"Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball." — Jourdan Lewis [Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan's 2014 roster includes six proud graduates of Detroit's Cass Tech High School, including four in the secondary alone and a fifth—Royce Jenkins-Stone, Class of 2012—also on the defensive side of the ball. Remarkably, all six are making a serious push for playing time this fall. At Media Day, I caught up with every former Technician on the team save for Delano Hill, who's recovering from a broken jaw, to discuss their current roles on the team, what it's like to be surrounded by their former high school teammates, and much more.
- The defensive backs, to a man, are excited about the new aggressive playing style, as well as the level of competition at corner.
- Terry Richardson feels physically prepared to be out there after adding "a quick 12 to 15 pounds" this offseason.
- Delonte Hollowell was wearing a small cast on his left hand due to an injury suffered from "practicing hard, you know?" He thinks it's just a sprain.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone says Greg Mattison "critiques the little things" more with his new charges at linebacker, and the group is better for it.
- David Dawson, man of mystery, does not want you to know what position he's playing.
- There's competition everywhere.
- Every single one lit up when talking about playing with a big group of other guys from Cass Tech—they clearly share a strong bond with their former and present teammates.
You made a big move in the spring. Heading into the fall, Coach Hoke talked about how you're one of the top three corners. How do you feel you've progressed since last year and what are your expectations for this season in terms of your performance?
Just be aggressive. Just play good. Just keep playing how I'm doing. Just keep the intensity up though the season, pretty much.
There's been a big emphasis on aggressiveness from the cornerbacks. How do you feel that fits in with your style of play, and what's been the biggest change since last year?
It's definitely a big emphasis on being physical, that's how all of us really like to play. Just doing that, just with how we like to play, it's really suiting us. We're actually better as a whole unit.
Because of how aggressive you guys are playing, has the level of competition been raised between the cornerbacks and the receivers right now?
It's just everybody. All of us just love to compete, and it's not even like—the competition, we don't see it [that way], we just see it as "we're gonna just lock this receiver up every chance we get."
There's a bunch of Cass Tech guys on the team, and a lot of them are competing for time. What's it like to be surrounded by your high school teammates at Michigan?
It's amazing. It's amazing just knowing that you've got somebody who has your back through anything. It's really amazing. It brings everybody together, even the ones that didn't go to Cass Tech, it actually helps us all be together and help us be tight as a unit.
[Note: This is where I wrapped up my Q&A; I caught the audio of a couple questions for Lewis from The Wolverine's Chris Balas.]
How much more confident are you from year one to year two?
Confident? I was about the same, but being consistent and comfortable is a key, really. Right now that's all I'm really worried about, just being consistent and being comfortable in my technique in everything we do.
How much more comfortable are you knowing what you know now compared to what you knew a year ago?
It was way faster last year. Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball.
[Hit THE JUMP for interviews with Terry Richardson, DELONTE HOLLOWELL, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and David Dawson.]
In the half-hour we spent on the field talking to players at Sunday's Media Day, the theme of this offseason and fall camp was clear: change is here. For the offense, that means a change in coordinators, and with that a significant difference in how they practice. The tempo is being pushed like never before in Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan, and that also affects the defense, which is dealing with change of their own, as the coaching staff on that side shifts roles while the defense moves from a 4-3 under to a 4-3 over.
I caught up with Dennis Norfleet, Jake Ryan, and Wyatt Shallman to discuss these changes and more, including Ryan saying he feels fully recovered from the ACL tear that limited him to just five starts in 2013. Tomorrow, I'll have further player interviews with the significant portion of the team that hails from Cass Tech.
You're getting work in the slot now pretty much exclusively, it sounds like. How comfortable are you at that position right now?
I'm getting a lot better. The wide receiving crew is really helping me out a lot. Coach Hecklinski is a great coach, he's getting me to feel comfortable when I get in there and getting me comfortable with my plays, so I'm doing pretty well.
What's been the biggest difference with the new offensive coordinator, the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest change is we're moving faster, up-tempo. We're a lot better as an offensive crew, we're more than a team, we're a family, so that's what makes a big difference to us now.
With that big increase in tempo, it sounds like you guys are getting more reps in. How much of a difference has that made in terms of getting more comfortable in the offense?
It's a making a lot of difference. It's a big difference because we have a lot of rotation, everybody gets to know their plays, nobody's going out there not knowing what they're doing, and if they don't they have people to tell them if they go wrong. That's a big difference.
How do you see your role being this year? Obviously you're playing the slot, but there's a lot you can do, so how do you see yourself being utilized in the offense this year?
I'm just doing my job, you know. If I get open space, I do what I do best, you know. I'm also being a role model for the younger players that came in. We're basically working as a team in everything that we do.
At returner, you obviously have a lot of experience there. Coach Hoke said you're getting a lot of the reps there but that there are a couple freshmen who are also coming in and making a push. How do you feel at returner right now, and is that a place you feel you can make a really big impact?
Kick returning has always been something that I go into the game and everything, you know, willing that I want to return a kick [for a score] every game. We've been rotating a lot, we've got a lot of players that are competing, spots that's not really set out for who starts where, so we're just having fun in camp right now and competing.
It sounds like both at slot and returner that you're working a lot with Freddy Canteen. What have you seen out of him in the spring and fall so far?
Canteen's becoming a better young man, not just a football player, just in life. He's been looking up to the older receivers, like Devin Funchess, me, [redshirt senior walk-on Anthony] Capatina. It's just a lot of people he can look up to, to become a better person, both in our lives and football.
You keep mentioning how you guys have come together as a team. What's been the biggest change since last year, and do you feel like as an upperclassman now you're really grown into a leadership role?
When I came in, I did things that upperclassmen always told me was wrong that I didn't think were wrong, but now that I'm older I can see what they were talking about. You know, it's more than just a game. We're trying to win a championship, the Big Ten, so as we go along that's the focus of our days. That's what we're ready for.
[Hit THE JUMP for Jake Ryan discussing his transition to middle linebacker and his full recovery from the ACL tear, and Wyatt Shallman talking about his role in the offense and the changes in style under Doug Nussmeier.]
On Saturday the Michigan football team had it's annual media day. Bryan Fuller and I (Eric Upchurch) had the privilege of attending. Here are some photos and galleries from the event.
Yes indeed Taylor..
Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson
Big Jon Falk
Here is a combined gallery of selected photos from Saturday.
Here are links to our individual galleries if you would like to see all of the photos that we shot.
They are alive. HD scoreboard what:
It's so lovely.
Also there is a ton of video from Media/fan day. Choosing one at random:
Choosing a second:
And LB coach Mark Smith pronouncing Marell Evans's first name "MAH-rell":
There's also fluff, JT Floyd, Craig Roh, Mike Cox, Junior Hemingway, Taylor Lewan, Stephen Hopkins, DBs coach Curt Mallory (who still gets asked about Denard despite being the DBs coach), and RB coach Fred Jackson (who talks up the freshmen and describes the offense as "West Coast").
And then there's Countdown to Kickoff talking to Mike Shaw, and Rivals has a full transcript of the presser Tim covered yesterday. Also MVictors took pictures. Matt Wile has a big forehead, all the better to kiss expansively when he makes a 32-yarder. Tim's also got his assistants/players recap in the hopper; that will be coming up this afternoon.
I haven't found this in a linkable form yet but the buzz yesterday was that Frank Clark was quickly moved to WDE and Brennen Beyer was flipped to SLB—an inversion of what they were expected to do. We'll see if that sticks.
Other things Fred Jackson said. I've been shepherding select Fred Jackson quotes for the season preview in order to throw a little cold water on the Rawls/Hayes hype train but what the hell, you'll probably forget about it in two weeks anyway: last year he said Stephen Hopkins was "another Chris Perry, except I don't know if Chris Perry was ever 230 pounds." So when Fred Jackson says this…
"Every day they come to work, they know they got to bring their lunch pails because the freshmen are coming out there like they're sophomores," Jackson said.
"Those two freshmen have made the whole room different because now the upperclassmen look around and know the competition is way beyond where they expected it to be (during spring practices)."
…I'm maybe not 100% convinced.
When Fred Jackson says this…
"I got a guy who's going to be a great third-down back for us," Jackson said. "I don't want to say right now who that guy is because I'm still trying to develop depth at the position.
"But the first game, you'll see who that is. I promise you, you'll see who that is."
…though, I believe him because that's obviously Vincent Smith. That would seem to take him out of the running to be the primary guy. I'm still betting on Shaw or Hopkins.
Schwing? Here's one of Scout's national analysts sort of kind of saying Michigan might have a lead-type substance for Mitch McGary:
*There was some clarity given to the Mitch McGary recruitment this week with him narrowing it down to six schools. As we said in the last recruiting report, the school most consistently mentioned by people close to the situation is Michigan. Now does that make the Wolverines the leader, not necessarily, but they are in as good a position as any school in his top six.
This weekend McGary is scheduled to go down to Florida to check things out. This will be an unofficial visit, and McGary’s first trip to the Gainesville campus. Look for another unofficial to Michigan before it is all said and done, and then probably two or three official visits once he gets back to Brewster.
I'll take it! McGary's supposed to wrap his recruiting up by October. Adding him may or may not amplify a scholarship crunch that may or may not exist in 2013. He's widely believed to be a one-and-done; if he does end up committing and sticking around it seems like the only thing that will create a serious issue is Hardaway also sticking around for four years.
BONUS: GRIII has moved up to #39 in Scout's latest rankings. Outrage: no Stauskas.
Fourteen is less than twelve. I have no idea why the SEC is going to bother with Texas A&M. I guess media markets and all that—the constant battle to make more money will not cease until every toilet is gold. But the sacrifices entailed are great. Instead of playing opponents in the other division every other year a 14-team conference will have a whopping two crossover games against a randomly selected set of seven teams. That's about three times a decade.
Despite this, certain SEC partisans are demanding the presidents vote yes even if there is no vote. Very postmodern.
Apparently the Big Ten is content at 12, and thank God for that. There were compelling reasons to go to 12—no more annoying co-champions, title game, etc.—but there is exactly one school that should prompt the increasingly inaccurately named Big Ten to bloat further. I refer, of course, to Wake Forest.
Demon Deacons or bust.
At least he's annoying. Brady Hoke has gotten the goat of the Ohio State fanbase:
I AM SO TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT BRADY HOKE. Did you know Brady Hoke "gets it"? He's changing the culture? On and on and on. What is so revelatory about the coach of Michigan has expectations this year? Have I been reveling so much in Michigan's despair that I've failed to realize just how pathetic they've become over the years?
I also get a kick out of how he's riding his Segway around up there (this is how I like to envision he travels everywhere) like he's the second coming of Bo Schembechler (who currently resides in the 7th Circle of Hell) when he's really a homeless man's Rex Ryan who has won as many games at Michigan as I have. Brady, you've been at Michigan for like two months, bro. Quit your posturing.
So as you're wincing when Hoke refuses to deploy "State" for the duration of his career at least know he's making people in Ohio peevish. If he actually wins some games there is the potential for helpless rage. That sounds fun. Let's do that.
In the grand tradition. Russell Bellomy on his decision to switch from Purdue:
I ended up choosing Purdue [on] June 1st. I’ll never forget that. But then
the best opportunity I’ve ever had fell in my lap. In the middle of January, I got a call from my head coach, and he said ‘hey Russ, Michigan called; are you interested?’ He left me that voicemail, and I was just like ‘is that even a question?’ So I called him back, and then Coach Borges ended up coming down here to my school, and then he came for a home visit right after that, and we sat here from about 6:30 on just sitting here talking, and on the way back to the hotel, he called me and offered me, and me and my dad were going insane.
I like to think of an enraged Danny Hope twirling his mustache upon reading that. I like to think of an enraged Danny Hope twirling his mustache in many scenarios, actually: in a sinking boat, catching his wife eating yogurt, at Stalingrad in 1942, upon discovering he will not be able to attend the REO Speedwagon concert.
"She knows yogurt has bacteria in it, goddammit. This aggression will not stand."
Etc.: The South Bend Tribune has details on what went down with Corwin Brown. You can have your very own Justin Boren jersey. Photo gallery from Maize n Blue Nation. Rod Beard is the guy who drew the short stick and had to interview random fans for their random opinions. I hate every single quote in that piece.
Now seven practices in, the kids are "learning more with each practice." They're bringing energy to practice, but need to sustain that throughout to show they can compete late in games and in the season.
The team is healthy, and there's lots of competition
Two-a-days start tomorrow. The adversity of two-a-days can "teach you about who the leaders will be on the team."
On padded practice: "guys are willing, wanting." Need to see consistency between the morning and afternoon practices. Will be in full pads for 3 days of two-a-days this week. Guys are anxious to establish themselves. Want to prove to coaches and teammates how they've progressed since spring.
On kicker Matt Wile: "Obviously he's a San Diego guy. His dad was one of our orthopaedics at San Diego State." Lance Ortega was his kicking coach, the staff knew him. Matt is a 5th generation Michigan grad.
"He's doing well. I think this is a big stage. That mental part of going out there, until you get on Main Street and have 110,000, you've gotta see where the guy's at." He can do a good job coaching himself with fundamentals, etc. Doing punting, KOs, and FGs right now. "I'd be very comfortable" having a true freshman handle those duties.
On running backs: The young guys missed some time finishing up summer school. Rawls is talented, has done a good job. Backfield is unsettled. Need to show consistency from practice to practice. "We'd like to have one guy who could tote it 25 times." Maybe a couple situational guys, 7-10 carries for a secondary back.
"Our base run play will be the power play, and that's no secret." Denard's talents, and opposing defenses wil adjust what they do. 10-15 snaps running for Denard. "The objective is to win, and we've gotta do what it takes to help Michigan and this team win." He's fitting into the offensive system. "We're fortunate enough that he has some other things that he brings to the table."
Denard is a great kid. "Leadership qualities really start to stick out more and more [for upperclassmen]. That's what I've liked that he's done in camp."
On rooming, Koger: "Seniors are rooming with freshmen. Part of that is to get to know them. Set the example, set the expectation." Koger extensively praised for his demeanor and selflessness, the sacrifice he'll give for this team. "He's a tremendous guy. I'm talking about things not on the football field."
The offense question again: "You've got a system that you wanna run, but you're not going to be putting a square peg into a round hole either." Al Borges has a coaching pedigree that proves he can adapt to different personnel. He'll get playmakers the ball. "At the end of the day, we've still gotta block up front, and knock people off the football."
On Mattison: great coach, great integrity. Builds great relationships with players. "He's coached a lot of football, coached a lot of guys. He brings so much from a knowledge standpoint."
On captains: "They won't get picked for 2 more weeks. The team will vote."
On countdown clocks: "Those are important football games. Those are big rivalries."
On the defense and standouts: "I don't think we've played to the standard that's going to be acceptable, to this point. We need to be more physical at the point of attack."
"Tom Gordon has had a good summer. Kovacs has really taken ownership." Kovacs is one of the guys who shows urgency in getting to the football. Kenny Demens also mentioned as a standout. Nathan Brink shows toughness as a DT/DE. JB Fitzgerald: "you talk about another guy who stands out as far as his leadership goes, and selflessness."
On the two-deep: They'll start penciling that in by the end of the week. "We're gonna scimmage pretty good in six days on Saturday. We'll put them in a lot of situations and see how they respond."
On Woolfolk: Troy Woolfolk has progressed well. Has taken some senior ownership of the team. Had a minor hamstring injury yesterday, there's enough competition at that position that they could afford to rest him and be cautious. JT Floyd and Courtney Avery competing at CB. "We don't have the greatest competition everywhere. I wish we did, because that makes us better."
On McColgan: a tough guy. "When you look at it, he's one of the true fullback bodies that you have." TEs will get a chance to play H-back as well.
On this still being Michigan [tremendous van river]: "I think I've made this comment before: This is Michigan. There won't be any excuses. If we don't win the Big Ten Championship, we've failed these kids, as coaches."
On the offensive line: Elliott Mealer: "He's competing." The rest of the guys: "Our left side of our line with Taylor back, and I think Ricky Barnum's done a nice job. Molk's back." Omameh at right guard. "Patrick and Elliott and Mike Schofield and Huyge - I think that's great competition."
On the backfield again: "I think there's some guys back there who can do it. All of them have shown signs of being able to run the ball like we'd like."
After Rich Rodriguez spoke to the assembled media on Sunday, I got a chance to talk to some of Michigan's assistants. I didn't talk to Calvin Magee or Greg Robinson because we've already heard from them in the past couple weeks, and I didn't get a chance to talk to Greg Frey or Adam Braithwaite.
Each of the three quarterbacks brings something different to the table. Tate's experience of starting 12 games is a significant factor, but the coaches need to make sure he stays disciplined. Denard is the most explosive of the three quarterbacks. As for passing, "he's worked on it, I don't want to say refined." He deserves a lot of credit for putting in the effort, and "he's picked up the offense a lot more than what he had last year." Gardner is a superb athlete who is getting better every day.
The competition is helping the team, because each quarterback has to work hard every rep or risk being replaced.
Though Tate acknowledged slacking a bit this summer, "He didn't come in bad shape. He passed all his conditioning tests." He's been willing to put in the work in practice so far: "I've been pleased with him this camp."
Denard has a much better idea of the offensive scheme and what the coaches are trying to accomplish. "You don't cloud your mind and slow up your feet, and that's what he was doing last year." Over-thinking contributed to part of his problems last year.
Denard does a lot of work in technique drills, but he's not consistent yet. The coaches work on tightening his mechanics from weight transfer to follow-through, which is the sort of stuff a lot of high school kids don't learn. He came in as an athlete trying to play quarterback, and the coaches are trying to turn him into a quarterback who's athletic. He's been willing to put in the work.
Denard's ability to pass will open up defenses, allowing him to rush for more than the 5.1 yards/carry he got last year. "Not just the passing, but I've opened up the playbook a little more to him. We knew what we were gonna do with him. I think defenses knew what was coming." He has the potential to score 4 out of every 10 times he touches the ball due to how explosive he is.
Both quarterbacks at reading the defensive end on the option play. They're prepared to make the read against all sorts of different defenses, so they'll be familiar with everything they face.
"I don't know yet" if Denard will be the starter. The coaches are repping all three quarterbacks while the media focuses on Denard.
Tate came in a little more polished out of high school. Denard and Devin have needed more work on their throwing mechanics out of high school. Both must have worked hard individually this summer to be where they are today.
The different skill sets among the quarterbacks all fit in with what the offensive staff wants to do. They don't want a guy to just stand there. All three quarterbacks have the necessary mobility.
(Short but sweet)
On Stephen Hopkins: "Before he's done here, he'll be another Chris Perry. Feet, shallow cuts, power. I mean, I don't know if Chris ever weighed 230 or not."
4-5 backs will get serious playing time this year.
"They're working extremely hard and doing well." Dews is a little more anxious to see how his guys can do compared to the past, because now there are people with three years in the system. They know the expectations of them.
Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum have been in the system since they were freshmen, and now they're able to help be leaders for the younger guys, because they've been there before.
As far as moving guys to the other side of the ball goes, Dews says "I don't worry about losing anybody if it's going to make our team better." It happens every year in college football, and if it's good for the team, "whatever's going to help us win and compete for BCS bowl games, I'm all for it."
Kelvin Grady has matured quite a bit. He's catching the ball well this camp. He looks a little bigger than last year, and is playing with more confidence. He is not one of the slot receivers who have gotten time on the outside.
Darryl Stonum "did come back in great shape. He's been kind of a piston. He's been out there rolling." Getting contacts has helped him catch better. He really started coming on in the spring, when he realized the opportunity he would have to be a starter. Wearing a cast on one arm helped train him to always catch with his hands. He understands the offense, but needs to refine his technique, and he's willing to do that. He's gorwn up and learned from his past mistakes.
Junior Hemingway has had a pretty good camp. "Junior has shown flashes for a couple years now. Obviously his biggest issue has been being on the field. Obviously when he's healthy and he's playing, he certainly can help us."
On Ryan Van Bergen - Works hard, always around the ball, "he's a great student of the game." He's bigger and stronger than last season.
Pass Rush with the three-man front is tough to evaluate right now. The Michigan offense doesn't have much drop-back passing, so they're hard to evaluate against. "It won't always just be three men rushing."
Craig Roh might be one of the guys adding pressure (from linebackers). GERG will put together some different packages to mix up pressure.
The freshmen have just finished school, and will be able to focus on football now. They're all doing well so far. Tall noted that there are five freshmen in his position group - Jibreel Black, Terry Talbott (Tall used to confuse the Talbotts' first names on recruiting visits), Richard Ash, Kenny Wilkins, and preferred walkon Chris Eddins.
Kenny Wilkins is working at defensive end. "He's pretty good-sized. He's probably up somewhere around 6-4, 270... He's got good size for a young player."
Tall wishes he could have picked a different number for Jibreel Black, so he wouldn't be compared to Brandon Graham so much. "55 was a very special player, and you don't want to put that on anybody."
Troy Woolfolk "was in great shape, he was having a great camp, you hate it for him." If there's any good to come out of his injury, it's that he gets to come back next year. It makes you sick to see a kid that's worked so hard go down.
"You know we can't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves because nobody else is going to feel sorry for us."
All the freshmen are playing hard. At free safety, Carvin Johnson is "doing a great job and has great ball skills." Terrence Talbott has been a pleasant surprise, and Cullen Christian has been practicing at both corner positions. All of them need to keep growing, and work on their tackling.
James Rogers has been playing well, but the second starting corner position is still up for grabs. There are still two weeks to prepare the guys to play.