"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."
Opening remarks: “Um, that was an exciting football game.” Har har. “Oh, you do have a sense of humor.
"I thought both teams -- I’ve gotta give Brian and his staff and his kids a lot of credit. I thought both teams fought, and they fought for 60 minutes. It wasn’t pretty probably at times on both ends of it. But like I told our players, it’s great to win. There’s a lot to learn from this tape, but to go out there and play for 60 minutes and win the football game in the manner that we won -- our kids, I’m real proud. Terrence Robinson, on the last kickoff [with] two seconds left, watching him bust his butt to get down the field to try to cover it. There were other guys doing the same thing, but that’s the thing, as a coach, that you take away from your team.
“We had some adversity, they fought back. We never really got on track early in the game. Didn’t have any momentum, any rhythm, when you look at it from an offensive standpoint. And defensively, we didn’t start as well as we’d like. Played a little better there for a while, and then it was back and forth. We have a lot to look at and a lot to work on. It’s great to win, and it’s great to win for our seniors -- [it’s] the last time they play in this great rivalry. So now we move forward.”
Did you say anything to Denard after he threw the pick in the endzone? “We’ll look at it tomorrow, and he may have seen something there that was better than maybe it was. I never said anything to him -- unless it’s really a poor decision throw. I didn’t think it was a poor decision.”
Do you think this win creates momentum for the program? "I don’t know. I think there is momentum. I think you do gain some momentum, and I think for us, as a team, it will be a great learning experience. It’s amazing when you do play 60 minutes of football, meaning you do stay together as a team. You compliment each other and you lean on each other. That, for us, will be part of the teachings and part of the lessons from this football game.”
Why were receivers so hit-or-miss, and what allowed them to be able to make spectacular catches? "I think it’s just being a human being. I think we all have good days and bad days. We all maybe write something good one time and maybe something not so good the next. I’m sure that never happens in here.” Aw, shucks. "I’m not being sarcastic. Really.” You shouldn’t have. “But, in truthfulness, there were probably three balls early in the game, in the first half, maybe one in the second -- maybe four total -- that I think would have moved the sticks for us, would have given us some more momentum. We weren’t very good on third downs on either side. They were 8 for 14, which is good for them, bad for Michigan defense, and I think 3 for 9 when you look at what we were. There’s no explanation besides we have to do a better job concentrating and focusing and catching the ball.”
How much did it help to have beaten Notre Dame in similar fashion the last couple of years? “I’m sure it helps. I think it’s a great question for them. I think anytime you compete -- but at the same time every team is so different. Your seniors are different. Your leadership is different. Playmakers, to some degree, may be different. I think it’s a great question for them, if they had a little more juice at the end because of that -- I don’t know.”
[More after the jump]
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||THREE-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Will Heininger||Sr.*||Mike Martin||Sr.||Ryan Van Bergen||Sr.*||Craig Roh||Jr.|
|Nate Brink||So.*||Richard Ash||Fr.*||Will Campbell||Jr.||Jibreel Black||So.|
|Chris Rock||Fr.||Quinton Washington||So*||Kenny Wilkins||Fr.*||Frank Clark||Fr.|
We'll start with the good. Last year, freshman Jibreel Black showed up and got an eyeful of what college defensive linemen were like when he laid eyes on Mike Martin. He came away from the experience with his eyes opened and his grammar damaged:
"When I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
|LOL single block|
|LOL zoning him|
|LOL double block|
|LOL triple block|
|blasts through line|
|driving the center|
|zips between the C and G|
|consumes Chappell's soul|
|made every play|
In the right situation (three-technique instead of the nose) with the right amount of healthy ankles (two instead of zero), Martin could make All-America selectors be like dang.
Unfortunately, it seems like Martin is never going to get to move to that three-tech spot it seems he was made for. It's not that he's a bad nose tackle. Martin is big and strong and can take on double teams just fine. But he's also amazingly quick for a 300-pound squat-beast, so much so that the first thing Greg Mattison thought when he saw him was "we should use him like Shawn Crable." In the spring game passing downs Martin was in on often featured him in a two-point stance, hopping around like a linebacker. This is not your typical nose tackle.
If permitted to go one-on-one with guards used to holding off slugs and the results could be spectacular, like Jonathan Babineaux 28-TFL spectacular. But with no one else on the roster who won't get annihilated at the nose, Martin will have to tough out the double teams.
If you flip through the videos at right you'll see an awful lot of Martin crushing people until the Michigan State game, and then hardly anything. That's because a Spartan lineman chop-blocked Martin at the end of a game that was well in hand. Martin limped off and was diagnosed with the dreaded high ankle sprain. From then on he was not himself.
Sometimes this manifested by not being on the field at all. Martin missed most of the Iowa and Penn State games, big chunks of Illinois, and didn't play at all against Purdue. He started to get his mojo back afterwards but only gradually. You can see the effect in his UFR chart:
|UConn||8||3||5||Late minuses for getting too pass-rush-y. Demands doubles. Good start.|
|Notre Dame||12||0.5||11.5||Beast mode. Best game of career.|
|UMass||25||-||25||I just write the numbers down!|
|BGSU||7||1||6||Quick passing offenses reduce DL impact; still did well when called upon.|
|Indiana||11.5||3||8.5||Actually got beat out by someone, also round this down to +7 or so.|
|MSU||8||1||7||A good performance, but coming down from his ridiculous nonconference level.|
|Penn State||-||1||-1||I'm going to throw myself off a bridge.|
|Illinois||8||1||7||Was more back than it looked live, but still out a lot more than usual.|
|Wisconsin||8.5||2||6.5||One old-style "I destroy this play" plus a few more scattered good bits and some half points.|
Martin was a nonfactor the next two weeks and only moderately effective against Illinois (remember that the wacky nature of that game meant more plays for DL to rack up points). To preserve my sanity I didn't UFR the dismal final two games of Rodriguez's career. Martin had two tackles and four assists against OSU and one measly assist in the bowl game; none of those were behind the LOS.
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
Ryan Van Bergen is your new starting three-tech. Great at nothing but consistent and durable, Van Bergen is a lot better than he gets credit for. As a put upon 3-3-5 DE last year he had 5 sacks and 9.5 TFLs despite getting very little help from the structure of the defense. He was often left by himself against two defenders, especially when it came to the passing game. GERG loved him some three-man rush.
Van Bergen graded out almost as well as Martin over the course of the season thanks to his steady acquisition of points and half points for standing his ground against doubles or pushing offensive linemen into places they don't want to be. The UFR chart is really impressive:
|UConn||3||-||3||Not exactly BG, but I don't think he has to be if it's a stack.|
|Notre Dame||4.5||3||1.5||Unproductive until late; irresponsible on midline zone read.|
|UMass||5||1.5||3.5||Lots of half points for doing decently on run plays.|
|BGSU||5.5||2||3.5||Decent impact in little opportunity.|
|Indiana||12||-||12||Excellent against the run, got some pass rush, mentally round this down to a +8.|
|MSU||9.5||1||8.5||One impact sack, some additional pressure, solid against the run. Good player.|
|Iowa||5.5||1||4.5||Best performance on the day but that's just average.|
|Penn State||10||3||7||The solitary player to have a good day.|
|Illinois||10.5||3.5||7||Developing into a fine player. Now consistently putting up points.|
|Purdue||7||3||4||May have been unfairly blamed for the big Henry keeper.|
|Wisconsin||3||6||-3||Did not make many plays; seemed to give up big cutback lanes easily. Maybe an RPS thing.|
Van Bergen got better as the season went along and kept playing well in the face of total annihilation. He produced, and then Martin went out and he kept producing. A lot of the things he did were not explosive look-at-me plays, but the meat-and-potatoes grunt work required to keep your linebackers clean. This is emblematic:
That's not even an assist but by slanting past his blocker and then holding his ground he occupies two blockers and closes the hole so far that the RB runs into one of the guys trying to block him.
There were also a few explosive look-at-me plays, like this one:
|RYAN VAN BERGEN|
|annihilates guy trying to downblock him|
|slants into the lane|
|swims past Iowa OL|
|bounces off to tackle|
|picks off a pulling guard|
|all too easy|
|needs more beef|
|Wisconsin too much|
That is Van Bergen lined up as a three-tech between Craig Roh and Mike Martin smoking MSU RT J'Michael Deane. Deane was apparently not much of a pass protector, but he's representative of the sort of guys RVB will be going up against this year—guards who are crushing run blockers but maybe not so good at pass pro.
His rushing isn't on Brandon Graham's level—last year's prediction he would "brush up against double digit sacks" fell three or four short. As the third-most-threatening guy on the line he's pretty good. If Michigan can get him single blocked by rushing more than three guys he might get there this year. He had five sacks from the three-tech spot as a sophomore; two years of experience and the luxury of being flanked by Martin and Roh will give him opportunities to slant past one-on-one blocking.
What's more, Van Bergen was an ironman last year. On a defense saddled with mediocre or worse backups at every spot, Van Bergen saw more snaps than any DL, often going entire games without being substituted. This year's line has no depth, either. That trait is going to be useful.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
Come On Backups
yes, I wrote this section when I thought he was going to start
Well… there's Will Campbell. The all-everything recruit (except to ESPN, where he was their #22 OT) has languished on the bench, bounced to OL, and then gotten bounced from the starting lineup by a walk-on.
ESPN's skepticism about Campbell's tendency to stand straight up turned out to be right. When placed on the field as a freshman he struggled badly. Canonical example recycled from last year:
Description recycled from last year:
I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?
You'll note that Campbell was playing a three-tech and got smoked one on one. The hype about how Campbell is an obvious three-tech and having him at the nose was another symptom of GERG's madness still has to combat Campbell's pad level, man.
At least his weight is back on the downswing. Last year he was listed at 333, significantly up from his freshman weight. Rodriguez was openly displeased with his conditioning last year, and he never saw the field outside of the goal line package. That's not good; it's even worse when Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse are the guys getting time instead of you. He's down eleven pounds this year and it's safe to say that's for the best. There is no good weight above 320.
Teammates and coaches have started talking Campbell up. While anyone who remembers the three weeks that Ron English spent talking up Johnny Sears knows that's not necessarily an assurance the player in question will be good, or even not-awful, at least this time around the conditioning grumblings are being directed elsewhere. Nose tackles do tend to take some time, as last year's West Texas Blue diary on Campbell's DT classmates demonstrated. Most redshirted as freshmen; few of the ones who didn't had any impact. (DeQuinta Jones was instantly productive for Arkansas, of course. That's just what happened under Rodriguez.)
He's further behind the curve now but even fellow uber recruits like LSU's Chris Davenport (one tackle), and Texas's Calvin Howell (two tackles) are struggling to find the field. They're not idling behind Greg Banks, sure, but Campbell's not dead yet.
He can be okay if protected. I spent large chunks of the spring game focused on him and he was mediocre:
All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.
A moderate amount of penetration is worlds better than that clip above. He'll feature in the goal line package and against teams that want to run.
Past Campbell the only player anyone's seen on the field is redshirt sophomore Quinton Washington, who Rodriguez flipped from guard during the bye week last year. Washington got in on a few goal line plays, proceeding to drive his guy back and fall over.
That's fine on a goal line play. Taking that limited skillset and expanding it to the point where he can play defensive tackle on the other 98 yards is going to be trickier.
With Terry Talbott's medical redshirt there are just two other options, both redshirt freshmen who have survived the harrowing that's befallen much of Rodriguez's recruiting classes. Richard Ash is a nose tackle sort from Pahokee who briefly featured offers from USC and Florida before abruptly losing those. Over the course of a year he went from 260 to 320, which scared a lot of people off. Last year his corpulence was notable even amongst the defensive tackles. He's back down to about 300 now and will have to see some time spelling Martin. The sum total of Ash knowledge other than his weight loss is still in his recruiting profile.
The other option is Kenny Wilkins, who was initially supposed to be a weakside DE but showed up at 270 and is now 280. He's now listed as a DT and presumably will back up the three-tech spot. Wilkins was memorably pwned by walkons in the spring game on Mike Cox's long touchdown and has been called out by the coaches as a guy who needs to get his act together; if he plays this year he probably won't play well.
Strongside Defensive End
This was Van Bergen until Campbell's failure to emerge sucked him back into the interior. Now you get your choice of walk-on. First on the depth chart is senior Will Heininger, who missed last year with an ACL tear and used that opportunity to expand alarmingly fast. After adding six pounds two years ago he threw on 28 over this offseason to end up at 295.
My assumption was that kind of weight gain from an injured guy who'd been in the program for years was a Posada-like sign, but after being all but ignored during fall camp he popped up on the two-deep as a starter and Hoke said that was a real thing. He must have spent every waking hour in the weight room.
"Experience" was why he got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
One mitigating factor here: Michigan showed a three-man line in their two-minute defense. That package removes the walk-ons in favor of a zone-blitzing 3-4. These guys aren't playing on passing downs and may not see a lot of time against spread outfits. All these guys have to do is not get pounded on the ground. Pass rush is a bonus.
Nate Brink; where Nate Brink came from
More walkons! Sexy. With Van Bergen held out, Nate Brink was the starter at SDE in the spring game. Everybody assumed that didn't mean anything and focused on Campbell, so no one can tell you word one about how he did.
He faded back into Bolivian until the Van Bergen move, whereupon press conferences started talking about him and insiders started dropping what knowledge they had. The insiders said their usual bits about Brink being a diamond in the rough—one report claimed Mattison said he'd be in the two deep of any college team he'd coached. The press conferences were similarly predictable. This bit from Mattison is the most encouraging:
He's played like a Michigan football player. I hate to talk about a young man because I think when I do that they go right down in the tubes but this guy has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to Coach Montgomery on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries, and he's really, really physical.
I think he was probably 250 in the spring and we told him to get to 265 and when he was reporting, I yelled, 'What do you weigh?' He said, '265' and I told him to drink some water and sure enough he started drinking water. Now I think he's 267 or 268.
In the spring, his toughness showed up and he was only 250 at that time. But his want-to and toughness stuck out like crazy. And that's what we want - 11 guys that play with that kind of attitude.
He's a guy that if he keeps doing what he's doing, Michigan people are going to be very happy with him.
I know this will end in tears but that's actually coachspeak that seems meaningful.
Holding The Rope has the complete presser dossier and all of his other biographical information. It adds up to:
- is 265 pounds, up from 220 in high school
- is a redshirt sophomore
- coaches have said nice things about him
- named "Nate Brink"
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
There's obviously no depth when the first two guys are walkons. In the event injuries hit them, Michigan will grit its teeth and slide Van Bergen back outside. True freshmen Chris Rock (Not That Chris Rock) and Keith Heitzman should be headed for redshirts (Heitzman actually might be headed for TE). If they don't it's a Ray Vinopal situation.
Weakside Defensive End
Rating: a speculative 4.
what do you mean by "I don't want to play corner" again?
The only thing Michigan fans will miss about the deathbacker position is the name, and even then the group of people who know its true nomenclature is even smaller than the already-pretty-small group who know Craig Roh was a "spinner" and vastly smaller than the masses who know Roh is "that defensive end Michigan insists on pretending is a linebacker."
Craig Roh is not a linebacker. He has never been a linebacker, and this year he cranked himself up to 270 pounds to evaporate the last vestiges of confusion. Look at my giant skull crushing muscles, he says. Just try to put this in a two point stance.
|you can't see me|
|avoids a cut|
|speed rush for sack wsg Martin|
|smokes Illini T for holding call|
|sweet spin move|
|crunch, fumble, TD|
|not a lb|
|no depth on drops|
|dl run game|
|comes through TE|
|slants into lane|
|slants under TE|
|power right at him|
And the thing is, last year Roh wasn't that exploitable as a defensive end. He was certainly no more so than the other non-Van Bergen options, and when Michigan put his hand in the dirt against Notre Dame they got dividends from it:
Hit up those videos on the side to confirm. For a guy who was supposedly a liability he made his share of plays against the run in trying circumstances. Notable is that many of those were plays on the backside where he got under his blocker in a flash and sped down the line. On the weakside in the 4-3 under this is what he's going to be doing a lot.
Roh was so badly misserved by the previous defensive staff that he had to tell them what the hell he should be doing on defense. He requested a move back to the DL and got it, whereupon he was decent despite all this 3-3-5 business not suiting him at all. Talking about what happened to Roh last year makes me stabby. I called him the "Denard of the defense" because he was a uber-touted recruit forced on the field way too early by necessity; Denard became Denard and Roh dropped into short zones. Other than everything else, that was the clearest evidence GERG was sacrificing our defense to Xenu.
This year, though… this year Craig Roh is 270 pounds and will be playing the spot literally every scouting evaluation ever issued about him has begged—demanded—plead for him. This could yield one of those breakout year things. Here's what he did in the games Michigan played him mostly as a lineman:
|Notre Dame||11||-||11||By far best game of his career.|
|MSU||6||1.5||4.5||Wasn't a liability in the run game against a pounding team.|
|Iowa||5||1||4||Okay, but not making a big impact.|
|Illinois||10.5||8||2.5||Eventful; some minuses may be someone else's fault.|
|Wisconsin||3.5||2||1.5||Basically one nice play and then not much.|
He was much less a part of the tire fire when he had his hand in the dirt, and that was frequently as a 245-pound DE on a three man line. He is now 270 and going one-on-one with weakside tackles. He should improve from average-ish (remember that UFR slants towards the DL) to good.
At least good. We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
There is one. Hooray. The aforementioned Jibreel Black saw time spotting Roh last year; he showed some pass rush flair. His run defense was abject. He prominently featured on a Michigan State touchdown drive where cutback lanes were always open because Black wasn't flowing down the line. He was targeted for dismantling every time he hit the field, and more often than not opponents got exactly what they wanted. Except Penn State, weirdly.
- True freshman and all that, though. Black should be significantly better this year. Like Roh he'll benefit from the extra protection afforded the WDE in the 4-3 under and the triple threat DL coaches in the Hoke era. There is a significant downer, though. Black actually lost weight over the offseason, going from 265 to 260. This is one weight gain/loss that is not always good. After the spring Black was a guy who needed to change his body:
"Jibreel is a guy that, as his body composition changes a little bit, he's gonna be a good football player. I think him and Craig at the rush have had pretty good springs."
- Though I can't find the quote I'm thinking of, the coaches seemed irritated when he came into camp five pounds lighter than he was as a freshman. Early in camp, Mattison responded to a question about Black by highlighting his inconsistency:
“Jibreel has a lot of talent, but right now, Jibreel is a little inconsistent. … That’s not a knock on him, but he’s just like a lot of talented young guys. I’m not ready to say this guy is the next Terrell Suggs (of the Baltimore Ravens)."
- They have to play him; he might need another year to get his head right and muscles all powerful and stuff. Brandon Graham, who everyone has compared him to, took a couple years to get his head and body right, too.
Clark @ Glenville; the only extant photo of Paskorz on the field
But wait, there's more! On scholarship, even! True freshman Frank Clark defied his middling recruiting rankings and status as a WR/TE/LB/DE tweener to feature on the depth chart at WDE. He's supposed to be fast—very fast. An insider I've corresponded with noted that players say "he can catch Denard." He "just has a lot of athleticism" according to Van Bergen.
Clark's quick rise caught Mattison's eye when he was asked about freshman in general, not Clark specifically:
I think Frank Clark has a lot of ability. You can see a different speed at which he goes.
In his recruiting profile I said he had a long road ahead of him to productivity. Clark drove fast.
- Redshirt freshman Jordan Paskorz may as well have been in the witness protection program since he enrolled. Not a peep has been heard about him since he arrived, and I have no recollection of the guy even playing in the spring game. But he is totally a defensive player on the roster who is not a true freshman. So we've got that going for us.
- Paskorz was a generic three star coming out of high school; his recruiting profile is where the infos are. I wasn't that enthused about him a year ago but just by remaining on the roster he's ahead of a lot of his classmates. With Clark impressing and a serious need at TE he's another candidate to switch.
- Kevin Koger forgot to remove the tags from his pants.
David Molk (mini-Hoke?), from yesterday
What are your thoughts on being a captain? "It's a great honor. It's something that I didn't really understand when I got here, but once I became a Wolverine I knew it was something I wanted."
What makes this special? "When you walk in, you go through the building, and you see that big wall of all the old captains. Those guys are always well-respected. They've done great things in and out of football. It's a good group to be a part of, and it's something I knew I wanted to be a part of."
What are your specific responsibilities? "I guess you have more responsibility than being a normal player, but then again I'm not a coach. I don't make decisions. It's just being there for your team when you're on the run on the fly on the field in the game." (on the tail of the frog on the bump on the branch on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.)
What's the excitement like this week? "It's great. It's been a long time since I've played a game, and I love every single first game. It's an experience that's unmatched by anything else, and I can't wait to play again."
What will fans see for Brady Hoke's first game? "A new team? A new season? It's going to be a lot of fun."
Taylor Lewan said last week that you're a quiet leader. Do you ever become outspoken, and when would that be? (looks offended) "He says that I'm a quiet leader?" Yeah...? "Really? I think that might have been sarcasm. I'm usually a pretty outspoken leader. Whenever there's a point in time where someone needs to speak to the team as a whole, I'm always that guy."
How would you describe Brady Hoke as a coach? "He's just a great guy. Sometimes coaches are standoffish or kind of hard to approach, but Coach Hoke's not like that at all. He's just a great guy that you put your arm around and say, 'Hey, how ya doin?' "
Is Denard still dangerous in this offense? "A player that's that good can be dangerous in any offense. He still has the ability to kind of get out, run around ... he's going to do his thing this season."
Do you guys get as excited for Western as you would for, say, Ohio
State? "It could be anyone. It could be some D-III school and I'd still love it. It's just playing someone else. EVeryday you go into practice, I block Mike, and I go up to a linebacker I've seen a hundred times -- a thousand times -- it's just good to see someone else."
Talk a bit about Shaw and Toussaint. "They each have their attributes of who they are as a runner, and they run (with) different sytles. Shaw is more of a bounce-around-you kind of guy. Fitz will hit you a little bit. Both are great players."
Is it hard to alternate shotgun and under-center snaps so much? "It really doesn't make a difference. I could see a younger guy getting flustered, but it's nothing new."
Western has no idea what you're going to do. Is that an advantage? "I guess so. Me and some of the other guys were talking about it, thinking, 'Who are they going to look at for film?' You can't look at last year, because we're totally different. We're a different offense, we're a different defense. I guess it does give us an advantage, but at the same time what matters in the game is what you do on the field. That's what counts."
What's it like with Barnum starting on the O-line? "It's good. I've played with Ricky before. There was a couple times that Schill wasn't in there, and Ricky just kind of fit in. He listens if I turn and correct him on something. He'll just listen and go up ... and that's what makes him a great player."
Did you watch any film on the 2009 UM vs Western game? (looks incredulous) "The 2009 game from Western? No, we haven't watched that. It was a long time ago." [Ed-M: I do.]
Mike Martin, from yesterday.
Thoughts on being captain? "It's a huge honor. Our whole senior class does a great job with leading. Defensively Ryan Van Bergen does a great job ... Kovacs, a lot of guys ... Troy Woolfolk. But it's an honor to be selected by my peers to represent those guys and the guys that have come before me."
Do you feel any extra responsibility as the only captain on defense? "No, because we have tons of leaderhsip on defense. We do a great job collecitvely getting the defense ready to play. I have a lot of support from the rest of the seniors."
Remember when you were all over the place during the Spring Game? You still doing that these days? "Coach has me playing nose and some other positions on the defensive line, but he has me focusing on that. We've had guys that have stepped up at the other positions that coach has a lot of confidence in."
What differences will fans see from a Brady Hoke team? "Coach has us ready to play. Coach has us focused on what we need to be focused on, which is what we can control, and to get better every single day. This week is game week, it's huge for us. We're looking forward to September 3rd, and that's all we have on our minds, and we're ready to go."
Talk about Kevin Koger. "Kevin does a great job. He's great with reaching out to guys, and he's a really good speaker, and he's a guy that everyone looks up to. He comes to work every day. He's accountable, and guys can count on him to get the job done. That's what you need in a captain, and a guy that's going to lead the team."
What is game week like for you? "It's special. Tomorrow's practice is going to be critical for our team to get better. Coach has game week posted up everywhere in Schembechler [Hall], so when you're in that building, everywhere you go, you're thinking about game week, whether it's when you go home and you're getting your playbook, going over your plays, taking mental reps and when you're at Schembechler getting better on the field. You have to think about gameday every day and what you can do to make sur ethis team's successful."
What does Kovacs keep doing to surprise people? "The guy pays attention to details. He takes care of his job on the field, and he's a guy that you can always count on to be there. He's very smart, and he's always in the film room. He's a great leader just for the guys back there, and he's a vocal leader, as well."
What did Heininger and Brink do to get that SDE position? "Those guys, they did a great job of competing through all of camp. They knew that everyday everyone's getting evaluated across the board. Will Heininger and Brink, they worked their butts off the whole camp. I'm proud of those guys.
"Coach is going to put the best 11 guys on the field to win games. Whatever decision he makes is going to be the right one."
You have one last chance as a senior to fix what's gone wrong defensively. "Coach talks about accountability and the details -- all the things it takes to be successful. That's what we've been focused on this whole camp. Coach Mattison and the whole staff have done a great job of working for us, and we've come to work every single day to be better ...
"It's something that you can't hide. We still have a lot more improvement to go. Tomorrow's going to be critical with getting our scouts, getting our looks for Western coming up this Saturday."
How tough is it for Van Bergen to play DT? "Coach puts the guys in positions to make sure the team is successful. There's total seflessness, and Ryan is very intelligent and very versatile. You can put him anywhere on the defensive line across the board, and he'll do well. Technique-wise, he's done a great job at 5-technique, 3-technique, and wherever coach puts him. We're very confident he's going to do well."
Is there a leader in your time here that you model yourself after? "Brandon Graham -- I've talked about him before -- he's a guy that leads by example, and came to work every single day, and a guy that everyone woudl look up to. He produced on the field, and he was a grea tleader off the field, and that's something I've always looked up to."
Fluff about his webisodes: Youtube videos, wanted to document his senior year. Does it all on his macbook using film he gets from his iphone. "Put some music to it, add some flashy lights, and it looks pretty cool." More webisodes coming up soon. The Pop Evil band that does the Michigan hype song is from Whitehall, MI, where Ryan Van Bergn is from.
Koger charmed me into forgetting to take a picture.
Thoughts on being a captain? "We were actually in the team meeting room, and everybody voted, everybody got a ballot. You voted for one offensive and one defensive captain. I put my vote in, and I thought we were going to come back today and find out, but they actually went out of the room, came back in, and told us. So it was kind of surprising. I didn't expect to be captain."
Who did you vote for? (lunga pausa) "Not myself. Not myself, I can't tell you that."
How excited are you today for game one, and how excited will you be on Saturday? "I try to calm myself down because I tend to get too excited before the game. I don't want to play the game before the game actually happens so I'm not mentally drained when I get there. It's my last home opener in Michigan stadium, so I'm kind of excited for that, but I have to prepare for the game so I can make the best (of it)."
What's your advice for the freshmen who haven't experienced this before? "I just tell them to calm down. There's going to be 113,000 people, so you gotta be loud. But it's not going to be as loud for the offense as it will be for the defense, so communication will be a little bit harder for the defense."
What differences will fans see when you take the field? "You'll see the offense will be on the field a lot more. We want to control the ball. We want to take that burner off the defense a little bit so they're a lot more rested when they come out on the field."
How will Denard look different? "I think Denard will be the same Denard. He'll go out there, he'll make plays, (and) he'll be a great decision-maker on the field. You might see him not go for the big play as much. You might see him check down a little bit, which is perfectly fine. There's nothing wrong with a four- or five-yard gain as opposed to a 30-, 40-yard gain every try."
How will Kevin Koger look different? "Kevin Koger will be very excited. Kevin Koger will be very enthusiastic on the field. You can expect to see me more outspoken on the sidelines, so watch out for that."
How active will the tight ends be? "I think we'll play a big part." Been getting ready, Coach Ferrigno has done a good job coaching them. "I'll be excited to see what really happens on Saturday."
How's Steve Watson? "He's very selfless. Whatever coaches want him to play, he'll play. During camp, we had him switch to fullback, and he's done a great job there. You can see him play tight end, you can see him play fullback, so it really doesn't matter where he plays. He's going to do a great job where he's at."
Mike Martin videos? Had no idea Mike was making online webisodes until five minutes ago. "It shows the fans we really do have personalities. We're not just guys in helmets and shoulder pads. We actually can have a little bit of fun. I think I should get a little royalty from it. If he makes any money off of it, I'll let you know." (NO KEVIN DON'T YOU DARE TELL ANYONE)
The Sandwich War. SI's Andy Staples was in town recently to cover something or another and took the opportunity to cast a vote in the ongoing blood war over the best deli sandwich in Ann Arbor. The contenders are Zingerman's and Maize 'n' Blue Deli:
Staples goes for Maize 'n' Blue, citing price and having to unhinge his jaw as major considerations. Message board duly blows up in a way that makes me think I should put conversations about Zingerman's in the verboten category with politics and religion. Clearly sandwiches are both.
I'm hoping to flag Staples down the next time he's in town so I can take him to Frita Baditos in the hope his mind will be blown and Satchel's in the hope he gives Northern barbecue at least a C-.
No. Stop asking. Kudos to the Big Ten for reassuring everyone that they're not going to pick off half the Big East for no reason. Via a press release:
"In response to a number of recent media inquiries received by several Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors regarding the likelihood of further expansion by the Big Ten, the COP/C would like to reiterate that it will not be actively engaged in conference expansion at this time, or at any time in the foreseeable future."
"We said that we will continue to monitor the landscape, but we have closed down active expansion and have no plans to seek new members."
Twelve and done and good.
Locks. In case this wasn't made explicitly clear by Tim's recap, Brady Hoke directly asserted three guys would be defensive starters. There are no real surprises in that group:
Hoke said he's filled "about two or three" starting spots on defense. When asked who they were, he responded:
"(Cornerback Troy) Woolfolk's had a nice camp, I think (nose tackle Mike) Martin's had a nice camp, (safety Jordan) Kovacs has had a nice camp."
If you were hoping Kovacs was overtaken by someone more athletic you can shelve that. I'm hoping he enters his Englemon phase where he doesn't do much that im- or de-presses anyone. Woolfolk shooting to the top of the cornerback depth chart isn't a surprise but there was a chance the lingering effects of his injury prevented him from being as effective; that apparently hasn't happened. Good news—in the secondary and everything.
I'm a little surprised Demens isn't on that list given the practice buzz. Bad sign? Overreaction? It can be both.
I'm getting the impression they might actually run more read option this year than they did last year.
You are feeling very sleepy. You are Desmond Howard. Jeff Hecklinski could have been a hypnotist if he wasn't a football coach. He also accuses Roy Roundtree of "prancing" and stands next to a short dreaded guy who's injured:
Unless I'm mistaken, that's Martavious Odoms getting his Bob Marley on. First the cast, now a shoulder injury—Junior Hemingway must have pressed a mysterious button that someone told him would make him resilient but turn someone else on the team into Glass Joe.
BIG TEN: STOP MAKING AND NAMING THINGS. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING US ALL. This is the new Cy-Hawk Trophy:
This is what "Iowa Corn" came up with instead of, like, a Hawk in an F16 launching a missile at a tornado that was reaching out a airy appendage of doom. That's a rivalry trophy. That thing above belongs at Art Fair. Adam Jacobi would like "a lot less of this effort to turn the conference into a bad Norman Rockwell painting." Co-sign.
It's not like they didn't know that was going to happen. Iowa Corn also came up with this:
Oh, no. Dave Brandon: do not slap a winged helmet on that thing and put it on the sideline. Please.
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.
Hoke notes coming on Monday. Apologies for minimal editing, but I'm eager to leave the living hell that is McCormick Place.
Why does Denard smile playing football? "It's a game, and I enjoy playing it. Obviously I'm still playing, so I'm still smiling."
Even though there was a switch in offensive scheme, Denard said his first thought was to do whatever it takes to play. Denard doesn't worry about outside perception that he can't throw. He and his teammates know what he can do, and he'll show it on the field. The timing with receivers is looking good. "We've got some deep routes in there, and we have some routes where they can make a choice and get open. It's a good deal."
The biggest thing Denard has been working on this offseason is his footwork. "Keep my feet underneath me so I can make throws anywhere I want to throw it." Stepping up in the pocket is another adjustment he's making. Getting timing down with receivers is another area for improvement.
The team has been working hard all summer. They're getting bigger, faster, and stronger. "The seniors and I, we organized the workouts and 7-on-7s. That was a big thing for this year." Everybody was ready to participate in the offseason workout.
Denard never got to a point where he was leaning toward leaving Michigan. It was tough when Rich was fired, "That's the guy that recruited me, but at the same time, I was with my teammates and my family." David Molk and Ryan Van Bergen gave him the best advice, along with Mike Barwis. They told him that there's no better school or family than the University of Michigan. After he got fired, Coach Rodriguez told Denard to completely buy in to Hoke's system, and he would continue succeeding. It meant a lot to Denard that he told him to continue buying in. Coach Smith (now at Indiana) also told him to buy in 100%. "I bought into Coach Rod's offense, and I'm buying into this offense."
Brady Hoke's first message to the team was to hold each other accountable. "We're Michigan, and we're supposed to compete for the Big Ten every year." "What we've been doing lately is holding each other accountable." If guys aren't doing what it takes to win a Big Ten Championship, their teammates are on them.
The national attention is different after coming from a small town. "It's alright, it's good. I don't do crazy stuff anyhow" so it's not harmful. He likes being recognized around campus, too. It's easy to ignore media hype. "I don't too much care for the hype."
Asked about the Ohio State/Michigan State clocks: "We do have a countdown for the Western Michigan game, so that's the main thing right now. That's the main thing. That's a big game, we have to prove ourselves." Denard grew up watching the Florida/Florida State rivalry, but the Michigan/"Ohio" game is a much bigger rivalry. "It's the border. We fight for Michigan, and they fight for Ohio."
Denard was nicked up a lot last year, but "playing football, you're gonna have nicks and bruises, so you've gotta play through that."
"It's still going to be exciting, we've still got the guys we had last year." There are explosive receivers, and some good running backs. "I know all of them are gonna be ready to play."
Denard isn't usually a vocal leader, but when he has to speak up, he will.
There was no issue getting guys to come to workouts this year. There was pretty much 100% attendance at voluntary workouts, which was not the case last year.
"You get a feel for when you want to run and when you shouldn't run. If you see an open receiver, don't miss him. You want to get him the ball."
Despite last year's individual success, Denard always maintains drive to improve. "How I look at it is always work like I'm second string or third string." He plays and works out with a hunger to improve.
Denard isn't much of a celebrator, so he's not worried about the effects of the new taunting rules that can take scores of the table.
Denard has gained 5-10 pounds since last season.
"I did a lot last year. It's going to be hard to say I can do any more than I did last year, but I think I can do a little more, I can outdo what I did last year."
Low expectations? "They say the 1997 team was one of the teams that was underrated."
Whenever Darryl Stonum earns his way back on the team, he'll be welcomed. "I want him to be back on the team, but it's up to Coach Hoke."
The offensive line has gotten a lot bigger, but they're still mobile.
Denard's improvement: His arm has always been good, he can throw touch passes and the long ball. His arm strength isn't a question: he mangled one of Kevin's fingers with a pass in practice. It's still bent (pictured at right).
"I honestly feel like we don't have a #1 [receiver]." There are a number of guys that can step up and be the top target on a given day. Still sounds like a blessing and a curse to me.
"Dileo, he's deceptively quick." He did well on returns last year, and is now improving his route running and hands.
Jerald Robinson has good hands and body control.
The freshmen don't work out in the same groups as the returning players, and they can't participate in 7-on-7s due to their schedule. They've come out to play catch with some of the guys, though.
Chris Barnett is an established pass-catching threat, and Kevin's advice is to work on blocking. "It's a long season; if you don't play in the first game, you might play the fifth, sixth, seventh game."
In 7-on-7s, Koger is usually covered by Carvin Johnson or Brandon Herron.
Marvin Robinson is a big hitter. It doesn't take him a long run-up to build power.
Troy's return has brought some enthusiasm to the defense because he's a funny guy, and a fun guy to be around. JT Floyd is back as well. "Troy, he's a veteran, he knows where to be at, when to be there, he knows how to disguise coverages well, he drives on the ball really well.
Carvin Johnson is not the fastest, biggest, or strongest guy. "But he has a knack for making plays, he's always around the ball." Kevin has trust in the safeties to make plays.
There's a lot of competition among the linebackers, and there are spots up for grabs. Whoever plays the best in camp will earn starting positions.
Brandon Herron is a fast guy, and Koger has to beat him with technique, and Demens is a strong guy who you have to beat with separation, because if he gets his hands on you, you're done.
"Look at Wisconsin last year, look how many points they put up during the season. They ran a pro-style offense. They ran tight ends a lot of the time. It's proven that a pro-style offense can put up a lot of points."
The offense wants to control the tempo of the game this year. The defense is ready to get back onto the field whenever they need to, but the offense can control the ball.
Outside of Denard, Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway are some of the big play guys. Kevin jokes he'll be happy to catch any passes at all this year because there are so many good options for the offense.
Coach Hecklinski has done a good job with the receivers, making sure they do what they have to do.
A lot of the running backs haven't gotten much game experience, so it's exciting to see who will emerge.
There's been a lot of improvement since last year's defense. The seniors especially are working to leave the school the way they want to be remembered. "We've all been through it together. We know what needs to be done. We don't want to have any problems. We don't want to have it be like last year."
"At the end of the day, we don't want to say that Michigan beat Michigan." What happened in the past is gone, and they're excited about what's going to happen in the future.
Martin likes what he saw in the film from spring practice. Everyone looks excited to play defense, and get out on the football field. "There's a lot of worry; guys were doing a lot of thinking on the field." Now, guys are able to not think and simply execute their assignments.
On Greg Mattison: "The guy eats and breathes excellence." He's a great teacher of the game. Hoke and Mattison have credibility, and have proven that they know what they're talking about.
There's a big emphasis on being tough and hardnosed on defense. Hoke gets in the D-Line's faces specifically, because they're where the defense starts. Everything "starts and ends in the trenches." Previous Championship defenses at Michigan were defined by words like "toughness," etc.
Martin, Van Bergen, and a couple of young guys will get a lot of small-group attention from Coach Hoke in practice. Technique and fundamentals are stressed every day. Hoke, Mattison, and Montgomery are all on the same page and teaching the same things. Hand placement, footwork (down to the inches), hip movement, etc., need to be second-nature to the D-linemen, because they can't be overthinking on the field. The coaches are detail-oriented. They also are learning to adjust to the offensive formation without having to think about it.
"I've never seen more clocks in a building. I always know how many days there are until whatever game it is." It's a constant reminder of what is coming ahead. "We know what we have to do come September 3rd."
It's fun to watch film with Coach Mattison because there's active involvement by people, instead of a lecture-type format. They're always learning, and picking Mattison's brain. "Watching film and seeing me drop back, it just looks funny."
The four-man front makes it easier on the point of attack for the defensive line, because somebody is going to have a one-on-one matchup, and there are fewer double teams.
"His attitude and his mindset has totally gotten better." He was in a bit of a comfort zone before, where he wasn't constantly being pushed to improve, because he was a backup. Now he's being counted on, and has answered the call. He's a key component of the defense, as the 3-tech is a key part of Mattison's defensive scheme. "He answered the call and step up to the play. Q's been doing a great job behind him."
The team likes watching Ravens film, because it's a good comparison to what scheme they're going to be running. Otherwise, Mattison doesn't talk about his NFL success (HALOL Charlie Weis). Watching the guys who are the best at their positions helps the players realize what little things they need to do to improve. "I think all the guys are always picking stuff and trying to make their game better."
The defensive line is doing a good job at the point of attack, but their main room for improvement is making the second move and getting off a block to make plays in the backfield.
There's more accountability among players in the weight room this offseason. The new strength staff also puts an emphasis on getting bigger and reps to failure.