The B1G Media Days Experience
Allow me take you on a journey. It begins in Ann Arbor and proceeds west via I-94, past the forested hills of Battle Creek, the lakeside vistas of Benton Harbor, and -- what's that smell? Ace, did you fart? You did, didn't you. Oh, my bad. That's just the natural smell emanating from the greater Gary, Indiana area. And we're not on I-94 anymore. And we have to pay a toll. And another one. We just paid a toll for a mile's worth of highway because in the greater Gary, Indiana area, they pump sulphur into the air and stir gold into the asphalt.
The skyscrapers and highrises of Chicago loom. They are glimmering beacons of Midwest culture thrusting out of a flat and fertile land of corn fields and cattle farms. Batman was filmed here, did you know? Those batmobile scenes took place right where Siri is telling us to go. Our blue dot freezes as we are swallowed by the vast labyrinth of tunnels and underpasses.
We are lost.
Not to fear! Our superior instincts tell us we're somewhere right below the Hyatt Regency, host to the 2012 B1G Media Days extravanganza. We emerge from the depths of the city 30 minutes later and arrive, frazzled but totally exhilarated, in the lobby. Well done, B1G, what a posh venue. So posh I have momentarily forgotten the correct number of syllables in "concierge". Too posh. Its well-to-do clientele don't seem to acknowledge that a high profile football event is taking place ... somewhere in here. Look at them with their boring black attire and pompous black suitcases and stupid blackberry devices. Don't they know that very famous people -- Denard Robinson fergodsakes! -- are currently inside the double doors of this, this ... completely empty ballroom.
"Excuse me, ma'am. We're here for the Big Ten Media Days. Says here it's in Ballroom AB."
"This is Ballroom AB."
"But there's no one in there..."
"This is the Hyatt Regency Chicago."
"You want to be at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place."
And that is the story of how Ace and I barely made it to Brady Hoke's speech last Thursday.
(more after the jump)
The first day was formal, and it kicked off with a glorified press conference. All B1G head coaches had 15 minutes to give a short State of the Program speech and field general questions. Self-promotion, rather than information, seemed to be the goal, and this was apparently somewhat difficult for some. Danny Hope's first words were something along the lines of, "We might actually be okay this year."
Hoke gave his usual shpiel about "expectations" and "This is Michigan (TM)" and "We're gonna compete." He did provide a gem, however, in response to a question from what must have been a Michigan State beat writer:
Q. You were the beneficiary of the Bowl system last year; you didn't have to win the division to still go to a BCS Bowl. How would you feel if you were on the tail end of that at some point in time?
COACH HOKE: Probably not that good ...
His facial expression was strongly reminiscent of the one he had right after the Notre Dame game.
This photo did not capture the epic smirk.
This formal presser turned into a "breakout" session. There was an area outside the conference room where the media could swarm the coaches and ask the same questions, but more intimately. Highlights:
WE ARE ... not recruiting PSU players.
When you talked about Penn State kids you said you'd keep your business your business. Does that mean you're not going to recruit them?
Talk about the Michigan State game. Is that the biggest game as far as the Big Ten is concerned?
“For us that's always a big game because it's an in-state rival game. They've been kicking our butts pretty good lately, and that's something we don't like. That game and then obviously the Ohio game is as big a game as there is on the schedule.”
Some schools wouldn't play a non-conference opponent like Alabama. What are the benefits from your perspective about why to play a game like that, especially in the last couple years with the BCS?
“What I think is you go to Michigan, you coach at Michigan to play the best. If you want to be the best you have to do that. For us it's a great opportunity. It's going to be a fun game, we'll learn a lot about us—win or lose—and I think that's a big benefit.”
This line of questioning was repeated ad nauseam. Ace and I were planning to transcribe more Day 1 stuff, but I hope you'll take our word that the juice simply wasn't worth the squeeze.
"How has Denard improved?" "Well, you know."
Some coaches were less popular than others. See if you can spot the head football coach in this photo:
Nobody puts Jerry Kill in a corner
The breakout session further devolved into a TV panel discussion. Coaches were joined by the players, and they rotated through five different stations where they were asked questions by the same group of reporters. It was a little bizarre.
I have more camera angles if you're interested. Call me.
Hoke is in support of the new onside kick rule (opposing team can call fair catch after ball touches ground). Isn't thrilled about how it changes the game, but likes that it promotes safety of the players.
Michigan won't be rotating offensive linemen to build depth as they do with the defensive line. Offensive line is more about chemistry, so rotating players would be detrimental.
Michigan will stay a shotgun, zone-running team as long as Denard is the quarterback.
Denard is more comfortable audibling in and out of plays. Couldn't do that last year, but he knows how Borges's offense works and can read defenses a lot better. Also his communication with receivers has improved. Depending on the coverage, he can tell his receivers to break off their route shallower or deeper.
That wasn't the end of it, either. After about an hour of questions, players and coaches had to sit down for a radio segment. This was not favorable for some. Michigan State LB Max Bullough got up from the panel and said, "I just need to not be here," and disappeared for about ten minutes.
Left: "You parted the red sea and ran for a touchdown. Impressive."
Right: Ruptures aneurysm, reminds me of Molk.
I think Ace wasn't at Lewan's table at the time, but here is the opening exchange between Lewan and a Michigan State (educated guess) reporter.
Reporter: That was a great matchup between you and Gholston last year, huh.
Lewan: Yeah, it was great. He's a great player. I'm looking forward to --
Reporter: Let me show you a computer image of you pushing his helmet into the turf ...
... What do you have to say for yourself?
Great start to the day. Lewan handled it well but became guarded the entire time I was at his table. What are your thoughts on your draft status? Just doing what's best for the team. Have you seen the defensive line improve? They're doing what's best for the team. What is your opinion of the incoming freshmen? They'll do what's best for the team.
So I left (although I did go back at the end to ask him about bubble screens. He said that they haven't run any in practice. aw.). Seeing that Ace had the Michigan tables pretty covered, I went around to players from other schools. Some of the conversations were pretty interesting:
Purdue DT Kawann Short
On the Michigan game:
“We went in thinking we had to stop Denard, but a lot of other guys stepped up. It was pretty much bad judgment on our call, I would say. Poor executing as far as players all thinking we had to stop Denard when you have the running back breaking out and getting 100 yards.”
What did you think about David Molk and Michigan’s offensive line?
“When we were playing against Michigan, I was moving around. That was the center, right? Pretty good, pretty agile. Quick feet. It was hard trying to beat him off the ball.”
Where would you rank Michigan’s offense out of all the teams you faced last year?
“I would say probably top five as far as how their offense was run and the players they had.”
via Adam Jacobi
Purdue CB Ricardo Allen
On Michigan’s receivers:
“I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm. They come out there and they really take pride in blocking. They’re some of the premier wide receivers in the country and the Big Ten. I think they’re a great group. The thing I like the most is that they will block, and that gives their running back and quarterback a great chance to break big runs.”
Do you think their receivers will take a step back this season without Junior Hemingway?
“Junior Hemingway was a great possession receiver but they have a lot of speed and big play receivers. This year Denard, because it’s his senior year, they’ll give him a chance to throw the ball a little more. He’s more experienced, and he’s been working on his throwing motion, so he’ll have a better chance to get some more passes out. I think the receivers will play a bigger role this year.”
You were honorable mention All-Big Ten as a sophomore. What has helped your development over the last two years?
“[The coaches] always put me in a great position to make plays. When you put me in a position to make a play, I’m going to do so. They trust me a lot. When they call a play, sometimes they give me a chance to make the call in the secondary.”
What kind of calls do you remember making against Michigan?
“I think I blitzed myself once. Actually my freshman year it was a call where I moved myself to safety, and that’s how I ended up getting the interception against Denard. I was always one of the kids in there making the game plans, so they put a lot of trust in me because they know I pick up on things fast.”
What was the game plan against Michigan last year?
“It was to get the ball out of Denard Robinson’s hands. We kind of overlooked Toussaint. Nobody knew about him at the time. He ended up having a breakout game against us, so the biggest thing going into the Michigan game was to get the ball out of his hands. You don’t want him to throw it, and you don’t want him to take off running.”
What did you say after the game that you could have done better?
“We could have done better on the perimeter. We let a lot of runs get to the outside, and our pursuit was kind of down because everyone was trying to contain him.”
Illinois C Graham Pocic
On the Michigan game:
“I remember you guys kicked our butts … I know that our defense played well. As an offense we didn’t play very well that game. We were lucky that the defense kept it close, but I don’t remember it being that close at the end.”
On Michigan’s defensive line:
“Mike Martin’s a very good player. Who was 53?” Van Bergen. “Solid guy, solid player. Mike Martin was strong and made a lot of plays against us. Good linebackers and safety – Kovacs. Good front seven, good defense overall.”
How would you compare Michigan’s defense with other defenses in the Big Ten?
“I think you have to consider where they came from. We put up 67 [Ed: 65] points on them two years ago, and last year we only put up like 10 [Ed: 14]. They made a huge improvement. [Compared with] the rest of the Big Ten, I feel like they’re up there. They’re improving. I’d say comparing them against Ohio State’s defense, Ohio State’s defense was better. I feel like Penn State’s defense was better, too.”
On his younger brother, LSU OL commit Ethan Pocic, and recruiting:
“I talk to him about it, and I think he did a great job handling the process … I feel like with the social media now it’s a lot different from when I got recruited. When I got recruited the whole thing was text messages, and with him it’s random people hitting him up on Facebook and Twitter and stuff. I feel like nowadays it’s a lot more out there. I didn’t have a Facebook when I was recruited. My brother was up on Facebook announcing his offers. I was never able to do that … they outlawed text messaging so coaches can’t do that anymore, so I think they switched to Facebook.”
Illinois DE Michael Buchanan
On the Michigan game:
“I feel like it was a game we should have won. But they did a good job closing the game out, and we didn’t.”
On Michigan’s offensive line:
“Michigan has a very good offensive line. They definitely had one of the best offensive lines we played against last year.”
On Taylor Lewan:
“He’s definitely one of the top three guys I went against last year. For a young guy, he’s a very developed left tackle, and I definitely need to bring my A-game against him.”
Indiana DT Larry Black, Jr.
Do you talk to Jibreel much?
“Oh yeah, I talk to him a lot.”
How’s the switch to DT been for him?
“Oh it’s going well. I see him starting right now. He takes the transition well. Whenever he needs advice he contacts me, and I contact him to make sure he’s doing fine.”
What kind of advice does he get from you?
“Just different techniques, how to work against certain offensive linemen, what to look for, and what to watch out for. Sometimes he gives me advice because he’s a pretty good player himself, so it turns out to be hand in hand.”
Has he talked to you about being undersized?
“Well actually I think he gained the weight that he needs to gain. I’m a 300-pound defensive tackle, but hey, he has a quickness, and that’ll help make up for it. He can gain weight, and I’m pretty sure he can gain more. He should probably be at 280 by the start of camp, so if he keeps working he’ll be fine. When I was home last week, he was home, so he was looking pretty big, so that’s good.”
Who’s the better player?
What do you remember about the Michigan game in 2010?
“I remember hitting Denard on the last play, but he got the ball away, and it was a sad game. I’m over it now, and I wish we could play them, but we don’t. Hopefully we see you guys in the Big Ten Championship.”
via David Scrivner / The Daily Iowan
Iowa CB Micah Hyde
On press coverage:
“You know what, if we could, I’d want to play cover-1 press all day. It’s something about competing against the receivers. In the Big Ten there are good receivers. Big, tall athletic guys. Quick, elusive guys. It’s just a competition [to see] who can beat each other one on one. Hopefully that’s the case this fall.”
Do you think you’ll do that this fall?
“I’m not the defensive coordinator. I have no idea what the players are going to be. In spring ball we were working on it a lot more. I would love to.”
Who was the toughest Big Ten receiver you’ve covered in your career?
LOL. In a game.
“In a game? I think there’s been some bigger athletic guys I’ve gone against, but I think pound for pound, one-on-one coverage, I think the best person at getting off of coverage was Ebert of Northwestern the last couple years. He could separate … He had 12 or 13 catches against us last year. He may not be the best receiver in a lot of people’s eyes – he may not be the best in my eyes – but he comes to mind because he could really get separation.”
Iowa’s defense looked different against Michigan. Why?
“First off, you got Denard back there. He’s a versatile player. On every single play you have to know who has contain and know what you’re doing as a unit, as a defense. I really don’t think our game plan changed too much going into that game. We definitely just went out there and played hard. You have a good team coming into your house, and you want to play them to the best of your ability, and I think that’s what we did.”
At that point Denard hadn’t quite figured out the passing offense yet. Did you stack up against the run and try to force him to throw because you saw that as a weakness?
“No, definitely not. We know he can throw the ball. A lot of people think he’s just a running quarterback. What he does with his legs and the receivers that he has, he definitely has a passing game. He can get it done with his feet and with his arm, and we know that. There was nothing about loading up the box and making him pass the ball. There wasn’t anything like that.”
What did you think of Michigan’s receivers?
“They’re good. Last year they had some bigger guys – Hemingway and Koger – but they also had their quick, elusive guys. They can definitely get open, too. I think in the last couple years they’ve had some really good receivers that I played against. They’re all dangerous.”
What do you remember about their last drive in the game?
“Well I remember them almost getting that touchdown, but it was reviewed. That was on me. I was pretty sure he didn’t catch the ball, but it was fortunate that it got overturned. But I think it was a great defensive stand by our team. We just gutted up and tried to keep them out of the endzone, and fortunately we did. For them, they tried their hardest. It was a good game, but it’s college football. Some things go right, some things go wrong. They definitely did a good job coming back and working hard. I saw they won the Sugar Bowl, so they definitely competed the rest of the season. They didn’t let that bring them down.”
What did you think of the last play?
“That’s B.J. Lowrie. He makes plays. He does that every day in practice. Wasn’t surprising at all. To be honest, I didn’t even see that play until we watched film because I was too busy watching my guy. I didn’t want to give up that touchdown.”
It was a controversial play because it looked like it was pass interference. Thoughts?
“I’m a DB all the way. I never see pass interference. I thnk the offense gets too much credit for defensive pass interference. You can’t even touch a receiver nowadays because it’s going to be a flag. B.J. didn’t do anything wrong.”
Did you give him a hard time about it at all?
“No. Not at all. Just like in practice, we’ll go against receivers and we’ll be watching film, and you’ll hear the receivers yell from the other end of the room: ‘That was pass interference! That was pass interference!’ Even on the field they yell that all the time. I swear if you touch the receivers and they don’t catch the ball, it’s pass interference all the time. That’s just the offensive mindset. I guess I had that mindset too in high school when I played quarterback. I thought everything was pass interference, too. Being a defensive player now – they’re too touchy. They’re way to touchy.”
Ohio State DE John Simon
On the Michigan game:
“I remember it was a little too high scoring for my taste. Michigan’s offense played very well and they were able to put some big points on us, so you have to give them some props there. Our offense tried to keep us in the game with a lot of points, but we just couldn’t down that offense last year.”
It looked like you were being moved around on the defensive line a lot. What went into that part of the game plan?
“I did that all last season. We’re very versatile on the d-line, so we try to move around as much as possible to give the o-line different looks, so the o-line really has to prepare for a couple different d-linemen. We tried to throw them off a little bit, but unfortunately in that game it didn’t work so well.”
On containing Denard:
“Definitely that game, the game plan was to try to contain him a little bit and not pass rush that much, but he was still able to run on us. That shows the kind of player he is. He’s such a great athlete that when guys are trying to contain him he’ll still break free.”
On Taylor Lewan:
“Great player. Very smart, very intelligent. That whole offensive line was very cohesive together and picking up our blitzes, so they were definitely up to the challenge.”
How would you rank Michigan’s offensive line against the rest of the Big Ten?
“You know, that’s tough to do, but they were definitely up at the top, and they played us extremely well.”
The one that looks like he's about to injure someone.
Michigan State LB Max Bullough
On the double A-gap blitz:
“That’s all up to coach Narduzzi. He calls it when he thinks it’s necessary just like he calls any other blitz. That’s just another one of our blitzes. It’s not our base defense or anything. Coach Narduzzi scouts and thinks it should be called, just like any other play.”
What’s it supposed to accomplish?
“It’s supposed to stop the ball.”
On Jerel Worthy, jumping the snap count:
“I don’t think it’s about replacing him and doing that as well. The next guy in is going to have his own strengths and weaknesses. Jerel – he did that because he was a smart player. He could understand the other team’s cadence and really able to take advantage of that. If the team didn’t change it up very much, he’d hold off it and know what to do in the third and fourth quarter. That’s just him being an intelligent football player and pick up on those little things.”
Did Narduzzi coach him on how to do that?
“No that was just him.”
The one that looks like he's actually enjoying himself.
Michigan State LB Chris Norman
On the Michigan game:
“Anytime you play Michigan it’s going to be extremely emotional just because the rivalry is so personal. There were a few things I remember about the game. I remember our uniforms. They were pretty sweet combat unis. I remember Michigan’s uniforms. They were pretty okay.”
“I’ll let them answer that question.”
On stopping Michigan’s offense:
“Preparation for Michigan is unique. I say that because we will try our best from within the program to find a Denard Robinson duplicate, and when I say duplicate I mean in the sense of athleticism, artificial dreadlocks, the number and everything, and we have to chase the guy around during practice week the entire time.”
Who have you gotten to be the duplicate?
“In the past, it’s been Tony Lippett, he’s done it. Spencer Elliott, he’s done it. I don’t know who it’s going to be this season, but I’m excited for whoever it’s going to be, because they have a huge responsibility.”
How do you stop Michigan’s ground game?
“This is the job of the D-coordinator. I think he did a really good job. I guess you could say our favorite blitz [Ed: loves him that blitz!] – double A-gaps, whatever you want to call it – was really effective against you guys and I don’t know what he saw that made it much more effective, but we did a good job executing it … That’s our favorite blitz, game in and game out. For whatever reason it was more effective against Michigan than against other folks. So I don’t know. We did what we did. We were aggressive, blitzed, tried to get in the backfield, and played sound, hard defense.”
WHEW. End informative portion. Fans were allowed into the place afterwards to get autographs and photos for about an hour before the luncheon. The food was good. After getting our heartstrings pulled out by Denard's speech, Ace and I departed and headed back to Ann Arbor. Yes, down the stinky stretch of highway where we paid more tolls.
B1G media days is not a lot of fun. For anyone. I'm not sure it's supposed to be, but it's just as stressful for the media trying to get in as many questions and storylines as possible as it is for the players and coaches getting bombarded by them.
B1G media days is very interesting and informative. Two hours worth of one-on-one access -- especially with the Michigan players -- feels like an eternity compared with the 10 minutes per week we normally get. Players speak more freely when there isn't an SID hovering two feet away, and it's nice not having to fight other reporters to cram in questions.
Compared with other schools, Michigan does a great job indoctrinating its players to say the right things. While this is good for the program/brand, it is not particularly good for anyone interested in knowing about the program. It is what it is.
Meeting other players and coaches in person really puts fandom in perspective. This is not a particularly deep insight (none of these are, really). This is just how I felt when I left.
Great. I will leave you with this: