this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
How are you guys doin? Kinda stoic. / File
How are you feeling about things now compared to the beginning of camp?
“Better. I think we have a little bit of feel, we’re getting a little bit of rhythm on occasion, but we still need a little more practice. We’re not there, but we feel better. I mean the thing about offense and defense is once you narrow down your field of players and you start working with them rather than work with the whole team, which you’re doing kind of for two weeks, the execution gets better. I mean that’s been the case, and that’s why spring football is hard, because you never really do that, you know. In the fall you narrow down your field of players and they start doing better.”
What exactly is the criteria for being there?
“I’ll tell you after the game whether we were there or not. The reason -- and I’m not being sarcastic -- but sometimes you think you’re there and you find out whether you were or not. You can go through a very good practice where there are very few errors and then all of a sudden the pressure of the game gets to some kids, particularly the ones who have never played before that don’t have a start. You realize that you weren’t quite as prepared as you thought you were. But all you do is the best you can to get those kids in as many scenarios that will make them react well and hope like heck they do. But there is no way to really know.”
[After THE JUMP, offensive line, freshmen freshmen everywhere, and Borges comes perilously close to admitting slot backs exist]
News bullets and other important things:
- Elliott Mealer would start at left guard if there were a game tomorrow. He plays faster, has better technique, and has more confidence.
- Pipkins was hurt during one-on-one drill. He is now fine and practicing in full pads.
- Justice Hayes is getting more reps. Hoke is hoping to develop him more.
- Roundtree is recovering well. Was in pads and running yesterday.
- Will Campbell is practicing at the 3-tech DT position. Richard Ash, Quinton Washington, and Ondre Pipkins are practicing at the nose.
- Team will be practicing at Ford Field today to simulate playing in an indoor stadium.
“Is everybody ready? Yeah? Good. Ahem. This is our 19th practice today [ED-S: He means of the fall camp, Mr. Rosenberg]. I think you can tell it’s the 19th practice in some good ways and in some ways that -- they’re starting to get tired of punching each other, hitting each other, you know, those things that go along with preparing for football. That’s the good thing about it. I think we’re making some progresson a daily practice when you look at where we’re at as a football team, where we’re at with trying to bring some guys who haven’t played much football at Michigan. We’ve got that in the defensive front, a little bit on the offensive front who haven’t played in games, really. So that’s coming along. It’s a little bit of a process to make sure that we’re getting all we can out of them without going over the edge. I think we’re making progress. I like how they’ve come to work every day. I’m happy, somewhat, where we’re at.”
[After THE JUMP, the questions.]
Programming note: Due to a poorly timed (but awesome) vacation, I was in California for the last several days. That's why Ace had to cover for me at Media Day and why *Jedi handwave* there was no coordinator presser on Tuesday. I'm back to provide uninterrupted coverage from here on out, though, so feel free to get off your tenterhooks.
News bullets and other important things:
- Just completed 14th practice; did some scrimmaging.
- Ben Braden, Erik Magnuson, and Erik Gunderson are all practicing at tackle.
- No decision yet on Fitz Toussaint.
- Roundtree's chances of returning for Alabama are "good."
- Matt Wile currently holds a slight edge for the punting job over Will Hagerup and Kenny Allen.
- Chris Wormley has not yet undergone surgery but will; as expected, will likely miss the entire season.
Football was being played.
“Thanks for coming. 14th practice, midway point, did some good things, did some things -- playing with a little better speed. I think the fundamentals and techniques that you always go back to. I think the guys are doing a pretty good job with that. I think we have to be more physical on both fronts. That’s not nearly solved yet for how we need to play, but for the 14th day, this is really grind right now and it should be because of the schedule that they’ve been on. You have to see how they respond. They responded pretty well to some situational things this afternoon, but as far as being ready for September 1st, we have a long way to go.”
By situational, do you mean scrimmage?
“It’s a little bit situations. You know, just give as many -- not a lot of plays, but enough to hear some football and those kinds of things.”
When do you plan to have a full scrimmage?
“Not until Saturday.”
Just wanted to ask about a couple Alabama guys: their QB McCarron and nose guard Williams. Thoughts?
“Well I mean, I think McCarron’s done a great job leading their football team. National championship quarterback. Plays with a lot of poise. The run game, he gets them in and out of the right places. They run the ball. He’s a very good leader. He seems to be on the field for them. Williams is a guy who’s disruptive. Somebody will have to contend with [him]. They have 10 teammates on each side of the ball, so they’re really part of a very good football team.”
Have you identified any backup tackles to Lewan and Schofield?
“You know, I don’t know. All those guys -- Ben Braden’s taken some snaps, Gunderson’s taken some snaps, Erik Magnuson’s taken some snaps. I don’t know I’d identify anybody who was it, I’d be honest with you, yet.”
Is it concerning that you have true freshmen at those positions?
“Yeah, always is. But it’s always -- those guys have to grow up fast. All of them are smart guys, and they’re coachable, so they’ll be okay.”
How many freshmen do you anticipate having in the two-deep on the offensive line?
“On the line? Oh maybe three. Maybe four.”
You didn’t get to spend much time with the freshmen earlier because they were in classes. What about now?
“Well they got out on Tuesday and today’s Thursday, so you still, from a learning and being comfortable with the terminology and what they’re asked to do, I think that part of it’s still early. I think they get through this week and into next week a little bit. You have a better idea. Can they play fast? Can they play with poise? Can they play with great technique? All those things are a part of it.”
Does anyone catch your attention in a positive way?
“Uh, you know, I would probably say they’re all -- I think they’re all working hard. I think they’re all eager. I think the talent level, the athleticism stuff is kind of what we’re looking at -- I don’t know. Not yet.”
Has Desmond Morgan made a leap this fall?
“Yeah, I think he did from spring and I think he has in the fall. I think he had a very good summer. He’s a driven, young man. And a very competitive person. I think the improvement of how he reacts -- he’s pretty instinctive. That’s why Yyu play as a freshman, because you’re an instinctive person and football player. And he’s pretty instinctive. I think the strength gains that he’s made, he’s a more powerful football player, linebacker.”
When do you make decisions on walk-ons getting scholarships?
“No we haven’t done that. It depends sometime before school starts if we’re thinking about that or if we have the scholarships.”
Are you thinking about it this year?
“Sometime before school starts.”
How has Fitz looked, and are you closer to making a decision on him yet?
“I have not, and he’s out there like the others running around.”
How do you plan to build cohesion as an offensive line while rotating three guys at left guard?
“What we’ll do is take a big part of scrimmage, practice situations, and keep playing a guy there so that there’s a comfort level between the left tackle and the center. I think Taylor can play basically with anybody because of his experience, and he knows more what to do. So that part of it, he’s pretty good so he doesn’t have to worry about himself as much as he does that guard.”
Has he been sort of an on-the-field coach?
“Yeah, he’s done a nice job. He’s done a nice job.”
When would you like to identify a starting offensive line?
“Oh, ten -- ten days before probably.”
Is that a rough guess? Why ten days?
“I think, you know, some continuity that we try to build consistently, but I think that’s part of it.”
Chris Wormley tore his ACL.
Has he had/will he have surgery?
“No. He has not and he will.”
“Sometime in the near future.”
How did he sustain the injury?
“Just playing football.”
Any plans to redshirt him?
“Most likely he’ll miss the year.”
You have three guys competing for the punting job. Has anyone stood out yet?
“You know, not really. I would give right now -- probably Wile had the better day. But we’ve got to be consistent day in and day out. Today I thought Matt stroked it pretty well. I didn’t think Will was as consistent, but he was better than he has been. Both of those guys were a little bit behind because they didn’t get as many reps during the summer, so I think they’re catching up.”
How confident are you with playing an inexperienced guy like Jerald Robinson, who has reportedly been standing out at the receiver position, on September 1st?
“I think we’ve got to put enough pressure on him and get him out of his comfort zone that you test them as best you can, and he’s got to go out there and do it. I mean there’s no other way besides going out there on that stage and doing it. We can put him on situations and test him and make him uncomfortable and see how he reacts. But at the same time, he’s just got to do it.”
What would you do to get him out of his comfort zone?
“Well you give him a lot of reps. You see how he reacts when he gets tired. You do some things coverage wise to beat him up at the line of scrimmage. Just trying to get him a little bit out of the comfort level.”
How is Roundtree doing, and what are his chances of playing the first week?
“He’s doing great.”
“I think they’re good.”
What is the clearing process for him to get back on the field?
“Him feeling better and the doctor feeling good and comfortable about it.”
Do you check up on him every day?
“Yeah he’s with a rehab specialist every day. We obviously communicate.”
What’s he doing physically at this point?
“With the rehab -- ”
Has JT Floyd progressed since last season, and how has his chemistry with Blake Countess developed?
“Well I think there’s a chemistry before JT and Blake. I think they push each other. I think the consistency is always something that we’ve got to keep having out there. That’s kind of a position where you’re on the island, everybody sees it when you falter, but I think they both improved. I think they both worked very hard.”
How do Blake and JT differ?
“That’s a good question. JT’s a little rangier, a little longer-armed, a little taller. I would say Blake’s probably a little more physical, you know, of the two. I think JT showed some physicalness a year ago, too. ”
Do you think that they feed off each other?
“Yeah I think so. I think that and Tom Gordon and Kovacs. Kovacs [is] kind of the field general, and it’s part of being a safety. I think they feed really well [off] each other.”
Can you get a sense for what kind of team you are 14 practices in?
Can you characterize anything about it so far?
“You know, we’ve got a lot we need to improve on.”
Do you like what you’re getting out of the seniors?
“They’re doing a good job.”
----------------BONUS PARAPHRASED PLAYER INTERVIEWS!----------------
- Likes his new position, prefers it to OLB.
- Technique-wise working on bull rush and a couple other moves.
- Says defense's strength is "technique." Weakness is "toughness." Needs to be "tougher."
- Father is a high school coach -- used to give him a bunch of pointers on technique, but now just watches the games as a fan.
- Family attends every game.
- Second year in defense, is picking up visual cues faster and therefore playing faster.
- Fitz's absence and return didn't affect running back practice. Fitz basically picked up where he left off.
- No sense of cutthroat competition between running backs -- they're all brothers and support each other.
- Loves watching film. Craziest place to watch film? In the shower. Did it multiple times last season.
I brought up the fact that he had only allowed one touchdown to opposing teams' No. 1 receivers all last season.
Floyd: "Which one? I just want to test you."
Me: "The Iowa guy? McNutt? It was either him or DeVier Posey." [I didn't remember exactly, but it was Posey.]
Floyd: "McNutt didn't score a touchdown on me!"
When it came time to interview players at yesterday's media day, it wasn't hard to pick out which players would draw the biggest crowds. Denard Robinson, of course, was the center of attention. Thomas Rawls, thrust into the spotlight due to Fitzgerald Toussaint's legal troubles, fielded questions about stepping into the starter's role. Devin Gardner talked about taking snaps at wide receiver. Lewan and Campbell and Kovacs never had to look far for a reporter. Pick a paper and you won't have to look far to see their stories.
Instead of jumping into the fray around Denard or Rawls or Gardner, I thought my time would be better spent getting quotes you won't see anywhere else. So, I tracked down long snapper Jareth Glanda and fullback Stephen Hopkins for some one-on-one interviews, and the results are below:
How did you get into snapping? Was it something you did to get a spot on a college team or did you just pick it up?
When I played offensive line in youth ball, one of our line coaches ... it was just something that he taught me and I did through youth ball, I did through high school, and eventually with the help of Coach Fracassa at Brother Rice I was able to get a walk-on position here. It was something I learned early and I was able to earn a spot at a major school doing it.
When did you realize that you'd be able to make it onto Michigan's team through snapping? Was that something you realized when you started?
Absolutely not. It was something that I learned and I did because I was lucky my coach taught me what to do. I tried to teach myself different things as I progressed, but it was never something I'd think I would be doing at a school like Michigan. It was just one of those skills that I had that I could do; I played offense, and then I was able to do that too. It was something I was able to do.
Going to Brother Rice, did you grow up a Michigan fan?
I grew up a Michigan fan. I played hockey too, so I was a Michigan football fan and a Michigan hockey fan. A guy from my hometown of Rochester Hills, Peter Vanderkaay, we watched him in the Olympics. So yeah, I grew up being a Michigan fan.
Obviously, Tom [Pomarico] was also playing last year, and he's gone. You're taking on a little more responsibility. How have you handled that so far?
I was able to take on the field goal and PAT position last year. Through spring ball I've been working harder on the traditional punt; I have to block after I snap, which is something I was struggling with but I made some improvements in spring ball. Curt Graman is the same year as me, it's his fourth year too, we've been competing during fall camp and during spring ball with the punts and he's been pushing the competition with the field goal snaps, too. It's always good to get competition in practice and during those live reps it's important, too.
You mentioned blocking as something that was a little different in the long snap versus the short snap. What other technical differences do you run into between punts and field goals?
On a punt we snap it 14 yards, a field goal is seven. You have a smaller area that you want to put the ball when you snap PATs and field goals. The velocity of the ball might be a little slower so the holder can control it; with the laces on the PATs it always helps the kickers to be out. Punters like it in the hip or in the chest area. Punts, I'm not looking at the punter, I'm looking forward. PATs I'm always looking at the spot I want to snap. It's different, but it's the same. They both have their difficulties and similarities.
Do you have a greater comfort level with the short snapping because that's what you were doing last year?
I got a lot more reps, obviously, with the PATs and field goals. I've been working with Drew Dileo, he's the holder, and Brendan Gibbons, especially on those left-footed kicks—the left-footed kicks are different from the right-footed kicks with the holder's position. I'm definitely getting more reps; you always feel more comfortable with the more practice you get. I've been trying to get a lot more punt reps in practice on the sidelines with Curt and the rest of the punters. I feel like I've improved on that as well.
Can you take me through a typical practice day for you? You guys are kinda off to the side doing your own thing, right?
Yeah. Most of the time we work with each other. We coach each other; I've learned a little bit about kicking, I can help some of the kickers and punters. Seth Broekhuizen has helped me with different aspects of punt snapping and blocking and PAT snapping. At the beginning of practice we'll have a specialist period. Outside, we snap punts, we get that on film, PATs and field goals from different spots, about five or ten minutes, that's pre-practice. During practice, it depends on the day, if we're working on punts, if we're working on half-line or full-line punts; field goal period is towards the end of practice, maybe we get some live reps with different rushes depending on who we're playing that particular week. All the other time is spent on the sidelines or in Oosterbaan trying to get our own work and trying to get as many reps as we can so we can improve.
With kickers you always hear about guys having their own routine before they go on, they're getting in the zone or whatever. Is it the same for a snapper where you've got to get that kind of singular focus before you go out there?
Yeah, you definitely can't be—whether it's a big game or not, you can't get all hyped up, you've got to stay focused. I know during games I'm down on the sideline, kind of where the O-line sits; that's where Gibbons is, that's where the kicking net is for them to warm up. You try to stay focused, you try to get some reps on the sidelines. It's not always easy to get some warmup snaps for field goals because Dileo is usually playing some offense, but you stay focused and try to stay in the game and stay ready.
Can you take me through the play against Virginia Tech last year? Obviously, that didn't go as planned. Do you guys practice when something goes wrong, do you practice the scramble afterwards?
Yeah, if there's a bad snap or a bad you, you have guys in a route and different fire calls and backup plays like that. Then you have called fakes depending on what that PAT or field goal block team is doing in a particular week, you try to scheme some different stuff. On that play, we had a fake going and it didn't go as we planned. Drew just tried to throw the ball up and I was lucky enough to make the catch on that one.
Can you tell me your thought process on that play? It looked like you had to throw a block in there and the ball just kinda ended up...
Yeah, I knew Drew was rolling out to the right, and I tried to block some guys who were flowing that way. Then I saw the ball come over my head. It went off the guy's helmet and right into my hands, right into my hands. It was crazy how that happened.
Were you worried at all, being an ineligible receiver, about touching the ball illegally?
That was my first thought. If you ask Will Campbell, [I asked], "Was that okay? Was I supposed to make that catch?" It was off the helmet, so... I was worried about being downfield and all that, but it worked out for our team.
With the punters, you've got Matt [Wile] pushing Will [Hagerup] a little bit for the starting job. What do you see out of those two guys?
All the guys are competing. Matt Wile, Will Hagerup, we've got a new guy, Kenny [Allen], Kenny's in here, and they're all working each other and they all push each other. When a guy sees another guy doing well, they grab me and they want to get more snaps out during practice. The competition is great, during spring ball and during fall camp watching film upstairs, seeing what each other is doing. When the games start, it'll be the best for us.
Long snapper is a position where you're usually flying a little bit under the radar, if you're hearing your name it's usually because something went wrong. You got a little bit of attention last year after the Sugar Bowl. Was that a bit of an adjustment to all of a sudden be in the limelight and get that attention?
Yeah, it was a little strange. I had a feeling that I would have to answer some questions. But I'm back to doing what I do, flying under the radar again. It's a new season and that was a long time ago, so I've got to focus on improving on the punt snaps and keep working the field goal snaps so we can win the Big Ten championship this year.
You made the move to fullback last year and that obviously was a transition. Now that you've been there do you have a much greater comfort level with the position?
I'm getting there. Since I didn't have any reps [at fullback] other than in-season reps, definitely there's a lot of things I'm learning, little things I'm learning to get better at the position so I can play like a Michigan fullback this year.
What was the greatest adjustment for you going from halfback to fullback?
When you're a running back, you don't really shy away from contact, but at the same time you're not trying to get tackled. At fullback, you're looking for the contact; you've got to be the initiator, you've got to be the devastator. That's a big change, but I think I've adjusted pretty well.
Do you enjoy the physical aspect of it now?
I do, I do. At first it was taking some time to get used to, and now I actually really enjoy it, beating my man on a block and driving him back and doing those things I'm supposed to do.
Coach Jackson mentioned you possibly taking snaps at both halfback and fullback this year. Have you been doing work at both?
I probably always will work at both. Running back is my preferred position and I'll always be able to play that a little bit; that'll probably never change.
With Fitz's availability in question right now, do you feel ready if called upon to step up and take more carries?
Yeah. I'm a fullback, I play fullback, but at the same time I'm still a running back. I'll be ready if my number is called.
Coach Jackson mentioned B.J. Askew as a guy that you remind him of as a running back who made that transition. Is that a guy that you maybe look to, and have you talked to any former players about the switch?
I really haven't. I thought about during this camp trying to reach out and see what they'd have to say, some advice for someone in the same position, so I'm probably looking to do that. But I've seen some film on [Askew], he's obviously a really good player, he played in the league for a long time.
Askew was very good catching balls out of the backfield. Is that something that you've been working on?
Yeah, this summer I've been working on my hands, and in this spring I felt like I'll get more chances to show that part of my game. I'll be ready to do that as well.
Fumbling was a little bit of an issue. What have you done to work on holding onto the ball better?
It's crazy because I was never someone who ever fumbled before I got to college, ever. Then it happens once, and sometimes it gets in your mind or whatever, but you've got to let it go and relax and do fundamentally what you've been taught—that's what I'm working on. So far, so good.
Is that something—you know, it's one or two fumbles and you might get that reputation, where maybe it doesn't reflect your actual ability...
...is that something that's mentally tough to get over?
Yeah, definitely, because I've never really been accused of that. I was always someone you could trust to always keep the ball secure. It didn't really affect me too much, I just had to go and show that it wasn't me.
In your position group, there's a lot of different types of running backs, with Fitz and Rawls and Hayes and Norfleet and Smith. Do you like the collection that you guys have in terms of their versatility?
Yeah, we have a really talented group of running backs. Whoever's number gets called on September 1st is going to be ready.
It seems like that may very well be Thomas Rawls. What do you see out of him?
He's learning still, he's young, but he's also really talented—very physical, runs really hard, runs angry. I like what I see out of him as well.
Alabama is a tough first test. Does that add a little bit of an extra edge when you're getting ready for the first game?
Absolutely. Respect to all of our opponents, even Western Michigan last year, but this is the defending national champions, so every time you get on the field you know you've got to get better because you know they're getting better.
You get to go back home for this one [Hopkins hails from Flower Mound, Texas]. How big of an effect does that have on your excitement for this game?
I mean, the game itself is huge enough, but to make things better for me I get to play in front of my hometown, basically. It's going to be a great experience and a great opportunity as well.
Have you been to Cowboys Stadium or will this be a first for you?
Actually, my senior year, for playoff games we played there twice, so I've seen it and played in it twice.
Have teammates been asking you about what it's like to play there?
Yeah, they have. Besides the Big House, there's probably no other place I'd rather play.
News bullets and whatnot:
- Toussaint and Clark will start practicing Monday; still no determination for Alabama
- Tamani Carter has left the team
- Roy Roundtree had knee surgery on Friday, out two weeks
We appreciate your attendance today, coming out, and your time, and your interest in Michigan football. We've got seven practices that we've handled so far during fall camp. Our first full day in pads was on Friday. We had two padded practices yesterday and I think we're starting to get how this team is going to perform. It was nice to get into pads, it's nice to hear football, and I think for the most part we've done a pretty good job with that. We need to play a little bit with better leverage on both sides of the ball up front, that's a big part of playing the game of football. We've got a lot of fundamentals and techniques and work to do. I like the energy we've had. I think for the most part the guys have gone out there and understand that this is work, that it's hard; I like that part of it. We've just got to continue. It hasn't changed. You play football up front, and both our offensive front and our defensive front, that's where we've got to make great strides. At the same time, that's where we also need to, as we get further along, find out where our depth is going to be on both sides of the ball there.
A couple in-house things: Roy Roundtree had arthroscopic surgery on Friday. He had a little cartilage that he needed cleaned up. We expect him back in two weeks. Everything went great and he feels great; it was just one of those thing that he didn't do it practicing, he just needed to get it done, kinda felt it a little bit walking back to the huddle to be honest with you. With him, he's one of the great kids on this football team and as a senior he's been a guy where he'll do a great job of bouncing back.
With Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark, they'll begin practicing with the team tomorrow. They are still obviously, the guys who as teammates, we love them, but there's consequences for their behavior, they're paying a price, and they will continue to pay that price for a little bit. I think both of them realize they have an outstanding opportunity to play at the University of Michigan and to get a great university degree, and they understand that there's a standard of performance from a community side and a standard of performance from an academic side and there's a standard of performance from a football side that they've got to do a great job an understand. As coaches, you're a teacher, and you get an opportunity to teach life lessons, and believe me they've paid a heavy price and will continue to pay a heavy price for actions unbecoming of a football player.
Tamani Carter has decided to leave Michigan. He's a great young man, tremendous kid, but he decided to leave. I'll leave it at that. Any questions?
Will Toussaint and Clark play against Alabama?
I haven't made any of that, and I won't make that decision for a while..
How is the start of Roundtree's season impacted?
Having a scope and a little bit of cartilege in there, a lot of guys come back in two weeks. Our docs did a tremendous job, we've got a great medical staff here, and they all do a great job. I think everything went well in talking with them, I think [head trainer] Paul [Schmidt] is very happy with how it went, and then you've got a guy like Roy who's a committed guy, he's going to do everything in his power to get back.
What are you most excited about for this season?
How we practice after we have media day done with. I'm being honest with you, seeing the development and how the leadership is, we'll find out a lot about ourselves continually every day. There's an expectation for them every day. It's part of growing up and maturing and all that, I think a lot of those guys have, so we'll see.
Do you see an increase in intensity in practice because you know the first opponent is Alabama?
You come to play football at Michigan to play in those kind of ballgames. You're expected to play and perform, and playing the defending national champs is a great challenge and a great opportunity. Going to play at a venue like Cowboys Stadium there in Arlington, I think that's going to be a lot of fun.
Are you concerned about the high expectations for the team?
Our expectations are always the same and that's to win the Big Ten championship, year in and year out, that's the expectation for the Michigan football team. You're right, we don't really care too much about the rankings. I think we were picked fifth in our division in the Big Ten a year ago; that's what those things mean. It's like life, it's not where you start, it's where you finish. We have to finish in everything we do to prepare to be the best Michigan team that we can.
How concerned are you about the offensive and defensive lines?
Believe me, we could have the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line and defensive line and I'd be concerned. Knowing the opponent that we're going to play against and watching them, I'm a defensive coach, watching that offensive line, that's a good an offensive line as I've seen in college football.
Does the defensive front have the potential to be as good as last year's?
I think so. I know we think so. I think Greg [Mattison] and Jerry [Montgomery] would tell you the same thing. They're hard-working kids. Talking about Will, you see the maturity that he's gone though and what he's done physically, from body fat to all those things, how he's worked—and it's hard—and he's really done a good job. Quinton Washington and Richard Ash and moving Jibreel inside gives us a little better depth inside at the three, and Craig inside and having Nate Brink back I think is all important.
Do you have confidence in Thomas Rawls to be the main guy if needed?
I have confidence in all our backs. Thomas is a guy who's been here. Vince Smith has played a lot of football at Michigan. Justice Hayes in a young guy who we redshirted a year ago. I think all three of those guys have had good camps to this point. We're just scratching the surface of where we're at with this team, but all three of those guys are doing a nice job.
Where have you seen Denard improve this offseason?
I think his maturity and leadership, how he approaches the game from being a quarterback, if that makes sense. What he's done in the offseason, watching football, watching technique, watching fundamentals, all that part of it, I've seen that growth. I've seen him take a more vocal, active role within that senior class. I think that's important. He's played a lot snaps. From a fundamental standpoint I think he's improved, but we're going to talk about that all the time. He's going to throw the ball off his back foot now and then, and probably shouldn't throw the ball over the middle late. He's improved. I'm really proud of him.
Is there a chance Toussaint and Clark play against Alabama?
You know, I wish I could tell you.
Can they earn that opportunity over the next couple weeks?
I'll make a decision sometime. They're part of this football team. They're guys who are 18-23, like some of us, who have not made great decisions, and they're paying for it. They're paying for the consequences of bad decisions.
What can you and the seniors do to replicate last year's success?
I think remembering what the expectations are, remembering where we failed and why we failed. I think that's a big part of it. As coaches, that's on us first; believe me, it's on me. We failed because I failed as the head coach. We've got to do a better job of coaching and a better job of preparing those guys on a weekly basis for playing the game of football and how we're going to prepare to play the game of football.
Does playing Alabama ratchet up the intensity?
It's a storied program with a lot of tradition, just like we have. I know one thing, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and our first impression of Team 133 is September 1st against Alabama.
Is is possible you'll have a better season with a worse record?
If we don't win the Big Ten championship ... we know what the goal is, and the expectations. If we don't meet it, then we fail. It's pretty cut and dry.
Do you think you have the ingredients to be a top ten team?
Ask me in two weeks.
You'll answer in two weeks?
Any more comfort level for you in year two?
It's about the same. To be honest with you, you think about those 115 kids. It's what our focus is as a staff and the people who work with them in this building. We've got a job to do as mentors, and we've got a job to be an extension of their families in helping them grow and mature. Does it feel any different? No, it probably doesn't. I've been here eight years before—well, I haven't been up here [points at podium]. It all is focused in on those kids.
Are there any freshmen that you think can help this year?
I'm not going to single anybody out because they're finishing classes, they've missed some time, they're trying to catch up a little bit mentally, and most importantly they've got to do a great job finishing those classes. Once we get that over with on Tuesday, we'll start seeing a little bit more and have a better idea. I think it's a very good class of guys. I like how their demeanor has been. Physically, genetically, they're a little different.
Do you like the kickoff changes and have you changed your approach to kickoffs because of them?
The safety issues are important. They've tried to help the kickoff return by not having three-man wedges anymore. I think moving it up, they moved it back and now they're moving it back up, the approach only being a five-yard approach; it all filters down a little bit from the NFL and what they do. I think it'll be interesting to see, now that the ball's coming out to the 25, which is a little different, to see how as a team how you approach and gameplan for your kickoff team and your kickoff return to some degree. I think the NFL a year ago, they had more kicks being returned when guys were catching them eight yards deep in the end zone. I think that depends, number one, on who your returner is, number two, who is on your kickoff return that can stay on blocks long enough. Kickoff-wise, can a guy put it eight yards deep? I think Matt [Wile] has done that at times. As we get through camp, we'll know a little more. But does it affect? Yes, no doubt.
What is the strength of the team?
I think, always, having a senior quarterback is a plus, because he's been in the big games, he's been in tough situations at home. You know, the Notre Dame game a year ago, how he handled the football game. Being on the road, and how we play on the road, I think that's a plus because there's a sense of confidence and composure and poise that's important for any position when you play in big football games. Other than that, I think the wide receiver group, to a degree. I think we have more depth at the linebacker group, in having Desmond back and Kenny back and some other guys, you know, Hawthorne has played some significant snaps from a defensive standpoint. Joe Bolden, who I know is a freshman, but coming in January gives us some depth there. The secondary, the core group is pretty good, but we've got to develop some guys for depth. That being said, our two fronts better play.
Think they will?
Yeah, I think they will, but we're nowhere near where we need to be with it.
Is the team where you want them to be physically?
The great thing about fall camp is it's a grind. It's a grind on coaches, it's a grind on our medical staff, taping and Falk and all that, the equipment, turning over laundry, and everything else, it's a grind on everybody. So you find out, when the adversity—the one thing I promised them is I'd put tremendous stress on them and get them out of their comfort zone, then see how they come together as a football team, who stands out, who steps up, who leads. Are we there? No. I like how we practiced with no pads. That usually comes around pretty good, but to be tough daily, tough every play, I can't answer that yet.
Does any part of you take delight that when you say, "This is Michigan," people respect you a little bit more a year later?
I don't know why anybody wouldn't respect whenever anybody says, "This is Michigan," you know? It's Michigan football. It's 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships. I don't know.
Since your first press conference you've been giving the media less to work with. Is that on purpose?
I don't know. I wouldn't do anything like that, probably.
Do you approach Alabama as a regular game or as more of a bowl atmosphere?
It's definitely not a bowl atmosphere. This is business. This is going down there, playing the reigning national champs, who've got a lot of great players. Coach Saban has done a tremendous job, obviously. We're preparing to play our best football on September 1st.
Talk about the defensive line.
Again, I think Will has done a good job from a leadership standpoint and from a standpoint—and this is usually what happens—of having self-pride in how he prepared himself to come into camp, and how he's taken the role of leader, how he's coaching guys up, and how he's come out to practice. Rich Ash has improved. Quinton Washington, there's some improvement from Quinton when it comes to fundamentals, in both those young kids. I think the moves of Roh and Black have both been positive for us. I think [Black] gives us a faster defensive line from Point A to Point B, to the football. I think the biggest thing is their weight gains have been pretty good and substantial, they've done it the right way. Now can they take the 70 plays of knock-them-back football, I think that's something that we're going to find out, and that's something we're working on every day.
Have you seen technique improvements from Will Campbell?
It's so important up front, the use of your hands. I think that part of it is probably where he's made the best growth. I think the last couple days, he's even played with a better leverage that he needs to play with. Will had a tendency to stand up and look for the ball instead of believing a visual key, a visual key that's going to take him to the football. I think he's improved in that area and just his overall demeanor when he takes the field. I could go on and on but it's probably kind of boring.
Do you like being picked to win the Big Ten? Do you talk about that with the team?
I'd lie to you if I said I didn't talk about it. We said that you guys really don't know much and it doesn't really matter.
Do you talk to the team about what a win against Alabama could do for the program?
I think the one thing we have talked about [is] the opportunity, because we get a chance to represent the Big Ten conference also, and that's important. We've got a great conference, a lot of great schools from the academic side of it, the football side and the athletic departments and all that. We have talked about that part of it. We're not just representing the University of Michigan, we've got a chance to go out and represent the Big Ten conference.
News bullets and other important things:
- No word on Toussaint or Clark yet
- Full pads today
- Full scrimmage next week
“You know, fourth day, two days in shoulder pads and helmets, we have a lot of work to do. Tomorrow we get full pads, which we’ll obviously look forward to. We still have some guys, the freshmen with the bridge program coming in and out a little bit finishing up some classwork. I was happy with how we came out today. I thought we were pretty spirited and pretty physical, but when you look at the tape, you go back and you can tell it’s the fourth day in pads. Fundamentals are still a little rusty to some degree. We have to do a better job playing with leverage at the line of scrimmage. But the effort’s out there and the effort’s good.”
Toussaint and Clark?
“They’re still not practicing with the team.”
Are they at practice?
“They’re not at our practice, no.”
Are the in this building?
“I don’t know. Are they?”
I’m asking you. You would know better than I would.
Any better idea on a timetable?
Do you need five guys on the offensive line to gel or can you rotate a little bit?
“I think you can at times. You’d rather have five guys who understand each other and do a nice job with kind of that sixth sense that you have and how long he’s going to post a power scoop, those kinds of things. That’s part of it. But at the same time, ideally you’d like to have 8-9 guys that are pretty good football players for you.”
Is there any urgency to decide on the left guard position?
“You know, I don’t think so. I think Joey [Burzynski] has done a nice job, Elliott has done some pretty good things. I’d say it’d be urgent 10 days from now. ”
Is Chris Bryant still on the right side?
“Yeah. You know, Chris has done a nice job. He’s improved since last spring. I think he’s physically a little better off than he was before from a endurance, conditioning, weight, and all those things. He’s a guy that’s come along.”
How does Patrick Omameh look?
“Good. I’m happy with how Patrick has -- Patrick has changed his body a lot in my opinion. He’s one of the guys that you say, man he looks a little bigger, a little stronger.”
How are Craig Roh and Jibreel Black looking with the added weight?
“You know, pretty good. I think both of them, they’re pretty quick twitch guys, which helps, and it’s going to help them inside playing. They’re pretty athletic guys, probably more suited athleticism for playing inside, so I think both of them are doing real well.”
Does Jibreel have the ability to be a run stuffer?
“Well, we hope. We hope that becomes he has some athleticism and quickness that we have a chance to move him a little bit.”
How much have you worked on special teams, i.e. in the return game?
“We’ve worked hard. We always work hard on the punt team. That’s the most important play in football because the momentum shifts, the field positions and different things we believe can happen. So we’ve worked punting hard, and we’ve worked a little bit of punt return, and a lot of that is just getting some new guys accustomed to what you’re doing as far as your fundamentals. We’ve done some with our kickoff team.”
Have you identified a core group?
“It’s early still. I think Dan said there’s eight out of 11 a year ago on the punt team who are back. So you have to fill those holes, but you also have to have good depth, and that’s a big part of it.”
Have you noticed any of the seniors coaching up the freshmen during down time?
“Yeah. I think the seniors have really taken an active role in the young kids. We’ve got seniors living with freshmen at the hotel. We’ve got seniors who have mentored some, and juniors who have played a lot. I can specifically, because I work with Will Campbell -- how he goes about coaching those guys up and helping them out, has done a good job with it, but you see it all over the place.”
How much improvement have you seen from Denard?
“I think there’s a marketable [Ed: marked] improvement from the football standpoint, but probably as much as anything in my opinion is his leadership. I think that’s where he’s really taken a hold of it, and he’s playing a lot of snaps here. He’s been in a lot of games, a lot of big games, and I think the way he’s gone about his business, because he’s not one of those rah-rah guys. He’s got a lead in skin, but I think he’s done a nice job with it.”
How do you feel about your tight ends right now?
“Brandon [Moore] -- did some good things physically today. That’s one of the big things with Brandon that probably was his biggest weakness, was being physical all the time. I think he did that today pretty consistently. Kwiatkowski -- Mike is a guy who we can use a little bit as a second tight end. I think he’s better. There’s the two young guys who are getting some looks as much as we can right now. A.J. [Williams] is a 280-pound tight end. For 280 pounds, he does pretty well. A lot of people think we’re going to make him a tackle, but he can run. Funchess is a very athletic guy.”
Is 280 too big for a tight end?
“Depends on what you want him to do. And he runs well enough. I shouldn’t say surprisingly because we recruited him. We must have thought he ran well enough. But for moving that big body around, he’s not bad.”
Is that a place where a freshman might have to play due to your numbers?
“I think it depends personnel-group wise, because we can do a lot what we do with two backs and one tight end in the game, which is what we do with two tight ends in the game. Obviously in your short yardage and your heavier packages, you’d like to have two bigger guys. So it could be.”
Is there anyone who you’ve seen improve significantly from spring?
“I think Blake Countess continues to take a lot of pride in how he plays. He works awfully hard at it. There probably is more guys out there, but I get a little tunnel vision sometimes with the front, because that’s where the game’s played. I can see Patrick. I can see him. I can see Ricky. I think Will Campbell. I think Craig. I think Rich Ash has improved some. There’s multiple guys. Heitzman, who we redshirted, is playing a physical brand of football.”
Is that an attitude thing or a physical thing?
“I think it’s both. I think it all starts with attitude. In my opinion Blake is one of those guys who’s driven. He has a lot to prove yet. But he wants to be as good as he can be.”
How high are the expectations for the secondary with all four starters coming back, and where do they have to make the biggest improvement?
“Well I think we need to play tighter coverage when we’re playing coverage, whether it’d be playing zones in the different zones that we’ll play or when we’re playing man coverage. I thought at times we got too loose, especially on money downs -- third and four, third and five. The ball has to come out quick at times, depending on what you’re running defensively and understanding that part of it. I think Courtney being in there as a nickel, making sure we have enough depth there -- we have some guys who are back, but we need more depth.”
What have the seniors told you about their first couple years here?
“Really nothing much. I don’t ask. We don’t live in the past. We live in the future. So the only thing I really care about is what we’re doing daily.”
What kinds of transformations have you seen from Kenny Demens on and off the field?
“I think Kenny is a guy who’s probably more committed. Probably understands a little bit more about the team and accountability. I think he’s playing a little more consistently than he did. I know it’s only four days, but just from what I’ve seen.”
Is it a maturity thing with him?
“It always is. It is for all of them. Some guys, after a year, kind of get it and mature. Some guys it takes three years. Some guys it takes four years.”
What helped spur that change with Kenny?
“Well I think when you may be playing the last games of football that you ever play, I think that always affects a senior. So I think that’s part of it.”
How important is Kenny’s progress to the younger linebackers?
“I think from a leadership standpoint I think it’s awfully important. It’s nice to have a guy like Desmond back who’s played a lot of snaps. We don’t look at him as being a young guy. I think that helps. Hawthorne has made some plays in the past. I think that helps. And Joe Bolden coming in January. Because he’s a good football player. He’ll put some pressure on guys. ”
Is Demens understanding personnel formations better?
“I think they all do. A year ago, they’d line up early in the year where they probably wouldn’t understand where the strength of the defense was or the weakness of the defense and what you’re trying to accomplish. From a conceptual point, they understand better the concepts of why you call certain things defensively and why you align leverage-wise and those things.”
How important is it for Brennen Beyer to win the WDE spot outright so that you don’t have to put Jake Ryan there?
“I think it’d be great. I think it is important. Brennen’s doing a nice job. He’s changed his body dramatically since he arrived here. So I think that’s always a big part of it, but we’ll play Jake a lot in our sub packages … there’s a lot of similarities between them.”
How has the linebackers’ coverage improved since the spring?
“From four days into it, we thought the first three days, we thought they were doing a better job at the zone concepts we were using and breaking on the ball and getting themselves a little tighter to receivers.”
What do you want to see from your team tomorrow (full pads)?
“Well you always look forward to it. I want to hear football. I think that’s important because then the guys up front are getting off the ball and getting after each other, either creating some space for the back or we’re doing a good job of fitting the run. That part of it, and their attitude and how they come out and want to play for each other.”
Do you have a scrimmage situation tomorrow?
“I’m trying to think of the schedule. We probably have some situation. I don’t know which one it’ll be. But we’ll always have some situation. Look, these guys, the one thing they’ve learned is in no pads, they’ve learned to get after each other. They’re pretty physical. That’s a good thing.”
Do you know when your first full scrimmage will be?
“Probably not until middle of next week.”
Do you get a sense of a personality emerging in this team?
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. I haven’t looked at it that way. I believe that you find out probably sometime in camp. I can tell you last year’s team, when they really finally got it, in my opinion, was the week of the Illinois game. We had Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio. We were going to Champaign. [Illinois] had been playing pretty well. Lost a couple in a row before we got to them. I was going to take the pads off [the players] on Wednesday, and right before practice or before we meet, four of the seniors came up and said, ‘We practice in pads at Michigan.’ Once they said that, I knew we were going to be a physical football team the last three games.”