"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Dave Reginek/Getty Images
A half-empty student section, a press box full of beat writers already finishing their game columns, a field littered with walk-ons and freshmen; with eight minutes remaining in the final stanza, Michigan Stadium exhibited all the telltale signs of a blowout. A one-yard touchdown run by Justice Hayes had just given the Wolverines a 63-13 lead, one that stood as the final margin.
After the last two weeks, this was a welcome sight indeed.
Denard Robinson overcame an ugly pick-six to complete 16-of-24 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns, adding another 105 yards and a touchdown on the ground to lead the way offensively. Robinson spread the ball around to nine different receivers, led by Drew Dileo's 91 yards on three receptions. The stars from last week, Devins Funchess and Gardner, each recorded a touchdown reception—Gardner's on a stellar effort to tightrope the sideline and dive for the pylon—and the enigmatic Roy Roundtree found paydirt for the first time this season.
It was a rebound performance for Fitzgerald Toussaint, as well, as he gained 85 yards on 15 carries, showing off the agility in tight quarters that made him so effective last season; after finding little room to operate against Air Force, Toussaint reached the edge on his 11-yard touchdown in the first quarter with help from an A.J. Williams block. Vincent Smith added a pair of touchdowns from inside the ten, Thomas Rawls doled out more punishment than he took, Justice Hayes recorded his first career score, and Dennis Norfleet made his offensive debut with a 15-yard jet sweep that surely made Brian one very happy blogger.
Michigan fans were even treated to a Fat Guy Touchdown, courtesy of a Taylor Lewan recovery after Denard fumbled into the end zone. Lewan, for his part, appeared more concerned about his quarterback's error than excited for his own fortune, sheepishly pointing his palms towards the sky when the officials belatedly signaled touchdown.
The defense limited UMass to 259 yards of total offense, though there was still reason for concern. The Minutemen doubled their offensive scoring output from their first two games—six points—and strung together three first downs in a drive for the first time this year. This should not cause PANIC, of course—six points, fergodsakes—but there are still issues to be resolved, especially on the interior of the D-line.
UMass got paid. Michigan got a chance to breathe easy and give their backups plenty of run. Now the team can look ahead to Saturday night's matchup with Notre Dame; for today, they can feel content about handling business as expected. With the baby seal emphatically clubbed, it's time to move on to the real season, not unscathed but with the ultimate goal—a Big Ten championship—still within reach.
Rating: 4.5 of 5.
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Jr.*||Stephen Hopkins||Jr.||Vincent Smith||Sr.|
|Thomas Rawls||So.||Sione Houma||Fr.||Justice Hayes||Fr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.*||Dennis Norfleet||Fr.|
|FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THIS MAN A SLIPPERY JERSEY|
|MAKES YOU MISS|
|jukes three Gophers|
|cuts all the way back|
|stop and go six|
|ONE CUT AND GO|
|finds a gap on power|
|simply outruns Purdue|
|hits the edge vs UNL|
|NOT SMITH AS A BLOCKER|
|crappy cut block|
|find a man, man|
|WILL MISS A CUT OR TWO|
|wrong side of Schofield|
Fitzgerald Toussaint spent his first couple years at Michigan as china in a bull shop, laid up with various injuries that prevented his considerable talent from seeing the field. This did not prevent Fred Jackson from calling him both "Mike Hart but fast" and "Chris Perry but fast." God bless Fred Jackson.
In 2011 his bones and joints mended as Thomas Rawls's failed him at an inopportune time and Toussaint was thrown into a three-way battle with Vincent Smith and Mike Shaw for the starting job, one that last year's edition of this post hoped (and predicted) he would win:
Toussaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. … Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Bumps and bruises continued to dog him (he missed the ND game and his inexplicable two carries against MSU almost has to be injury related) but Toussaint actually delivered on Jackson's hyperbole.
He kind of is Mike Hart, but fast:
"full on Hart déjà vu," I said
Juking in a phone booth was Hart's specialty. Toussaint has that and sprinter's speed. As a bonus, he didn't fumble in 187 carries last year. He only lacks Hart's pile-pushing doggedness.
After the inexplicable MSU game, he blew up. His first 20-carry game was the next week against Purdue; he smoked five different Boilers on his signature run of 2011…
…and ended up with 170 yards. The offense imploded the next week and took Toussaint with it, but after that he laid waste: 192 yards against Illinois, 138 against Nebraska, and 120 against Ohio State. (Then the offense imploded again.)
At season's end Toussaint had become Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Hart and at 5.8 YPC its most efficient since Tim Biakabutuka was going ham on Ohio State in 1995. When he wasn't going off during his second half surge, it was because the walls were coming down around him and there was nowhere to go.
He is legit. He runs between the tackles, finding a crack and jetting straight upfield when it's there. He is a decisive cutter with good vision. When it's not there he can stutter-step and bounce outside. Once in the secondary his change of direction often leaves safeties flapping in his wake. If there's a downside it's a spotty blocking record and not much activity in the passing game (just six catches a year ago), but those are things that Michigan can fix as time goes by.
Toussaint would enter 2012 with a rock-solid lock on the job but for that offseason DUI, which should see him miss the Alabama game. (That assumption may be dubious given the depth chart, but I'm still guessing he gets the standard one game DUI suspension.) That gives Thomas Rawls a crack at the job, and the two subsequent games should be comfortable enough that Toussaint will get eased back into the lineup. By the time ND rolls around, he should resume his place as the feature back.
Toussaint's raw numbers won't reach Hart levels because of the suspension, the guy next to him in the backfield, and the potential emergence of Rawls, but a replica of last season beckons, plus 40 or 50 carries. He'll be All Big Ten caliber even if he doesn't get on the list.
[hit THE JUMP for the rest of the cast of characters.]
Sophomore Thomas Rawls is making a push for more carries this fall.
This Saturday marks the Spring Game, when we all watch a glorified scrimmage and make snap judgments like "Mark Moundros is going to start at middle linebacker," and "Tate Forcier has the Heisman in his future." (Okay, I admit, I said both of those things, but luckily the evidence has been wiped from the internet.) Nevertheless, it's the only semi-competitive football we'll see until the fall, providing us our lone peek into the progress of the team and the various position battles.
Here's what I'll be hoping to see from the offense on Saturday:
Mediocrity. I know, right? This is actually more of a defensive point, but I want to put this here: in the spring, the defense should be ahead of the offense in terms of installing their schemes and playing cohesively. It's no coincidence that we saw the offense absolutely wreck the defense in the 2009 and 2010 games, then look downright ugly at times in last year's edition. I don't need to tell you how those respective seasons turned out. After just two weeks of practice, the offensive line won't have gelled like they will in the fall, the timing between quarterback and receiver is often a little off, and the playbook is still very much in the installation phase. This plea may fall on deaf ears, but don't freak out if the offense isn't marching up and down the field; in fact, feel free to be a bit encouraged.
Gardner Gardner Gardner. All eyes will be on Devin Gardner, though the odds of the coaches trotting him out at receiver for a nationally-televised scrimmage are somewhere between zero and zero. He will be playing quarterback, however, and it's time to see a big step forward from him in the passing game. Practice accounts have been positive in that regard and it sounds like he's the clear-cut #2 QB ahead of Russell Bellomy, though we'll see how big of a gap there is between those two. If Bellomy looks like a passable second-stringer, you can keep hope alive for some Denard-to-Devin connections in the fall. If not, the coaches may find it too risky to split Gardner out wide.
Bowling Ball Rawls. I was pretty high on Thomas Rawls when he came out of high school, and after a freshman year spent mostly on the bench, he's impressed practice observers with his power as a running back and is making a strong push for the backup job. Vincent Smith will inevitably see snaps on third down, but there's still room for a back to spell Fitzgerald Toussaint on occasion and provide a different look in the backfield. Though Rawls won't make many people miss, he can knock them over, and if he shows that against the first team defense we can start thinking of him as a change-of-pace/short-yardage back. Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has also drawn praise in the spring, though he'll have to prove he's either a more effective runner than Rawls or a more explosive receiving option than Smith to carve out a role; neither is out of the question given his athleticism.
Number One Target? The general assumption is that Roy Roundtree will be the top receiver this year, but I'm not sold on that. His production dropped dramatically last season as he played more on the outside and was no longer the beneficiary of numerous QB OH NOES as a RichRod slot receiver. Jeremy Gallon flashed a lot of talent last season, and I think he'll be a very capable second option, but he's 5'8". Hope may come in the form of redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, who's been lauded as a potential go-to guy this spring despite never recording a collegiate catch. This may be your standard Johnny Sears-type spring hype, but let's withhold judgment until we see him on the field. If nobody looks like a solid #1 option, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Amara Darboh come fall.
My Kingdom for a Tight End. This is the scariest position group on the roster, and that's taking into account the fact that the offensive line has almost no depth. Redshirt senior Brandon Moore is the starter by default; he's had issues with drops in the past, so hope he holds onto the ball if it comes his way. Converted wideout Ricardo Miller will get time as an H-back (the "U" tight end in this offense), and he must prove he can hold up as a blocker if he wants to see much time. Behind them are redshirt senior walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski and converted DE Jordan Paskorz. If this unit isn't a total liability, I'll take it, especially with A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess providing reinforcements in the fall. If they are, Al Borges is going to have to get very creative with his schemes.
O-line Depth: Do We Have Any? The first-team offensive line should be just fine, with projected left guard starter Elliott Mealer the only unknown quantity. Mealer is a redshirt senior who's currently beating out a highly-touted (and massive) redshirt freshman in Chris Bryant, so I'm not too concerned about his ability to fit in. Ricky Barnum has reportedly adjusted well to his new role as starting center; again, I'm optimistic about the first team's ability. PANIC! will set in, however, if a starting lineman goes down, especially a tackle. The second-team line this spring features three(!) walk-ons, and while redshirt sophomore guard Joey Burzynski has impressed practice observers, color me skeptical of any 6'1", 284-pound walk-on being anything but a frightening liability in a game situation. The backup tackles are all walk-ons, at least until Kyle Kalis hits campus for the fall, so expect Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to be encased in bubble wrap until September.
Kickers. Make your field goals, please and thank you. That is all.
You know the drill. Video via MGoVideo. Had to repackage the sound because the RAWK music got matched on Youtube.
Play 1: Fitz bursts off right tackle and picks up 8-10 before Raymon Taylor grabs him. Fitz then pushes Taylor five or so yards before the cavalry rallies. No idea what happened on the line but you can see Hopkins get a nice sealing block as Fitz hits the hole.
Raymon Taylor should probably not tackle high if a guy as slight as Fitz is going to bull him back.
Play 2: Inside zone (probably) to Justice Hayes is eaten up by Antonio Poole (#40) and an active Will Campbell. Looks like Poole was unblocked for whatever reason.
Play 3: Inside zone to Fitz. Blitzing Morgan is kicked past the play by Barnum; Fitz takes a stutter step to let that get past him and then flows up behind Barnum. Roh comes in from the right side of the frame to tackle near the LOS. Looks like a stunt blitz specifically designed to get this to happen. Mattison cackles in his laboratory.
Play 4: Joined in progress. Denard WOOPs around the backfield and slings a dart to… I think it's Miller but can't quite make out the number. Moore would be a bigger guy, though.
Play 5: Inside zone run with H-back (Miller) flaring weakside that we've seen for years now. Roh(+1) drives his man—probably Schofield—way down the line and Fitz decides to cut behind that mess. Bolden(+1) is there to clean up on the cutback at the LOS with help from Ryan. Miller's block on Ryan… eh… not so good.
Play 6: Play action from a zone read look; Roh smokes Omameh and gets pressure up the middle. Ryan and Bolden are coming free as well, so Denard can't do much except go down. Washington is in on this play.
Play 7: Gardner makes a read, doesn't like it, and takes off. Kaleb Ringer can't quite get off a block fast enough to bring Gardner down. Then Gardner jukes Mike Jones to the outside and picks up 15-20. Marvin Robinson runs him out.
Play 8: Rawls gets a belly handoff from Gardner and goes straight north and south, cutting to the backside of the line and running through an ankle tackle from Campbell and an arm tackle from Cam Gordon without slowing at all. Marvin Robinson fills pretty well. Best clip of Rawls we've seen. If he can shrug tackles off like that he's got a role.
Play 9: Rawls gets an iso from the I. He has to cut away from his lead blocker—something that has been very frequent when these clips show isos—and gets chopped down by Campbell.
Play 10: Zone read PA into a slant to Gallon; Countess is in Woodsonesque coverage and breaks it up. Cover +2.
Play 11: Inside zone to Fitz, who roars through a crease into the endzone from about 40. Someone blew that gap. No idea who without a wider view.
This does not end well for Jordan Paskorz
Play 12: Gardner hits Paskorz on a rollout; Paskorz double-catches the ball and gets crushed by Robinson.
Play 13: Gardner hits Jackson on a deep comeback in front of... I don't know. Lots of time to survey; this was his second read.
Play 14: Vincent Smith finds an inside zone gap and takes it into the endzone. The nose got crushed and allowed an easy combo block on Bolden, but I don't think it was Campbell since the guy looks white. Thomas Gordon could have done a better job filling near the LOS to hold it down.
Play 15: Russell Bellomy flings an out to Mike Kwiatkowski. Ball takes a long time to get there. Kwiatkowski then jukes Al Backey, which will no doubt be used to razz Backey forever and ever in film session.
Play 16: Denard hands off to Rawls on an under center stretch(?). Odd. Rawls finds a crease as Barnum, who's flowed well down the line, latches on to and eliminates Bolden. Gyarmati gets enough of a block on Morgan to get Rawls the edge and a nice gain.
Play 17: Hopkins FB dive from under center. Good push by Jack Miller on Ash and Hopkins makes a few extra yards by breaking tackles.
Play 18: Denard lofts a screen to Smith, who gets 8 or 10 before Jarrod Wilson comes in to tackle.
Play 19: Gardner waggle finds Joe Kerridge wide open for a touchdown.
Play 20: Short yardage Vincent Smith iso is… a touchdown? I don't want to talk about this. Bolden got rocked by Gyarmati, probably because he didn't read the play quick enough. That contact is not happening near the LOS and that's all she wrote.
Play 21: What looks like it might be an inverted veer by Bellomy ends abruptly when Cam Gordon roars in to sack.
Play 22: Smith iso w/ Bellomy in is swallowed by Campbell and Ash. Second team OL kind of got owned there.
Play 23: Denard surveys, comes off a first read, and zings it to Dileo for a touchdown in front of Avery. 10-15 yard slant.
Play 24: Rawls iso. Burzynski gets a good block on Morgan and Unidentified FB deals with Probably Bolden, no linebacker level. Kovacs is hovering around the LOS and makes contact to slow Rawls; Thomas Gordon finishes the play with a solid thump. Five or six.
Play 25: Kennedy hands off to Justice Hayes on a power with Mealer pulling. Hayes manages to dash through a small hole, run through an ankle tackle from Probably Safety, keep his feet, juke Wilson, and carry a pursuing Brandin Hawthorne into the endzone. Impressive.
Play 26: Wrinkle. Michigan runs the zone with pulling H-back thing; Denard pulls, probably on a called play. Miller hits a hole backside instead of flaring out and the net effect is a QB iso that looks like a zone read keeper. Miller blocks an unprepared Bolden and Denard glides into the endzone.
Takeaways? Barnum can move. In each one of these Michigan picks up a big gain because Barnum shows excellent agility and an ability to seal a guy on the move. Here it's a stretch play; other times it was a pull. I think we're going to be just fine at center.
Fitz is Fitz; in this one Hayes and Rawls showed a bit more than they have in previous editions of these tapes. The Rawls run right north-south was Minor-esque. The featured Hayes run was Fitz-esque.
Also both quarterbacks will be 100% accurate this year and there will be no turnovers.
Elsewhere: takes from Maize and Blue Nation.
News bullets and other important things:
- The team will have practice today, tomorrow, and Saturday mainly to show off for the high school coaching clinic and to work on fundamentals.
- Chris Bryant is practicing primarily at right guard.
- Hoke seems high on Joey Burzynski. He's been mentioned several times throughout the spring now.
- Hopkins has put on some bad weight, but Hoke thinks he's done a nice job regardless. Thomas Rawls is also taking some snaps at fullback.
- Justice Hayes was mentioned as a pleasant personnel surprise so far this spring.
- Cam Gordon seems to be pushing Jake Ryan at SAM linebacker.
“This will be our seventh practice, which is -- you start finding out a little more about your team. Anytime you can get in pads is a plus, so we’ll find out a little more as we go through it. It’s kind of a busy weekend because our coaches’ clinic will have over 500 coaches here sharing ideas, talking football, some tremendous guys who have been very successful at the high school level. That’s good, but it’ll be busy. It’ll be good. We’ll get a lot done from our perspective. Practicing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday will help us a little bit, the consistency we need to play with. I like the energy. I like the energy of how we’ve come in a meeting atmosphere and out there on the field.”
Are you feeling better about your defensive line?
“I feel better because I think each one of those guys is improving. Probably not at the rate that we’ll ever be satisfied because of the expectations, but I think Will has really matured, which is a big part of it. [He] understands the expectations of how we expect him to play. Jibreel inside and Craig at the strongside end or the 5-technique is a plus. The competition with Beyer and Clark. Competition with Jake Ryan and uh, daggone it -- Cam Gordon. All those things are real positive. You look at a guy like Richard Ash. He’s getting a little better every day. As coaches you want him to get better faster. Him and Quinton Washington and Kenny Wilkins are doing some better things. We’re not where we need to be. Glad it’s not September 1st, but I think they’re really motivated to try and play the position the way we’d like for them to play it.”
What has Elliott Mealer done that you like, and is Chris Bryant being looked at for either guard position?
“When you look at Elliott, I think his confidence level is better, and that’s a big part of it. I think guys feeling confident and guys being in the system obviously helps. I think Chris has mainly taken snaps at right guard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t flip flop him. For a young guys, you’d like to keep him on the same side, the same stance. I think Joey Burzynski is a guy who’s made some real movement in how he comes out every day either at center or guard. I think we’ve got a pretty good group of guys competing.”
(more after the jump)
Oh herro prease. I'm back for spring practice. There will be two or three pressers every week leading up to the spring game, and I will be transcribing all of them. Huzzah!
News bullets and other important things:
- Ricky Barnum is practicing at center.
- Rocko Khoury, Terrence Robinson, Mike Cox, and George Morales are all graduating this spring and will not return for the 2012 season
- Justice Hayes is staying at running back but will be considered for kickoff return duties.
- The spring game will be a scrimmage due to lack of bodies on offensive and defensive line.
On wearing pants today: “I put them on just for you guys.”
“First, this is off-topic a little bit, but we had severe weather yesterday and the damage and all that was out there in Dexter, and I don’t know too many other places -- I think that was the worst hit, but our thoughts and prayers are with those folks who went through that. We had our guys here for training table and when the campus alert went out they were all in the locker room and it was one of those situations. Our thoughts and prayers really go out to those people who were affected by it.
“We also yesterday had our pro day, which is a part of your program that the guys who have given so much, the opportunity, the dream they may have about continuing after they get a great degree from Michigan and continuing to play the game of football. I thought they represented Michigan well, and we’re proud of them for that.
“As far as this team, Team 133, I think we have a lot of questions. I know I do from the perspective of who’s going to emerge as the leaders, who’s going to have the toughness to lead and the sacrifice to lead. I think we’ve had a good winter. You can see some guys developing, you can see some guys really working hard, but I think you put the pads on, spring football, those things, you learn a little bit more about your football team. Starting tomorrow morning we get to do that. It’s going to be fun because you get to wear shorts again, get out on the field … it’s going to be good.
"When you look at where we’re at, there’s some obvious holes that we need to fill from the standpoint of our defensive line with the three seniors graduating at the position who played a lot of snaps for us a year ago. When you look at our offensive line there’s some good competition, but at the same time we’ve got to see improvement from young guys like Chris Bryant. He’s done a good job with the weight room and that part of it, but how he continues and matures. And Ricky Barnum, we’re going to play him at center to start with and see where he ends up there. Elliott Mealer getting an opportunity at the guard position, and Schofield will go out to right tackle, and obviously Taylor will obviously be the left tackle. Really for us we were very fortunate from an injury (standpoint) on both sides nad both fronts when you look at the guys up front defensively who stayed relatively healthy until the bowl practices and the six guys who were really responsible for the front. Those were the obvious places. Obviously Junior, Odoms, and Kelvin Grady. There’s a rotation there, and Junior obviously having most [contribution] statistically and all those things. There’s heavy competition and there will be competition.
"That’s probably the longest I’ve ever spoke.”
On your defensive line, how big of a spring is this for Will Campbell?
“I think it’s big, but I think he’s made great progress [in] what he’s done from a physical standpoint how he looks and all those things. I think his leadership and that part of it, with Quinton Washington, Richard Ash, when you start looking at that nose position, the ability for Will to slide from the 3-technique to the nose position is important.”
What’s the biggest issue with moving a guy like Ricky from guard to center?
“I think number one, snapping the football is always a little different. Now we did quite a bit with Rick when he got back healthy last year, playing both. I think Darrell and Al both had that mindset, if we did get beat up somewhere else where we had to rotate those guys -- at the end of the day the best five guys have to play, however that rotation works out. But I think snapping the ball, the shot gun snaps, you’d like to see centers be able to snap and step at the same time.”
Is the reason you’re moving Ricky to center because you’re not confident in guys like Rocko Khoury or Jack Miller?
“Well …” (ominous pause) “… I think there’s some unknowns there. I think that’s the best way to put it.”
How has Craig Roh embraced the move to strongside and Jibreel Black with the move inside?
“I think they’ve really embraced it. I know when we had the conversation and Greg met with Craig after we discussed it staff-wise. It was like, okay. I get to eat a little more. If someone said that to me I’d be happy. He really has embraced it. They’ve done some senior drill work and all that where all those guys -- him and Jibreel both are really excited about it.”
Do you expect there to be greater competition on the offensive and defensive lines since a lot of positions are up for grabs?
“I think so. I think these guys have learned to compete more and more as far as what our perception of competition is and our expectation of competition. I think they understand what’s at stake and I think they also understand that September 1st is going to be here before we know it.”
Borges said on the radio that he wished he would have spent more time using the spread early on in the season before transitioning to the pro-style. Is there an opportunity to spend more time in the spread now?
“I think the more we get comfortable in this scheme, you may see a little more, but for us, I think Al when he’s talking about that, [he meant] maybe we could have had a little more success, but we were pretty good early. I think you could because of some things that we’ve looked at.”
How have the three early enrollees progressed through the winter?
“I think they’ve had a really great winter. The first thing you always look at is how they adjust from being away from home, mom not cooking, mom not doing your laundry. I think classes, and that responsibility -- I think Joe and Kaleb and Jarrod have all really done a good job. Talking to coach Wellman in the weight room and how their work ethic is, I think all three of them have done a tremendous job.
Have any of the three stood out in any way?
“I think they all have maybe not exceeded but have adjusted well.”
“Yeah, we’ve got some guys … George Morales is going to graduate. Rocko’s going to graduate. Terrence Robinson will graduate, and Mike Cox is graduating. I think that’s it.”
Is that this spring?
“Yeah. A couple of them have like six hours in the summer, because this is the winter quarter.”
So they will not be back in 2012?
“Hmm mm. (No.)”
Ws that their decision?
“I think it’s their decision.”
Could they take advantage of the post graduation transfer rule?
“Mm hmm. (Yes.)”
What do you expect out of Roy this season? Who do you have hope for at the receiver position to step up?
“I think the first guy you look at is always Roy. I think that Jeremy Gallon is a guy who has shown tremendous ability. You look at his year and he was pretty successful. You look at Jeremy Jackson and his development and his growth. Dileo is a really valuable guy to our team. Jerald Robinson is a guy -- he was down most of the year with us. He can be pretty productive. Joe Reynolds is a guy who’s worked awfully hard.”
What’s different going into the second spring here vs. a year ago?
“For us, I don’t know if you look at it a whole lot differently. I mean you’re always trying to meet expectations of competitiveness, toughness, leadership, development, discipline, and all those things. At the same time it’s probably a little -- I never want to say the word easier -- but they do know what certain terms mean now from an offensive schematic or defensive schematic in how we coach or how we call things.”
What’s the next step in leadership that you want to see Denard take?
“He’s done a really good job of leading this winter. He’s done a good job when you look at -- he’s always been an unselfish player, so that’s always something that his teammates have seen. But he’s always taken it and been a little more … you hear him a little more I guess. Holding guys accountable a little more.”
From a passing standpoint, how big is going back to the fundamentals and footwork?
“There’s no question. That’s an everyday thing, and that’s an everyday thing for every position. The fundamentals and techniques. Our guys do a lot of seven-on-seven in the offseason. Continually they work drills at every position, so that’s huge.”
Last year the defensive line set the tone for the defense. Do you set that kind of expectations for this group?
“No question about it. Your expectations don’t go down. They better increase because the bar is always going to be set high here at Michigan and should be. Those expectations are for the position, not the person who plays the position.”
How does their lack of experience change the way you approach that this season?
“It doesn’t. Maybe you are a little more patient when they don’t do it exactly like we want them to, so that might be part of it, but it really doesn’t.”
Do you anticipate growing pains with that group? What’s the kind of thing that will drive you crazy during spring practice?
“A guy not playing with toughness and a guy not running to the football. That will drive me crazy.”
How good do you feel about your back seven? All of them are returning.
“I think as a whole, as a unit, I feel good -- I feel good about the kids themselves. As a unit that’s going to play at the level we need to play, I don’t feel very good because we didn’t play as well as we needed to a year ago. I’m not a huge statistic guy, but you go in and you look at opportunities that we missed either in passes broken up or interceptions on that end or supporting the end, getting off a block and doing that, and you’re looking at your linebackers a little bit -- your inside guys, are they missing tackles or making tackles? I’ve always been from the school that we’re going to be really critical, so I like the guys who we have. I like the guys who are coming in. I think we’ll have great competition by the time September 1st gets here. That part of it’s good, and I like that. I like having guys how have had some experience. Now where can they take the next step with the fundamentals and schematically of what we’re trying to do so that we don’t get beaten by Michigan State or we don’t get beaten by Iowa or we don’t give up this many points against somebody.”
With the attrition, you seem to be pretty low in terms of numbers.
“Well we’ve been low in numbers for a while, especially at the offensive line position from a scholarship standpoint. I think last year we had eight guys. Usuaully that number is 14 to 16. From a defensive line standpoint, if you’re going to have a four-man front, you better have 14 to 16 scholarship guys. We weren’t even close.”
Are you happy about how 2013 recruiting is going?
“Well number one, this is not an exact science and you don’t really know what you get until they get here because this is a hard game to play and hard to be championship teams and play. I think our coaches have worked extremely hard. I think they do a tremendous job evaluating and we’ll see. That’s why there’s a signing date. First Wednesday in February. But we’ll see. We have a long way to go.”
Punting struggles with Will Hagerup?
“The punting situation is one that will be competitive. I think both guys are very capable. I think the consistency we need to have by whoever that guy is is going to be an important part.”
How do you see the running back situation shaping up since Fitz locked down the starting position last season?
“Well he’s going to compete. He’s going to compete there. I think I’ve said this since day one. There’s nothing sacred. There’s no position that’s given an entitlement. He ended the year doing a nice job for us. You have to love the kid -- I do -- because of his competitiveness. I think he grew up a lot during the course of the year with whatthe expectiations are for a Michigan back. But Thomas Rawls and Vince Smith and Hayes, you know, there’s guys there. He can’t have a bad day.”
You mentioned Justice Hayes. Are you keeping him at running back or moving him to another position?
“No, he’s a back. We’ll see how he transpires. The good thing about him, he does have that talent where he can go out and catch the ball and he’s got great explosion. Kickoff returns -- he’d be a guy we want to look at because he’s got a gear to him that’s a little different.”
Spring game format?
“It’ll probably be a lot like last year. We’d love to have a true spring game, there’s no doubt about it. I said some numbers earlier about your most physical two positions on your team, and our numbers aren’t where they need to be.”
Are you taking walk-ons this spring?
“We’ll wait more until the fall.”