How does it feel to be a senior?
“Man, college goes by fast, and right now I’m taking on a leadership role and trying to be the best quarterback I can be for the team and be the best leader I can be for the team. Right now just trying to get better at everything I can get better at: watching film, going in with teammates and throwing extra routes, whoever’s around me, if we’re lifting, trying to tell them ‘get better at this’ and ‘get better at that.’ These are the things that I’m trying to do as a leader and as the quarterback on the team.”
Borges said you’re holding more people accountable. Is that the next step of development for you as a leader?
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I wasn’t an outspoken person. I didn’t do a lot of yelling and telling people, patting them on the butt and doing stuff like that. That’s one of the things I need to start doing, and that’s what I’m taking on this spring. For practice right now, I’ve been pretty well lately and talking to people and telling them what they need to do. Russ [Bellomy] was with me yesterday when we had practice. I told him if he took his time he’d make a better, more accurate throw. Those were some things that I did.”
Do you have to be the bad guy sometimes?
“Oh yeah, sometimes you have to get up in them. Help them out, give them their encouragement, but you can’t always be nice to them. I can’t always have a smile on my face.”
Is that possible?
“Oh yeah that’s possible. It’s possible.”
What was this offseason like for you?
“Learning. I mean --”
I don’t even mean football. I mean the enormity of, kind of, everything.
“Oh. Everything. I am a student. I am a student-athlete. Student first. Being part of that student body was one of the best experiences I’ve ever experienced on this campus. I’ve been in the Maize Rage at the basketball games, I’ve been at a hockey game watching them play, I’ve been to track watching the girls run. That’s one of the things I could never stay away from. I love watching sports. I love watching people that I know do better.”
How many sporting events do you think you went to?
You were on TV for every single one of them.
“I don’t know. I just try to go to all of them. If I had the chance, if I had the time, I’d try to go.”
Are you trying to do anything different with your body in terms of weight and strength?
“Trying to gain weight … whatever happens happens with that. Hopefully I gain a little weight.”
Does Hoke want you to gain weight?
“No. They never tell me about gaining weight. I have to take it into my own hands to gain weight.”
How is it taking snaps from Ricky?
“I’ve been snapping with Ricky since Rich Rod was here. My freshman year I was snapping with Ricky. Ricky’s one of the guys from Florida, so we can relate to each other. When he makes a mistake I’m right on him and telling him, ‘Let’s go. I’m right behind you 100-percent.’ He stayed competing and all of us are competing right now and trying to get better at everything. We’ve got some growing to do.”
He speaks Florida?
“Oh yeah. He does speak it. He helps me a lot in the huddle. Sometimes he tells the other offensive linemen what the play is. When Molk and Patrick used to get on me all the time, Ricky would help me out.”
Has anything changed for you over the offseason with the Obama stuff, etc.?
“No, because I enjoy interacting with people. That’s one of the things that I always enjoy. I come from a big family. Meeting new people is not a problem for me. I would love to meet everybody. If I see anybody on the street, I want to say hi to you. My goal is to make somebody’s day everyday. Hopefully I can do that.”
Borges said one of the keys for you is to cut down on interceptions. What is the most important part of being able to accomplish that?
“I’m going to tell you this. I play quarterback, and the number one thing about the quarterback is always take care of the ball. That’s one of the things that I need to stop doing. Turnovers. I had 15 interceptions. That’s not acceptable as a quarterback and something that I need to work on. I was throwing off my back foot -- that’s one of the things that kind of got me in a lot of trouble and I need to stay away from that. Making the right reads is one of the things I need to work on, too. All offseason I’ve been watching film and seeing the reads I should have made and how many touchdowns I missed. This year hopefully I don’t have that many mistakes.”
Is Devin athletic enough to catch the ball?
“Right now … both of us just have the same mindset. Whatever it takes for the team to win, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
How are his hands?
“Both of us have good hands.”
What was meeting Obama like?
“Oh man. That’s one of the days that I’m going to sit down and tell my grandkids. I met the president. That’s one of the things I’ll always cherish. As soon as I got done meeting him I called my mom, my dad, my brothers, and I was just telling them, ‘I just met the president. I just met the president of the United States.”
Did it catch you off guard at all?
“Me and Patrick were just like, ‘What?’ Patrick was right next to me and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he just called your name.’ ”
Have you thought about what the expectations are going to be this fall?
“We already know our expectations. We’ve been working on that all offseason. We’re trying to get better. It starts now. Get prepared for September 1st. Our goal is to win the Big Ten every year. That’s one of the things we already said that’s set in stone. We just have to be ready to work for it and all offseason just keep working for it and working at it. Holding each other accountable. It’s right there. We have to take care of it.”
How does it change your mentality to actually know who your running back is this year?
“We don’t know anything. We don’t know who the quarterback’s going to be. I’m going to tell you this. We have to come out and compete every day. Every day. Nothing’s handed to you. And that’s better that you know that you have to compete every day.”
You really don’t think you’re going to be the quarterback this fall?
“We have to compete every day.”
Hoke has said you had a great attitude last year despite not getting as many catches or numbers. Can you talk about how you dealt with that and what you’re looking forward to this year moving outside?
“I was buying in, just listening to what the coaches were saying. I wasn’t going out there and looking at the numbers and stats each game. I was just going out there and competing. It played out well, going to the Sugar Bowl and winning it. That was a great season for us.”
Was it hard at all going through that transition?
“No, not at all, because any point in the game we can get the ball in and see the seniors doing well last year and leading this team. I was just looking up to them. Even though I probably had one catch a game, that one catch was made effective.”
Did you ever get frustrated not getting footballs thrown your way?
“No. Our goal during the season was knockdowns. Every game we were just trying to have more knockdowns than one another. We really weren’t worried about the ball because the quarterback is the one with the ball in his hand and he’s the one making the right decisions.”
Is there a transition in moving to flanker?
“More motion. We’ve been doing this since January. We always rotated Y’s in different formations last year. It’s something I’m used to now because the extra [work] that we’ve been putting in trying to learn new plays and new positions that everyone’s at. I’m getting comfortable with it. More motions and really have to stay in shape.”
Why is that?
“Oh man, because you’re moving around all the time. Lining up in the slot or lining up outside. Just something I’m taking in and learning through spring ball.”
Do you see any differences in Denard this spring?
“Yeah, yeah I do. The timing is there. He’s making better reads. Staying composed back there. Now he knows the offense. It’s fluid. Practice goes smoother. I don’t see him frustrated or anything. I really see that he’s composed.”
Is he more decisive?
“Yeah he’s reading the defenses well out there. Just taking his time. You can actually heard the play fluent in the huddle again. I talk about him all the time saying he’s so country you can barely hear him, but now we’ve been in the offense for a year, we like listening to him better.”
Last year he often threw balls that put you in a position to get crushed. Has there been less of that these days?
“I mean, he’s the quarterback. They’re going to have their ups and downs. The wide receivers, just know our time to make the plays. If it’s a low ball, go get the low ball. You can’t just blame everything on the quarterback because they might be getting rushed half the time while we’re coming out of our routes. You never know until you watch it on film. He’s really been fluid in his passing. Getting better. Seeing him healthy, seeing him composed back there just making things right.”
How has Brandon Moore been?
“Yeah, Brandon Moore’s my roommate. I just talk to him everyday and see how practice went because I’m only with them during skelly and team, not individually. Him being a senior. Leadership -- we always say that seniors have leadership. He’s been doing well. Catching the ball good and running great routes and blocking. This is his year, I feel like. If you go out there and practice and show the coaches you can be trusted out there, it’s really going to be an impact this season.”
What’s Brandon like off the field?
“Shy. Calm. Smart. He doesn’t really do anything. Half the time he’s playing with his dog. Big Doberman that he has.”
What’s its name?
“Kane. I don’t mess with dogs.”
“I got bit when I was younger, so I don’t mess with them.”
How has Denard progressed off the field?
“Oh, just speaking. He’s been outgoing this year. Being a quarterback, that’s what it takes because everybody’s looking up to the quarterback. Just seeing him become a senior. Now he just said, man this went by so fast. Now everybody’s going to be looking up to him. All our seniors. We take real great impact in being a senior and having leadership, just like Team 132 seniors did, trying to accomplish something better.”
Denard hasn’t always been a real vocal guy. How has that transition been for him?
“He was a shy kid coming in, but now he’s mature more. Just taking it day by day, like how we work out. We’d be partners half the time just pushing each other. Just seeing that from ‘Lace. That’s giving him extra points because he wasn’t like that at first.”
Does it get the receivers fired up when you hear things like ‘What is Michigan going to do without Junior Hemingway’?
“(Roundtree talked about something that sounded like “croop thick” or “group think.” I have no idea, so I’m not going to transcribe it) … It doesn’t matter who’s out there. Being blessed to play here, playing for Michigan. Coach Heck always said that we lost some great wide receivers, but being a senior -- I’m the only senior up here going through the ups and downs and learning from each class -- most of them look at me because I’ve played the most. But I feel like we have a nice group of kids now. Everybody you haven’t heard about, but most of them you will.”
Have you taken to mentoring any of the younger receivers?
“Oh yeah. Half the time they ask me questions it’s like I’m a teacher out there. It’s weird because I did the same thing when I was a freshman, asking the upperclassmen. But now I’m just schooling them.”
What kinds of things do they ask you?
“Just like how you read the coverage on this route, how to get off press coverage. Just simple stuff because coach Heck does a great job coaching us in different steps in the offense.”
Any of the younger guys impress you?
“I know Joe Reynolds, I know J.J. (Jeremy Jackson). I see a lot of them and go like, wow made a great catch or did something. That’s what I expect to hear, so it’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”
Do you talk to Junior about playing his position?
“Yeah I talk to Junior all the time. Me and Junior are still close friends. He just said stay in shape, you’re going to have a lot of motions and reading the defense. Something I was already used to, reading it from the slot position. I feel like I’m not back at slot, but it seems like I am because of all the motions and getting closer to the inside and whatnot. He just said just stay in shape.”
Does being a leader come naturally now for you?
“After being four years in the defense and on this team, I think it’s something that’s starting to come naturally. I think we have a lot of seniors that are stepping into that role, and that’s going to be huge for us this fall. Our senior leadership is going to be huge.”
Have you seen more consistency out of Will Campbell?
“Yeah, no doubt. It’s not just on the field. It’s off the field. He’s holding meetings for the defensive linemen to get in and watch film. He’s helping them out. We’ve got a lot of young guys on the defensive line, and he understands that and he understands he’s a senior and he has to be a leader. He’s really stepping into that role and filling that role nicely for us.”
How does Jarrod Wilson look?
“Good. I think he’s going to be a good ball player. At the same time, we’re only four practices in, only two in pads. He’s been impressive so far as have the other underclassmen. We’re going to need those guys to continue to get better.”
How does he compare with how you remember other freshman safeties playing in the past?
“He’s made quite a few plays so far. He’s had the opportunity because we’ve been somewhat thin at safety, so he’s been getting a good look and he’s been taking advantage of it. Like I said, he still has a ways to go. He’s still young. He’s got a bright future here. He’s going to get better in the spring and in the fall I look forward to how he can play.”
Is it weird returning so many guys in the secondary? That’s never happened for you before.
“Well I think what’s weird is I’m going to have the same defense for two years in a row. I don’t think I’ve ever had that in my four years here. I think that that’s something that’s going to help us a lot. We’re getting comfortable with the playcalling and with the different plays. We bring a lot of defensive players back. We bring a lot of seniors back. That’s going to be huge for us. It’s nice to be comfortable with the guys you’re out there with and the plays.”
Have you been able to sit back and marvel at how much better the defense got between 2010 and 2011?
“A little bit, but at the same time we’re already on to the next year and we’re looking forward to getting even better.”
Hoke talked about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in practice. Is that new to this spring or has he done that before?
“We’ve been competing since he’s gotten here in everything that we do. That’s something he brought with him, whether it’s in the weight room or out on the practice field in spring practice or even in fall camp. There’s winners and losers. Competition’s important and we thrive in that. That environment is important for us to be successful.”
What happens when you lose?
“Gassers or some sort of punishment.”
"I got you guys broken in."
How does Rocko Khoury’s departure affect the center battle?
“Well we do, yeah. We have enough guys to compete. You always would like more numbers, offensive line wise particularly because we’re not deep at the position. We have a couple kids, Ricky Barnum, Jack Miller -- I think will be good centers. Ricky has a good profile for the position, probably even more so than when he played guard.”
Are you experimenting with Devin Gardner at other positions?
“We’re doing what we did a year ago, pretty much. We’re giong to play the best 11 guys. Devin’s the backup quarterback right now. He’s number two, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get the best 11 on the field. Nothing’s changed in that perspective, so we pretty much have the same mentality that we had.”
Are you looking at him at wide receiver?
“Yeah … the practices are closed for a reason.”
Are you able to work on more experimental things now that you’ve had a year with this team?
“Later on, yeah. Not right now. First thing [is] we’re not going to get real fancy the first couple days of practice. We’re going to go through a little refresher course on the offense, take them about four or five days of practices to do that. Once we get to where we’ve pretty much got it back -- kids learn the stuff much faster now for obvious reasons -- then we’ll start dabbling more in some of the offseason research we’ve done on some stuff, whether it be deuce package or moving folks around. So we’re always evolving constantly, and we’re always trying to figure out how to get our best 11 on the field to do what they do best. That may not be not consistently be the same 11 guys all the time. You may change the the 11 so that you can get a guy out there that may be able to do something that may not be able to do it on some other plays. Devin’s part of that. We’ve got about five guys that are involved in that.”
Is it more difficult for an offensive lineman to switch to center than anywhere else on the line?
“Well, center, because the ball’s involved, you have the issues there in terms of snaps. But once a kid’s played center for a while, they usually prefer it. They know exactly when the ball’s coming up. They can control the line play a little better. But center’s a little different animal than tackle or guard. Mike [Schofield] had played tackle, so it wasn’t a huge transition for him.”
How do you balance being physical in practice with your lack of depth on the offensive line?
“Boy, that’s tough. That is hard. You have to be smart with it, but if you don’t get accomplished what you’re trying to get accomplished, then spring football’s a waste of time. We’re always going to err on the side of getting after it a little bit, and if you have to pull off, we’ll pull off. We just believe that the game’s played with a physical demeanor and we’re not ever going to stop that regardless of guys getting hurt. We’re going to be smart, but we’re never going to stop thinking that way.”
Where do you think Denard stands in terms of throwing downfield?
“I think the first two days of practice, he’s made a marked improvement in that because he basically understands the offense better. It’s always a work in progress. There’s still errors here and there, but there are less. I think as he goes and understands better and better you’re going to get a better product. There’s two issues with Denard, and that’s one: the overall understanding of the offense, which I know is going to be better, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, and the footwork issues, which generally cause a lot of the interceptions. We’re working on it everyday, and he’s so keenly aware of it. When he makes a mistake, he’s getting to a point now where he can almost coach himself. He’ll come out and say, ‘Oh I screwed up.’ He’ll tell me before I tell him. I’ll never assume it. I’ll still tell him. He’s tired of me telling him the same things, but he knows how I think as a coordinator and how I think as a position coach. One thing about the kid is he’s a very good football guy. He understands the game really well. He has great instincts. Now that he’s got a year in the system, I think some of those instincts will show up more than that, and that’s scary.”
What do you know about Denard now that might change the way you coordinate the offense?
“Well, not much than what I knew at the end of the season. He’s a great runner. He’s taken on a leadership role which is exciting to me. It’s exctiing to all of us. Those types of things. And we can probably do a little bit more now because he understands without doing it too much, where you get paralysis by analysis.”
Did he get enough time with Ricky in the offseason to get comfortable?
“Yes. Yeah, he did. He and Ricky have been working it out for a while and Jack too. All of them. They’re always on their own just go out and snap balls and working the skelly drills and all that. This isn’t the first time they took a snap. It wasn’t yesterday or the day before yesterday.”
How do you replace Junior?
“Boy that’s the best question that’s been asked so far. That’s not been easy to do. One way we are doing it is with Roy Roundtree. Roy is moving to flanker. Roy was a split end last year. He played flanker in some spots. Because we split time with him and Jeremy Gallon, Roy took some hits with his numbers, but going to Junior’s position, a healthy Roy Roundtree is really running well right now. Best I’ve ever seen him run. But a healthy Roy Roundtree could really have a good season. I’m thinking great things about Roy. Roy’s had such a great attitude. He did take a hit with numbers, and it would be natural to second guess a lot of things, but he didn’t, and because he didn’t, he’s improving daily.”
Was Roundtree unhealthy at all at any point last season?
“Not really. I think he stayed in one piece pretty good. But out of flanker now you get a lot more balls thrown your way. You saw Junior -- a lot of time you catch that thing and there’s some folks around you. But I have no doubt that Roy Roundtree’s going to have a heck of a year.”
Can he be your vertical deep threat?
“Yes he can. Yes he can. You bet he can. He’s got excellent speed. He goes and gets the ball. He can definitely be that without question, and so can Jeremy Gallon for that matter.”
Who besides Roundtree are you looking for at that position?
“Jerald Robinson. Jerald Robinson, in two days, has been very impressive. Big, physical receiver. Very much like Junior. Not quite as big as Junior, but still big. Has excellent hands. Ran on the scout team quite a bit. Not because he wasn’t good enough to play -- he was good enough to play, but we were pretty good at wide receiver and we never got a chance to use him. But this year Jerald’s going to get a great look. So far what we’ve seen, he’s going to make a contribution, and he is that big physical guy much like Junior was. If you’re aksing how to replace [Junior], he’s definitely at least one answer. ”
You saw Fitz Toussaint’s vision improve over last season. What’s the biggest thing you want to see take a jump up this spring for him?
“Well that to continue, number one, and improve his pass receiving skills. He’s got good hands, but we used Vince so much in that capacity that I’d like for Fitz to be equal to what Vince did so we don’t have to take him out all the time. Pass protection still can improve. We ask our backs to block. That can always get better. Those types of things. Refining more of the little things about his game, where a year ago there were some huge factors, the vision being at the top of the list. The more we learn with Fitz, the more he plays, the faster he learns and the issues go away with him. Some backs they never go away. They never gain good vision because they simply don’t have very good vision. He does. He just needed the time and I think that’s going to be the case with the other things we’re talking about.”
How do you envision using a player like Justice Hayes?
“He’s another one. We’re going to take a good look. Knowing that Fitz has been productive, we don’t have to overuse Fitz in the spring, yet still try to improve him. I’m not talking sit him on the sideline and let him watch, he’s still playing now. But that being said, it isn’t like last spring where we have to run him and run him and find out what he can do. We kind of know what he can do. That’s where we can use Justice now is give Justice a chance to carry that ball, tote it a few times, get him in some pass protection situations. He’s got some great receiving skills, see if he can do that, but this is a big spring for him.”
Switching between shotgun and under center puts a lot of stress on the center. How does Ricky’s transition to the position affect how you run your offense?
“Well, because we are under center some and because our center basically quarterbacks the offensive line -- he puts them all on the same page with regard to targeting fronts where it be in pass protection or running. That position is absolutely critical that we get productivity out fo the position. You need a smart guy that’s athletic and knows how to use his help. We don’t ask our center to consistently single block a nose guard, but he’s got to know how to make the call to allow for some help for him. I could go into all the nuances, but it’s endless what that kid's got to do. It’s not an easy position to play. ”
Do you anticipate being under center more this season?
“I don’t think it’s going to be much different. We’re still basically a shotgun team. I mean, we have a quarterback that can run, and the best way to exploit that is for him to be in the shotgun. Yet we still want to downhill run. You look the last two or three games of the season, that’s really what we want to be. We don’t want to be a total shotgun team. But knowing that the shotgun is going to be very very prominent simply because of the skillset of our quarterback. So in answer to your question, we’re basically going to be what we were a year ago.”
How quickly is Ricky learning how to make all the pre-snap decisions?
“He’s doing a great job. He’s still got a few deals. Now Greg’ll throw you some defenses that will test your center’s ability to adjust. It’s still a work in progress … and the more he sees it the better he’s going to get at it, the better he’s going to understand it and the better he’s going to get the other guys to understand it, because that’s part of his job, too. I’m not concerned about Ricky. He keeps progressing like I think he will. He’ll be a good center.”
Has anyone caught your eye at tight end yet?
“Not yet, but they’re not doing bad. No one has jumped out and said, ‘Oh my god, look at that guy.’ But they’re not doing bad. Brandon Moore’s been consistent. Ricardo Miller, who really is more of a move guy, but he’s played with his hand on the ground a little bit. He understands our offense. Very athletic. Very athletic. Athletic as any tight end we got. Used to be a wide receiver so he has speed and he has receiving skills. He’s another one that’s going to get a great look. Who knows, we have some freshmen coming in. If they show up, they’ll have an opportunity to contribute there, too. So we’ll see how that goes. It’s still too early. We haven’t put pads on yet. I want to save judgement on that position until we’ve been through a few practices with pads on and guys blocking at the line of scrimmage because that’s so critical to what we want to do.”
What have you learned about Devin, and how can that help you prepare for the season?
“Well he’s an incredible athlete. He has so many dimensions to him. He’s smart, so he picks stuff up fast. He doesn’t have any problem that way. That being said, every time you put together a plan, you have to find out how to factor him into it somewhere. Again, if it doesn’t sacrifice any other phases of your game. As you guys saw last year, we’re always looking for opportunities to get him in the game in some way shape or form without breaking the rhythm of the quarterback, which I don’t think we did. And seeing to it that we use him getting the ball, use him throwing the ball, and use him decoying. With that in mind, doing the same thing with Denard.”
Do you feel like you’ll use him more this season?
“I don’t know. I want to see. Maybe. I don’t know yet. We’ll see. It’s a matter of how. That’s the key. What are you going to do? We’ve done a lot with him, but there’s still a lot more that he can do, so we’ll see.”
Is his athleticism such that it’s better than your other skill position players?
“No. It’s very much like that -- he’s an athletic quarterback. I wasn’t here -- but Devin was recruited as the number one dual threat quarterback in the country, was he not? Generally those guys can do a lot of stuff. He was not a prototypical drop back passer type, although he was recruited by prostyle teams and spread guys, so he can do that stuff. He’s certainly one of our better athletes on the team, and we have to find a way to exploit that.”
Is he open to all of this?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. He wants to play.”
Are you concerned that giving him looks at other positions will disrupt his growth as a quarterback?
“Nope. Nope. Not at all. Smart kid, he’ll be fine.”
What do you like about Russell Bellomy?
“Russ is very athletic -- another athlete. Very good athelte. Can run the ball. He was recruited too by spread teams and pro-style guys. Accurate passer. His arm is improving strength-wise all the time. If you tell him once, he’s got it. He’s one fo those guys. You don’t have to re-tell him ten times. He’s got it down. He’s got composure. He can get himself out of a lot of messes when things break down, and he can run. He can run designed quarterback runs, although I don’t know you’re going to run as many as you would with Denard. But if you turn him loose he will hurt you. He has that kind of ability. We’re looking more at him because it’s spring time and we’re trying to give him some time. Like we’re talking about Fitz, where we’re giving Justice Hayes time and it may cost Fitz a few reps, we’re going to look at Russ more and cost Denard a couple reps or even Devin a couple. But we have to see them all now. This is our chance. Once we get into the season and we’re game planning all the time, it’s tough to give everybody enough chances.”
Do you start game planning at all for Alabama this early?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. We do. Kids are watching Alabama now. They come in on their own and they’ll look at Alabama. Right now it’s about developing our football team. We don’t have an opponent in front of us other than ourselves right now. We’re trying to develop our football team, try to get every guy a little better every single day and build up to that. Build up to that, get through spring fotoball, and as you get closer to the game, you get more focused on the task at hand, but right now we have a heavy emphasis this spring on becoming a fundamentally better offense. We talked about it. We’re allotting the time in practice for it. Whereas last year we were trying to be fundamental and installing our offense. That was a headache. Now second year, we have it installed, we’re just trying to get better with our footwork at every position -- offensive line, running back, you name it. Just doing the little things better.”
How confident are you in Schofield’s ability to transition back to right tackle?
“I think he’ll do fine because it’s really a more natural position for him. He has a tackle profile He’s 6-foot-6 plus. He was a hurdler in high school, somebody told me, and it’s obvious because he can move. He’s really more of a tackle body type than he is a guard body type, although he did a nice job at guard. This is where we need him now, he’s very receptive to it, and so far he’s done a nice job.”
"Well, it’s good to see everybody again. That at least means they kept me for another year and you guys are all healthy."
What are your specific goals for the next few weeks?
“The number one goal is to get better at everything we do in this defense, one practice at a time. I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, we’ve got miles to go. It starts all over again. The race started when we started winter conditioning. The race heats up when we start practice. If we don’t improve on every phase of our defense, in each one of those you’re going to fall backwards. The schedule we play, you can’t take a step back in any way, and not improving is taking a step back, and that’s what these guys have got to do.”
What have you seen from Will Campbell’s conditioning and that of everyone else?
“I think we’re blessed here because I believe we have one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country. For us to be out there and watch what Aaron has done with those guys, I think he would have been frontrunner of us getting to be better. He’s pushed them. What I’ve been able to see legally when I could be out there, it looks like they’re responding. They understand this is Team 133. Boy you’ve got what you all said all along: the bar at Michigan is as high as it can ever be, and that’s what it’s supposed to be and you have a lot of work to get up to that bar. I see that when I’m down there every once in a while. I see them working to do that.”
You aren’t where you need to be with numbers on O-line and D-line. How do you deal with that?
“That’s the head coach’s job. I don’t get into that very much. We have to deal with what we have. That’s one thing you find out about college: you can’t go trade one guy for two other guys somewhere. Whatever we have right now, we’ve got to put those guys as if we’re playing them tomorrow, put them in the best position and see if you can’t get them to the level that we want to get them at. I think that’s what we’re doing with some of our guys. Who would be the best at this position and let’s put them there. You don’t ever want to go into a season and say we have a really good freshman coming in, because freshmen are still freshmen, especially in this program. What you have in that room right now, that’s who you better plan on playing with. Anybody that steps it up is a bonus. We’ll always play the best players, so if a guy coming in from a high school that we just signed is the best player, then he’ll be the best player, but he’s got to earn that.”
Can you talk about the decision to move Craig Roh?
“We did a lot of thinking about that, and Jibreel is the same thing. I want to always have a very very fast, disruptive defense. That’s what you always need to have, especially up front. Craig Roh has played some very very good football here. Craig Roh will be a better football player moving into a 5-technique than he would be out on the edge where there’s a lot of open spaces. Jibreel Black the same thing. IF a guy can get big and strong, which I believe they can, and talking to Aaron I believe that can happen, now you become faster when you move an edge player inside. Now there’s competition with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark at the outside position. You want to be able to put your people in the best position but have competition when you’re doing it, and I think that’s what’s happened so far.”
When did you start making those decisions?
“Right after the season was over with. Again, when the season is over, what you do is say, ‘Okay, now let’s look at next year, how can we be as good as we can be? What’s the best way for this defense to be as good as we can be?’ and again, taking what you have in that room. That’s what we did. We felt that that was the best to get the best players on the field at one time.”
Were those decisions based on what you saw throughout last season?
“Yeah, as a coach, what you do is when you’re watching a player and you’re evaluating him and you see him make a play and you might say, ‘Boy, that was hard for him, but he made a good play.’ He may not have had to work quite as hard had he been at this position, so in the back of your mind you’re saying he’s still the best you have for that time, but now when we get an opportunity maybe we’ll move him. Maybe we’ll see if we can’t get him in a position where it’s not quite as hard for him to do what he just did.”
How much do they have to learn with those new positions?
“The one thing that I’ve been happy with was last year was very difficult. When I look back and think in terms of our players, the first time we put in the defenses they looked at me like I was trying to teach them German or something. They just go, ‘What are you doing?’ I remember the first practices we had a ready list that I wanted to get taught, and I think again in the next practice I said, ‘Cut that down in half and we’re going to go backwards and do this.’ This year, in putting in what we want to work on this spring, the players just look at you and go, ‘Got it. I understand that. This is what we have done.’
The terminology is there. They don’t have to worry about who is Curt Mallory and who is Jerry Montgomery. These guys have just went through the war with them. They say this is what you’re supposed to do. If Mark Smith says this is what you’re supposed to do, [they say] ‘Okay, gotcha.’ The learning curve and believing in what is taught and them knowing that this is the kind of defense we’re going to play and this is what is expected, all those are kind of gone. I know they hear it all the time from us. Once they know that defense, then they can understand why they should do little subtleties to allow them to play better. Instead of just saying, 'On this defense I line up as a 3-technique. Well why do you want me to tighten down?’ Because something’s coming from the outside. ‘Oh I got it now.’ All those kind of things in a very short time, in two days that we’ve had them, I’ve been like that.
"This group of guys, I don’t know how good they’re going to be. I know how good I expect them to be -- one thing I’ve liked about them so far is they’re very willing to do what we ask them to do. They’ve been very coachable. Believe me, we could have 20 hours to meet with them and it wouldn’t be enough. But the next day they don’t seem to make the same mistakes or they understand what we just said to them. I’m excited about that. That means they’re really into it.”
How critical is the next month for Will Campbell?
“It’s critical for every guy on our defense. Will Campbell is a member of that defnese. I don’t look at Will Campbell and say, boy this is really critical for you. It’s really critical for Jibreel Black, and it’s really critical for Craig Roh, and it’s really critical for Kenny Demens. Every day he either gets better or worse. You might have heard that as a saying, but that’s the way it is here. So after a practice, we want to say, you didn’t get better, so you got worse. Or you got better, that’s a great sign. I don’t worry about the future of a guy. The future is being a Michigan football player and playing as good as you can play. After that, what he does will take care of his future.”
What specifically do you need to see from him this spring?
“Consistency. We need to see him play in and play out playing at a high level. If he’s had one good play, he’s got to put two together, and then he’s got to put three together. That’s it in a nutshell. He has shown that he has what you’re looking for for a play here, a play there -- now we have to do it consistently, and that’s everybody.”
Have you had guys in the past for whom the lights have gone on late in their careers?
“Oh no question. No question. That’s probably happened more than not that all of a sudden they become -- and here especially. Here at Michigan and maybe more than any place because as a senior you’re expected that. It’s so much in them that when you’re a senior that is your job. That is what you better do. Don’t come out as a senior and not improve. Don’t do that. That’s not accepted here.”
Who do you see as the leaders on this defense so far?
“It’s been too early. It’s been too early. I don’t want to say based on a guy running the drills we did in the winter conditioning, because we’ve all had guys who are great at yelling at winter condition and then when the pads come on -- until we see the pads come on and I see them hitting and executing when they’re beat up a little bit, we’ll know at the end of the spring. Even then, I’m not going to be able to say this guy is our leader because we won’t find out who our leader is until the game when it’s really down, until you’re behind. Who’s going to step up now? That’s when we’ll know, but I can’t tell you right now.”
Is it fair to see that Jordan Kovacs is in a position to lead this year?
“Kovacs was the leader last year, so we’ll find out this year. Nothing in this program is entitled. Nothing. I love him. Jordan Kovacs, I love him. Every day Jordan Kovacs has got to get better. Every day he’s got to go out there and see if he can’t become a better safety than he was last year.”
The secondary played well for most of the year but struggled in the last two games. Have you been able to identify what went wrong there?
“The one great thing for us as coaches that we’ve able to do in the offseason was we really got a chance to evaluate our program. These new coaches and these guys all had to put in an all-new defense -- everything was new to a lot of them, too. Now after watching it throughout the year, they’d come up with suggestions, and they’d say now, what if we did this, what if we did that? Like I told them, this is their defense now. This is the Michigan defense, so this is everybody’s defense now. I think we as coaches all understand the little things that will help rather than just saying this is cover 2 and in cover 2 you do this, for example. I feel like our kids have learned faster already too because of that. A lot of it’s the way you teach them. I think our guys, our coaches have done a great job of studying that. We’ve got to improve -- if you said that the secondary or the defensive line or linebackers were good, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say we did some things good, but it’s the same for us as coaches and as our program, you have to do it every play. Like you said in the Ohio State game, you can’t have that. You know my feeling on big plays: one of them makes you want to get sick to your stomach. We had too many of them at the end of the year, which means we have to go back and see why and get that all corrected.”
What specifically do you need to do better in order to eliminate those big plays?
“I think it’s technique. I think it’s just being better at your technique, being more focused. A lot of times big plays come from busted assignments, then that means we better make sure if a guy was confused on that, then let’s get it corrected. All those are the kind of things you see happening in the second year, where we’re all together on the same page. The guy out there playing, the coach, and myself. That’s my job.”
What are you looking at from Thomas Gordon?
“I’m looking for him to play a lot faster. I’ve told him that straight out. I love Thomas Gordon. He’s a great young man that has ability, but he must play faster. He must play more reckless. I think sometimes guys worry about are they fast enough, can I do this? Well yeah, you have to be able to do it. If you’re going to be out there, you have to be able to do it. He knows it. We’ll see during the spring if he does play faster.”
What do you mean by ‘more reckless’?
“Take a shot. That goes with what I mentioned about knowing the scheme. I think sometimes when you’re a safety coming down like he does, you kind of hesitate because you don’t want [the other guy] to run by you. But there’s sometimes you can go hit that because you’ve got a corner and another safety playing behind you, so if you miss, somebody else will make that play. I think after yesterday’s practice, maybe he’s understanding that a little bit, maybe he’s saying, ‘I get it, I get it.’ Plus give yourself a little credit. You can run pretty well. Don’t think that everybody’s going to outrun you. I think that’s knowing yourself, knowing the scheme, and that’ll allow you to play faster.”
What have you seen from Jarrod Wilson?
“He’s young. I’ve seen that he’s a guy that’s got his books in his hand, and he just came from a class that he’s never seen before, and he saw some pretty girls probably, I hope. I do tell you this, I’m glad he’s here. I’m glad all those freshmen are here. I wish we could have our entire signee class come early. I can’t evaluate him yet. I can’t evaluate any of the freshmen yet, because they’ve had no pads. But I do like their attitudes. I’ll tell you that.”
Considering how much size you lost up front from last year’s team, how are you going to approach things differently? How much bigger can Craig Roh and Jibreel Black get by next season?
“First I thought you were talking about me losing weight. I thought, well I don’t think I’ve lost that much weight. I’ve been trying hard, though.
"Craig Roh and Jibreel Black are working really really hard at gaining weight and getting stronger. What’ll happen is if you don’t have Big Will and you don’t have Mike Martin and things like that, then the guys that fill in for them, number one have to play with great technique because you don’t have that buffer. And the other thing you might have to do is move them a little bit. If they are guys that aren’t as big, but they happen to have pretty good movement -- again, remember, you’ve got Jibreel and Craig Roh who were the outside guys that had to be fast. Now we’ve moved them in because maybe we thought that they could help, maybe we might want to move them a little bit, too. I think there’s thing that we can do, which we will do, to allow our players to play as well as they can play.”
Does it put an emphasis on Will, since he’s the biggest guy in the middle?
“Well there’s no added emphasis on him. My philosophy has always been you’re only as good as you are down the middle. You can’t have a great defense unless it starts at the nose, then it goes to the backers, then it goes to the safety. Any great defense I’ve ever seen is strong right down the middle. It obviously starts with the nose.”
How much is familiarity with the system going to help your linebackers?
“I think it’s going to make a lot of difference. Again, we made no bones about it: I think we have to improve at that position. One of the things we’ve worked very very hard at is our underneath coverage. I think that’s something we saw when we watched the tape, that we have to get better at that, we’ve got to get more eyes on the football. If you’re not the fastest player, then you better see that quarterback to gain a step. If you don’t, then you’re just going to get torn apart as far as not having enough speed. That’s been a big emphasis for us. Our underneath coverage is something that we’re going to work very very hard on.”
You mentioned Jarrod Wilson. How are Kaleb Ringer and Joe Bolden doing?
“No pads. I love them, but I haven’t seen them. This isn’t cross country. They can come out there and they can run like crazy. I love those kids, I’m just going to tell you I’m so happy they’re here, but they can be the best runners in the world, but if they won’t hit anybody, I won’t like them as much. We’ll wait and see when the pads come on.”
Oh herro prease. I'm back for spring practice. There will be two or three pressers every week leading up to the spring game, and I will be transcribing all of them. Huzzah!
News bullets and other important things:
- Ricky Barnum is practicing at center.
- Rocko Khoury, Terrence Robinson, Mike Cox, and George Morales are all graduating this spring and will not return for the 2012 season
- Justice Hayes is staying at running back but will be considered for kickoff return duties.
- The spring game will be a scrimmage due to lack of bodies on offensive and defensive line.
On wearing pants today: “I put them on just for you guys.”
“First, this is off-topic a little bit, but we had severe weather yesterday and the damage and all that was out there in Dexter, and I don’t know too many other places -- I think that was the worst hit, but our thoughts and prayers are with those folks who went through that. We had our guys here for training table and when the campus alert went out they were all in the locker room and it was one of those situations. Our thoughts and prayers really go out to those people who were affected by it.
“We also yesterday had our pro day, which is a part of your program that the guys who have given so much, the opportunity, the dream they may have about continuing after they get a great degree from Michigan and continuing to play the game of football. I thought they represented Michigan well, and we’re proud of them for that.
“As far as this team, Team 133, I think we have a lot of questions. I know I do from the perspective of who’s going to emerge as the leaders, who’s going to have the toughness to lead and the sacrifice to lead. I think we’ve had a good winter. You can see some guys developing, you can see some guys really working hard, but I think you put the pads on, spring football, those things, you learn a little bit more about your football team. Starting tomorrow morning we get to do that. It’s going to be fun because you get to wear shorts again, get out on the field … it’s going to be good.
"When you look at where we’re at, there’s some obvious holes that we need to fill from the standpoint of our defensive line with the three seniors graduating at the position who played a lot of snaps for us a year ago. When you look at our offensive line there’s some good competition, but at the same time we’ve got to see improvement from young guys like Chris Bryant. He’s done a good job with the weight room and that part of it, but how he continues and matures. And Ricky Barnum, we’re going to play him at center to start with and see where he ends up there. Elliott Mealer getting an opportunity at the guard position, and Schofield will go out to right tackle, and obviously Taylor will obviously be the left tackle. Really for us we were very fortunate from an injury (standpoint) on both sides nad both fronts when you look at the guys up front defensively who stayed relatively healthy until the bowl practices and the six guys who were really responsible for the front. Those were the obvious places. Obviously Junior, Odoms, and Kelvin Grady. There’s a rotation there, and Junior obviously having most [contribution] statistically and all those things. There’s heavy competition and there will be competition.
"That’s probably the longest I’ve ever spoke.”
On your defensive line, how big of a spring is this for Will Campbell?
“I think it’s big, but I think he’s made great progress [in] what he’s done from a physical standpoint how he looks and all those things. I think his leadership and that part of it, with Quinton Washington, Richard Ash, when you start looking at that nose position, the ability for Will to slide from the 3-technique to the nose position is important.”
What’s the biggest issue with moving a guy like Ricky from guard to center?
“I think number one, snapping the football is always a little different. Now we did quite a bit with Rick when he got back healthy last year, playing both. I think Darrell and Al both had that mindset, if we did get beat up somewhere else where we had to rotate those guys -- at the end of the day the best five guys have to play, however that rotation works out. But I think snapping the ball, the shot gun snaps, you’d like to see centers be able to snap and step at the same time.”
Is the reason you’re moving Ricky to center because you’re not confident in guys like Rocko Khoury or Jack Miller?
“Well …” (ominous pause) “… I think there’s some unknowns there. I think that’s the best way to put it.”
How has Craig Roh embraced the move to strongside and Jibreel Black with the move inside?
“I think they’ve really embraced it. I know when we had the conversation and Greg met with Craig after we discussed it staff-wise. It was like, okay. I get to eat a little more. If someone said that to me I’d be happy. He really has embraced it. They’ve done some senior drill work and all that where all those guys -- him and Jibreel both are really excited about it.”
Do you expect there to be greater competition on the offensive and defensive lines since a lot of positions are up for grabs?
“I think so. I think these guys have learned to compete more and more as far as what our perception of competition is and our expectation of competition. I think they understand what’s at stake and I think they also understand that September 1st is going to be here before we know it.”
Borges said on the radio that he wished he would have spent more time using the spread early on in the season before transitioning to the pro-style. Is there an opportunity to spend more time in the spread now?
“I think the more we get comfortable in this scheme, you may see a little more, but for us, I think Al when he’s talking about that, [he meant] maybe we could have had a little more success, but we were pretty good early. I think you could because of some things that we’ve looked at.”
How have the three early enrollees progressed through the winter?
“I think they’ve had a really great winter. The first thing you always look at is how they adjust from being away from home, mom not cooking, mom not doing your laundry. I think classes, and that responsibility -- I think Joe and Kaleb and Jarrod have all really done a good job. Talking to coach Wellman in the weight room and how their work ethic is, I think all three of them have done a tremendous job.
Have any of the three stood out in any way?
“I think they all have maybe not exceeded but have adjusted well.”
“Yeah, we’ve got some guys … George Morales is going to graduate. Rocko’s going to graduate. Terrence Robinson will graduate, and Mike Cox is graduating. I think that’s it.”
Is that this spring?
“Yeah. A couple of them have like six hours in the summer, because this is the winter quarter.”
So they will not be back in 2012?
“Hmm mm. (No.)”
Ws that their decision?
“I think it’s their decision.”
Could they take advantage of the post graduation transfer rule?
“Mm hmm. (Yes.)”
What do you expect out of Roy this season? Who do you have hope for at the receiver position to step up?
“I think the first guy you look at is always Roy. I think that Jeremy Gallon is a guy who has shown tremendous ability. You look at his year and he was pretty successful. You look at Jeremy Jackson and his development and his growth. Dileo is a really valuable guy to our team. Jerald Robinson is a guy -- he was down most of the year with us. He can be pretty productive. Joe Reynolds is a guy who’s worked awfully hard.”
What’s different going into the second spring here vs. a year ago?
“For us, I don’t know if you look at it a whole lot differently. I mean you’re always trying to meet expectations of competitiveness, toughness, leadership, development, discipline, and all those things. At the same time it’s probably a little -- I never want to say the word easier -- but they do know what certain terms mean now from an offensive schematic or defensive schematic in how we coach or how we call things.”
What’s the next step in leadership that you want to see Denard take?
“He’s done a really good job of leading this winter. He’s done a good job when you look at -- he’s always been an unselfish player, so that’s always something that his teammates have seen. But he’s always taken it and been a little more … you hear him a little more I guess. Holding guys accountable a little more.”
From a passing standpoint, how big is going back to the fundamentals and footwork?
“There’s no question. That’s an everyday thing, and that’s an everyday thing for every position. The fundamentals and techniques. Our guys do a lot of seven-on-seven in the offseason. Continually they work drills at every position, so that’s huge.”
Last year the defensive line set the tone for the defense. Do you set that kind of expectations for this group?
“No question about it. Your expectations don’t go down. They better increase because the bar is always going to be set high here at Michigan and should be. Those expectations are for the position, not the person who plays the position.”
How does their lack of experience change the way you approach that this season?
“It doesn’t. Maybe you are a little more patient when they don’t do it exactly like we want them to, so that might be part of it, but it really doesn’t.”
Do you anticipate growing pains with that group? What’s the kind of thing that will drive you crazy during spring practice?
“A guy not playing with toughness and a guy not running to the football. That will drive me crazy.”
How good do you feel about your back seven? All of them are returning.
“I think as a whole, as a unit, I feel good -- I feel good about the kids themselves. As a unit that’s going to play at the level we need to play, I don’t feel very good because we didn’t play as well as we needed to a year ago. I’m not a huge statistic guy, but you go in and you look at opportunities that we missed either in passes broken up or interceptions on that end or supporting the end, getting off a block and doing that, and you’re looking at your linebackers a little bit -- your inside guys, are they missing tackles or making tackles? I’ve always been from the school that we’re going to be really critical, so I like the guys who we have. I like the guys who are coming in. I think we’ll have great competition by the time September 1st gets here. That part of it’s good, and I like that. I like having guys how have had some experience. Now where can they take the next step with the fundamentals and schematically of what we’re trying to do so that we don’t get beaten by Michigan State or we don’t get beaten by Iowa or we don’t give up this many points against somebody.”
With the attrition, you seem to be pretty low in terms of numbers.
“Well we’ve been low in numbers for a while, especially at the offensive line position from a scholarship standpoint. I think last year we had eight guys. Usuaully that number is 14 to 16. From a defensive line standpoint, if you’re going to have a four-man front, you better have 14 to 16 scholarship guys. We weren’t even close.”
Are you happy about how 2013 recruiting is going?
“Well number one, this is not an exact science and you don’t really know what you get until they get here because this is a hard game to play and hard to be championship teams and play. I think our coaches have worked extremely hard. I think they do a tremendous job evaluating and we’ll see. That’s why there’s a signing date. First Wednesday in February. But we’ll see. We have a long way to go.”
Punting struggles with Will Hagerup?
“The punting situation is one that will be competitive. I think both guys are very capable. I think the consistency we need to have by whoever that guy is is going to be an important part.”
How do you see the running back situation shaping up since Fitz locked down the starting position last season?
“Well he’s going to compete. He’s going to compete there. I think I’ve said this since day one. There’s nothing sacred. There’s no position that’s given an entitlement. He ended the year doing a nice job for us. You have to love the kid -- I do -- because of his competitiveness. I think he grew up a lot during the course of the year with whatthe expectiations are for a Michigan back. But Thomas Rawls and Vince Smith and Hayes, you know, there’s guys there. He can’t have a bad day.”
You mentioned Justice Hayes. Are you keeping him at running back or moving him to another position?
“No, he’s a back. We’ll see how he transpires. The good thing about him, he does have that talent where he can go out and catch the ball and he’s got great explosion. Kickoff returns -- he’d be a guy we want to look at because he’s got a gear to him that’s a little different.”
Spring game format?
“It’ll probably be a lot like last year. We’d love to have a true spring game, there’s no doubt about it. I said some numbers earlier about your most physical two positions on your team, and our numbers aren’t where they need to be.”
Are you taking walk-ons this spring?
“We’ll wait more until the fall.”
Guest post by Craig Ross.
I talked to Coach Darrell Funk for a bit before his three sessions (all on the inside zone game) and asked him about his impressions re: the defense last spring. He said, “I could feel it in the spring that the defense would be good. Coach Mattison was doing little things that drove us crazy.” The coach indicated that he thought his offense would be decent, so he knew that Mattison had a chance to show a lot more than the defense had in 2010. Indeed, Coach Funk stated he had been pretty certain of his assessment.
Funk is a very engaging guy. Like a few other coaches I have talked to (Mark Smith on the current staff, Rod Smith, Scot Loeffler and Mike DeBord on prior staffs) he considers it a priority that the listener understands what he is getting at. And, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the listener is a coach, a wanna-be coach, or just some schmo off the street (me, for example). He is a teacher, first, and it shows. At the close of his last session (he was three hours in) I bugged him (well, Brian goaded me; his fault) about the offside’s guard first step into the A gap (some call this a “bucket” step, a term Funk doesn’t prefer—he likes to say the OL is “giving ground to gain leverage”), and he was pleased that I asked him, demonstrating the technique to make sure I understood the point.
He started his first session saying that he could talk “for two full days” on the inside zone, if anyone was willing to listen. When Brian joined me for session 3, (he had spent sessions 1 and 2 with Coach Mattison) he (kinda) groused about not having the background to learn the “minutia” of these blocking techniques. But after building upon the first two sessions, I could have easily have listened to a few more. Not that I can swear that I was getting more than the various tips of isolated icebergs. And, probably I have some of it twisted around. But, my notes from the first session were close to pristine, before my energy waned.
Here are Coach Funk’s basic principles from the first session [the philosophy of the Inside Zone] with the caveat that I am just an ordinary fan. [Though Funk said, “If you just get a tidbit out of this I will be happy.”] Jargon is always tough for the non-coach but I think I have most of this “right.”
When zoning, Funk and Borges are seeking “hard double teams” at the line of scrimmage. Even though it is zone, they still want physical, hard downhill combo blocks.
The hard double team at the LOS is more important than getting one of the double team blockers to the second level, though, clearly, that’s the idea. But, between late on the second level and not getting hard double team blocks at the LOS, Funk chooses “be late.”
He doesn’t want the offensive line blocking “rules” to vary. He prefers that there not be a lot of exceptions to blocking assignments; it is best if the OL have a few rules, and not a lot of exceptions. Practice time is limited, you can only learn so much. [I have heard coaches say this over and over. Get good at what you do.]
Funk wants the offensive line and the RB to work for “squareness” with their shoulders. He thinks the shoulder angles of the OL and RB should match, as much as is possible. He stressed this a couple of times so I assume this is a key point for him.
He says if your RBs are running with square shoulders and “downhill” the back has a greater opportunity to take advantage of cut backs. He prefers that the RB press the gap and stay square, implying less bounce to the outside and, when there, the opportunity to find a lane (a cut back) when the defense has over-pursued. [I found this very interesting, not something I had heard before, especially the “match” between RBs and OL.]
When they are running zone with “number 16,” they often have a read to the backside (but not always). The key for Coach Hoke “and I have heard him say this a hundred times” is that he wants the back to “press the A gap until he can’t.” Hoke stresses simplicity.
Targeting. Who is going to combo what DL and to what backer? The Coach says the guards never say/call anything but the Center (Tackles? They may communicate with guards on the 30 or Bear fronts) is responsible for making “exception” calls. In the UM offense the exceptions are (primarily) a “30 front” (odd front with a NT right over the center) or a Bear defense. Otherwise, they have primary rules to determine who is doubling and who the target LB is. My assumption is that an OL blocks a lineman if he is covered. If not covered he doubles to the next linemen to his play side. Depending upon the movement of the DL, one blocker releases and looks to the second level, the targeted LB.
OL Splits. The basics are that center to guard is about 2 feet. Guard to tackle, about three feet. But he isn’t dogmatic about this or with stance, so long as the lineman isn’t tipping run or pass.
Landmarks. Doesn’t like angles. He wants each OL to work from “his backside eye to the play side number.” He feels this gets back to principle #1, hard doubles at the LOS. And then work to square, finishing North. “Stay low, don’t stand up.” [As he shows tape in subsequent sessions, he critiques OL play primarily looking to footwork, working to square.] So, let’s say the backside guard has a DL over him. The landmark is still BSE/PSN. He wants the OL to work a line of his backside eye to the DL’s play side shoulder, thus protecting the backside A gap. In the subsequent sessions, when reviewing tape, I would say these are the keys for Funk.
Footwork. “First step, get out of your footprint.” [And gain ground.] The second step is the most important, has got to “get into the ground.” Funk makes the second step as the most important coaching point. [He provides examples.]
Get out of your footprint, “get into the ground with your second step,” work backside eye to play side number, work to square, finish north. This is the homily.
Oh yeah, “don’t stand up.” Funk says he has one, young promising OG who “will get there” as soon as he stops standing up.
Two small things that cropped up in his presentation that I found interesting. First, Funk’s theme that there just isn’t enough time to teach/practice, so getting good at a couple of things is better than doing a lot of stuff not very well. I have heard this from coaches a lot.
Second, and this wasn’t that explicit but it was clearly there, was that Al Borges isn’t a huge fan of zone schemes. He would prefer to be in a man or gap system. I think Funk can go either way, and might even lean to zone constructs, but Borges isn’t convinced. Whether or not this is a tea leaf for the future I don’t know. Coach Funk seemed to indicate that it would take him a couple of years to get his zone scheme in sync (a bit different that RR’s scheme). So, we get the zone into gear next year and then we transition when Denard graduates? Or not? Next time I get the opportunity, I will ask.
In sessions two and three there was a lot of video demonstration and refinement of the basics outlined in session 1—ergo Brian’s comment. In the second session there was a lot of talk about defenders “spiking,” specifically “spiking down.” That’s when a defender attacks a gap from (say) outside of the right guard, looping back into the A gap. Funk talked about the techniques for protecting the A gaps, which were, in fact, variations of the BSE/PSN theme, but with an OL always taking a “bucket” step to the protect the gap to his play side, even if a short jab step and if the OL was “covered.”
So I hit up a Glazier Clinic last week. I'm not sure what the etiquette is about actually talking about this stuff since the atmosphere in the room was not at all similar to press conferences in which carefully evaluated non-statements are provided. For instance, at one point Greg Mattison said that "I've never seen such awful technique" than that of the defensive line upon his arrival.
Mattison didn't say anything offensive, but he was very blunt. If he knew someone would be posting about it on the internet he might not have spoken like that, which means I probably shouldn't be in the room. But being in the room was exceedingly useful for me as I try to figure out what people are supposed to be doing on the field. So here's a mostly paraphrased recap that I don't think anyone could possibly get mad at.
I also listened to an hour of Funk after Mattison was done; having missed two hours of table-setting and lingo I had a hard time grabbing anything that I could relate to you. FWIW, Funk's presentation was three hours of inside zone minutiae—I don't think we're dumping zone any time soon. Craig Ross took in the whole thing and provided a few notes that I'll post Friday.
Mattison. Very personable, obviously a veteran of the clinic circuit. At points reminded me of a folk singer in one and only one very specific way: after explaining this formation or this coverage or this defense, he would fire off some zingers, get everyone to laugh, and then continue with business. I can see why he's regarded as a great recruiter.
His interest in teaching was also clear. Occasionally it felt like it was a college class as Mattison asked the room what player X would be doing in a particular situation. That lent a lot of credence to his assertion that one of two primary reasons he came back to college was a desire to "influence young men—that's what we do." (Brady Hoke was the other.)
On message. Mattison kicked the session off with about 30 minutes describing Michigan's philosophy, goals, and motivational techniques before getting into Xs and Os. He started by talking about Hoke; that "the one thing Brady did was bring back what made Michigan what it is." Michigan hasn't been "one of those teams loaded with unbelievable stars" but plays fundamentally sound, tough defense with maximum effort. Etc.
There were then the usual bits about Hoke's "Years: 133, Championships: 42" call-and-response and a statement that the Sugar Bowl was "fine" but he would trade 100 of them for a Big Ten Championship. The rooms say "THE TEAM THE TEAM THE TEAM," of course. The program is on message.
Position switches. As I wrestled with how to handle this various coaches in the room told every-damn-body that Mattison said Brennen Beyer was moving to WDE and Craig Roh to SDE. This was explicitly stated. Adjust the wiki pages.
Helmets to the ball. A major theme: "loafs" are not tolerated and Mattison wants to see the jersey of 10 guys at the end of every play. When he catches a defensive lineman getting passed by another one he asks the kid how fast he is, and when they say "4.7" he says "well that guy must be a 4.3 then."
At the end of the session Mattison was discussing a corner blitz they didn't run much because the corners didn't come hard enough. One of the cut-ups was from the end of the third quarter against OSU. This play:
The coaches' film is a wider shot and emphasized the huge distance Floyd had to make up to catch Miller before the touchdown. Mattison took the opportunity to point out that this was an example of the corners not coming hard enough and gush over Floyd ("I love this kid") in general and specifically as an exemplar of the Michigan philosophy. Floyd's effort led to this:
And that led to a field goal.
Bonus: For those looking for a reason other than blind luck that Michigan recovered 80% of opponent fumbles this year, in practice all incompletions are live balls. Mattison credited this practice for getting players moving towards the ball at all times and being in position to scoop up live balls in actual play.
Technique a priority. This was a feature of both the general philosophical section and the chalk talk. Mattison did not select the cutups himself—that was delegated to a video coordinator—and didn't know exactly what would come up. This made for an interesting dynamic as he evaluated each play live. He repeatedly digressed from his main topic to note the footwork of his linemen: Van Bergen is getting distance with his first step. All of these guys have identical footwork. There was also a long discussion about why your rush end needs to start with his outside foot back when he gets a tight end to him*. Etc.
In the philosophical section he noted that Michigan was probably the only team in the country with a head coach who coaches a position, that nose guard. It was at this point he told the story about Hoke coming to him fuming, saying he "wasn't going to be one of those head coaches who just walk around" and demanding a position group. He took the nose. Zinger: "now… I question why he coached the best player on the team."
Here he also noted that everyone hits the sled every day and that this was not something the previous coaching staff did frequently, if ever. This is where the bit about "I've never seen such awful technique" came in. Pretty much the only thing negative Mattison said was about the state of the team he was handed. Everyone who's surprised raise their hand. That's no one.
The final bit on this: "don't go be a scheme coach, focus on technique."
*[The reason is the biggest threat to the rush end in this situation is getting reached and if the tight end flares out to do so that first step needs to be one that gains him distance, something you can't do while remaining square if your outside foot is to the LOS. Disagreement with this appeared to be a pet peeve of Mattison's.]
Big plays. Obviously a priority just from the play on the field. Section on this concentrated on the secondary, declared the biggest problem with big plays. Hates it when safeties "look like blitzing linebackers" when there is a pile. He wants a cup around the pile and safeties to make tackles at least six yards downfield.
Now, that doesn't mean Jordan Kovacs needs to make a tackle six yards downfield. In this context a safety is a player in a deep zone. This is most often the corners and Gordon/Woolfolk.
Rotation. This is a Hoke thing Mattison was skeptical about: Michigan rotates the entire defense on every play of practice. Run on—snap—run off. This is "not pretty" when your 21st and 22nd best defensive players are going up against the first team offense but builds conditioning and depth and was credited for "saving the team" in the Sugar Bowl when injuries whittled down available defensive linemen to dust. Think Martin and Van Bergen in the third quarter.
Goal line philosophy. To Mattison it's simple: one zone "you run perfectly" and an all-out pressure.
When they're backed up. Mattison asked the crowd to think of what they are thinking when they've got the other team backed up, and then said "how many of you are thinking 'don't give up a big play'?" Mattison's been there and tries to fight that. Now if you're backed up, "if we have a great run pressure, we're coming after your ass."
This goes here.
Not exactly a run pressure but Michigan is sending all five guys on the line there. "When you have a chance, when they're backed up, go after their ass."
Third down. "For us, we're gonna pressure." Mattison on the end of the Akron State game:
You saw the Ohio game, you probably thought 'this guy is the dumbest sonofabitch in the world' He turned a wide receiver loose against Ohio a couple minutes left in the game.
But we intercepted it on the next play. Did we win? Yes. So we were aggressive and we won. [laughter]
So they'll be aggressive come hell or high water, that's clear.
4-3 versus 3-4: THE FINAL WORD. "We'd be here for hours" if someone tried to argue him away from playing the 4-3 under. Said something along the lines of "if you've got that 330 pound nose tackle and your ends and your linebackers, okay, God bless you." I thought of Pipkins—what is Mattison going to do with a 330 pound nose?
Anyway, Greg Mattison will never run a 3-4. End of story.
4-3 under assertions from the man himself. These aren't too different than the things you'll hear about the under when you read up on it on the internet but just to confirm, the basis of the defense:
- Rush end: "The whole thing is predicated on the rush." Must be a great player, and athlete who can spill power (ie, get into a pulling guard and stop him in his tracks), drop into coverage, and win one-on-one battles with the tight end. All that and he's got to be a ferocious pass rusher. More similar to the SAM linebacker than the SAM is to the ILBs.
- SAM linebacker. Must not be outflanked either in the run or the pass game. Hugely important not to give himself up one for one on the edge. [Editor's aside: that's something we were talking about a ton early in the year. It got a lot better as the season progressed.]
- Inside linebackers. The usual: the mike has to be a little bigger, a little stronger, and the will has to be able to adjust to coverage outside of the box. An important difference between the two is the WLB has to be able to run vertically down the seam whereas the MLB can pass his guy off; IIRC this year the guy running down the seam was Demens, not Morgan. Adjustment based on Demens's surprising ability to stick with guys downfield?
- Nose tackle. Also hugely important. "You cannot win with a weak nose." We should start calling our incoming five star "No Pressure Pipkins" right now.
- Corners. "Corners are corners" but the field corner (Countess) is not involved with "heavy work" and usually just has to clean up plays that have been strung out. The boundary corner (Floyd) has to be a bigger guy better in run support. It's a seven man front; if you go eight you'd "better have a war daddy" at field corner because he's got to cover an outside receiver with little additional help.
Michigan does not align to strength but rather aligns to field—ie, if you're on the left hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field and if you're on the right hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field. You can flip your tight ends all around and Michigan won't flip in response. I assume the flipping from earlier in the year was a necessary evil as Michigan tried to get everyone up on the new system.
The most important thing. One of the line shifts Michigan runs is called "pirate technique."
Kyle Kalis. Mattison saw one of the St. Ed's guys and mentioned that Michigan had recruited a "real man" out that school, one that "may just maul some of our guys."
Jake Ryan. Mattison said Michigan was "blessed" at SAM linebacker—probably including Beyer in that assessment—and that Ryan was a major player. A major player they probably wished they didn't have to run out as a freshman, but a major player.
Mattison referenced a particular play against Nebraska on which he lined up on the wrong side of the field. I remember that but I don't think it was against Nebraska; there's no mention of it in the UFR. "Still a lot of coaching to do" with him but it's clear they think he has vast potential.
JT Floyd. As mentioned, Mattison seemed enamored with him. "Love that kid."
Desmond Morgan. Came up on a couple of clips where he ended up clubbing offensive linemen. Mattison said something along the lines of "think he'll hit you?" And "is that good or what? For a little freshman?" It is unknown whether he has ever said "freshman" without preceding it with "little."
Morgan tipped one of the blitzes they run; Mattison mentioned that he told Morgan he'd play three technique if he kept it up. This is a common threat, as…
Kenny Demens. …they literally did this with Demens, playing him at nose so they could have Martin run the blitzes he wasn't coming hard enough on. In contrast, the SAM (Ryan) was called out as a guy who does come hard.
Some secondhand reports that the implication was Demens's job is under threat have filtered out to premium message boards; I did not get that vibe.
Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's "down safety" or "close safety"—I'll stick with strong, FWIW—was "tremendous."
Departing DL. Heininger "really became a football player." Seems like they think they'll miss him. Van Bergen "really, really played" for M and Martin was of course the best player on the team.