Niko Porikos grew up in an NTDP billet home. Cool story.
“Well, everybody alright? I’m good. Who wants to start?”
You have a couple of players who are new to the position in Brandon Watson and Ross Douglas, though Ross Douglas has played it before. How are they adjusting to that change?
“They’re doing well. It’s a whole different deal for everybody. It’s a different defense, so everybody’s making a lot of adjustments but those two guys are coming along just like the rest of them.”
We’ve heard it said that you’ve played a lot more press coverage than they’re used to. How have they adjusted and how much work is that?
“It’s a lot of work. It’s a new total concept for the defense, for these guys who haven’t played- for Jourdan [Lewis] two or three years, for Blake [Countess] four years- so it is a new concept. It’s a whole new technique they’re learning so it’s taking time but they’re working their butts off. They’re working extremely hard at it and in time we’re going to get it done.”
Press was something they tried last year and did a little bit of it and struggled with it. Are you guys totally committed to it?
“Well, that’s coach Durkin’s defense, yes. So yes, we are totally, 100 % committed. We’ve just got to find the guys who catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best.”
Most cornerbacks are really excited about the chance to do that. Has that been the case here?
“Absolutely for us, and in recruiting they’re very excited to hear we’re aggressive on the outside and they want to see and hear what they’d have to do, so I think it will help us in that respect as far as getting some other corners in here.”
Can you talk about Lewis and Countess in particular and their ability to do that?
“Yeah, Blake’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very focused. Jourdan’s a natural at it. He’s probably our most natural corner for what we’re asking him to do. He does it pretty good but he’s still got some things to get better at because of the fact that it’s something they haven’t done all the time as far as last season goes. But those two are definitely, as far as technique-sound and even athletically and mentally, more experienced in that way.”
[After THE JUMP: Skills needed to play press, a transfer from Stanford confirmed-ish, and depth chart discussion]
Your recruiting tactics are pretty creative. What went into tracking down a recruit's girlfriend?
"Yeah, I'm not going to take any recruiting questions. Not allowed to talk about recruiting, unfortunately."
Talk about what you have with Jake Butt and how he's doing.
"Jake, he's doing well. He's a very well-rounded player, brings a lot to the table. Really excited about him. He's getting a lot better and doing a lot to improve the detail of his game throughout his whole game."
How involved has Khalid Hill been able to be?
"He's been very involved mentally in what we're doing and getting stronger and getting prepared to come back at some point. Not sure when that's going to be, but from a mental standpoint he'll be very much ready to go when that does happen."
Ian Bunting – what's he got to do to get on the field this year?
"Just keep growing. He's gotten a lot better. He's the guy who's probably improved the most as spring's gone on here. I've been very pleased with him. Just like all the other guys he brings a tremendous work ethic when he comes out there and just grinds. He goes out there for the entirety of practice and the focus is always on getting better. I really love that about him. So he's really coming along, just has to get better at everything just like everybody else does."
There's not much of an age gap between you and the players. What's it like being just five or six years older than some of them?
"Uh, I don't know. It's fun. They're fun to be around."
Is it like a big brother relationship that you have with some of them or do you hope that it gets to that?
"Uh, No. I don't know. I just feel like their coach. Last year I was with guys who were much older than me and I didn't feel like I was their little brother, So I don't know. They're fun to be around, though. Feel like we have a good professional relationship as far as coaching and I feel there is good mutual respect there, I hope, and I really like being around them."
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
[Note: Mattison and Jackson’s availabilities overlapped so I missed the beginning, where Jackson compared Jabrill Peppers to Rodney Harrison. Luckily I managed to board the Peppers hype train after it left the station.]
With Jabrill, what are the things you see that are unique to him that other players might not have?
“Fire. His fire. His passion for the game. Relentless. His practice habits are off the charts. He’s coachable. He listens to everything you tell him and he tries to go out and do it each and every single day. He’s everything you ask for.”
He’s young, though. Does that emerge at all?
No. No. When you’re out there on the field you don’t even think of that with Jabrill. It’s funny you say that because it’s like he doesn’t even play like a freshman. I mean, he’s experienced out there. And the funny thing is that everybody looks up to him when he’s out there. He plays with a passion, he’s tough, he knows what he’s doing, he’s always around the football. What more can you ask for from a guy like Jabrill?”
How have you seen guys embrace or react to a new culture and all the newness?
“I think the players are excited and I think they’ve embraced it, and I think the most important thing is that the guys want to win. The players want to win. That’s the funny thing about it is that when you come in here as new coaches you’re [thinking] you’re going to have guys go this way and this way; nobody did that. Everybody came together, started listening to coaches, and starting doing exactly everything we asked them to do.
“That was the biggest thing is how when we got here everybody was coming and watching tape on their own and trying to learn the defense, which is great and that’s all you can ask for. Guys are wanting to get better, watching film with each other [and] doing the things that other schools are not going to do, and those guys are doing the extra [work].”
How big of a resource has Greg Mattison been?
“I think it’s been great, because when we first got here he told us about each and every player and he was dead on about each and every player. I picked his brain about each and every guy back there and he was dead on about each and every guy, and I think he’s been valuable.”
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
[why take a new picture when there’s perfection in your file?]
"What can I answer?"
Can you just tell us about the whole process of staying? There was some uncertainty there about what your future was going to be and then talking to Jim…
"Yeah. Whenever there's a changeover the head coach will always hire who he wants to hire and I feel very fortunate to be able to stay at Michigan. You know I love Michigan and I feel very strongly about the players coming back and the guys in this program and I feel very strongly about Coach Harbaugh. I've known that family for a long time. It's just great to be back. That's the thing I'll say."
Were you exploring other options in that interim?
"I had a number of offers. Some in the NFL and things like that, but I made up my mind that if I had the opportunity I'd love to stay and I did, so I stayed."
Talk about this defense. You were excited about it growing last year but obviously this year–
"Well, I'll tell you what. One thing: DJ Durkin is doing a tremendous job, and I think the defensive coaches– It's exciting because you see some of the things we're doing, some of the kids with experience, some of the kids picking it up and it's exciting to see it moving forward. It's exciting to see the kids getting really coached and wanting to get coached and it's good."
Do you have a preference between the defensive line and linebacker, because you've coached both?
"Yeah, I've coached defensive line my whole life. You know, I started out as a D-line coach and I coached the line, oh, I don't know, if you figure– I'd hate to say how many years because that'd give up how many years I've been coaching, but I do know I've coached defensive line probably a lot longer than linebackers and I really like the defensive line. It's a place where I think technique and teaching [are important] and you can get guys to be better. You can make improvements there through technique and hard work so I'm excited to coach the D-line."
There's been a lot of talk of running some 3-4 defense this year, which you haven't done a lot of. Is that different for the defensive linemen?
"You know, we're exploring everything. We did that last year. We ran that last year, but what we're kind of doing on defense [is] trying to see what scheme fits the players we have, so we're pretty broad with what we're doing."
What has your working relationship been like with DJ Durkin and how are you guys kind of feeding off each other?
"Well, Coach Durkin and I are very, very close friends. We coached together a long time ago at Notre Dame. I traveled down there two years ago back to Florida to talk to him about what they were doing and he's done a great job wherever he's been. I've known DJ for a long time and I've always felt that he's a tremendous football coach. Some of the things that he's done at a young age at Florida is remarkable and I knew that, and that's why it's exciting to work with him. It's fun because were not just coaches together, we're friends and that's – I've always liked to be a part of something like that."
[After THE JUMP: Position buzz and 2-gap talk]
Who are some of your pass rushers, and talk about the standup outside linebacker.
"We've had a number of guys get nicked up and guys are really working hard. Our numbers are down on the D-line and they just keep working through it. I'm not going to single out anybody because they're all working extremely hard, and we won't know until into the season who our pass rushers are. I hope every one of them are. I think the one position, if I did single one out, that I'm really, really pleased with is the noseguard position. I think Glasgow and Mone and Hurst are doing a really, really good job. And the other positions are working hard also, I just– that's the group that really seems like they've got a lot of experience."
Is Willie [Henry] playing the nose too?
"No, Willie will be playing tackle and end."
You have a good relationship with these guys on defense already. Have you served as a liaison between the players and the staff?
"No, I haven't needed to do that. I think somebody else asked me that one time. These coaches are so experienced and there's no liaison necessary. I think when the kids are in their meetings and they're being coached by them, players understand right away when a guy who's coaching them is really doing a great job and is really sharp and I think these kids knew right away. I mean, how could you help but not? I talked about DJ and you've got Mike Zordich and Greg Jackson, who played 12 years in the NFL. He coached at the highest level and both of them have coached in the NFL. They are very experienced, very good coaches."
How about from the other end? Have any coaches come to you and said, 'Hey, this guy responds this way' or 'This guy plays real well in this technique'?
"No, it hasn't been– we all speak so freely in our meeting room that if somebody would bring up something about a player and I've seen it before or I haven't seen it before I'll just say that. I kind of have the luxury of having been with them so I'll just say, 'This kid really is a good player, he really is doing a good job,' and I'll say, 'He had signs of showing that before,' that kind of thing. They've done such a good job, in my opinion, knowing what each player's strength is and each player, what he needs to work on so it hasn't been that kind of thing."
You were pretty adamant last season about the experienced youth on this team and that it was coming. You're here this spring now: Have you seen it?
"I have. Yeah, I have. I've seen these kids working hard. I've seen them be a lot more mature. I mean, these practices are tough practices, and if you're a young kid you kind of maybe fold. There's times sometimes where that happens. I've been real pleased with our guys as far as stepping forward and just keep going, keep going. That shows experience."
You talked about coming back to finish what you guys started. Is that the message from you to the guys you're coaching? I mean, you recruited a lot of those guys.
"Yeah, I don't know if it's to finish because when you finish you say it's over. I just wanted to stay a part of what Michigan is and what Michigan will be and what Michigan has been forever and I think that's coming. I just want to be a part of that and I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
You've worked for a lot of different guys at all different levels, including Jim's brother. What's it like working for Jim? What are his unique traits?
"Well, he's just a very, very, very sharp coach. He's really, really intelligent. He's demanding. He's very businesslike. Every day you're going to work to get better. He expects his coaches to work hard. He expects his coaches to do their job. You don't win 49 games in the NFL in three years and not be a great coach. And he's always been that; you don't do what he did at Stanford and not be a great coach. And everywhere he's been he's just done a great job."
There's a lot of guys on the staff with NFL experience, whether it's playing or coaching. How are you seeing details of that applied to this spring practice?
"I think the one thing when there's a lot of experience in a coaching staff [is] you can make adjustments very easy and be able to teach it. Sometimes what happens if you don't have a lot of experience and there's adjustments to be made [is] you have to teach the coaches first and then the coaches have to teach the players but this staff, they have so much experience that they've done that. They say, 'Oh yeah, we've done this. We can get this done' and it's easy to make adjustments that way."
What have you seen from Chris Wormley so far?
"Chris Wormley is working really, really hard. He seems every day to be taking another step toward being the Chris Wormley that we recruited and the Chris Wormley that you were really expecting to see before he had the knee [injury], and I'm really happy with the way he's been working. He's been very physical. He's totally into it. He's been a leader by example. I'm get pleased with what Chris has done."
MGoQuestion: Are there guys on this line that can play two gaps or are you not really looking at 2-gapping this season?
"Well, I think in every defense you have to 2-gap sometimes, so it's nothing different. But it remains to be seen. There's not a lot of people that do play 2-gap."
You've run the show here defensively for the last four seasons. How difficult is that transition to not be-
"Not at all. Not at all. Not at all because, as I said, I really respect the guy I'm working with and the guys I'm working with, and I've done that for so long that sometimes you say it's kind of enjoyable just to take these four guys and see how good they can be. And I knew that when Jim hired me, there's only one coordinator and what he says we do and once you get that you say, 'Okay, my job is to go coordinate the defensive line and to do a great job with that.' And I've done it so long, I've had so many opportunities to do it that it's really just about seeing how good we can get this team."
[Note: Mattison and Greg Jackson’s availability overlapped, so this transcript isn’t complete. I switched over to Jackson’s huddle at this point and missed 1-2 minutes of Mattison.]
News bullets and other items:
- This is not a drill: the spring game won’t be a punting competition. In Baxter’s words, “We won’t kick at all in the spring game [except] maybe field goals or something.”
- Kickers and punters are kicking into nets; kickers haven’t kicked at uprights yet. Baxter is breaking down their mechanics and rebuilding and doesn’t want them worried about results yet.
- If the list he showed us is any indication then anyone who wants to compete at kick or punt returner should get a chance. Baxter had 14 guys try returning kicks yesterday.
- Baxter didn’t go on any recruiting trips. Harbaugh instead opted for him to stay in Ann Arbor and start installing his Academic Gameplan.
What's the good news?
"There's a lot of good news. We get paid to coach a kids' game. We wear the clothes to work that you'd wear to cut the lawn, and we get paid really good to have a lot of fun so good every day."
MGoQuestion: Maurice Hurst tweeted yesterday that he's taking 18 credits and that you're helping him with that. What can you do to help someone who's taking that many credits plus has the time demands of football?
"Well, one of the things that's been kind of the subject and topic of my life's work is helping young people be effective students, so I'm not only helping him I'm helping all these guys. But that's been Coach Harbaugh's mantra since we got here is we have student athletes, okay? And it's one thing to say you have student-athletes and it's another thing to live it, so when we got off the airplane he had me install the Academic Gameplan.
“We got off the plane on- I believe it was whatever day January 8 was, but we started that Monday at 6:15 and we met every night, and he left me home all the way through recruiting. I never went out. I was here every night with our players and we installed our Academic Gameplan system, of what we call the Champions Program, and we begin laying the foundations of being effective students.
“One of the things that I've learned over time is never sell yourself short as a teacher. If we can get guys to know all the complexities of our defense and our offense and our pass protections and all those kinds of things, if I can get a guy to run 60 yards full speed into another guy [then] we can teach them how to take notes. We can teach them strategic planning. Generally that's what's happening."
How much of your day is spent doing that versus Xs and Os and on the field type of work?
"It just kind of depends. I won't speak specifically about any player, but I'm going to meet one of them tomorrow morning at 7:30 and we'll eat breakfast together and we'll look over his strategic plan and that kind of stuff, but for the most part I'd say 90% of my day is spent on Xs and Os. When it comes to the Academic Gameplan stuff, I mean, I copyrighted the program in 1999 and I've been teaching it in one form or another since I was a graduate assistant in '86 so I don't need to spend any time on it. We can get it up and running at a moment's notice."
What are some of the things that constitute the foundation or is it tailor-made to each individual?
"The foundation for academics? Okay, simple. It's really simple. They all have a planner and that planner's called a GPS, which stands for guidance, performance, and strategy and in a nutshell we don't take notes, we take answers, just like all of you are doing. You're not taking notes, you're taking answers, And it's strategic planning, prioritized daily task lists, and essentially we show them- because in college you deal with a syllabus, and basically it's how to take this chaotic world and go chaos to concept and process to product.
“It's just – it's a way to process the information that's coming in because really when – I know when I went to college I was probably not just the last generation but the last year, I graduated high school in '81 in college and '85, and never touched a computer. Never touched it one time. So I would equate it to- when I was in college we were still using encyclopedias, looking stuff up in the card catalog, and kind of drinking out of a garden hose. Now they are drinking out of a fire hydrant and you have to help them sort through that chaos if they're going to be effective students."
[After THE JUMP: A “radically different” approach to special teams]
[file because today was a suit day]
Your brother told us that you threw people out of practice yesterday.
That's what he said. Rick Leach too?
“No, you'd never kick Rick Leach out of a Michigan practice.”
Who won the last time-
“That was exaggerated.”
Who won the last time you two played golf?
“I don't know. He won the last big one.”
He said he won nine holes and then you too played two extra holes that you won.
“I don't recall.”
You had five practices. Are you getting a better feel for the personnel and what you have to work with?
“Yes, yes. You get a better feel for – you get to know people as you go. You learn a little more about someone every day.”
Can you talk a little bit about personnel at the center position? I know you've had some attrition.
“Uh huh. Yes.”
I was just wondering who's filling in.
“Glasgow's doing a real nice job. He's been a tough, steady player. We will need others at that position as well.”
Were you disappointed to see Jack [Miller] leave or did you understand it?
“Yeah, and I appreciated the honesty and I have a level of respect for what he had to say and continuing his education. There is some job opportunities that he has and he's going to pursue that, so you always appreciate the honesty.”
In terms of quarterbacks is there maybe one thing that you want a little bit more of right now? How's that all going?
“It's going good. We're making strides every day, like I said earlier. They're doing a lot of little things better and better each day and they're all really – it means a lot to them, each guy that we have. That's all you can ask for as a coach.”
[I purposely didn’t do bullets because you’re going to want to read everything after THE JUMP]