"Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball." — Jourdan Lewis [Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan's 2014 roster includes six proud graduates of Detroit's Cass Tech High School, including four in the secondary alone and a fifth—Royce Jenkins-Stone, Class of 2012—also on the defensive side of the ball. Remarkably, all six are making a serious push for playing time this fall. At Media Day, I caught up with every former Technician on the team save for Delano Hill, who's recovering from a broken jaw, to discuss their current roles on the team, what it's like to be surrounded by their former high school teammates, and much more.
The defensive backs, to a man, are excited about the new aggressive playing style, as well as the level of competition at corner.
Terry Richardson feels physically prepared to be out there after adding "a quick 12 to 15 pounds" this offseason.
Delonte Hollowell was wearing a small cast on his left hand due to an injury suffered from "practicing hard, you know?" He thinks it's just a sprain.
Royce Jenkins-Stone says Greg Mattison "critiques the little things" more with his new charges at linebacker, and the group is better for it.
David Dawson, man of mystery, does not want you to know what position he's playing.
There's competition everywhere.
Every single one lit up when talking about playing with a big group of other guys from Cass Tech—they clearly share a strong bond with their former and present teammates.
You made a big move in the spring. Heading into the fall, Coach Hoke talked about how you're one of the top three corners. How do you feel you've progressed since last year and what are your expectations for this season in terms of your performance?
Just be aggressive. Just play good. Just keep playing how I'm doing. Just keep the intensity up though the season, pretty much.
There's been a big emphasis on aggressiveness from the cornerbacks. How do you feel that fits in with your style of play, and what's been the biggest change since last year?
It's definitely a big emphasis on being physical, that's how all of us really like to play. Just doing that, just with how we like to play, it's really suiting us. We're actually better as a whole unit.
Because of how aggressive you guys are playing, has the level of competition been raised between the cornerbacks and the receivers right now?
It's just everybody. All of us just love to compete, and it's not even like—the competition, we don't see it [that way], we just see it as "we're gonna just lock this receiver up every chance we get."
There's a bunch of Cass Tech guys on the team, and a lot of them are competing for time. What's it like to be surrounded by your high school teammates at Michigan?
It's amazing. It's amazing just knowing that you've got somebody who has your back through anything. It's really amazing. It brings everybody together, even the ones that didn't go to Cass Tech, it actually helps us all be together and help us be tight as a unit.
[Note: This is where I wrapped up my Q&A; I caught the audio of a couple questions for Lewis from The Wolverine's Chris Balas.]
How much more confident are you from year one to year two?
Confident? I was about the same, but being consistent and comfortable is a key, really. Right now that's all I'm really worried about, just being consistent and being comfortable in my technique in everything we do.
How much more comfortable are you knowing what you know now compared to what you knew a year ago?
It was way faster last year. Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball.
[Hit THE JUMP for interviews with Terry Richardson, DELONTE HOLLOWELL, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and David Dawson.]
Richardson (#13) in the Spring Game [Fuller]
You've been on campus for a few years now and it sounds like you're working your way towards being on the field. How do you feel you've progressed over the last few years?
It took a little time. It took a little bit of trying to get used to it. Just, you know, over the years, playing and practicing so much, learning more about the defense, learning more about how receivers run routes and stuff, that helped me out a lot.
I know adding weight has been big for you. How's that been going?
This year, it went well—I'm not going to lie to you, it went well. I put on a quick 12 to 15 pounds and that helped me out a lot. I can tell the difference in my play. I've got more strength, I've got more power, I've got more drive on my breaks—I'm glad that they took time on me to let me get my body ready to go.
There's been a huge emphasis this year on being more aggressive in the secondary. How do you think that's fitting your playing style and what's the biggest difference between last year and this year?
It's working out well. We're trying to have a more in-your-face style of play. We don't want to play too passively. We want to let you know that we come to play every play, every snap. It's a new style of play for us and we're getting used to it. We started out in the spring and it worked out well, now here in camp we need to focus on it just a little more. We all like it so far.
Jourdan was saying there's a lot of competition among you guys at corner. He says it's friendly, but he says it's intense, too. What's it like having to compete so hard against those guys right now, and how do you feel about the strength of the cornerbacks as a group right now?
As you know, it's not easy, but you've got to go out there and put your best foot forward every day, yet still, we are a team, so we want to make sure we all know the right checks, the right calls, the right things that need to be going. But competition is competition. It's football. It ain't golf or nothing like that, this is football. What you can do, the next man can do as well, so I like it because it's a way to always put your best foot forward, you know it brings more of your potential out. That's something we've been focusing on every day.
Is there a sense of urgency with you guys this year? With the way last year went and the emphasis on being aggressive, it sounds like they're really lighting a fire under you guys.
I wouldn't say so much they're lighting fire, they just want more from us, and we're going to give them more. We are going to play hard, and we are going to play for this team and this university. That's one thing that they have told us, so that's one thing that we've been working on throughout camp, and not just us as corners, but as a whole defense, as a whole team. We've got something to prove, and we feel like this is the year for us to do it.
Seem like about half the secondary and a fair amount of other guys came out of Cass Tech. What's it like for you guys to keep playing together at this level, and how does it help you just knowing those guys from high school?
It helps a lot. That chemistry is already there. We already know each other's strengths and each other's problems and stuff when it comes to certain packages and certain coverages, so it allows us to play more like how we used to back in high school. We feel more comfortable and we feel more free with each other out there all being on the same playing field, and that helps out a lot. This is really the first year that all of us are really out here together. In the spring, it started off pretty shaky, but now we've been playing and working all spring all summer, we've been working hard and everything's coming together now.
YES, I WAS TEMPTED TO TRANSCRIBE THIS INTERVIEW IN ALL CAPS [Eric Upchurch]
I've gotta ask about the hand [which was in a cast]. What happened?
Practicing hard, you know? You practice hard, things like this happen, but I'll be alright. Probably just a little sprain.
Coach Hoke mentioned you're right in the mix at cornerback right now. How do you think you're progressed from last year and where do you feel you're at right now?
I mean, I'm more mature, and I think my fundamentals have got way better since my freshman year. Every year I've progressed. We're all competing.
How have you enjoyed the increased emphasis on being more aggressive on the line and being more aggressive in general on defense?
That's always been a huge emphasis in my game. I'm a fighter, and I think that being physical is a good part about football, so I'm just taking it on.
The guys are saying there's a lot of competition at corner, and while it's friendly it's also intense. Do you feel that way?
It's a competition at every position. It's a competition every year. I've been here four years, and every year there's been competition, so nothing's changed, just gotta overcome it and the best player will play.
With yourself and it seems about half the secondary coming out of Cass Tech, what's it like to play with a bunch of your high school teammates, especially now that a lot of you guys are working towards spots on the field?
It's a great thing. It's a great thing to play at Michigan with all of these different players from different schools and everything, but being with a couple players from high school that I grew up with, there's nothing like it. It's like having your brother come up with you from little league or whatever.
Terry said that it feels a little bit like high school playing out there. Is there any similarity in the schemes that you were playing in high school compared to what you're playing now, playing more man up, playing press at the line?
There's a lot of similar schemes in every program. We all played man. We all played zone coverages. Nothing's really changed, just different techniques and stuff.
RJS, focused on the field [Upchurch]
How do you feel fall camp has gone so far? It sounds like you're right in the mix at linebacker.
Camp's going really good right now. Everybody's competing and making it hard for Coach to determine the starters right now. Everybody's getting at it and we just need to continue having a great fall camp.
The coaching staff got shifted around a little bit on defense. How do you feel that's working so far, and how do you feel you're being coached compared to last year?
Everything is going good right now. The coaches, there was a little coaching change, but it was all for the better, better for the team, if it wasn't there wouldn't have been a change. Coach Mattison, he critiques the little things more so than Coach Smith did, and it's getting everyone better, it's getting the SAMs and the WILLs better than what they were before. Just the little things, stepping the right way, getting your punch delivery, just making everyone better.
Making that shift to the over from the under, how has that changed your role, and how do you feel that's working for the defense right now? Are you comfortable playing in a slightly different spot?
Yeah. In an over defense I play the SAM position right now. Coach Mattison puts a big emphasis on holding the edge in that defense, so he feels like guys that are playing that position right now can hold that for him, and everything's going good.
Do you think this suits you better than being on the weak side in the under, so is it just another place to play linebacker?
It's another place to play linebacker. Coach feels like I can play better at that position, he feels like I can help more at the SAM position, so that's why I'm in this position now, and I can hopefully help out the team this year.
It sounds like aggressiveness is the name of the game on defense this year, and it also sounds like the tempo has been jacked up a little bit in practice. Are you enjoying the new way that you're being coached and how hard you're going at it right now?
This first week of fall camp has been great. Right now we're all getting at it. We had a nice little two-minute deal yesterday. We're just all getting at it, having fun first, and just having a great time at fall camp. [Laughs] It's camp. It's a grind.
How's the experience been like for you playing with a lot of your high school teammates, especially now that you're all pushing to be on the field this year?
If I would've been told back in my freshman year of high school that we would all be playing together, including James [Ross], we played against each other too—[chances] were very slim. I would've never thought that we'd all be at the same school, and I hope that we all make a push to be on that field this year.
Where will Dawson (#55) line up? Wouldn't you like to know. [Fuller]
You're right in the competition at right guard. How do you think you're progressed in the last year to get yourself ready for potential playing time?
I'm just doing the drills that Coach Funk asks me to do, and I can tell the difference between a lot of things I did last year and what I'm doing now.
You've been working with Coach Funk since the Sound Mind Sound Body camp a couple years ago. What's your comfort level with him, and what's your comfort level with the schemes that you guys are running this year?
Coach Funk is a great coach. He's a thrill to be around, and I'm just trying to listen and take his coaching points and do what he asks me to do.
Do you think it's made a difference being able to focus more on one thing [inside zone] as a unit?
I don't want to answer that question right now.
How would you say you guys are coming together on the line? It seems like they're shifting the lineups a little bit—are you guys settling into positions a little or is it still up in the air?
It's competition all over the place, and we're just steady competing.
I know you've played tackle before as well, do you think you could play that spot if you were asked to?
I'd say there's competition everywhere.
I talked to a bunch of your former Cass Tech teammates, there's a bunch of you guys out here, obviously, and it seems like you're all looking to get on the field. What's it been like to be able to have a bunch of those guys here and also to come in with some of your former teammates? Did that help you get acclimated to being a part of the team?
That definitely played a part with me, being able to come in with two of the guys in my graduating class, Delano Hill and Jourdan Lewis, that helped me a lot. We still had Terry Richardson and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Delonte Hollowell, and we all played together at least one year on the team. Having that chemistry within the team that we're on now is a big deal.