From Portage Northern.
The press conference started of with a 20-minute presentation about Rich Rodriguez sponsoring a child-safety initiative, which sports writers are apparently supposed to care about. Once the actual football talkin' began, there were a few tidbits.
- Injuries: There were no new ones coming out of Illinois, except Greg Banks has sprained his foot. Brandon Minor's injury is expected to limit him through the remainder of the season.
- Purdue is probably a better team than their record. They lost a couple of close games early, and they still have a lot of talent and experience. They start 16 seniors. They looked bad against Wisconsin, but that was partially an abnormally bad game for them, as well as a great game played by Wisconsin.
- Rich Rodriguez is more impatient than any fan could be about the progress of the team. He thought success might come a little quicker, but when he arrived in Ann Arbor and saw what he had to work with, he knew the process would be a little longer. Building a championship-caliber program will take some time. Michigan has had to play more freshmen than he'd hoped over the past two years, and it's likely that will continue next year as well.
- This team has been inconsistent all year, whether it is at home or on the road. The road environment hasn't seemed to rattle the players. They just can't play inconsistently and expect to win. A bad half can't lead to widespread issues across the team.
- Players get too tight sometimes, and worry about making mistakes. Brandon Graham is one of the few guys who doesn't do that. He just gets after and plays. Even if he makes a mistake, he is able to play at a high level. Kevin Leach graded out the highest of any Michigan defensive player, but Obi is still in the mix for playing time. Vladimir Emilien is not currently in the mix for more playing time, but he has a chance to be in the near future.
- Rodriguez re-thinks the play-calling at the goal line, but only because it's impossible not to.
- Mark Ortmann's "punch" was reviewed by Rodriguez with Ortmann. He thinks it was open-hand, and more to push Corey Liuget away than to strike him. There should be no additional punishment for Ortmann. In other offensive line news, Patrick Omameh will probably get more reps this week, as well as Ricky Barnum. Perry Dorrestein has a slight back tweak.
- Winning the Purdue game is important for the program. The players deserve a reward game for all of their hard work, and the coaches would really like to have an extra set of practices for preparation for the future.
- The team needs to stay focused and worry about the upcoming game, rather than the past.
- There have been some missed opportunities and guys not playing up to their ability, but they can't overthink. If guys start to underperform or go into a shell, it's up to their teammates to pick them back up.
- Warren likes playing press coverage, but the scheme doesn't always call for it. He needs to do what will help the other 10 guys on the field attain success as well (reading between the lines: there aren't any safeties capable of providing deep help, so GERG is hamstrung with what he can ask the corners to do).
- The first month of the season was good for the offensive line, but they seem to have taken a step back. Not being able to punch in four tries from the 1 yard line was particularly frustrating.
- The offensive line has plenty of talent, and they should be able to uphold a high standard despite losing David Molk.
- The plane ride back after a loss is pretty depressing. Everyone is frustrated and just wants to get back into the win column.
- The Purdue game is important because it will clinch a bowl game. In his ongoing "vocal leader" role, Graham's going to explain the importance of the Purdue game to his teammates today. He sometimes plans what he's going to say, but a lot of the time he just lets it flow.
- Sometimes guys try to do too much and make plays that aren't their responsibility. When guys don't stay disciplined, that's when the big plays happen for the opponent. The goal line stand may have caused a lot of defensive players to think they needed to step up, but maybe they did more than they were supposed to. It hurt for the offense to be in the red zone so many times and not score touchdowns.
- The defense has to keep working to force more turnovers.
- This team is different from last year's because everyone is more in tune with the coaches. It will keep improving as everyone buys into the vision next year.
Carr says things here; the captains say things here. Full audio here. There wasn't a lot from the captains that can be used as tea leaves for the position battles ongoing, but Jake Long did drop a couple names on the offensive line:
â€¢ On sophomore offensive lineman Stephen Schilling ... "He's had a great camp so far. He got a lot stronger in the off-season, and he's got quick feet. I think he's really impressed the coaches. He's been pushing guys around and his footwork has gotten better. He's only been here two weeks and he's been able to pick things up right away. He's a smart guy. He's powerful. I'm really impressed with how smart he is. He's picking everything up real well and improving the offense."
On the younger players on the offensive line ... "They've really stepped up. You can really tell that Stephen (Schilling) worked hard in the off-season. You can tell he got a lot stronger; his footwork and technique has gotten a lot better. He has a great work ethic, and you can tell he really wants the job. David (Molk), for being here just over two weeks, he's really picked up the offense. He's a smart guy, and he's so strong and powerful. He's really been impressive in his blocking and picking up everything he needs to."
Molk's push has been made possible by injury to Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Cuilla, who was one of many guys missing a week here or there. He moved over from center. Impression: wary. I liked Molk as a recruit, but he's pretty undersized and is a true freshman. Seeing him on the field against anyone other than Appalachian State would be uncomfortable. Schilling, OTOH, has a death grip on right tackle and looks on his way to a Jake Long-level career.
Carr had a lot more to parse. More on Schilling:
At right tackle, Steve Schilling has had an excellent fall. He's an extremely talented guy, with great size and athletic ability. He's a guy that is smart and that loves to play. He will be a great player here someday.
"Mark Ortmann has done a very good job and has competed well. Perry Dorrestein ... it's just too close to call at this point."
I call BS on the "too close to call" given the nonstop Schillingfest going on -- Carr was responding to a general question about all of the position battles going on and went right to him. He's the man.
We have a kickoff guy: Bryan Wright. We do not have an actual kicker. Frowns. Alarm. Etc. I do like that Wright has a big leg and has locked down the kickoff job. With kicks from the 30, an excellent kickoff guy is worth his weight in gold. And it can't be Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley bad, right? Right?
"The fullback competition is very intense. Mark Moundros has had a very good fall. Vince Helmuth is competing well. I think that will go right down to the wire, as far as the fullback position."
Probably not a huge deal either way.
Middle linebacker is down to two:
At the Mike linebacker position, John Thompson and Obi Ezeh -- those two guys are really in a spirited competition. I think it's safe to say both of them are going to play a very important role.
This answer is more notable for the absence of JUCO transfer Austin Panter than anything else. A redshirt is now a serious possibility. Carr said the competition would extend into the fall.
On the weakside, Jonas Mouton is one of a parade of ankle sprains/twists; Chris Graham has "really improved as a pass defender." Graham retains the starting job going into the fall.
Cornerback, 2007's Position of Dread:
Johnny Sears has had an outstanding fall. He's a guy who when we recruited him ... he really played a significant role a year ago on special teams. He made some great plays on the kickoff. He's a guy that plays without any fear. He's a very tough, hard-nosed player, and I think he's really matured at the corner. He's had a very good fall.
That's the second shout-out from the coaches after English raved about him on WTKA. I and anyone who saw him last year remain skeptical, but Sears is a guy whose potential might take a bit longer to reach given his lack of high school experience. Brandon Harrison also got the "excellent fall"; "Vance was very pleased" with Morgan Trent. I dunno how well this meshes with both Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk seeing the field as freshmen.
Free safety is not necessarily Stevie Brown's job:
Stevie Brown is really a physical player. He's still a young player, has a lot of things to learn. Charles Stewart has made the move in there. I like both those guys; I think they are both going to play. I think they are both guys that are going to make a real contribution in a lot of areas on this team. That position right now is probably up for grabs, so we'll see what happens there.
A classic glass half-empty or -full situation. Is Brown not worthy of the hype? Is Stewart proving himself a useful safety? Dunno.
Johnny Sears has done an excellent job returning punts. We practiced yesterday morning in the stadium in a torrential rain. It was a very valuable practice from the standpoint of learning how you have to play different when the ball is wet. That's particularly true in the return game, as a receiver, as a quarterback and center ... I think we learned some things yesterday. ... Greg Mathews is really a reliable guy in terms of handling the football, and that's what a return guy has to prove.
I like this answer. No offense to Mathews, but when his name is plugged as a potential punt returner images of Diallo Johnson dance in my head. Sears has speed to burn and it appears he's the leader at the moment. Also called out as potential guys here: James Rogers and Donovan Warren. I would still expect a Rogers redshirt.
Kick returners mentioned: Brandon Minor(!) and freshman tailback Avery Horn. Carr mentioned some tailback depth concerns with using Minor, which was my initial thought too.
Right tackle is Schilling's; the line is set assuming a reasonable return for Mitchell. Panter is not the starting middle linebacker; Sears, Harrison, and Trent are all getting unreasonable amounts of praise that could be highly dubious. Stewart and Brown are locked in a battle for the free safety position; someone will return kicks and punts.