Sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero? But sometimes there's a man … and I'm talkin' about the Dude here… sometimes there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.
-The Stranger, The Big Lebowksi
I construct the preview every year from the bones of the previous one, and when I took my first stabs at organizing what I was going to say about the secondary I ran across this, because obviously:
How long ago was that? A hundred years.
Joe Paterno was still Penn State's coach, and wonderful. JT Floyd was unable to stay within ten yards of a receiver. Michigan's football program was riven with factionalism. Craig Roh was some sort of linebacker and Kenny Demens was lining up an inch from the nose tackle. Rich Rodriguez had hired Greg Robinson, and this was Greg Robinson burning the world in response.
How long ago was this?
Bathrooms had not yet been invented. Top hats were all the rage. Punting was a good idea. Pterodactyls were the hot new species. It was a long, long time ago, October of 2010. A long time ago.
It was college, so we did ridiculous things. In my sophomore year one of those was having a fight about who the "real William Carlos Williams" was. William Carlos Williams was obviously the real William Carlos Williams but somehow Kit and Sunil contrived to have a dispute about which one of them really was the real William Carlos Williams anyway. This was settled the way these things always are: with a poetry-off.
We met with great solemnity in Ryan's dorm room. One of us had found a recipe for a drink that supposedly tasted like apple pie. I was still in the phase where changing my state of mind with alcohol was something beneath me and did not partake. I do remember there being whipped cream from a can. It was drinking in a dorm room. Of course there was whipped cream.
Embarrassingly sweet drinks were consumed as the festivities progressed until the poetry-off. Kit and Sunil would be given a topic and asked to compose a poem on that theme in the style of William Carlos Williams. The topic—revealed with the allez cuisine flourish of an Iron Chef ingredient—was red-haired women.
When the allotted minutes had passed and time was called, Kit went first. Kit had prepared. His poem was a mélange of repurposed WCW lines that he'd memorized and crammed together into a surprisingly coherent Frankenstein of a poem.
Sunil was next. He'd had far too much to drink and was showing it. Sitting on Ryan's bed slumped over, he roused himself. He looked down at what he'd written, and started.
"I love red haired bitches
they say 'whatever' and 'like'
how easily we imbibe their terminology
At this juncture Sunil toppled over backward on the bed and said no more. The panel of judges unanimously declared him the Real William Carlos Williams. Sunil celebrated by throwing up into the trash.
I think about Sunil's poem whenever someone other than Brady Hoke calls the Great Eye of Columbus "Ohio." This is all the time. Kit assembled a frankenpoem from someone's else's mouth; Sunil just said stuff. One of these things stuck. There's an "imbibe this terminology" tag on this blog.
Brady Hoke dropped the "State" from Ohio and drove the Buckeyes to distraction to the point where the program—not just the fans—celebrated the return of "that school up north" like Terrelle Pryor welcoming an auto dealer into his tattoo-artist-sponsored apartment. Hoke dropped "This is Michigan" in his introductory press conference and tacked on the "fergodsakes" that made it immortal. He called last year's outfit Team 132, and now this year's outfit is team 133 and the ridiculous recruiting class that will enroll next year is shooting #team134 hashtags back and forth across twitter.
Hoke didn't seem to mean anything by any of it. He just talked, and though he tried to press-conference it things slipped out sideways. We imbibed them.
That's marketing. The rest is just repetition.
A year ago—or a hundred, whatever, I can't tell anymore—I wrote a story about the 2011 season that focused on how it was a damn good thing that Denard and Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen and Kevin Koger were around because I'd been in the stands when they were losing to Purdue and some guy kept screaming "they don't have any HEART" and heard tale after tale of shameful behavior directed at Rich Rodriguez—if you can't recall, he was the head coach at the time—by program alums.
A year later, Brady Hoke has every last Michigan fan marching behind him, not to mention Greg Mattison and a heaping handful of the country's best high school football players. This has just happened, you know? It is of course planned and difficult and meticulousness is required, but on one level Hoke just vacuumed everyone up because he is who he is.
Last February I was in a hotel in Grand Rapids where people had gathered to talk about football. I'm in the very corner of this room and I've got longer hair than any five other people in it put together and a goatee and I look like I do, you know. Like a guy who has trouble crossing borders sometimes. I could have been wearing a sequined dress and heels and not have looked less like a football coach than I did.
Hoke is standing two feet in front of me.
I have this completely insane fear that somehow Hoke will recognize me even though he knows nothing about me. He may not even know what the internet is. But this is an insane fear, remember. I don't want to make eye contact in case he says "you're the one who wrote a post called 'Profiles In Cronyism' about me, and several other uncomplimentary things besides" and this will spur the rest of the room to toss me bodily out of this hotel. But I'm staring at him all the same.
Borges is there, too. He's talking a couple rooms down but has stopped in for a visit. In an hour I'll sneak over to his talk and listen, enraptured, for an hour as he describes Michigan's passing concepts, and feel embittered when he has to stop instead of continuing on for another four. Before he gets into it he'll tell the room that it is great working for "Brady" because he trusts you to do your job, unlike some coaches he's worked under. When he says it, it sounds like he's saying no one will ever leave him, because why would you?
Right now Borges is surveying a room packed from stem to stern for Hoke and making a self-depreciating comment about the lack of people in his much smaller room. Brady grins, and says "Nobody cares about offense, Al. Who cares about offense?" He says it again. He laughs, and is completely at ease as myself and a half-dozen other star-struck folk file this interaction away in our brains. He walks away and we fall into line behind him, like so many others.
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!"
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.”
Michigan's athletic department has made a few changes regarding media access for the upcoming season:
- Players' family members cannot be interviewed without permission from the athletic department.
- Freshmen will be withheld from media day.
- Practice will be closed to all media.
This is just a heads up. Shutting off practice is the only item that affects MGoBlog directly, but it's not a huge loss. Last year I attended a few Tuesday practices and took a couple photos, but I didn't see anything other than stretching and a hand-off. If they're going to do things like throw a Jordan Kovacs jersey on Matt Cavanaugh anyway, nothing is left to be gained. No complaints from me.
The other two items, however, will significantly affect the MSM (main stream media for those new to this blog). Enterprising features about David Molk's mother, Kovacs's journey as a walk-on, and Denard Robinson's humble beginnings will be harder to come by, as I predict that access will be granted sparingly and only to preferred media outlets. I doubt we'll see any freshmen this season, and relationships with their family members formed during the recruiting process will no longer be viable sources. Hail to the VictorsTM.
BREAKING, RELATED: Will Campbell dropped the F-bomb today (transcript tomorrow), so here's to never hearing from him again.
News bullets and other important items:
- Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark did not practice today; judgment has not yet been passed.
- Jerald Robinson did practice.
- Antonio Poole is out with a pec injury.
- Ricardo Miller is playing both U-back TE and receiver.
- Devin Gardner is taking reps at receiver.
I feel like there's something between us.
“Ready to go? All right. Thanks for coming out. For us, it was the first day back out there with a new football team. It’s always fun. There’s a lot of questions out there that we’ll continue to have as we go through this fall camp. I thought there’s some excitement, some chippyness, which is always good because there’s some competition. And that’s an important part of every day. We’re going to manufacture that as much as we can and put stress on our players and get them out of their comfort zone so that Saturdays are easy. That’s part of what the plan has always been. I thought we had a pretty good day. We got some good work as a team. Obviously when you’re going out there without pads on, helmets on, it can be deceiving at times, but I liked how we practiced with only helmets on. I thought they did a nice job with that. Thought the seniors and the guys who have played a lot of football at Michigan -- they’ve really taken an accountability, so that part of it is exciting and it was a good first day.”
Did Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark participate?
“They did not participate.”
“I don’t know that.”
When will you make a decision on that?
“When I make it, I guess. When? I don’t know.”
What’s your hope and expectation for Schofield at tackle?
“What I like about him is that he has some good game experience from a year ago being at guard. I think his athleticism, I think his maturity -- when you look at the group as a whole, genetically I think we look better from what we did physically during the summer. He’s one of those guys who’s stronger. He’s one of those guys who I think the maturity level -- everyone’s a little different, but I think he’s pretty serious about it.”
With Frank Clark out, who will compete with Brennen Beyer, and how will he respond to the competition?
“I think when you talk about him responding, he’s always responded. He’s a competitive kid. He loves to play. I think he’s done a tremendous job. Mario Ojemudia is a guy we can play at that position. We can put Jake Ryan back down there and play him there and move Cam Gordon up and rotate some linebackers around if we had to. So when you look at it, there’s some freshmen who are going to get some looks obviously throughout our football team, depthwise. I’m not too worried about it.”
Jake Ryan’s been a playmaker without a whole lot of technique. How do you refine that technique?
“I think through the spring he got better. Greg did a nice job coaching him every day. I think Jake probably became [a] more focused and intense football player, so his fundamentals would improve, his technique would improve. You still like some of the natural things that he does instinctively best that he does at times.”
Given that the entire staff is back, is there some continuity?
“I think there is. I think there is from the standpoint that -- and I know Kovacs said this in Chicago. They [have] the same coaches, and they [have] the same playbook and the same terminology. So I think all those things are a big part of it, which help it.”
What does a “good practice” mean on day 1?
“Well we lined up right. We didn’t have too many balls on the ground. Didn’t have a whole lot of penalties. Personally I like it when it’s a little chippy. Come out with an attitude to compete with each other.”
“Well I think it would help our team an awful lot. He’s got a great atittude. He’s really become a tremendous leader of our football team in a lot of ways. He’s worked his tail off during the summer from everything I’ve heard from players on this team. He really was a guy who led by example and then when he had to get after somebody, he’s not afraid to do that.”
Is it uplifting when that kind of thing comes from the players?
“No question. If we have to lead -- if I have to lead or the coaches have to lead the team, we aren’t going to be any good.”
Is that why you think Campbell’s going to be better?
“I’d be surprised if he didn’t because of his work ethic and his toughness and his leadership.”
Is lack of playing time a factor in his development?
“Well I think that’s part of it and when you play a couple different positions a couple different times around -- you’ve been in three different defenses when you did play defense, I think there’s a continuity level that you like to have.”
How do you know that a guy is going to be good before Sept. 1?
“I don’t know that you do. Some guys get in front of those big crowds and they just don’t quite play as well maybe as they practice. I just like his work ethic and what he’s done and not just physically but the mental part of playing the game of football.”
What about Ricky Barnum makes you think he’ll be ready?
“I think again there’s a guy who’s played some snaps. His work ethic, I mean, his leadership, you know I think Ricky’s got a really good quickness. I think that’s one of the pluses of a center that he has. Plays with pretty good leverage. I just like him.”
How is his chemistry with Denard?
“Well we’ve only had one day, but it was pretty good today. What I’ve seen of it. Now again, we’re out there in shorts. It’s a little different.”
Have you seen Denard be more of a vocal leader?
“Well I’ve seen that from him probably since the end of spring and through the end of summer. I think his maturity for the position and at the position has been really good. I thought today, again, we’re one day in. I thought he did a nice job of getting the offense where they needed to be from place to place and from practice. Talking with his receivers whether it was skelly or one-on-one and just how he runs the huddle.”
How different is that from how he was the first day of practice last year?
“Oh I don’t know. If I had to measure it, I couldn’t tell you that. I think what we observe, I think it’s there.”
What’s the goal of practices without pads?
“Well there’s a lot of installation obviously. The veterans are pretty clued into most of it. You always maybe tweak some things on either side of the ball during the course of spring and summer a little bit. You look at opponents, maybe somebody’s doing [something] that fits your scheme. There’s those kinds of things. I think it really is trying to establish the physicalness that we’re trying to play with.”
Have you decided how you’ll split Devin Gardner’s reps?
“Not yet. Again, it’s one day.”
Did Jerald Robinson practice?
Is his punishment effectively over?
How long does it take before you make decisions regarding position battles?
“We evaluate it every day. We evaluate the kids we’ll meet here in about an hour as a staff, and we’ll go through practice and talk about it. The coaches right now, they’re already into the tape, so they’re looking at it, so when we meet we’ll talk about them. From what we did in the special teams today and the different things we did there to how they [did in] the seven-on-seven, how the nine-on-seven went, the full line stuff. And trying to do a good job of talking about where everybody is as a staff. We’ve got walkthroughs in the morning, and we’ll meet before that and talk about it, then we’ll talk about it afterwards.”
Stephen Hopkins looks more like a fullback now with his weight gain. What will be his role?
“I think Steph is one of those guys who has good understanding and has accepted that role in a real positive way. I think he’s grown a lot maturity wise. I can just tell you from 18 months or however long it’s been we’ve been here, I think it’s really for the position. I think he’s become a teammate. So his role will depend on the game plan and what we want to do. I think he fits a great role for us.”
Has Al Borges used a fullback extensively before? Catching the ball, running the ball …
“Oh yeah. A whole lot.”
Did everybody show up?
“He’s the only one.”
“Well, his pec.”
You were pushing Kenny Demens pretty hard in the spring. How has he done so far?
“I think he’s done a good job. I think Kenny is, again -- these guys who are getting ready to play their last year, they finally realize that you tell them for three or four years it doesn’t last forever. I think those guys, there’s always a little difference in their approach in a positive way, and Kenny’s one of those guys.”
Overall, are you happy with the condition of the players?
“Oh yeah. I’m very happy with it. And they do a nice job. They’ve done a nice job and they had a little time off. The guys who have finished with school were able to go home for five, six days before we came back. I think they came back ready to go.”
How has Kovacs changed over the past year?
“I don’t know if he has. I think Kovacs has always been a guy who’s had a lot of passion and love for the game of football. He’s a guy that’s very instinctive. He’s smart. He’s got a love for Michigan, and if anywhere he probably feels a little more comfortable and confident talking when he needs to say something.”
Is that steadiness part of who he is, and do you think others feed off it?
“I think they do. I do think it makes him who he is.”
Ricardo Miller was a tight end last fall, a wide receiver in the spring, and yesterday he was a tight end again.
“Well he’s playing both. I think from a weight standpoint and everything he’s still going to be an edge guy, U-back guy, wide receiver guy. So he’s working them both.”
What do you most want to see from the team to know that you’re ready to go?
“Well, I really hope we’re a tough football team. And a physical football team. We have the mental toughness in how we prepare, to prepare at a high level, to play fast as a team, which means you’re confident and you’re knowing what you’re doing. There’s a physicalness to that because there’s an intensity to it. I think that’s what we would like to see.”
Is Miller back going back to tight end due a depth problem?
“Well you got some death issues -- uh death, DEPTH -- depth issues, that’s part of it. You have some depth that you want to look at at wide receiver, too. Right now he’s kind of a guy who can be a swing U-back for you and play wide receiver.”
Any freshmen who have impressed you?
“Some of those guys -- most of them, they’re finishing classes so they’re kind of running in and out. So to be honest with you, no.”
What did you think about Denard’s speech at the B1G luncheon?
“I think he did an amazing job. I thought he really told a story and did it how Denard would do it. And I think that’s what you want out of your players. Just like your captains. You want them to be who they are.”
Do you know when you’ll choose your captains?
“No that’s not for a couple more weeks. Usually we do it the Saturday or Sunday before game week.”
Rawls runs angry, mean, and fast. Is that how you would describe him? Also, re: Devin. Did he take snaps at receiver today?
“Yeah. And Rawls is angry.”
“He just runs hard. He runs hard, he’s hard to tackle, he’s physical, he’s got pretty good balance. Between Justice Hayes and Thomas and Vince, they all got carries.”
Did Jibreel Black show up with a good weight on him?
“He did. He’s not near as big as his brother who plays at Indiana. I don’t know if his body can be that, but he did a good job of working hard to put some weight on him. He and Craig both did a tremendous job. I think how he is able to keep it during camp, and I don’t know what the weather is going to be. I’m hoping it’s hot like it had been for at least 10 days, because that’s good for us. You know, I sweat a little more, maybe lose a pound. You know, that’s always good. But I just think how he manages that …”
How’s the punting battle shaping up?
“It’s a heck of a battle.”