2013 OL commits Logan Tuley-Tillman (left) and David Dawson
Yesterday's Adidas Sound Mind/Sound Body camp at Southfield High School featured some of the Midwest's best talent, including five of Michigan's 2013 commits (actually, six, but Csont'e York showed up late and I didn't get a good look at him). It also provided a rare chance for players to get instructed by coaches from Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, and several other schools; U-M, OSU, and MSU each sent their full staff, save Mark Dantonio, who had a speaking engagement.
This was my first camp experience, so I mostly focused on the Michigan commits; at these camps, there's so much going on that it's difficult to focus on more than a handful of players. Here are my impressions of the Wolverine commits as well as a couple other standouts:
I didn't spend a ton of time watching Morris in the passing drills, mostly because I was more focused on the receivers and defensive backs, but he was excellent as usual on Wednesday. Morris threw harder than anyone else there, displayed great accuracy, and could make all of the throws. He's also improved from what I saw of him last fall in terms of knowing when to change up speeds and when to just unleash.
As you can see above, Al Borges kept a very close eye on Morris. UAB head coach Garrick McGee was running quarterback drills, but Borges made it clear that he would be the one coaching Morris. As Brian pointed out in today's UV, the running theme of the camp was coaches in disbelief that this was all legal; it was, thanks to SMSB's status as a charitable event.
Dawson was easily the most impressive lineman present, both from a physical and technical standpoint. He looks like he's in the 280-290 pound range but doesn't appear to be carrying much bad weight at all. He shows an advanced understanding of technique for a high school player; Coach Funk was presiding over the offensive line drills, and when he needed to give an example of what he was looking for, he had Dawson give the demonstration. Dawson displayed very quick feet, shuffled well in pass protection while keeping a solid base, and showed a very strong initial punch.
In one-on-ones, Dawson excelled in a drill that gives a clear edge to the pass-rusher. He got great depth with his initial step and had three or four pancakes (not all of his reps are on my film above). When Dawson did get beat, it was usually when he let the defender get into his body instead of keeping the rusher at bay with his arm punch. The proverbial mean streak was also on full display. On one rep, Dawson got beat off the edge, and the defender went back to his side screaming "Let's go!" and "I'm hungry!"* Dawson didn't appreciate the woofing, asked for an immediate rematch, and buried the guy into the turf.
Dawson is expected to end up at guard in college and after seeing him yesterday I think that's the best place for him. While his strength allows him to dominate high school competition, he isn't the longest lineman out there, which makes it harder to keep edge-rushers at bay. As you can see above, when Dawson slid inside to take a rep at guard, he dispatched his man with ease.
Tuley-Tillman didn't quite perform at Dawson's level but still showed off the potential that earned him an offer in the first place. When I talked to Logan, he told me he weighs about 315 pounds, a 15-pound drop from where he was at the Columbus NFTC last month. He's still carrying bad weight, however, and is going to have to turn a significant amount of fat into muscle before he's ready to play at the next level.
I was initially down on Tuley-Tillman when watching the one-on-ones, but after watching the tape he did better than I thought. When he gets his hands on a guy it's tough to escape and he finishes his blocks with authority. He did struggle some against the speed rush; Funk pulled LTT aside during drills to work on getting better depth in his drop when pass blocking, and there's still work to be done there. When he got his footwork right, defenders had little chance of getting past him.
Despite the technique issues, Tuley-Tillman has great feet; when he's coached up, he should have every opportunity to play tackle at the Big Ten level. He's definitely got some conditioning work to do, though it sounds like he's on the right track. Multiple experts who saw Tuley-Tillman in Columbus, where he reportedly struggled significantly, said his performance yesterday was a vast improvement.
Lewis continues to look impressive on both sides of the ball. While I thought he looked better at corner when playing for Cass Tech last fall, there may be a battle royale between the offensive and defensive coaches over where he'll play at Michigan; the offensive coaches have made it clear that they covet Lewis as a wide receiver. They'll have to fight Greg Mattison for him, however, and that may be a losing battle.
Lewis is never going to wow you from a purely physical standpoint—he's 5'11" and pretty skinny—but his athleticism is just a notch below elite. He showed off great closing speed at cornerback, though he sometimes relies too much on his ability to recover; he's not quite at his 2012 teammate Terry Richardson's level when it comes to staying in a receiver's hip pocket. His ball skills, however, are exemplary; he tracks the ball in the air extremely well and knows exactly when to go for the catch. If a quarterback threw a 50-50 ball in his direction, whether on offense or defense, he came down with it or at least broke up the pass.
At receiver, Lewis put those ball skills to good use, coming up with a couple of spectacular catches including one diving effort against 2014 Cass Tech teammate Damon Webb (much more on him below). I still like Lewis's upside more at corner, where his size plays better, but he's convinced me that he could contribute on either side of the ball at the next level.
Hill looked very good in the reps I saw him taking, running crisp routes and catching almost everything thrown his way, including the pass pictured above. He nearly pulled in a ridiculous one-hander early in the morning session, but couldn't quite haul it on; otherwise, any pass in his direction resulted in a catch. Hill isn't the fastest tight end out there, nor the biggest, but he finds a way to get space from defenders and then shield them off with his body.
Given that he's being recruited for a very specific, not-always-used position—H-back—he's got a more limited ceiling than most of the commits; at around 6'2", he doesn't have the size to play much on the line. That said, if he can run routes and catch like he did yesterday, he could be a solid piece to the offensive puzzle.
DAMON WEBB (2014)
Webb turned heads a couple weeks ago when he blanketed Laquon Treadwell at the IMG 7-on-7 and he built on that with an MVP-worthy performance yesterday. Despite being a year younger, Webb has more bulk on his 5'11" frame than his teammate Jourdan Lewis, and like Lewis he's an outstanding athlete.
Also like Lewis, Webb can play either wide receiver or cornerback at the next level, though his size suggests that corner is his optimal position. He was fantastic playing corner in the one-on-one drills, staying step-for-step with Lewis—though Jourdan managed to bring in a diving catch—and 2013 Notre Dame commit James Onwualu, who was torching the less-heralded prospects. Webb faced Onwualu three times, and aside from slipping on a hitch route, he came out on top. Webb doesn't rely as much on recovery speed as Lewis, instead playing a more physical style; he's not at all afraid to come up and jam the receiver, and he flips his hips well when transitioning from his backpedal.
Allen Trieu reported this afternoon that Webb earned a Michigan offer, which comes as little surprise after he performed so well in front of the entire staff. While they're targeting him as an athlete for now, I'm guessing he'll be the next in a long line of Cass Tech corners to play at the BCS level. The Wolverines appear to be his clear leader at the moment and there's a chance his recruitment wraps up early. He'll be in Ann Arbor next week for Michigan's camp.
*"I'm hungry" guy was one of the highlights of the camp, as he repeatedly—and loudly—proclaimed his hunger after just about every rep. When Hoke spoke to the campers after the morning session, he singled the kid out for his enthusiasm, then had this exchange:
Hoke: "Did you have lunch yet?"
I'm Hungry Kid: "Yes, sir."
Hoke: "Well, I guess you're not hungry anymore."
- 2014 MI DE Malik McDowell wasn't listed on the roster—he wasn't alone in that regard—and only took a couple reps in the morning, so I didn't get a chance to evaluate him. I did head over to where the linemen were gathered in the afternoon, however, and I can say he certainly passes the eye test. That is one huge rising junior.
- Two other 2014 kids who caught my eye were Cass Tech linebackers William White and Gary Hosey, who both stood out physically among the linebackers. White appeared to have an inch or two on Hosey, but both looked solidly built with the frame to add more bulk. I was busy watching the linemen while they were going through drills, however, so I'll have to catch them play another time.
- A friend who was helping instuct the linebackers at the camp raved about Michigan State linebacker commit Jon Reschke. I thought Reschke was a no-brainer four-star when I saw him play against Farmington Hills Harrison in the playoffs last year; State got a good one there.
- Urban Meyer, from the morning presser: "The problem with intercollegiate athletics is that it's almost anti-student-athlete." All the coaches talked about how great it was to be able to instruct recruits at an event outside the usual team camps. There was also discussion about finding ways for recruits to be able to take visits to campus without the cost becoming prohibitive; there definitely seems to be support for summer official visits if the NCAA decides to look in that direction.
- Yes, Brady Hoke uttered the words "Ohio" and "State" in succession during an impromptu on-field Q&A session with reporters. Yes, there was a subsequent race between the Michigan beat reporters to tweet that bit of news. I believe the winner was AnnArbor.com's Nick Baumgartner.
- Terry Richardson, James Ross, and Oregon CB (and former Cass Tech Technician) Dior Mathis all were present. Richardson was walking around eating ribs while the Michigan coaches teased him about getting his weight up.
- After watching them in a camp setting, it's very easy to see why Michigan's coaching staff has so much success both on the field and in recruiting. I kept forgetting to film the OL/DL one-on-ones because I was so intent on listening to Coach Funk give technique pointers to individual guys after their reps; I learned more about blocking technique in five minutes of standing near him than I have in the rest of my life put together. They're all great with the players, as well; you could tell the kids were hanging on every word of instruction.
- Former Michigan lineman and current EMU OL coach Kurt Anderson, who was running drills with Funk: "You're protecting your family, your food, your quarterback." [via Mike Rothstein]
Pictured coaches, in order of appearance, are UAB HC Garrick McGee, OSU HC Urban Meyer, MSU DC Pat Narduzzi, EMU HC Ron English, Hoke, Mattison, EMU's Mike Hart, Syracuse's Tyrone Wheatley, and Michigan's Darrell Funk and Jeff Hecklinski.
Jayru Campbell's hair did not disappoint:
Neither did Shane Morris's afternoon attire:
That's all for now. Interviews with Morris, Dawson, and Tuley-Tillman coming later this afternoon.
Looking way off into the future here, but is there any chance Shane Morris gets a redshirt in 2013? Would he accept one? Would we be in a position to sit him?
Redshirt or no, he would enter 2013 behind a redshirt junior Devin Gardner (should he actually receive a 5th year himself) and Russell Bellomy. I just keep thinking it would be nice to enter a 2017 season (told you I was thinking way off) with a senior QB when Notre Dame and Ohio would play us at home.
Your expressions are greatly appreciated.
If Gardner wins the job and has a strong season I think you would see Morris redshirted, especially if Gardner gets his redshirt (something about which I've heard conflicting information on). I don't think Morris would have a problem with it—he can see the large upside in 2017 as well as anyone—and with Bellomy an experienced-second stringer the only reason they'd have to put Morris on the field is in the event of a serious injury.
The most likely scenario in which Morris doesn't get the redshirt is the one in which Gardner is not getting his retroactively and Morris is far and away the second-best QB on the roster. In that situation you might see Michigan get Morris some playing time for grooming purposes, much like what everyone expects to see happen with Joe Bolden at MLB this year. I'm still rooting for a redshirt.
Utah road game sense making.
If the Utah series is true, this really makes no sense at all. Brandon has complained about playing @ Uconn in 2013 because "the Rent" only holds 40k (and to be fair to Brandon, this series was scheduled by Bill Martin). Utah's Stadium has a capacity of 46k. Doesn't DB's rationale to move the Uconn game hold no weight now in light of scheduling us to play at a 46k seat stadium on a Thursday night? I really dont believe an extra 6,000 seats makes enough of a difference for us to play this road game versus the Uconn road game.
I get scheduling is difficult, but this one is pretty frustrating. Wish we could have gotten a Pac-12 team we haven't seen recently.
In Dave Brandon's mind the 46k is okay as long as there is a synergistic marketeing campaign that brings the Wow Factor into the equation. By leveraging the increased mindshare acquired by being top-of-mind at the beginning of the college football season, Michigan can increase its brand awareness amongst decision-makers and trendsetters. By being the first team to play in a college football season, Michigan will find a competitive advantage to grow the digital audience and build brand loyalty. A pearlescent hipster sheen will descend upon the brand, whereupon Michigan will become the Apple of college football.
I think "pearlescent hipster sheen" was a misstep. Too many words people might use in a novel instead of a powerpoint presentation.
Anyway: Brandon's persistent complaints about UConn's desire to have a game against Michigan on their campus aren't really about capacity, they are about Wow Factor. Wow Factor can be acquired by doing something unusual that might get you attention, no matter how good of an idea it is. Flyovers, new uniforms, night games, really loud jet pack guys, full student sections, Special K, legends patches, field hashtags, rescheduling the Horror: these are all sources of Wow Factor. Some are neutral. Some are positive. Some are negative. All provide someone in the athletic department who needs to justify his existence a line in a performance evaluation. This is the heart of Wow Factor: it looks good on a performance evaluation.
The rumored Thursday night opener* provides Wow Factor, therefore playing in a 46k stadium is acceptable. If the on-campus UConn game was modified to provide wow factor—playing underwater, maybe—it would also be acceptable. A regular football game in a regular stadium at a regular time gives Brandon a rash.
*[Still just a rumor. Chris Balas, the source on this information, also mentioned difficulties for Utah in 2015 that could cause the return date to be delayed until 2016. If that happened 2016 would be another weak-looking six-game home slate thanks to the Big Ten's refusal to give Michigan a reasonable home/road split in conference.]
Legends numbers deployment.
LEAVE 32 ALONE
Completely agree with you, re: flipping seniors' numbers diminishes their own impact on the program as much, if not more, than it rewards them. The most extreme—and perhaps ludicrous—example is Desmond, who if he returns for his senior year could have been "rewarded" with the 1 jersey. Then there wouldn't be a 21 "Legends Jersey."
If they're really going to do this, it should almost be something that a guy "earns" during his freshman (or even redshirt) year. Then we can see if lives up to it. And guys that don't earn it can use the snub to become determined to make their own a number a future legend. Seems better than diluting (even in a superficial way) the career of guy between his two biggest years in the program.
Anyway, good to have something to discuss in June.
[Editor's note: Yesterday, Michigan officially announced they would un-retire not only Gerald Ford's number but also those of Ron Kramer and Bennie Oosterbaan. 48, 47, and 87 are back on the market and seemingly must be filled.]
The number-flipping thing seems like an extension of the trend with the #1 jersey, which was effectively mothballed once Braylon Edwards sponsored a scholarship requiring that it be earned after enrollment.
Unlike the #1, these legends jerseys seem like they must be filled every year, and if they're not filled they will flip someone to them, thus preventing many players who might turn themselves into legends wearing their own number into… not that. I think I'm having a strong negative reaction to this because DO YOU PEOPLE REALIZE WE HAVE A COMPETENT SAFETY WHO MAY HAVE TO CHANGE HIS NUMBER NO I DON'T THINK YOU DO I DON'T THINK YOU UNDERSTAND THE GRAVITY OF WHAT THIS MEANS TO THE FUTURE LEGACY OF THE #32 JERSEY, WHICH IS ON THE VERGE OF REMINDING ME OF A CRITICAL TACKLE IN SPACE THAT IS NOT MISSED, IS NEVER EVER MISSED.
/considers situation in which Denard Robinson would switch from 16 to 7 or something as a senior
Anyway: I hope Michigan uses them like the #1 used to be deployed, as a carrot to dangle in front of certain recruits. 87 is the tight end version of #1. 47 is the… er… wide receiver version of #1. 48 is… well, it's a roving version of #1 I assume will find itself on linebackers and safeties mostly. (Linemen can no longer wear 48.) Some of the guys you hand the uniforms to won't work out, and that's life. That seems better than moving a handful of seniors annually.
That doesn't get around the fact that Michigan has to give them out now. So… Michigan should hand 48 to Joe Bolden, 87 to AJ Williams or Devin Funchess, and 47 to Amarah Darboh or Jehu Chesson. Leave
Britney Kovacs alone, and if a kid with one of those jerseys does something naughty, take it away.
Interesting bits from the Women's Football Academy.
I volunteered at the Women's Football Academy and I asked all the coaches except Borges how they would feel about an early signing period in football. All except LB coach Mark Smith said they were all for it. Smith said he didn't like it because that would mean official visits in the summer and then coaches would get no time off, as opposed to the 3-4 weeks they now get in late June and July.
One of the things they pointed out as being a big advantage is that kids from lower economic families could take official visits during the summer. Mattison said this is very important because kids are committing so early now and by the time the poorer kids have a chance to take the official visits when their senior season starts, it is getting to be "too late."
Mattison specifically talked about kids who want to "put on a hat" at the Under Armour game. He tells those kids, "Then you won't be committing to Michigan because by that time, we won't have any scholarships left."
Your humble correspondent,
I think the official visit timing and an early signing day are separate matters—and still dislike the idea that a kid can sign before his coach might get fired—but I'm not posting this to argue, just to relate the emailed information. Love the hat thing. Down with hats.
Half-shields look cooler. End of story.
Shields. College hockey's been moving towards the use of partial shields for a couple years now and it sounds like in the next couple years we could see that come to fruition. The hockey community is for it, but they have to convince the NCAA they're not going to cause a murder spree. Their attempt:
"When we first raised the issue with the Health and Safety Committee, they were very negative," Kelly said. "By the end of the meeting in November, the pendulum had swung significantly and they are far more open minded on the idea."
"Give credit, the folks in the room definitely listened," rules committee chair Ed McLaughlin, the athletic director at Niagara, said. "They said, 'Tell us why you believe this.' It was a huge hurdle we got over. Going in I thought, if it's not 'no' it's a major accomplishment."
Boston University's Parker has long been an outspoken critic of the NCAA's policy, even moreso since his player, Travis Roy, was paralyzed in an on-ice accident during the first shift of his college career, in 1995.
"Jack Parker was very effective," Kelly said.
"Jack was fantastic," McLaughlin said. "He had a real impact with the group that was there."
They have no data, but assert that going away from full masks can't make things worse for anything except your lips—mouthguards would be required—and that's less of a big deal than getting hit in the head. At least they don't have, like, anti-data:
"(Data) doesn't show substantially less concussions," McLaughlin said, "but you can't prove more either. There's more facial lacerations, but not exponentially. The USHL hasn't had any catastrophic eye injuries or neck injuries, and we've had some in college hockey."
I've always thought the argument that the full shields in college hockey made the game more violent was ridiculous. The things you can't do in the pros are still penalties in college. Maybe the (usual) lack of fighting does make people bolder, but I'm dubious about that as well. Violent acts like the Tropp incident are met with stiff suspensions. Hockey's violent. This doesn't do anything to help player safety. If you want to make an impact on that, you have to improve the refereeing.
It may help with the constant war with junior in a tiny way, and that's probably why this is going forward.
Good hands. When is the last time anyone could have made a list of best Big Ten assistants and grabbed both of Michigan's coordinators?
Offensive coordinator: Al Borges, Michigan. What more can be said about Borges? The guy has an unmatched resume that includes stops as coordinator at Indiana, Auburn, UCLA, Oregon, Cal and Boise State, among others. Borges has shown an ability to adapt his West Coast attack at Michigan to conform to the skills of quarterback Denard Robinson. Smart man. The result, an 11-2 season in 2011, as the Wolverines also produced two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time since 1975. Why isn’t this guy a head coach?
Others: Matt Canada, Wisconsin; Greg Davis, Iowa; Tom Herman, Ohio State; Matt Limegrover, Minnesota; Bill O’Brien, Penn State
Defensive coordinator: Greg Mattison, Michigan. The numbers speak for themselves. After spending three years in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Mattison returned to Michigan. And his impact was deep and immediate. His unit ranked second in the Big Ten and sixth in nation in scoring defense (17.4 ppg). Remarkable numbers when you consider where the defense was before he arrived. Mattison has coached 18 NFL players and had seven of his protégés taken in the first three rounds of the draft and two first-round selections.
Others: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State; Ted Roof, Penn State; Everett Withers, Ohio State.
When's the last time Michigan would have gotten even one on the list? 1997? Yeah. Probably 1997. Even if Borges probably would have finished second to Paul Chryst if he hadn't taken the Pitt job, it's been a long time since it seems like both sides of the ball were in good hands.
It's, like, interrelated, man, like the cosmos. The Only Colors discovers that the generally-applicable fact that passing efficiency is the stat best correlated with winning applies to the Big Ten, too:
Yeah, but that's all NFL stuff. And besides, the NFL formula is different than the NCAA formula. How do I know that those insights carry over, especially to the Big Ten?
Cause I got some mighty fine data. Spreadsheet time:
2011 Big Ten Season Teams Off PR Def PR Net Wins Wisconsin 186.2 120.45 65.75 11 Michigan State 144.29 113.24 31.05 11 Michigan 139.18 120.48 18.7 11 Northwestern 155.88 139.99 15.89 6 Illinois 123.52 117.91 5.61 7 Nebraska 125.78 120.42 5.36 9 Iowa 136.62 132.87 3.75 7 Ohio State 127.8 126.75 1.05 6 Purdue 122.81 126.05 -3.24 7 Penn State 101.95 107.2 -5.25 9 Minnesota 108.97 148.81 -39.84 3 Indiana 111.91 156.79 -44.88 1
-In the top tier, you have three teams who clearly separated themselves from the pack with their net ratings at 1, 2, and 3 (including the BTCCG participants at a clear 1-2), as well as an outlier at 4, Northwestern, who let several games slip away late.
-in the middle tier, you have the middle class of the Big Ten in 2011, plus Nebraska, all clumped within 4 net points of each other, very far away from the best and worst teams in the conference.
-then in the bottom tier, you have the only four teams with negative Passer Rating Differentials, with Purdue and Penn State (the other outlier) chilling a handful of points below zero, and the two obvious worst teams in the Big Ten, Minnesota and Indiana, both sporting truly terrible PRDs.
In all, in 2011, there was a very strong .85 correlation between a teams PRD and its total wins. Correlation is not causation and all that but still, .85 yo.
This is all true, but I don't think that tells you that passing is more important than running. Take last year's Michigan offense for an example of a team where running drives the bus to the point where it makes the passing offense look better than it really is. An even rawer Denard Robinson put up the 20th-best passer rating in the country, one ten points better than his 2011. But Michigan ran 60% of the time and put up 5.6 YPC. When Michigan lost some of that mojo last year, Robinson's efficiency dropped correspondingly.
The biggest advantage passer rating has in these correlations between various traditional stats and wins is the fact that it's an efficiency measure. Yards gained in X fashion is a measure of both how much you did something and how good you were at it. Efficiency measures suck the "how much" out of the equation.
Side note: Good Lord has Penn State been hosed the last few years by their QB situation. If they can keep that defense operating at its previous efficiency level and have an offense run by grown-ups, they will be in business.
“The thing I would say starting out is we have a long way to go. When watching from the side and seeing what I thought I saw, we’ve got to become a lot more physical. We’ve got to improve a great deal over the summer. The good news with that is our staff and this program believes in working very hard at improvement over the summer and not just lifting weights. I think we’ll make a lot of gains this summer.”
Blake Countess had a nice INT today. Can you talk about his spring and maybe your feelings on the secondary as a whole?
“The thing that I was pleased with with Blake is I’m always leery of a freshman who has success and then what is he going to be like that next year? You’ll tell really big what he’s going to be like in the spring. Blake has come out every day and worked to improve. Blake has tried to become a better football player. I didn’t see any signs of a guy thinking that he’s arrived. As far as the secondary, I think we have a long way to go yet. You always are looking for guys to step up because you need to find who’s going to play every day, who’s going to go out there and do what you’re asking them to do, and you can’t miss tackles back there. You can’t do that. We had that happen. I think we have to become a better blitzing team out of the secondary. I think we called a pressure, a guy was unblocked and didn’t hit the quarterback in the backfield. That should have been a knock-out hit. Those kinds of things are what we have to improve on.”
Kaleb Ringer got a lot of snaps today. What have you seen from him this spring?
“He’s a freshman. I think we saw, and I think I said before, he should be going to the prom. But the good news is he has been out there to be evaluated and to be coached every day. And hopefully that will pay dividends and show him what he must work on this summer to make coming this early be a benefit.”
You did a lot of shuffling with the defensive line this spring. How much more comfortable are you with them this spring?
“I feel very comfortable with the moves. Very comfortable. I think that might be one of the bright spots of the spring. Craig Roh showed me that he’s got a chance to be a pretty good football player there because he plays with such a good motor and he’s so prideful of his technique. And now when he gets stronger, I think you’re going to have a good 5-technique. Jibreel Black has to really -- the key to him is how strong he gets this summer. He did some good things this spring, some other things he showed why you can’t play at 270 in there if you don’t have great technique. The combination of Beyer and Clark give us a lot more athleticism on the edge. All three of those things … have been very beneficial for us.”
Have Beyer and Clark separated themselves at WDE yet?
“No, they haven’t separated themselves. Beyer is a very strong football player and can run. What Beyer has to work on a great deal is he gets a habit of getting high. He’s got to stay lower. Then he’s going to be a real force I think. Frank, on the other hand, wants to run to make plays before he beats the block at times. He needs to take some of what Beyer does and Beyer needs to take some of what he does. Both of them, I have been very pleased with the two of them and how hard they’ve worked and how hard they’ve tried to improve on what we say they need to improve on.”
Was the defense’s performance today pretty indicative of what you’ve seen all spring?
“Yeah. I think it was. I think you saw we’re going to be a defense where if we lose one or two guys at this point before the freshmen get in here, you’re going to fall off a little bit. I think that’s going to happen when Des[mond Morgan] was out of there. That’s a key guy for us. But it’s forced us to put a younger backer, where you know we need a lot of help, under the microscope. When we watch his tape we’re going to know exactly how he did, and then you’re going to have to say okay we have a lot more work to do.”
Do you think you’re well ahead of where you were a year ago at this point?
“I don’t know if we’re way ahead. The thing is we didn’t call many defenses today. I think I only probably called four defenses the whole day because I wanted to see how they were going to play under the gun. I know Al didn’t call a lot of stuff either. We wanted to make it really really hard nosed. I think this group wants to be really good. Like I said, I think sometimes maybe you don’t believe what I’m saying, but we make more gains at Michigan in the summer with what they do on technique than a lot of programs. That’s a three-month period of them doing it, the same individual [drills] that we’ve done with them for 15 days.”
What have you seen from Will Campbell this spring, and what did you see from him today?
“I see that we need him to be a football player. We need him to not just knock people around, but tackle the football. Will and I have talked long and hard about that: that the ball is the issue, not how many lumps you can put on that guard or center. Will’s getting it. Will’s getting it and Will’s the key. Will’s a big key because you’ve heard me before, you’re only as strong as you are down the middle. That’s going to be our whole deal this year because we’ll be fine outside. Jake Ryan had a good spring. Cam Gordon, you can see he’s going to help us. Our outside will be fine. It’s inside.”
You mentioned the gains you make over the summer. Is Will one of those guys you’re counting on to lead those efforts?
“Definitely. Will is definitely a leader. Will is a guy that has bought in totally to being a senior at Michigan.”
Do you see that this defense is faster than it was at this point last year?
“I do think this might be a little quicker defense than last year. One of the biggest reasons is they understand the defense. That defense last year was all new to those guys. You can’t play defense unless you know what the problem possibly is, so you can play faster. Any time you know the defense well you play faster, and I noticed that this spring.”
How do you shore up the middle of the defense?
“Well I think a lot of it’s technique, but one of the things -- down the middle sometimes means linebackers and taking on guards. One of the biggest things we have to improve on is using our hands and not using high school forms. That’s what some young freshman linebackers are doing right now. But the beautiful thing is they have sleds to work on all summer. Little techniques that will help them be stronger down the middle I think we have in place.”
Keith Heitzman made a bunch of nice plays today. Talk about his progress, and how do you talk about the overall depth on the defensive line?
“Yeah, Heitzman is one of those players that may not pass the eye test when he walks out on the field, but you know what? He’s always around the football. I made a comment one day at a meeting. We were watching the practice film, and I said, ‘You know what? This Heitzman kid, before it’s long, he may be one of those Michigan defensive linemen that just plays hard and tough.’ He needs to get a lot stronger. He needs to get a lot better at his technique, but he’s a young kid, and I think that’s a big thing. As far as the depth, everybody had their day. We have to all have our days. That’s what bothers me. I can name every player that played inside and there will be one play where it’ll be, ‘Yeah! See, that’s what you’re looking for!’ and then you won’t see it on the next one. We need to get consistent. Mike Martin, you’d see it every play you looked at. Will Heininger you might see it every play. Those guys, we need to get that kind of consistency out of that front.”
So many young linebackers will be working on technique over the summer. How important is Kenny Demens going to be in leading them?
“Very important, because Michigan’s always a senior leader -- and Kenny Demens needs to work on it as much as the young guys. So he can be the first guy going and they’ll be following him along, but every guy -- there’s a lot of competition at that position. There’s a lot of competition at every position, but at the linebacker position there’s going to be great competition.”
Where does Brandin Hawthorne stand right now?
“Yeah, I mean he has that ability to make plays. You remember he started some games last year for us. He has the ability to make plays, but the key in our defense is a guy has to be a very physical football player and he has to play with consistency. Guys that make plays put a lot of pressure on the coach to see if you hit it right when he’s going to make a play. We need guys that are going to be consistent all the time. He’s going to be another one of those linebackers that’s going to be in the mix.”
Is it his physicality that needs work?
“Well he’s been a little banged up ever since he’s been here. That would keep a guy from being real physical.”
Did you play him at MIKE out of necessity?
“You had a number of guys banged up. Mike Jones had a hamstring I guess, and Des, and Hawthorne’s got an elbow -- it’s spring. A guy that plays the WILL can also play MIKE. He should be able to play both. The linebacker thing, it’s going to be a heck of a competition before it’s all done.”
Have you been able to address some of the problems in the secondary that you mentioned at the last press conference?
“Yeah. And again, anything that we saw based on last year we wanted to address. That, underneath coverage where we wanted to see the quarterback throw it more rather than locking in to people, not giving up big plays -- we address it every practice. And I tell you this, just yesterday your job is to address it before it happens. When the secondary isn’t playing deep third like they should, and if they’re not right over the football or if I saw like yesterday a guy’s trying a little too anxious getting up too close to that pile, every time I’ll put an arrow on it and say that’s a recipe for a big play. Now you understand that didn’t now but that could happen during the season and we can’t allow that. That's, to me, what coaching is: preventing something from happening before it happens. We’ve really tried to address that, and in every practice we will continue to address that.”
It seems that Terrence Talbott has been really impressive. What have you seen from him?
“He’s like a lot of our guys out there. We’re trying to rotate through and find out who’s going to step up each day. As you know, our program is about nobody ever really having a position locked. Raymon steps in there, shows some good things. Terrence goes in there and shows some good things. It doesn’t matter but what we’re looking for is a guy that’s going to come out there every day and do it the way we want it every day. We’re getting the ability now to have guys where if somebody for some reason doesn’t have a great day, there’s a guy that can go in and [we can say], ‘Okay it’s your turn, let’s see what you can do.’ That’s at every position. That’s the way we will always do things here.”
Have you been able to see that from Terrence every day?
“I’ve seen him wanting to improve every day. I’ve seen him working on improving every day. I think at the very end of spring we’ll evaluate and say who had the most good days and where does he fit, now? … All of this is a process until we get to that opening game.”
What specifically has he done, though?
“He’s been physical. He’s a guy that’s done a really good job of taking out blocks. He’s done an adequate job of coverage. When we have blitzed him, he’s come hard. All the things a corner’s got to do. You’re just evaluating each day which one does the best at what you’re asking them to do.”
How has Blake Countess looked?
“Blake Countess has had a good spring so far. You know, the thing with a corner is you can have a whole bunch of really good plays and practices and just slip up once and everybody on that field sees it. You’re really looking for the guy that never slips up. That’s the deal. That’s what happens at that position. Blake has come out and has been very hungry. He wants to get better, and that’s something you always worry about when you have a guy that had a pretty good freshman year. What’s he going to be like next year? Again, that won’t happen here. We won’t let that happen here, but we haven’t had to guard against that with him. He’s come out every day and has worked hard.”
Depth was a major concern before. How good is it to see younger guys step up and give you some depth in the secondary?
“That’s good. I think that’s -- and our whole defense, they know the whole system now. If a young man is not physically strong enough, if he’s not big enough, he still knows his system now, and he’s been allowed to play better than when he’s learning it from scratch like everybody was last year. And that’s one thing I’ve noticed about the guys on defense. They appear to be playing faster. When you put something in or when you run a defense and something breaks down, you can just tell them what it was and they go, ‘Oh I got it, I see it now.’ That’s the beauty of being here a second year with the same system.”
How has the defensive line come together so far?
“I would say I’ve been very very pleased with Craig Roh playing the end position. Here’s a guy who’s been a rush to the open side for three years and has done a very good job. Now he’s inside the tight end. He’s played very physical. The key is the technique there, because you’re not bigger than everybody you’re playing against, so you'd better have great technique. Craig has come out every day. Jibreel Black has worked very hard. Shows why we made the move. I think like Ash, like Heitzman, you can go right down the line. They’ve all had moments. They’re the group now where you have to say those moments have to become every play. The coaches are working very hard on getting that done.”
What kind of moments has Jibreel Black had?
“The thing he shows, like we thought, is you’re going to have a faster player in there. So now when a guy beats a block, he has the ability to run some things down. Now on the other end of that, he’s not as big, so you'd better play with better technique. That’s what he’s had to work on the most.”
How does the technique change going from end to tackle?
“Well you have people on both sides of you. The position that he played was the same position that Craig played. You’re almost always out in open space and you only have one guy inside that you really have to deal with. Now you have a guy on both sides of you and you can get blocks from both ways. It’s a little bit more physical in there, but it’s also a place where you can become a faster athlete in there than if you were out there in space.”
How quickly is he learning to beat double teams and things like that?
“Craig has done a very very good job of working on his technique. Craig always does. Craig has unbelievable pride in himself. He’s a very intelligent football player. He wants to be very good, so he knows I have to do it this way, and I’ve been pleased with Craig.”
What about Jibreel?
“The same thing. It’s the exact same position, you’re just in a little farther. One’s getting double teamed from a tight end and a tackle. Another guy’s getting double teamed from a tackle and a guard. So it’s the same position, both of which you better play with great technique [otherwise] you’re going to get knocked off the football, so they’ve worked very hard on that.”
Does it change the way you coach having guys who have been in your system for a year now? Can you do some different things now?
“No. In fact, it’s kind of changed back to the old fashioned way for me personnally. I feel very strongly that we need to get the rush position and the SAM position playing better than it ever did. I’ve enjoyed this spring because I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Jake and Cam and the SAM position and Brennen and Frank at the rush position. The one thing it’s freed you up a little more is you don’t have to spend your whole time on the blackboard putting in defense. You don’t have to take as long putting things in. Now you can spend more time on little things that will help that defense. The players are smarter in that when you say, ‘Hey you have to do it this way,’ [they say], ‘I get it now.’ You can kind of do that to help the defense.”
With the position battles between Jake and Cam and Brennen and Frank, are those players similar or do they complement each other in terms of skill set?
“They’re different in that Cam and Jake are part secondary, part defensive line. In other words they have a lot of pass responsibility that goes with it. Cam Gordon and Jake have worked very very hard at that position this spring. I really believe they’ve improved. I can tell a lot of their technique is improved. Cam probably is, if you asked him, probably says okay now I know I’m a SAM. A year ago he moved from safety down there, and we’ll see. Now he says, ‘Yeah I understand this part of it and I want to be good at this.’ I’m really excited about that because Jake never came off the field last year. He truly played almost every snap of every game. Now it allows you to say, okay, you got a very very good player that can complement him. The same thing is true with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. The two of them are competing every day, and every little step they take is being coached, and now you have a little better speed on the pass rush with them there and you have an extra person. I’m really excited about those guys.”
Did Cam struggle with his transition from safety to SAM last year?
“Not outwardly. And that’s just me guessing that. I would, too. If I was a safety and some old, bald-headed guy came in here and said we’re going to take you from safety and we’re going to put you up on a big tight end, I have to go, ‘Okay …’ Any time it didn’t work well, I’d look over at that coach. This year he’s doing it very very physically and if it doesn’t work he knows why it doesn’t work and he’s got to get better at it.”
So he’s embracing the position now?
“Yes. Yes. I think he feels very comfortable at it. And he’s learning every day how to be a pass rusher. So now you end up getting a guy that’s a little faster that might put some more speed on the field that way.”
Was it a struggle for him not to be able to play last year?
“Well a lot of why he didn’t play last year though was [because] he was hurt. A lot of last year I think, he had a bad back and he was out for about five or six weeks I think.”
How is it now?
“Oh he’s been great. He’s worked very hard in the weight room as all of our guys have, and Aaron keeps doing a great job with him. I see it. I see it on the field where the punch that you had last year, you’d go, ‘Okay …’ But now you say, ‘Oh that’s a good punch. I see it. That guy’s really using the strength a little more.‘ That will happen more all the way through the summer, too.”
How did he hurt his back?
“I don’t know. Just football related. I don’t know how he did it, tweaked it, I don’t know.”
Was that during the summer or the fall?
“It was during the season.”
How has Josh Furman been?
“That’s something you can ask Coach Hoke.”
How do you see Joe Bolden fitting in next fall?
“He’s a guy that should be at the senior prom right now. But he’s really really really done a good job of picking up the defense. I really believe he’s going to be a very very good linebacker. Very good. You could never tell that he was going to the senior prom watching him out there on the field, but just think about that. That young man should be thinking about what tux he’s going to buy or rent. And then he’s out here practicing every day and getting coached harder than he’s ever been coached in his life. Just keeps coming back. Jarrod Wilson is the same way. Kaleb Ringer is in the same boat. You have three guys that really should be taking their advanced calc class and they’re here at the University of Michigan practicing as if they’ve been here for two years. That’s what I think is a real, real plus with them. And they’ve taken care of business in the classroom. They’re doing everything they should be doing, so you have three guys for a whole ‘nother period of time.”
How well did they transition into padded practices?
“They’re football players. I think if you asked them, probably they’d say, ‘Let’s get in pads sooner.’ The only reason there’s a transition is because he’s worried about hitting. I don’t think it’s a problem with these guys. The reason they’re here at Michigan is because they do like to hit. The biggest thing with them is being able to get them lined up. They’re like what the team was last year. They’re learning it all new. I really feel like they’ve picked things up maybe faster because everybody else around them has been able to help them with the call.”
Besides football, what did you want Will Campbell to learn from your teaching and being tough on him last season?
“What the bar was. A lot of times I have higher expectations and goals than what a young man is willing to work for. And really to play defense at Michigan, you always have to try to strive for the very very highest. Just striving for it doesn’t work. You have to now do the footwork, you now have to do the study of film, you now have to get off that block and make a play. If you didn’t make a play that you should have made, that’s not good enough. You have two ways as a coach that you can go about it. If you really really want a young man to be a great player, then you tell him about it every time and show him what he should have done to do that. And let him know that you’re going to tell him about it as long as you’re around him because you expect him to make that play. If you want to just walk away and let it go, then that guy will never get there. I think that’s where Craig found out that I happen to think he was a lot better player than what he was playing. Maybe sometimes he thought it was adequate, but adequate doesn’t cut it here, and that’s the same thing with Will and anybody on our defense, really.”
MGoQuestion: What’s your evaluation of the WILL linebacker position?
“I think our linebackers have improved. I don’t look at the WILL and the MIKE being anything different. I think they’re all linebackers in there. The WILL and the MIKE are really the same position, it’s just one’s closer to the tight end and one’s not. That was the position that I wanted to see a lot of improvement, and I think we have taken steps. Not as much as you want yet, but I think there has been -- they’ve all worked. They’ve all tried. That’s the one thing I like about this defense, and I’m not saying last year’s wasn’t that way because they obviously were, but they come out every day wanting to get better. They really have energy and they really have tried to do it. It hasn’t been perfect at all, but you feel good when you walk off the practice field and say, ‘These guys worked hard today. These guys flew around today.’ I think that’s been kind of everybody.”
Has Desmond Morgan been the standout at that position?
“He’s had good practices. He’s got a long way to go, too. There’s been as many times with Desmond that you say, ‘You’re better than that,’ [as you say], ‘That’s a great play.’ I don’t know I’ve ever been in a spring where everybody’s perfect. You can say they are and you’re not going to have a very good defense. Again, it’s get to that top. Do every play perfect. Maybe that’s unrealistic but I don’t believe that.”
How has Kenny looked at the MIKE position?
“He’s working hard. Working hard. He’s improved on some of the things he’s had to improve on. I think that’s where you look in the spring. Are you getting better? Yes he’s getting better.”
How do you feel about this defense now vs. this time last year?
“I know them better. I’ll tell you, I said this before, maybe in all my years of coaching I’ll never forget last year’s team. I mean, ever. What they did. But there’s something about this defense already where they’re all so eager and they know they have a little tougher job. They have to step up and so you want to help them get there. I’m looking forward to this group. I’m looking forward to what we can do with them.”
What do you mean by tougher job?
“Every year is a tough job here. It really is. Every year. And I’m not skirting the question. I couldn’t have told you anything about last year’s defense at this time other than, it didn’t matter who the guys are, we have to get better, we have to get better. That’s the same thing I’ll say about this defense. They come out eager every day. They enjoy hitting, and now we have to teach them how to hit and how to line up to be perfect at what we’re doing. We’ll see how good they can be.”
Is that your new Sugar Bowl ring?
“Yup. Proud of it.”
"Well, it’s good to see everybody again. That at least means they kept me for another year and you guys are all healthy."
What are your specific goals for the next few weeks?
“The number one goal is to get better at everything we do in this defense, one practice at a time. I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, we’ve got miles to go. It starts all over again. The race started when we started winter conditioning. The race heats up when we start practice. If we don’t improve on every phase of our defense, in each one of those you’re going to fall backwards. The schedule we play, you can’t take a step back in any way, and not improving is taking a step back, and that’s what these guys have got to do.”
What have you seen from Will Campbell’s conditioning and that of everyone else?
“I think we’re blessed here because I believe we have one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country. For us to be out there and watch what Aaron has done with those guys, I think he would have been frontrunner of us getting to be better. He’s pushed them. What I’ve been able to see legally when I could be out there, it looks like they’re responding. They understand this is Team 133. Boy you’ve got what you all said all along: the bar at Michigan is as high as it can ever be, and that’s what it’s supposed to be and you have a lot of work to get up to that bar. I see that when I’m down there every once in a while. I see them working to do that.”
You aren’t where you need to be with numbers on O-line and D-line. How do you deal with that?
“That’s the head coach’s job. I don’t get into that very much. We have to deal with what we have. That’s one thing you find out about college: you can’t go trade one guy for two other guys somewhere. Whatever we have right now, we’ve got to put those guys as if we’re playing them tomorrow, put them in the best position and see if you can’t get them to the level that we want to get them at. I think that’s what we’re doing with some of our guys. Who would be the best at this position and let’s put them there. You don’t ever want to go into a season and say we have a really good freshman coming in, because freshmen are still freshmen, especially in this program. What you have in that room right now, that’s who you better plan on playing with. Anybody that steps it up is a bonus. We’ll always play the best players, so if a guy coming in from a high school that we just signed is the best player, then he’ll be the best player, but he’s got to earn that.”
Can you talk about the decision to move Craig Roh?
“We did a lot of thinking about that, and Jibreel is the same thing. I want to always have a very very fast, disruptive defense. That’s what you always need to have, especially up front. Craig Roh has played some very very good football here. Craig Roh will be a better football player moving into a 5-technique than he would be out on the edge where there’s a lot of open spaces. Jibreel Black the same thing. IF a guy can get big and strong, which I believe they can, and talking to Aaron I believe that can happen, now you become faster when you move an edge player inside. Now there’s competition with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark at the outside position. You want to be able to put your people in the best position but have competition when you’re doing it, and I think that’s what’s happened so far.”
When did you start making those decisions?
“Right after the season was over with. Again, when the season is over, what you do is say, ‘Okay, now let’s look at next year, how can we be as good as we can be? What’s the best way for this defense to be as good as we can be?’ and again, taking what you have in that room. That’s what we did. We felt that that was the best to get the best players on the field at one time.”
Were those decisions based on what you saw throughout last season?
“Yeah, as a coach, what you do is when you’re watching a player and you’re evaluating him and you see him make a play and you might say, ‘Boy, that was hard for him, but he made a good play.’ He may not have had to work quite as hard had he been at this position, so in the back of your mind you’re saying he’s still the best you have for that time, but now when we get an opportunity maybe we’ll move him. Maybe we’ll see if we can’t get him in a position where it’s not quite as hard for him to do what he just did.”
How much do they have to learn with those new positions?
“The one thing that I’ve been happy with was last year was very difficult. When I look back and think in terms of our players, the first time we put in the defenses they looked at me like I was trying to teach them German or something. They just go, ‘What are you doing?’ I remember the first practices we had a ready list that I wanted to get taught, and I think again in the next practice I said, ‘Cut that down in half and we’re going to go backwards and do this.’ This year, in putting in what we want to work on this spring, the players just look at you and go, ‘Got it. I understand that. This is what we have done.’
The terminology is there. They don’t have to worry about who is Curt Mallory and who is Jerry Montgomery. These guys have just went through the war with them. They say this is what you’re supposed to do. If Mark Smith says this is what you’re supposed to do, [they say] ‘Okay, gotcha.’ The learning curve and believing in what is taught and them knowing that this is the kind of defense we’re going to play and this is what is expected, all those are kind of gone. I know they hear it all the time from us. Once they know that defense, then they can understand why they should do little subtleties to allow them to play better. Instead of just saying, 'On this defense I line up as a 3-technique. Well why do you want me to tighten down?’ Because something’s coming from the outside. ‘Oh I got it now.’ All those kind of things in a very short time, in two days that we’ve had them, I’ve been like that.
"This group of guys, I don’t know how good they’re going to be. I know how good I expect them to be -- one thing I’ve liked about them so far is they’re very willing to do what we ask them to do. They’ve been very coachable. Believe me, we could have 20 hours to meet with them and it wouldn’t be enough. But the next day they don’t seem to make the same mistakes or they understand what we just said to them. I’m excited about that. That means they’re really into it.”
How critical is the next month for Will Campbell?
“It’s critical for every guy on our defense. Will Campbell is a member of that defnese. I don’t look at Will Campbell and say, boy this is really critical for you. It’s really critical for Jibreel Black, and it’s really critical for Craig Roh, and it’s really critical for Kenny Demens. Every day he either gets better or worse. You might have heard that as a saying, but that’s the way it is here. So after a practice, we want to say, you didn’t get better, so you got worse. Or you got better, that’s a great sign. I don’t worry about the future of a guy. The future is being a Michigan football player and playing as good as you can play. After that, what he does will take care of his future.”
What specifically do you need to see from him this spring?
“Consistency. We need to see him play in and play out playing at a high level. If he’s had one good play, he’s got to put two together, and then he’s got to put three together. That’s it in a nutshell. He has shown that he has what you’re looking for for a play here, a play there -- now we have to do it consistently, and that’s everybody.”
Have you had guys in the past for whom the lights have gone on late in their careers?
“Oh no question. No question. That’s probably happened more than not that all of a sudden they become -- and here especially. Here at Michigan and maybe more than any place because as a senior you’re expected that. It’s so much in them that when you’re a senior that is your job. That is what you better do. Don’t come out as a senior and not improve. Don’t do that. That’s not accepted here.”
Who do you see as the leaders on this defense so far?
“It’s been too early. It’s been too early. I don’t want to say based on a guy running the drills we did in the winter conditioning, because we’ve all had guys who are great at yelling at winter condition and then when the pads come on -- until we see the pads come on and I see them hitting and executing when they’re beat up a little bit, we’ll know at the end of the spring. Even then, I’m not going to be able to say this guy is our leader because we won’t find out who our leader is until the game when it’s really down, until you’re behind. Who’s going to step up now? That’s when we’ll know, but I can’t tell you right now.”
Is it fair to see that Jordan Kovacs is in a position to lead this year?
“Kovacs was the leader last year, so we’ll find out this year. Nothing in this program is entitled. Nothing. I love him. Jordan Kovacs, I love him. Every day Jordan Kovacs has got to get better. Every day he’s got to go out there and see if he can’t become a better safety than he was last year.”
The secondary played well for most of the year but struggled in the last two games. Have you been able to identify what went wrong there?
“The one great thing for us as coaches that we’ve able to do in the offseason was we really got a chance to evaluate our program. These new coaches and these guys all had to put in an all-new defense -- everything was new to a lot of them, too. Now after watching it throughout the year, they’d come up with suggestions, and they’d say now, what if we did this, what if we did that? Like I told them, this is their defense now. This is the Michigan defense, so this is everybody’s defense now. I think we as coaches all understand the little things that will help rather than just saying this is cover 2 and in cover 2 you do this, for example. I feel like our kids have learned faster already too because of that. A lot of it’s the way you teach them. I think our guys, our coaches have done a great job of studying that. We’ve got to improve -- if you said that the secondary or the defensive line or linebackers were good, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say we did some things good, but it’s the same for us as coaches and as our program, you have to do it every play. Like you said in the Ohio State game, you can’t have that. You know my feeling on big plays: one of them makes you want to get sick to your stomach. We had too many of them at the end of the year, which means we have to go back and see why and get that all corrected.”
What specifically do you need to do better in order to eliminate those big plays?
“I think it’s technique. I think it’s just being better at your technique, being more focused. A lot of times big plays come from busted assignments, then that means we better make sure if a guy was confused on that, then let’s get it corrected. All those are the kind of things you see happening in the second year, where we’re all together on the same page. The guy out there playing, the coach, and myself. That’s my job.”
What are you looking at from Thomas Gordon?
“I’m looking for him to play a lot faster. I’ve told him that straight out. I love Thomas Gordon. He’s a great young man that has ability, but he must play faster. He must play more reckless. I think sometimes guys worry about are they fast enough, can I do this? Well yeah, you have to be able to do it. If you’re going to be out there, you have to be able to do it. He knows it. We’ll see during the spring if he does play faster.”
What do you mean by ‘more reckless’?
“Take a shot. That goes with what I mentioned about knowing the scheme. I think sometimes when you’re a safety coming down like he does, you kind of hesitate because you don’t want [the other guy] to run by you. But there’s sometimes you can go hit that because you’ve got a corner and another safety playing behind you, so if you miss, somebody else will make that play. I think after yesterday’s practice, maybe he’s understanding that a little bit, maybe he’s saying, ‘I get it, I get it.’ Plus give yourself a little credit. You can run pretty well. Don’t think that everybody’s going to outrun you. I think that’s knowing yourself, knowing the scheme, and that’ll allow you to play faster.”
What have you seen from Jarrod Wilson?
“He’s young. I’ve seen that he’s a guy that’s got his books in his hand, and he just came from a class that he’s never seen before, and he saw some pretty girls probably, I hope. I do tell you this, I’m glad he’s here. I’m glad all those freshmen are here. I wish we could have our entire signee class come early. I can’t evaluate him yet. I can’t evaluate any of the freshmen yet, because they’ve had no pads. But I do like their attitudes. I’ll tell you that.”
Considering how much size you lost up front from last year’s team, how are you going to approach things differently? How much bigger can Craig Roh and Jibreel Black get by next season?
“First I thought you were talking about me losing weight. I thought, well I don’t think I’ve lost that much weight. I’ve been trying hard, though.
"Craig Roh and Jibreel Black are working really really hard at gaining weight and getting stronger. What’ll happen is if you don’t have Big Will and you don’t have Mike Martin and things like that, then the guys that fill in for them, number one have to play with great technique because you don’t have that buffer. And the other thing you might have to do is move them a little bit. If they are guys that aren’t as big, but they happen to have pretty good movement -- again, remember, you’ve got Jibreel and Craig Roh who were the outside guys that had to be fast. Now we’ve moved them in because maybe we thought that they could help, maybe we might want to move them a little bit, too. I think there’s thing that we can do, which we will do, to allow our players to play as well as they can play.”
Does it put an emphasis on Will, since he’s the biggest guy in the middle?
“Well there’s no added emphasis on him. My philosophy has always been you’re only as good as you are down the middle. You can’t have a great defense unless it starts at the nose, then it goes to the backers, then it goes to the safety. Any great defense I’ve ever seen is strong right down the middle. It obviously starts with the nose.”
How much is familiarity with the system going to help your linebackers?
“I think it’s going to make a lot of difference. Again, we made no bones about it: I think we have to improve at that position. One of the things we’ve worked very very hard at is our underneath coverage. I think that’s something we saw when we watched the tape, that we have to get better at that, we’ve got to get more eyes on the football. If you’re not the fastest player, then you better see that quarterback to gain a step. If you don’t, then you’re just going to get torn apart as far as not having enough speed. That’s been a big emphasis for us. Our underneath coverage is something that we’re going to work very very hard on.”
You mentioned Jarrod Wilson. How are Kaleb Ringer and Joe Bolden doing?
“No pads. I love them, but I haven’t seen them. This isn’t cross country. They can come out there and they can run like crazy. I love those kids, I’m just going to tell you I’m so happy they’re here, but they can be the best runners in the world, but if they won’t hit anybody, I won’t like them as much. We’ll wait and see when the pads come on.”