[I sat down shortly after the start of Mattison's roundtable.]
"Watching them this summer, you know, we're not allowed to be around them but I'm hearing what they've done and they've really taken care of business. They've worked really hard this summer, which shows that they have the same goals for their group as we do."
How many different places are you going to use Taco, or are you going to center in on one spot for him? And talk about what he brings to the table.
"The entire group of guys by their positions, tackle and nose, end is called 'end' or 'anchor', those are the two outside guys, they know that they have to know both positions. The reason for that is teams that trade the tight end, when you're an end you become an anchor, anchor becomes an end, that kind of thing, nose and tackle—and it helps us with our rotation. We've found this out over the years and it's happened more and more—teams that run spread offense, really one of the reasons they do that is if you have a really good defensive line or experienced defensive line, they try to wear them out, they try to get that defensive line to not have the impact that it would have in a game by taking a little bit of their gas away. So we want to have the ability to plug a lot of guys into different positions.
"Also I think whenever you are at a position and you know the other positions, you know better how to play it. I think the days are over where 'I am a this position and that's all I do,' and you're going to get in trouble doing that because all of a sudden somebody goes down or gets nicked up and you need to take the next-best guy and put him in somewhere. Experience helps you with that. These kids have heard the same techniques, the same expectations for three and four years, it's easy for them to slip into another position."
And then Taco, talk about...
"Taco will start out—he played both the anchor and the end, but we'll play him more as the open-side end this year. With him playing that position will be Chase Winovich. Chase has showed some great things this spring, having never played the position, but he's a young man that we're looking for—he's got a lot of things going for him. He's very aggressive, very fast for his size, he's gotten bigger, and that gives us the two that you're looking for, at least, at that position."
And Taco, talk about his contributions, speed and size, what he brings...
"Taco's got great leverage. He's a six-foot-five guy, so he's got long leverage, which allows you to keep separation. He plays very physical. He can run. He's an athlete, he was an outstanding basketball player. And he's got great experience now. He's played a lot of football since he's been here and now I think he really feels about about—you know, he's ready to really go."
[Hit THE JUMP for Mattison answering many questions that aren't Taco talk-abouts.]
[I jumped into the scrum mid-answer] “…I was behind both Worm and Earl [Willie Henry] both playing those. They were both great players and both playing the same position so making sure when I got my time I was making plays, got the sacks, the hurries, everything like that. I contributed a lot against the pass and made sure I was stout against the run also in that 3-4 defense. As an end I made strides and as I got more playing time I contributed more and made more plays for the team. That was something I was able to do and I’ve been waiting to do for a while. As my snaps increase as a senior and going back to [being] a 4-3 end, I believe my production is only going to skyrocket, also.”
What do you think of these new threads?
“Oh, I like them a lot. I grew up wearing Jordans since I was a little kid. My mom had me as a baby wearing Jordans. I like the look of it. Jordan’s an icon not just in a football aspect but as a mogul, as himself, he’s somebody who you can go anywhere in the world and somebody will know he’s Michael Jordan. So to have this brand paired with Michigan, which to me is also a brand iconic in itself, I feel like it’s the perfect fit.”
It still means a lot after 10 or 12 years? All that still carries something to you?
“Oh yeah. I know Jordan hasn’t played in a while but at the end of the day he’s still an icon and not only is he the greatest player of all time to play the sport of basketball but I feel the Jordan brand is not just basketball. It expanded to baseball, golf, whatever it is and now football, but NFL players have been wearing it for a while. It’s a brand where, I heard Charles Woodson say ‘excellence.’ It’s a brand you can be a part of that—it’s a small group that’s a part of the Jordan brand because of that excellence and what he stands for.”
We asked Don Brown about your weight loss. How much have you lost?
“I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I was 285. Today I weighed in about 275, so I lost about 10 pounds from last year which was because we were in a 3-4 end and now we’ve switched over to a 4-3. I’m allowed to get my speed back, get that motor going, which I felt better this spring training. It wasn’t necessarily bad weight that I had on last year, but it was baggage that I didn’t need and it allowed me to be a lot faster off the edge and get that speed that we’ve worked at.”
He said ‘Would you rather be a slug or a bullet?’ Did he say that to you?
[laughs] “Nah, I haven’t heard anything.”
So you’d rather be a bullet?
“Of course, of course. I need that speed coming off the edge. It’s something that our team needs. He wants me to be that pass rusher that we need.”
[After THE JUMP: the “Jabrill Peppers decking people” tag is more versatile than we imagined.]
With guidance from Jake Butt, Ian Bunting is poised for a breakout year. [Fuller]
MGoQuestion: This seems like the year where you're going to see the field a lot more. What's the biggest thing you're doing to prepare for that?
"Just getting the little tweaks I'd say is the most important thing, especially at—the higher level you get to, whatever you do, the distance between being good and being great gets smaller and smaller. So I think that little tweaks like footwork or just understanding more of the whole concept or of the whole play or the whole offense, it's the little things like that that I'm going and I have been focusing on to get better."
MGoQuestion: Working behind a guy like Jake Butt, what's he been able to impart on you as an All-American?
"He's been very influential. He's been a great teacher, a great role model since I've gotten here. I'm very appreciative of that. We are always competing, him and me and the rest of the tight ends. We compete with each other but we also help each other. We're not a selfish group, like our room is very close-knit, but we also understand that we're always going to be going up against each other and competing with each other, and that just brings out the best in everyone."
MGoQuestion: Does it help knowing that Jim Harbaugh is going to be happy to play two, three, four tight ends?
"Yeah, we love it. That's music to our ears. Last year we had four-TE sets, so we love that. In our opinion, the more tight ends we have on the field, the better. If there's any opportunity for us to get on the field and make a positive impact on the game and help us win, we're all for it."
[inaudible] ...with everything you guys have got going, the returning offensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers.
"I think we can be very, very dynamic, very explosive, and very smart football-wise, very intellectual. There are a lot of guys that have been here for a while. Coming into the season not having to learn a whole new offense, there's definitely something to be said about that. The sky's the limit."
Do you expect the ball to be thrown your way a decent amount this year?
"That is not up to me. I don't make those decisions. But I would not complain. As a tight end, you love blocking, and you love catching the ball and doing what you can with it after you catch it. That's what the tight end does, especially nowadays, it's kind of an evolving position. It's not as much a glorified, other lineman. It's really evolved. As you can see with Jake, he's been a big part of that evolution. I don't know how many catches he had last year but he had a lot of catches and he did a lot with the ball after he caught it. We want to improve on that and take that to a whole other level this year."
Is taking it to a whole other level making rap videos?
"(Laughs) Yeah, I love doing that stuff. I did a little bit of that in high school. One of my best friends who lived two blocks away from me, Pat Foley is his name, he actually started a production company in high school, it's called Hued Productions. They're down in Atlanta now going to school and also doing that. He's great at what he does. In high school he just had a makeshift little studio, so we were just like, yeah, let's mess around and make some music. We both love music, and we did it, made a few songs, made a music video right before we all left for college. I guess people like it."
MGoQuestion: What's the reception from the rest of the team?
"They all love it. A lot of the guys were in the video, too, so that was a lot of fun. It's just something that is a passion of mine outside of football and outside of school. For now, that's going to get pushed to the side and it's going to be football. It's going to be focusing on winning football games for a while now."
MGoQuestion: It seems like with Harbaugh that blocking is the path to get on the field. (Bunting: "Yeah!") What have you done to take that next step?
"A lot of blocking, in my opinion, is footwork. We work on that all the time with each other, on the field during practice or even just when we have seven-on-seven or something, just spend a little time afterwards just working on footwork, steps for different types of blocks. As much as we like to catch the ball, we love blocking too. It's just fun. It's fun to go and hit someone."
[Hit THE JUMP for Grant Newsome discussing the difficulty of facing M's defense in practice and John O'Korn crashing my interview with Moe Ways.]
[I didn’t label these MGoQuestions because it was a one-on-one interview]
Where would you say you’ve made the biggest gains from last year to this year as far as technique’s concerned?
“I think just kind of honing in on the little details of my technique. That was big for me, going back and watching past years and seeing where I need to improve and kind of honing in on the smaller details of things. Getting off blocks, finishing tackles, finishing plays were the biggest for me.”
With Don Brown coming in, are you guys going to be dropping into coverage a little bit more or is it about the same as what you’ve done in the past?
“Pretty similar. But his motto is ‘Solve your problems with aggression,’ so we’re going to get after the quarterback. We’re going to be blitzing a bunch. We had aggressive defensive coordinators in the past as well. Coach Durkin got after the quarterback as well, so it’s not too much of a change for us.”
Technique-wise, what does Coach Partridge or Coach Brown preach to you most often?
“Just really getting off blocks and finishing tackles. That’s the art of playing linebacker. You’ve got to get off blocks. You can’t stay on blocks, you can’t trade one for one. You’ve got to finish plays.”
You were saying you feel like you’ve made pretty big strides as far as shedding blocks?
“Yeah, I think so. Spring’s a big fundamental time for us and I think altogether us linebackers got a lot better in that regard.”
How do you get better at that? Is it through drills, is it through live reps, or can you study it on film? What helps the most?
“I think it’s a combination of all of them. You start with the drill. You start not against another person and you hone in on the technique, but once you get to a live period sometimes you forget all that and you fall back on your technique and you evaluate it at film [sessions] and try to improve.”
What, if any, differences are there from last year’s defense to this year’s defense as far as your assignments are concerned?
“The biggest difference?”
Yeah, if there are any.
“Pretty similar. I mean, for me personally it’s just being more vocal and making the calls as a Mike linebacker. Play a lot of man coverage. No secret there. We’ll be blitzing a lot so we’ll play a lot of man.”
[After THE JUMP: Learn how Carlo Kemp became Chris Wormley’s psedo-son and which NFL players’ film Amara Darboh watches]
If you listened to The Michigan Insider Tuesday morning you heard interviews with some of Michigan’s assistant coaches, including Tim Drevno. We thought you, our beloved readers, might like to read a transcript of what coach Drevno had to say. When you finish reading you should head to The Michigan Insider’s channel on Audioboom and listen to the rest of what Sam and Ira discussed. After all, the cool people like it.
How about that left tackle/Grant Newsome situation? Can you talk about his development and how vital he is to that O-line?
“Yeah, Kevin Tolbert’s done a nice job with him and his staff in the weight room. He’s really put on a lot of weight. He’s over 300 pounds. Has done a nice job all summer with workouts. You can see the maturity level in his eyes, and has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’ll be ready to tackle that position.”
Still think that Mason Cole’s at center?
“If we started a game today yeah, Mason Cole would be the center. I mean, the next three weeks we’ll flip-flop guys around and see what the best fit is and what’s best for the team.”
You stayed essentially with those five, they played almost every snap last year. Is that the idea or do you want with seniors in there and stuff do you want more rotation through the year?
“You know, you’re always looking for the sixth, seventh, eighth offensive lineman. You want depth and you want good players and good depth to back guys up. We’re always kind of tweaking it and kind of seeing and feeling who’s the best guys for these positions.”
You mentioned flipping guys around a little bit, experimenting to see where everybody fits best. How quickly do you want to get a final five where you know--
“I don’t want to make that decision too soon because I want to make sure we’re making the right decision. We’ll see as we progress through training camp and see how the days go. We’ll come to a conclusion, Coach and I, with it and see what’s best.”
Can you talk about Kyle Kalis and his development? A lot of attention early on in his career and people are wondering when’s that going to blossom for him.
“He’s really at a blossoming point right now. I mean, Kyle had his best spring since I’ve been here. I’ve been through only two springs with him but he did an outstanding job. He’s really understanding the game of football. His football awareness, his lens is opening. He’s really becoming a student of the game and the importance of the fine details of it, so he’s really doing a really nice job.”
With Newsome, is there sort of a list of things you have for him to work on other than getting bigger?
“I mean, his biggest thing is really just being able to get stronger, you know. That was really important that he does that just because coming in as a freshman from high school strength issues and not playing with his cleats, flexibility. But he has the measurables and the smarts to do it. I think the biggest thing is just gaining strength.”
We’ve heard you say you played freshmen before--
But is that something that…it’s kind of unusual to have a few years in a row here with a freshman playing.
“Yeah, no, I’m not—I don’t refer to them as freshmen. I just refer to them as a player and an offensive lineman and we’ve got to do what’s best for the team. I think initially doing it when I was at a former employer I started three true freshmen on the offensive line. If it works, we’re going to do it. It’s nice. It’s nice to have, especially when you have those years with them.”
Is there anyone in this class that you think could play that kind of role that Grant played?
“We’ll see. We’ll see. You’ve got three guys that are here—Michael Onwenu, Stephen Spanellis, Ben Bredeson—I mean, all of them are capable of doing it. It’ll be exciting to go to practice and see how it all works out.”
Spanellis and Onwenu are large, just big human beings. Is that just their body type or did they come in too large?
“You can’t coach big. I mean, this is a big, girthy game and I think at a lot of levels being able to move somebody off the ball, being able to get by somebody, it’s nice. The lower body girth is very important. And also just for injury prevention. I mean, they last longer. The more games you play your body will last longer.”
So you like guys to be big, your linemen. Some of them, a lot of them, gained weight from the spring.
“Yeah. We all went through it with Kevin and Fergus Connolly, where we wanted their weights and things. They did a nice job of getting where they need to be.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Mo Hurst is already feeling comfortable in Don Brown's defense. [Upchurch]
I walked up to Hurst at the same time as John U. Bacon, who made sure to point out that while both Hurst and I took his class, the former was in the front row every day while I was a back-row student. Thanks, Bacs. All questions are from me or Bacon except for the pair of "talk abouts" towards the end.
JUB: How fast did it go?
"It's fast. It feels like we just started all together—it's just crazy to think that we have so many seniors on our team right now. We've kind of been through it all, the ups and downs."
JUB: The ups and downs, from 5-7 to last year and all the rest. Those are two years you're never really going to forget.
"I think it helps us a lot, knowing how bad it sucked to lose, how bad it sucked to have a poor record, learning what we have to do to win. Those things are just going to help us this year."
JUB: Do you have to educate the freshmen as to what the bottom looks like?
"I don't know. I'm sure they're coming in, like, they're just trying to play. I don't think they're focusing too much on where we were previously, I think they're just excited for where we are currently. A ten-win team, I think they're really excited about that. It's the culture that they're brought into as opposed to ours, we were brought into a losing season—they were just brought into a winning culture so that's pretty much all they're going to know while they're here. Anything other than that would be a letdown for them. For us, we know what it's like to be..."
JUB: I interviewed a bunch of guys for the afterword of the Endzone book that comes out in the fall. Jake [Butt] said "we were working hard before, but we had no idea what hard work was." The four-hour practices, all the madness, that was a quantum leap, it sounds like.
"The biggest thing is just knowing you want you win. You always try to win everything. That's kind of what Harbaugh brings."
JUB: Trying to win lunch...
"(Laughs) Yeah. Just win everything. It's competing, it's the little things, it's every day, just finding new ways for us to compete."
JUB: What's the most surprising competition so far?
"I mean, he just had us race during spring ball. We'll do speed groups, we'll compete and race like midway through practice, see who's the fastest player, who's faster than the other person. I think that's the biggest thing. He even does that with the campers, with everyone."
MGoQuestion: Who's the fastest D-lineman?
"Probably Chris [Wormley]. He can move."
MGoQuestion: When you walk into that room and you've got eight, ten guys who can start, how does that affect your mindset?
"I think it helps. It makes you want to compete even more. If you're going to have to compete to play, you're going to have to earn your spot, because if you're not working hard, there's another person who can play instead of you. It really helps. We always try to coach each other up, and we're not going to put someone else down just for the other person to rise up, that's not who we've been as a group. If you want to work, then you're going to play, that's how it's always been. That's how we've done it, and that's why we've rotated so much. Everyone's earned the right to play."
MGoQuestion: Towards the end of last year when injuries started piling up you kind of got thrown into the fire, playing a little bit of nose. What did you get out of having to do that?
"It wasn't too bad. I've played nose my first two years here. This spring was my first time not really playing nose but I still was there sometimes, so it wasn't a big surprise to go back to playing nose. I think it was a little bit different that we were in a 3-4 front as opposed to a 4-3, so that was a little bit new for me, playing a zero [technique] in a 3-4. But, I mean, I've been ready, we've been rotating so much, there's games where some players that may not have started will play more plays than the starters. That's how it's always been for our group."
MGoQuestion: What's the biggest adjustment for you going from Durkin's defense to having Don Brown in charge?
"I don't think it's really been too much of a transition. I think we're back to where we feel comfortable in a 4-3 attacking front. We're just really going to be able to get after. That's what we were all recruited to play, all of us currently rotating on the D-line, we were recruited to play in a 4-3, like Worm, Taco, all of them, we were all recruited to play in this type of defense. I think it helps out a little bit more, it's a little better fit for us, and it's something that we do really well."
JUB: So who's more intense, Harbaugh or Brown?
"I don't know, I think they complement one another. (laughs) I mean, obviously Coach Harbaugh is running more of the offensive stuff, Coach Brown's on the defense screaming. I guess it's both of them just getting after it every day."
Talk about the challenge of facing that offense and that offensive line and how it's helped you guys improve.
"Our offensive line has improved a lot. We have a lot of returning starters, a lot of guys that are used to playing with each other. They know what the other man is going to do when they're lining up. I think it's been great for us to play against some of them. We have a lot of NFL guys that could play at the next level that are really talented, strong, quick. I think it's helped a lot with us, too."
Talk about that secondary. They've got a lot of high-level players. I see you smiling...
"Yeah. (laughs) They're good, they're really good. We can do whatever with them. We can play a lot of man and not have to worry too much. We know they're going to have us, they're going to stick to their coverage, and they're not gonna get beat deep. It lets us do so much from a defensive front when you have guys who can cover. We can send blitzes, it's so much we can do with those guys because of how good they are."
MGoQuestion: It seemed like most of the pressure last year was generated from the defensive line running stunts. It it an emphasis this year to find more ways to get to the quarterback?
"I think we'll be able to get to the quarterback. Obviously Coach Brown is blitzing a lot. We're just going to be able to get after. I don't think we're going to need to run too many stunts, but stunts help—it confuses the O-line and gets them out of place. Any way to get a sack is a sack, whether it's a stunt or not doesn't really matter."
JUB: Gotta ask about Nike. How big is that for you guys?
"I think it's a huge deal. We're really enjoying the gear that we're getting. It's cool. It feels like Christmas every day we get a new pair of Nike gear or Jordan gear. I got a pair of socks today. I was so excited, I was ready to jump out of my shoes. It's just nice just to have a change. Everything just feels like it's changing, just a whole new culture, a whole new beginning, a whole new start. I just think that switch really puts an emphasis on us restarting, getting back to the top where we belong."
[Hit THE JUMP for Jourdan Lewis discussing the hypothetical Jourdan Lewis vs. Jourdan Lewis matchup.]