, especially if they have a lot of skill.”
What have you seen from Thomas Rawls this spring?
“Thomas is a different kind of back. He’s more of a power back. He brings a load now, because he’s a thick, strong, solid player with good speed. He’s going to generally fall forward when he hits you, and there’s going to be some impact when he hits you. Whoever’s trying to tackle him, particuarly in the open field, is going to feel him. But he’s got some of the same issues that Fitz had last spring, but they’re starting to go away I’ve noticed, too. He’s starting to see the line of scrimmage better and make better cuts and not run into bodies. Thomas, when he came in coming out of high school, and a lot of the guys do this -- the power backs just tend to want to run straight ahead and run over guys because they can’t tackle them, and the scat backs tend to want to juke everybody and never get up the field. Well the perfect back is somewhere in between. They understand when to use their power and understand when to use their stop and go ability, and Thomas is now gotten to a point where he’s not simply trying to run over everybody every time he gets the ball.”
Do you think it helped that he watched Fitz’s development last season?
“I don’t think it hurt him any. I think those are good mental reps, I call them, where you can steal repetition from a guy who may not have done it right, and then not have to bull it yourself. Have the coach critique it. There’s nothing like doing. I’m a big believer in body learning. Body learning means physically going through the trial and error part of it so that you can fix the mistake yourself. Mental reps are great. You have to take them, but the body learning is even more important. I talk in coaching about two things really that are important for players: one is body learning, and that’s reptition and such, and functional intelligence. Functional intelligence simply is the ability to transfer what you learn in the film room or on the chalkboard or in the locker rooms and practically apply it to the game. The progression, of course, is practice first. But it’s really irrelevant what your IQ is when you take a test when in fact when it comes time to execute the responsibility you’re not able to do it. Those two things, being able to body learn it and being intelligent enough to execute it when it’s time to execute it.”
How do you like Rawls’ functional intelligence?
“Good, because he understands better. He is still going through a few growing pains with our protection, but it’s not because he doesn’t know it. He just needs to body learn it a bit more.”
What’s your philosophy on the spring game? What do you hope to get out of it?
“Same thing as everything else -- evaluation, system, that’s usually what spring’s all about. See if we can find another playmaker. See if somebody jumps to the forefront when everybody’s watching. That’s when it’s really the most critical is when the lights go on. Sometimes guys in practice are better than they are when it really counts. Freddie J has a name for it -- State Street players or Main Street players. We’re going to find out who the Main Street players are. Or at least, we hope to.”
With Devin, how much have you experimented with his role?
“A little bit here and there. A little bit. Part of spring is experimentation, but it’s not really the emphasis. What we want to do as coaches is install our offense, refine our offense. Because we’re constantly evolving and trying to professionally enrich ourselves, we take little bits and pieces that we’ve learned in the offseason and try to apply them in spring football and test them a little bit, but that’s a small percentage of what we’re doing. That’s basically testing schemes. We’re much more interested in seeing to it that these kids are developed within our system and we can evaluate their skill level so when it comes time to play we can decide who deserves to.”
Do you feel like you’ve found a role for Devin?
“Yeah, I think so. I think right now it’s quarterback. I think he’s going to be the No. 2 quarterback and we’ll see how things go. Our approach to Devin hasn’t changed much. We’re going to find a way to get him on the field because he’s got skills that go over and above your average quarterback.
Is he far and above Bellomy as the No. 2 QB?
“No. No. No one is far and above anybody right now that I can think of. Russ Bellomy’s made a -- he has people’s attention. Russ is another kid that's really athletic, can throw the ball. Good functional intelligence. He’s a kid that needed more body learning, more reps, but he’s had a pretty good spring, too. He probably doesn’t get mentioned as much as he should, but he’s a good player.”
Have you had the opportunity to identify any spots where you might have to play freshmen?
“Yeah, well first of all, the guys coming in, we have no idea who’s going to help us. Neither does anybody in the entire country regardles of what you told them in recruiting. No one does, because sometimes guys come in and simply -- they’re just not as good or they’re not ready. Either one of the two. I have no idea what going to happen with that. We recruit every kid assuming they’re going to play for us, and we’ll just go from there. But this isn’t about that. This is about trying to get a team ready in 15 days and find out do they know your system and who has got the best chance to play at that point. Now when we get into the first weekend in fall, we start all over again. You install your system, evaluate what you have, and see who’s got the best chance to play at that point. You have a new batch of players.”
Could you see yourself doing some tailback by committee this fall?
“No. I see no reason for that. Not at this point. Fitz is clearly our tailback. If he isn’t, I’m not very smart. We’re going to spell him occasionally. He’s not going to be in there every play, but our last five or six games, you saw what our appraoch wanted to be, and that’s pretty much how it’s going to stay until it isn’t productive.”
MGoQuestion: Speaking of experimentation, it looked like there may have been a couple bubble screens in the highlight videos from spring practice. Are you --
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Next question.”