Always nice to see a U-M football player drop vocabulary like nomenclature with ease.
(whereas further west...never mind)
In the half-hour we spent on the field talking to players at Sunday's Media Day, the theme of this offseason and fall camp was clear: change is here. For the offense, that means a change in coordinators, and with that a significant difference in how they practice. The tempo is being pushed like never before in Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan, and that also affects the defense, which is dealing with change of their own, as the coaching staff on that side shifts roles while the defense moves from a 4-3 under to a 4-3 over.
I caught up with Dennis Norfleet, Jake Ryan, and Wyatt Shallman to discuss these changes and more, including Ryan saying he feels fully recovered from the ACL tear that limited him to just five starts in 2013. Tomorrow, I'll have further player interviews with the significant portion of the team that hails from Cass Tech.
You're getting work in the slot now pretty much exclusively, it sounds like. How comfortable are you at that position right now?
I'm getting a lot better. The wide receiving crew is really helping me out a lot. Coach Hecklinski is a great coach, he's getting me to feel comfortable when I get in there and getting me comfortable with my plays, so I'm doing pretty well.
What's been the biggest difference with the new offensive coordinator, the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest change is we're moving faster, up-tempo. We're a lot better as an offensive crew, we're more than a team, we're a family, so that's what makes a big difference to us now.
With that big increase in tempo, it sounds like you guys are getting more reps in. How much of a difference has that made in terms of getting more comfortable in the offense?
It's a making a lot of difference. It's a big difference because we have a lot of rotation, everybody gets to know their plays, nobody's going out there not knowing what they're doing, and if they don't they have people to tell them if they go wrong. That's a big difference.
How do you see your role being this year? Obviously you're playing the slot, but there's a lot you can do, so how do you see yourself being utilized in the offense this year?
I'm just doing my job, you know. If I get open space, I do what I do best, you know. I'm also being a role model for the younger players that came in. We're basically working as a team in everything that we do.
At returner, you obviously have a lot of experience there. Coach Hoke said you're getting a lot of the reps there but that there are a couple freshmen who are also coming in and making a push. How do you feel at returner right now, and is that a place you feel you can make a really big impact?
Kick returning has always been something that I go into the game and everything, you know, willing that I want to return a kick [for a score] every game. We've been rotating a lot, we've got a lot of players that are competing, spots that's not really set out for who starts where, so we're just having fun in camp right now and competing.
It sounds like both at slot and returner that you're working a lot with Freddy Canteen. What have you seen out of him in the spring and fall so far?
Canteen's becoming a better young man, not just a football player, just in life. He's been looking up to the older receivers, like Devin Funchess, me, [redshirt senior walk-on Anthony] Capatina. It's just a lot of people he can look up to, to become a better person, both in our lives and football.
You keep mentioning how you guys have come together as a team. What's been the biggest change since last year, and do you feel like as an upperclassman now you're really grown into a leadership role?
When I came in, I did things that upperclassmen always told me was wrong that I didn't think were wrong, but now that I'm older I can see what they were talking about. You know, it's more than just a game. We're trying to win a championship, the Big Ten, so as we go along that's the focus of our days. That's what we're ready for.
[Hit THE JUMP for Jake Ryan discussing his transition to middle linebacker and his full recovery from the ACL tear, and Wyatt Shallman talking about his role in the offense and the changes in style under Doug Nussmeier.]
|Photo: Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog|
How's the transition going to middle linebacker right now? How comfortable are you?
It's going well. I've learned a lot. Coach Mattison has been doing great. Desmond [Morgan] and Joe Bolden have been helping me a lot. I'm getting it down, but day by day I'm taking steps forward.
What would you say is the biggest different between playing the middle in an over versus playing on the strong side in an under?
Probably, you know, your focus is on that running back as a middle linebacker. At SAM linebacker, it's always on the tight end, so there's a lot more going on at middle linebacker, and that's a transition I've had to make. But like I said, I'm taking those steps every single day.
You're also making a lot of the calls in there. Are you getting comfortable as more of a commander of the defense right now?
I am, I am. Like I said, I'm getting help from other guys, but I'm getting it every single day, and getting more comfortable with my position.
The coaching staff got shifted around a little bit on defense. How do you think that's going, having new guys in new spots?
Good. You know, it's going well. Coach Smith is doing real well with the defensive line. Coach Mattison's always going to be the center of everything, the playcaller, so I think it's great—great for our team, great for our defense.
How's the leg feeling compared to last year?
Good. It's feeling great. It feels like it never even happened. It's going well.
What's the biggest thing that you think you guys need to improve before you get to game one?
From the defense's perspective, I think it's just communication, I think that's always key. It's always gonna be huge for the type of defense we are, so I think communication's gonna be huge for us.
|Photo: Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog|
Where are you practicing these days?
I'm doing fullback, H-back, and a little bit of running back, so kinda just in the backfield.
Is that a little overwhelming at times, to have three different spots you're lining up at, or is that something you're used to at this point?
I feel like for some people it's overwhelming. When I first started doing it, it was kinda tough, but now that I've got all the nomenclature of the new offense down and listening to playcalls I just know what I'm going to do when the words come out rather than having to think about it. So, it's really not too bad anymore, it's just remembering the little things from play to play—like, on the same play, what steps do I have at tailback versus H-back versus some tight end stuff.
With Jake Butt out, I know you're playing H-back more than on-the-line tight end, but that does open up a little bit of an opportunity for playing time. How do you feel you're doing in terms of the competition, and what's the competition like overall at that H-back spot?
Well the competition overall with this team is amazing. Everyone is competing for their spots. Just because you're a senior doesn't mean that you have a guaranteed spot, or if you're a [returning] starter it doesn't mean you have a guaranteed spot—everyone's working for it, which is how a football team should be. In terms of the H-back position, I mean, we've got a lot of great athletes. The dudes we're working with, we all compete every day, so it's really good competition and it's fun.
It sounds like the tempo has really been ramped up during practices. [Wyatt: Yeah.] How have you guys taken to that, and do you think it's a positive change compared to last year?
Oh, yeah, for sure. When Coach Nuss got here, we had a walkthrough of what a practice would be like before the spring, and it was just, like, whoa. Constant movement. It's a different format in that you are constantly moving from group to group to group—on different fields, constantly at least jogging, so it definitely gets you in shape really well. I just like it because it's just constant competition everywhere you get to. You jog up to competition, you get done, you go jog to more competition, so it's a good pace and I like it a lot.
I assume that's getting you guys more reps, as well.
Yeah, oh yeah. Everyone's getting their amount of reps, and like I said, everyone's competing, so it's definitely a good structure for practice.
Other than the tempo, what would you say is the biggest difference between how you were coached under Al Borges last year and where you're at with Coach Nuss this year?
All I can say is Coach Nussmeier is a great dude, a great coach, and I'm excited to have him. He's intense at practice and fiery, which is fun. He gets after it. He's on the field with us players, just getting hype with us, and then teaching us when we do something wrong. Overall, Coach Nuss is just a lively dude, and I really enjoy having him as a coach.
How different are the schemes that he's running compared to what you were running last year. Is it a huge difference or are there similarities but the terminology is just different?
I mean, the scheme, it's different—I did redshirt last year so last year I spent a lot of my time trying to learn other people's offenses to get our team a look, so really I feel like I'm coming into my first offense. I didn't really do much under Coach Borges. I just like how [Nussmeier] has everything set up. He really knows what everyone is doing at all times, which is really impressive.
Being on the scout team and looking at those other teams' offenses—first of all, do you think that helps you learn this offense, and is there another Big Ten team that Nussmeier's offense reminds you of?
Well, being on the scout team last year, what it really teaches you to do is to be tough, especially at the positions I play, you really have to be a man. I've always been kinda younger, so I thought it really good for a baptism by fire for me last year on scout team, going against guys like Frank Clark and Jake Ryan, Cam Gordon, where they're going full speed and I'm just a freshman. So I think that's what it taught me more than anything. Like I said, Coach Nuss brings his own playbook into it and his own swag or style, if you will, so I'm not gonna compare him to anyone else.
Always nice to see a U-M football player drop vocabulary like nomenclature with ease.
(whereas further west...never mind)
Was going to say the same.
He just became a personal favorite for that reason alone.
Hoping he gets a score or two somewhere along the way.
it was just like, woah.
I'll say this about Hoke's teams.... they are exceptionally well drilled on how to speak to the media. Everyone has the same exact messaging, down to the words they use. They are either well prepped, or they are drilling those ideas and concepts in practice and everyone is really buying in.
Hoke has always had the same message...I guarantee Ace could give this board 10 questions and tell us to answer them as if we were Coach Hoke and you'd see a TON of similarities.
I'm not saying it's good or bad, but that's just Coach Hoke, he's been consistent in his message since he's been at Michigan. To the point where it's almost boring listening to him speak at pressers because he's going to answer the questions generally the same way he always has.
Hear it enough and I'm sure the players do...not surprising that they're repeating the same things.
Denard used to ALWAYS use Hokeisms or "buzz words." These guys are the same way.
I always wonder why people around here get up in arms when Hoke says something. He'll say something about the QB position being a competition and everyone freaks out, "gawd, no it isn't! Stop saying that! Jeeezus." When he says the exact same thing about literally every position. Hoke intentionally does not say much of anything of real interest or substance when he talks to the media.
"what would you say is the biggest difference between ... Al Borges last year and ... Coach Nuss this year?
All I can say is Coach Nussmeier is a great dude."
I almost feel sorry for Al. The comparisons are pretty stark.
Seems like he was concentrating on this year, and wasn't trying to say anything (positive or negative) about last year.
I actually remember Mattison, of all people, trying to do the same PR dance when he came in in 2011. He was trying to talk about how good the players were and how they just needed to be coached up more, but he was obviously trying (with limited success) to not simultaneously talk bad about GERG.
I seem to remember a quote along the lines of, "but these guys didn't even know how to watch film" slipping out at one point.
I read it as "I can't comment on Coach Borges, he's not here anymore and I was a freshman that was redshirting...all I can say (in relation to the question) is Coach Nuss is a great dude."
I see how it may sound like a diss, but I didn't take it that way...IMO, he just wasn't going to speak on a man who isn't around anymore.
"I just like how [Nussmeier] has everything set up. He really knows what everyone is doing at all times, which is really impressive."
"All I can say is Coach Nussmeier is a great dude, a great coach, and I'm excited to have him. He's intense at practice and fiery, which is fun. He gets after it. He's on the field with us players, just getting hype with us, and then teaching us when we do something wrong. Overall, Coach Nuss is just a lively dude, and I really enjoy having him as a coach."
How would you respond if a reporter asked you about your present and former boss, and you knew that it would be posted in public?
They were put in the position to have to respond, so I wouldn't go so far as to call it sucking up, but anything oher than "the present boss is great/better" is really not helpful to the interviewee.
Unless you are Devin Gardner. Then you can call your present boss Fred Flintstone.
Seems that some OC's are great X's and O's guys, while others are great teachers and motivators. Obviously one would prefer that their OC is a combo of these things, but AB seemed to be far to one side, and Nuss seems like a more functional combo.
Despite all the hand wringing and worry, i cannot help but think that this season will be a nice turnaround and we'll all be very pleased with the direction the program is going.
"nobody's going out there not knowing what they're doing, and if they don't they have people to tell them if they go wrong. That's a big difference."
I think that's a pretty big statement about the past.... I don't know how to block quote, sorry.
For me this was pretty telling...
In all, you can find little "nuggets" in a few of the comments that make you shake your fist at the past and give you a little hope for the future.
I'm excited...and excited that the guys are excited and energized. They're certainly saying all the right things.
Instead of trashing or humiliating a newbie, he can laugh at seeing his past self and share his own foibles. It's more fun learning from a mentor than from an arrogant jerk. And certainly better for team morale.
Make your text read like this:
<blockquote> Put words of wisdom here </blockquote>
In actual practice:
Anyone having any contact with Debbie Hempseed please go immediately to the free clinic.
The tempo is being pushed like never before at Michigan
What? Of all the places to pretend 2008-10 didn't happen.......
Not sure how Rich Rod's practices were run...at some point they had to go fast, but that doesn't mean the way practice was constructed was fast paced.
Rich Rod's practices were widely known to be insanely fast-paced (and mostly for the benefit of the offense). It's written about in the Bacon book, it was written about on this website.
RichRod's offenses were also pretty good as we all recall. I think the consistent mention of up-tempo, increased-rep practice is the single most encouraging thing out of camp.
I remember shouting go..go..go..go..at the offense far too often last year; keep the rhythm! High-tempo will also help the D be stronger in the 4th quarter.
Agreed: The up-tempo practice news is very encouraging.
I spent much of last season shouting at the screen for them same reason. Getting to the line, reading the defense--it gives you a chance.
And after last season's run game, I'll be happy with a chance. A mere chance would represent a vast offensive improvement.
...When playing good D's.
That was poorly worded on my part.
I know it's hard to get access but I would love to see more of these interviews in the future.
Goddammit I want my no huddle offense, a wicked depth chart, and 49 pts a game!
solid interviews, good to see some somewhat new questions, not the same stale questions from beat writers filling in their puff pieces. hopefully shallman and hill can earn some snaps in this O this year, itd be real nice if those HBs are trusted to seal the edge, capably work to 2nd level, and lead QBs and TBs. we all know the OLs issues but almost as significant last yr were the FBs and TEs inability to consistently block anyone at all. i thought shallman might be an interesting piece when they added him as a recruit and many compared his skillset and ceiling to shea or askew (which would be tremendous bc they were both legit pros). might be wishful thinking but this O would really benefit from capable blocking from shallman, hill, houma, etc as well as those type players challenging the flats in space