this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
- Thomas Gordon had ice wrapped around his right knee.
- Will Heininger had ice wrapped around both knees.
- Junior Hemingway had no ice wrapped around either knee.
- It's probably nothing.
Thomas Gordon reminds Will Heininger of Shawn Crable.
There's ice on your knee. Is that bad? "Nah, just a little tender. It's been a long, tough camp, but it's got some ice on it as a precaution. It's not serious."
How physical has camp been? "It's something that I've never been in before. It was pretty tough. We got through it, and I think it's going to make us better as a team. We came together this camp, and I'm really proud of what we did."
You were playing nickel a while ago, and now you're starting free safety. What happened/Congratulations? "They got me in a couple places. I'm just doing what the coaches have asked me to do over the summer and camp. I've lived up to my expectations and I'm ready to play this year."
What did you do to earn the start? "I think it's more outside of football, just being more dedicated to football and being a team player. Coming along as an individual off the field has really helped me on the field."
How hard did you work this summer? "This summer, (I worked hard) with the new weight staff and Coach Wellman. They're a really dedicated staff, and they put their work in with me and all the other players, and it helped me tremendously on the field as far as size and speed. I hope it transitions to the field, and I'm waiting to see what the effects are going to be during the season."
How have you changed physically? "When the old staff left, I was at 213 (pounds), but when the new staff came in I moved it up to 217, and that's a good thing. As far as being more explosive -- as a DB, (that) is real key, and that's what they helped me do."
Mattison talked about different looks, different schemes. How complex is this defense? "It's a lot of stuff you need to get a hold of, but you just take it one play at a time and just focus and key in on what you have to do. It's not that hard. It's simple -- the same techniques. We've just been on top of it as a group and in the film room everyday as a group."
You guys feeling confident? "Yeah we're real confident. All those guys back there: Kovacs, Troy, Carvin, Courtney, all of us. We're real confident with the game plan."
Did you not feel confident last year? "I was still comfortable last year. I think last year it was more for me getting my feet wet, more of a transition (than) this year. I know what it feels like to be in a game. I'm ready to step in."
Do you feel like the game is slowing down? "Oh yeah, it's way slower now. Last year was kind of like a blur out there. Now I see what's going on, and I really got a grasp and understanding of it."
Why will this year's defense be better? "Effort to the football. That's been the key our whole camp. It's effort to the football. If you mess up a play, it's always effort to the football and getting to the football that's the big key."
Is Western's QB going to be a challenge? "Oh yeah, most definitely. I think it's Crader? That's the kid. He can put the ball in tight windows, and he's a real good quarterback, and we gotta be in our p's and q's when we go against him on Saturday."
How much will you move around pre-snap to confuse him? "There will be a lot of movement because he's a real poised quarterback, and he has experience, but we still can disguise our looks and kind of get him confused, and I think that will play to our advantage."
What do you like about the free safety position? "I just like sitting back and seeing everything. It makes me feel like i'm a ballhawk. I haven't really played that since high school, (and) when I came in with Coach Rod, I was a spur. But now I'm back there and I feel natural back there, and that's a good thing."
Will Heininger, middle, reminds Thomas Gordon of this guy.
How do you feel about rotating guys constantly on the D-line? "We've rotated in the past, but I think Coach Mattison and Coach Montgomery really believe in keeping guys fresh. There's no point in going 80% to the ball. You go 100% until you can't. That's why you gotta have depth and guys who can play, and that's why we're lucky to have that."
So is it effective? "I think it's a great feeling knowing that you have someone that you trust to come in for you so that you can go 100% all the time. I know times in the past, Brandon Graham would just go forever until he was on empty. It's good to have guys that you can rotate. I think the strength in our D-line is depth and guys who can play multiple positions."
What would it mean to be a starter on Saturday? "Those things are nice, and being from Ann Arbor, I don't think there's much more you can ask for than playing for this school, but in the end, those are coaches' decisions, and I'm just excited to play for Michigan and get wins. That's what i'm excited for more than (being a) starter."
How good will it be to have a SAM linebacker helping you out in the 4-3 under? "Without getting into scheme too much, it's fun to have a big guy out there with you who you know is going to come down and lay the wood on the power or whatever."
What do you see in Western Michigan? Western has a good O-line -- a big O-line -- so I think we're excited to go against them and get back to physical football, and test ourselves against them."
What's the deal with the fight song from Hoke's office? "Coach Hoke said that everyday between 1:30 and 2:30 we're going to have that music blaring out of his office, and that's something he chose to do, and we love it. It's great. We have the best band in the country, so why not hear it?"
Mattison said something about giving the defense enough bullets. "When he says enough bullets, he means that he's never gonna put us in a situation where we can't defend something or we don't have an answer for something. I can't get too much into scheme, but that's what he's talking about, and I'm comfortable with our package."
What does "Michigan defense" mean to Mattison? Guys flying to the ball and celebrating when you get there, celebrating with each other. I think we do get it, and you get feelings of it during practice."
What does "Michigan defense" mean to you? "David Harris flying to the ball. Charles Woodson ... Crable knocking people out. Just all those guys bringing this physical, in your face, I'm gonna beat you, that kind of stuff."
What's your first recollection of Michigan football? "Tyrone Wheatley, when I was probably five years old, that was the first player I remember, and the first game I remember was Coach Carr's first game when we beat Virginia on the last play. I was watching TV at my friend's house. Unfortunately their family's Ohio
State fans, but I went crazy in their living room and didn't know any better at the time."
What's the best part of game week? "Can I say Saturday? First play on the field, smack somebody."
If there was ever a point when Junior Hemingway passed on the injury bug, this was it.
Do you feel like you need to stay healthy this season to prove to NFL scouts you're not made out of glass? "I think that's one of my goals for this season because the past seasons I haven't been able to finish the season or (play in the) beginning."
Is this offense as explosive as last year's? "Right now we've been working day in and day out ... just growing and molding, but I think we have the potential to be real explosive this year."
Is this the offensive you envisioned you'd play in coming out of high school? " ... You know ... Yes. Coach Carr had more of a pro-style (offense), then Coach Rod came in with the spread, but I just need to be adaptable to whatever."
So is this a hybrid offense? "Denard had a really big year in the spread offense. Just keeping some of those things ... some of those (plays) stick, so why not use them?"
Let's do some Western secondary scouting. "They have a real good defense. They have a real good secondary. They have one corner, Lewis Toler. They got him as one of the best DB's on the team -- All-MAC."
Why is Odoms third on the depth chart? "Everybody has been taking a lot of reps. Everybody's been getting the same number of reps, so that doesn't affect anything."
You talk to Darryl Stonum often? "Yeah. He's my roommate." Aha. "I just gotta be like a brother to him, (tell him to) just keep his head on straight and it'll be all right. We got his back regardless. Good thing is he's still on the team."
|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.
Good news: I took pictures today. Bad news: I left my card reader at home.
- No one is seriously injured
- Mike Jones had pneumonia the other day, but was better today
- Fitz still has opportunity to earn start over Shaw this week
- Gibbons is solidly starting at placekicker, unless it's a long field goal, in which case Wile or (Kris) Pauloski might kick
- There will be an intense practice late Friday night
- There will be no Victors Walk
- Kick/punt returner situation is fluid (obviously)
Press Conference (this part was filmed)
"Finishing fall camp on Saturday morning, I think we were very productive in what we wanted to get done. You're never going to be satisfied, it's never going to be as good as you'd like it to be, and that's just part of being competitive. I think we developed as a team, I think we became closer as a team. I think when you look at us as a team, we're excited to get going and to have that first opportunity. We're guaranteed 12 opportunities, and we've made that known to our players. We want to play obviously 14, but the 12 opporutnities we have, we start with the first test this weekend."
"We voted on captains last night as a team. I think our players understand that our seniors will always be our leaders, and the three guys, with Mike on defense, Kevin Koger and David Molk on offense, have demonstrated an ability to lead. I think they all three bring a lot to our football team, when you look at the leadership roles that they'll play, and you look also at the roles from a production standpoint."
"Western Michigan is a well-coached, disciplined, tough football team. I've had a little bit of experience with Coach Cubit and how his teams play, offensively and defensively."
Offensively, QB Alex Carder is good. He's as impressive as anybody with 30 TDs, >63% completions. WR Jordan White caught 94-96 balls a year ago, challenge for Michigan secondary. LT Anthony Parker spearheads a big, physical O-line. They have some Juco transfers. Defensively, D-line has everyone coming back. Secondary is one of the better ones in MAC, very aggressive and like to attack the football.
"We're excited. We're not near ready to play, and I'll probably say that on Friday. We're not near ready to play, but we get to play, and that's a good thing. We get to see our first test, where we're at as a team and as a program, and to get out there and not beat up on each other, but you get to play with somebody else."
Looks like there are lots of "ORs" on the depth chart. What gives? "I just think there's great competition. At the running back, Fitz has done some good things, Mike [Shaw] has done some good things. Vince Smith's a guy we talked about being a third-down back for us for multiple reasons, but I think there's some great competition there. I think with JT and Troy, when you look at Courtney Avery ... Blake Countess is a young guy who's played pretty well ... Raymon Taylor ... all those guys are competing, and Greg Brown. I would expect JT and Troy would be the guys who would start the football game, but when we get into the nickel, then we get into the other situations."
Why is Will Heininger starting? "More than anything else, it's his experience. We like what Nathan has done. He's practiced very well, played well, been productive, but Will at the same time has done a great job -- Will Heininger -- but the other guy who has come on a little bit is Will Campbell. That will be fluid anyway because we want to play six guys during the course of the game so we can keep guys fresh and keep them healthy."
Any questionable players healthwise? "Healthwise we're in great shape. As good as you can be coming out of fall camp. We had a pretty physical fall camp, so I'm pretty pleased. Mike Jones had a little bit of a fever and pneumonia the other day, but I just saw him on the way here in fact, and feels pretty good."
Does it help that you've played against Western? "I don't think it helps, because you've got to go back to the tape you had from a year ago. First games are always a little bit different as far as when you start to study. Do you take the last four games, (or) do you take the first three from a year ago to see what they taught within their offense and defense? And then the last three games as far as when you start breaking an opponent down and looking at it.
"I really am impressed when you watch them play on the tape. Being a defensive guy, I'll always look at more offensive film of an opponent than I do defensively. I'm very impressed with Carder and how he handles this offense."
I'm writing some fluff about you coming out of the tunnel. Can you give me a some fluff about coming out of the tunnel? "It's a special place, being at Michigan. I'm sure that we'll be very humbled. But at the end of the day, we're playing a football game, and our consistency as coaches is important, so we'll move pretty quickly. I'm hoping we get to the sidelines the right way, and you're always as a new staff, you're doing things different. When we go to dinner on Friday night, we'll practice at 5 o'clock on Friday night, and all those things are different than what has been done in the past, so those things we'll all be worrying about until the game's kicked off."
Roundtable (this part was not filmed)
This is what Hoke sort of looked like when I took a picture of him.
Western has no idea what you're going to do. Is that an advantage? "They're a good football staff, and I'm sure that they got a hold of all the San Diego State film they could from an offensive perspective. I think defnesively it's always a little harder getting NFL film. I'm sure they've been able to see remnants of what we're trying to do."
RB's still have to prove themselves? "I think they all do, not just the running backs. We want to evalutate them every day, and if a guy doesn't meet the standard or expectation that we need to play with -- it could be any position -- if he doesn't meet that standard, then we gotta find someone else."
Do you evaluate players differently between practice and games? "I don't think so. I'm a big believer in that when you prepare and when you practice, you're going to play that way. So if we've got great intensity getting to the football (with the) eleven guys defensively, (or if) our wide receivers are sustaining blocks and harassing corners, we expect that to be done during practice. That's a demand that we have because I believe you have to play like you practice."
Will you give both kickers a shot in the game? "Right now, Gibbons is going to handle the field goals, and if we get into a long field goal situation, I think Wile or Pauloski would be next in line for that. Matt will kick off, and Matt's going to punt."
What's the range for Gibbons vs. Wile? "When you start getting over, I dunno, I would guess from my observation, 43-44 (yards), som'n ike that, Matt's just got a little ... I don't know if it's a bigger leg, a better leg ... he's got the opportunity to hit the ball more cleanly. Everybody attributes and compares it to golf -- and I can't tell you about golf, if you've seen me golf you would know why -- and it's kind of the sweet spot he hits it with."
How much has the offense changed from the spring re: Denard? "I think his knowledge of what we're trying to do as a whole package [has increased], and I think there's still some things Al hasn't added to the mix. I think his grasp of it is at a higher level than it was in the spring. I think when you put that together where he doesn't have to think as much, and now he can be settled in his fundamentals and techniques. I think that's where the growth has come, and then his growth being a leader, and that maturity level, is at a higher place."
Is the offense what you envisioned when you first came in? "That depends. I think the basic plays of a pro-style offense are a big part of it. The play-action game, all those things. There are some things out of the spread that we're obviously going to stay with, that kind of overlap a little bit with how you want to block at the point of attack and those things. We're still going to line up and run the power play a bunch."
Do you tell Denard the same things you tell a normal QB about getting out of bounds? "I think it's the same. You don't want him to take needless shots, and we wouldn't want Devin to either. We want to be aggressive and always know where the stakes are, but we don't want a guy to take needless shots if he can help it."
Most coaches play freshmen during a coaching transition because they recruited them. You're playing older guys. Is it because you value experience? "I think that's an important part of it, to some degree. Believe me, if we thought those younger guys were at a point where the older guys weren't better, the younger guys would be playing. I think we're growing with some youth, and probably more so on the defensive side of the ball. There are some guys who have a better chance to play than on the offensive side."
I'm going to ask a convoluted question about the guys who started last year. They worked to earn these spots collectively, maybe, you think. Hunger, winning, Michigan. ? "I hope they're hungry, first and foremost. I mean, this is a competitive game, this is the winningest program in college football, so I hope they understand those expectations that we have as a team and we have as a program. Um, you know, I think ... when you ... and I don't know if I understand the other part of your question."
Basically, I mean, the starting lineup, more or less, are guys that started last year, and yet, it wasn't handed to them, collectively, you know. "I think we had good competition, I guess that's what I would say. I think we had good competition, and it's easy to see. Our depth on both sides of the ball up front aren't exactly where you'd like it to be, and that's okay, because it's always an expectation for who's playing the position. It doesn't matter if they're a fifth year guy or a guy who's a true freshman, you've gotta play to a Michigan standard."
Were some of those decisions made during the scrimmages? "Everyday they're evaluated. And it doesn't matter if they're in the weight room ... I talk to Aaron everyday. Every night I talk to him and (ask), "How'd he do there?" Because you're looking for an attitude. You're looking for a team attitude first. And if a guy goes in there and doesn't do what he needs to do to help his teammates, then we're going to have a problem with it.
"It all starts there, and obviously when you're in those situational things that you do with the football aspect of it, you're expecting them to play at a fast level and a fast tempo with an enthusiasm for the game."
Is Van Bergen locked in at DT? "He's one of those guys who can play a lot. He can play in sub defense, he can be over the center, which [he] is at times. I'm talking about nickels and dimes and those kinds of things. He can do that, and he can swing back out to the 5 (-tech). Ryan brings a lot of intelligence to the game, and being an older guy who's been around football a lot, it really helps him out and helps our team out."
I'd like to ask another question that you will answer in a non-informative way. You haven't played a game yet, but you've been here seven months. Do you ... feel like the transition has been what you thought ... Has there been more you thought you would have to change? Or less? Or ... ? "Uh. It's about what you would think it would be. I mean, you know, it's, it really just ... trying to, you know, have a focus on what Michigan's all about, and starting there. You know, and, uh, I don't know if it's any different or not."
But History? And Tradition?? "Well, I think that's important, I mean, that's an important accountability that we have."
Thank you. That was a productive series of words.
You have four punt returners with "Or" next to their names. You gonna make up your mind or not? "It probably will be fluid. I wouldn't be surprised that we probably had two guys back there and switch them for punts to see who we think may be the best playmaker out of it."
You got any superstitions or rituals? "I would not share them with you if I did."
You doing the Victors Walk? "No."
But you said in Chicago you would do it. "Nope."
Could Fitz Toussaint still win the job this week? "Sure. Sure. No question."
Do you get nervous close to gametime? "My nervousness only comes that we're dottin' all the i's and crossin' all the t's. We talked as a staff -- number one, (we have to) have a great plan for (our players). And that's our responsibility, that we have a plan on both sides of the ball, in the kicking game, that's going to help these guys be successful. That's what you think about constantly. Did we cover this? Have we covered this enough? Taking a safety from a punt formation with 13 seconds left on the game, you know, what's the punter do? There's a lot of different ways you can do it.
"I don't know if it's a nervousness, because once we're here on Saturday, it's fun."
Do you meet with the captains? "I meet with the seniors every Sunday and every Thursday, so they'll be part of that group obviously. Captains, I'll meet with them periodically when I feel there's a need."
Countess and Clark made the two-deep. What'd they do to impress? "Frank is a guy we think can do something in those nickel and dime packages. Blake has got an opportunity to be a very good corner here. Very good feet, and he's got some make-up speed that corners need to have. He's tough. Both of them are tough. I think they both, from a defensive mentality ... we don't want to overload them so that they go out there and have paralysis by analysis. We want them to be able to go and play the game ...
"I like them, I'll put it that way."
Will it take some time to see the whole Brady Hoke system? "I think it always does. I've done this at two other schools. Every week's a learning experience. When I say that I'm going back to every week, how we travel. We're playing at home, but it's still, we're going to the Campus Inn, and how we meet, and all that stuff, it's a learning experience every week. The sooner that we feel ... I don't want to say comfortable, but that's basically what it is ... then the faster we'll start playing and then the more physical we'll play football."
You talked about corn chowder last week, are there other traditions -- "CLAM chowder."
Are there any other traditions that you've brought back, or that you're bringing, that are important to you this week? "We practice later on Fridays. There will be a little more intensity to it than maybe other programs have had, because I'm a big believer in that mental practice that we'll have. You have to have an intensity in how you do it, because then you're going to play fast. At the end of the day, you have to play fast in this game. I don't know what else."
(David Molk, Mike Martin, and Kevin Koger notes will be up later. [Ed: probably tomorrow morning.])
- DE Will Heininger (right) has torn his ACL and will have surgery to repair it. His status for the fall is dependent on how his rehab progresses.
- Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway, and Je'Ron Stokes will practice a little today and will hopefully be full-go by the end of the week.
- Vlad Emilien, Jared Van Slyke, and Quinton Washington will hopefully return to practice next week.
- The guys who are out for spring (David Molk, Brandon Herron, Mike Martin, and Vincent Smith) are progressing on schedule.
- Tate and Denard are splitting reps with the first team. Rich does not care if one guy wins the job, or if he has a few guys who are ready to play. He wants to have at least two QBs ready to play. The guys understand that they're competing for the starting position.
- Tate Forcier is being challenged by the coaches this spring, with football, academics, as a student-athlete at the University. He's very competitive, and likes being challenged to improve.
- Denard has a better understanding of the offense and the passing game than he did last year (unsurprising, since this is his first spring). He still has a ways to go, but he's improving. Once he gets the QB position down, he'll learn other positions to get him on the field.
- Gardner is fun to be around, and has a high energy level. He's learning quickly, but still has a lot to improve upon. The coaches can't expect too much too soon.
- The quarterbacks are practicing full-contact to work on their ball security. Normally they'd have non-contact jerseys. Once the QBs get used to taking some hits, they'll let them wear non-contact jerseys.
- Michael Cox has had a very good spring, and Michael Shaw has had some good days and some days "where we expected more out of him." Fitzgerald Toussaint is also in the first group with them; he's gotten bigger and is getting a good grasp of the offense.
- Stephen Hopkins is a big guy, and they needed a big back to replace Minor and Grady. He has a chance to play some at big back this fall.
- Austin White has been a little banged up this spring. However, he has the talent to help the team in the future.
- Kelvin Grady and Terrence Robinson have gotten some reps at running back. Grady missed some strength work when he was practicing with the basketball team this winter, and Rodriguez would let him return to basketball this fall only if he can handle it academically, and isn't just going to sit on the end of the bench.
- There is still competition ongoing at the safety position. They don't have a comfortable 2-deep, and probably won't until fall. Vlad Emilien's injury has hurt them there.
- Cameron Gordon has had a really good spring, and that's one of the better personnel changes they've made.
- Jordan Kovacs is capable of playing any safety position.
- Some days there has been good kicking performance, sometimes not so good. The situation still isn't comfortable punting or placekicking.
- Will Hagerup with arrive in the fall and will compete with Seth Broekhuizen for the starting punter spot in the fall.
- There is no starting kicker yet, as the best performer is different every day. That situation won't be resolved until fall. Brendon Gibbons has a strong leg, but he's been back-and-forth.
- The snapping and coverage units look good, and they have the athletes to contribute there.
- "We'll have a better team, and I expect us to have a good team, yes." This spring practice is much, much better than two years ago, and is a little better than last year.
- Chemistry - The leadership can come from not only the 12-man senior class, but also some underclassmen who can be leaders.
- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday is the annual coaching clinic. Thursday will be a practice in just shorts, and Saturday will be a full-scale scrimmage. This is the most important scrimmage of the spring.
- There has probably been more talk about the changes to the defense than there have actually been changes. They did a lot of multiple-front stuff last year, and Greg Robinson is trying to best fit the scheme to Michigan's personnel. They're trying to find the right combination of simplicity for the player to learn and the flexibility they'd like from the defense.
- Regarding Demar Dorsey, Rodriguez said "If anything changes with any of our signees, I'll let ya'll know if anything happens with that."
After Rich was done speaking, the media got a chance to watch a couple periods of practice. My observations from that:
- Injured guys running inside Glick Fieldhouse: Mike Martin, Vincent Smith, Brandon Herron.
- Red Shirts (no contact): Quinton Washington, Zac Johnson, Vladimir Emilien.
- Green Shirts (limited contact): Devin Gardner, Austin White, Je'Ron Stokes, Junior Hemingway, Karl Tech, Martavious Odoms.
- Mark Moundros only practiced with the linebackers.
- Adam Braithwaite quote of the day: "We're gonna be the best-tackling team in America."
- Visitors to practice: former Michigan QB Rick Leach, former WVU running back Avon Cobourne, the leading rusher in West Virginia history and current Montreal Alouette.