News bullets and other important items:
This record is so broken, but no official decision on Fitz yet. Decision has been made but won't be revealed until the "time is right."
Roundtree is back in full pads and practicing.
Quinton Washington has won the starting nose tackle job. Will Campbell is the starting 3-tech. Jibreel Black is back at WDE because -- I'm guessing based on other Hoke comments -- he still isn't big enough.
Brennen Beyer will float between WDE and SAM depending on the situation. It sounds like he's the primary backup at both positions rather than starting at either one.
Will Hagerup is the starting punter. Matt Wile will kick off. Brendan Gibbons will kick field goals. Wile will handle "outlandishly long" field goals -- 55 yarders -- if it comes to that.
Michigan shuffled the offensive line a lot during camp. Patrick Omameh spent some time at right tackle and Elliott Mealer spent some time at center.
Dennis Norfleet will return kicks.
“It’s good to be in game week. It’s been a long camp. I think it’s been productive in a lot of ways. I think we found out a little more about ourselves. I think we finished and ended camp at the end of the week and really yesterday we had a really good practice. I think with being physical with each other, having a good mentality and toughness, I think we improved. I think they came in and competed every day, which is a big part of it. I think the other thing we talked about was coming in with a lot of energy. We voted captains last night, and I’m really proud of both guys who were selected to be captains by their peers. I think both of them, obviously, deserve that. Both of them have been tremendous when you look at their leadership and what they’ve done for us as a football team to this point. We also have a whole group of seniors who have really done a good job. With that being said, I’m real proud of those two guys leading this football team. We have a big week ahead of us. We practiced last night. Today we won’t practice. We’ll meet and have some meetings. Tuesday will be a normal work day. Wednesday we’ll be a little lighter, not a whole lot. Thursday will be our normal Thursday, and we’ll get on the plane and go. We’re excited about it. Excited about the opportunity, obviously. The defending national champs and the job that Nick’s done is one that we respect. It’ll be a lot of fun for us to go down and compete. To compete for Michigan and to compete for the Big Ten conference."
You have Fitz listed as No. 1 RB on depth chart. What’s his status?
“We haven’t made a decision yet.”
At what point do you make that decision?
Al said you guys talked about it. How late in the week can you go without deciding?
“Well we’ve had a lot of reps by a lot of guys, so we feel comfortable in whatever we’re going to do.”
You have Quinton Washington at nose tackle -- has he won that job?
“Well he’s won it. I think with the ability -- we wanted a little bigger guy at the three-[technique], and moving Will over there, and he’s played a lot of three the last two seasons, or 18 months. So we wanted a little bigger body. There’s some things that they do that we think will be important to have a little more physicalness. Jibreel can play three in certain situations and he can play the rush end. It just gives us a little stronger, stouter front.”
Can you talk about Brennen Beyer’s camp?
“I thought Brennen had a good camp. Brennen’s a guy who’s done a nice job in the offseason when you look at some strength gains, some weight gains. He’s had a good camp. He’s a guy that we’ll count on, especially during the course of the season. You’re always going to need that added depth, you’ll always need guys in certain defensive looks you may play who can be a little stouter at the line of scrimmage. He’s mutliple where he can play the SAM or the rush. He’s a smart guy, that always helps. I think he’s got very good talent.”
How much was the decision on defensive line influenced by the Alabama game?
“Well there is a point to that. They’re a physical front. They’re a big front. We feel that the best players are always going to play, but the best players at those positions are a big part of it. That’s part of it. There’s no doubt about it. And then we start getting to the sub, nickel, and dime packages, that front changes anyway.”
Do you see this game as a step Michigan needs to take in order to re-establish itself as a big time program?
“Well, again, ‘re-establish’ -- I don’t buy into that. I never have. I do think it’s a great marker for where we’re at as a program and what we can be. I think every first game every year, you learn a lot about yourself. You go into it because every team’s different. I went back and thought about last year at this time. I didn’t know if we were going to win two games, let alone 11. You don’t know until you get in the real deal as far as playing games. Honestly it’s something that we’ll find out. We’ll find out about ourselves.”
What’s Roy Roundtree’s status?
“Yeah he’s good. He practiced yesterday. He ran with the first goup. I don’t think we have any problem with Roy.”
How comfortable are you with Thomas Rawls?
“I think Rawls, Smith, I think Justice Hayes and his development, I think all three of those guys -- they’re all a little bit different, but all three of those guys have had a good camp. With Justice, him picking up a little more on the offense totally, the passing game, the protection part of it, all that and being able to stick your nose on a guy, I feel pretty good about that. You know, Hopkins is a valuable guy at fullback number one because of what he gives us but he’s still a guy who takes a carry or two at the tailback position.”
How dangerous is it to play Alabama for the first game, where people could overreact to how good or bad your team is?
“I don’t know if there’s any danger to it. It’s what you expect when you coach here and play here. To play in those kinds of games. I think the maturity process for a team, believe me I think our guys have known since spring who they open up with. To me, honestly, it doesn’t matter.”
There are 12 true freshman on your depth chart. What does that say about your team?
“Well obviously there’s some talented guys who probably are going to get better as the season progresses. I think it speaks to itself to some degree about depth and where we feel we are and where we need to be. I think they have all done a pretty good job. The one good thing about freshmen is they become older. Young guys become older, and one bad thing is they’re freshmen. Maybe we’ll stub our toe here and there on the way.”
Why and how will a nonconference schedule like this prepare you to win the Big Ten?
“I think like anything else, the better competition you play, the more it pushes you and it pushes you as a player. The improvement part of it, I think it’s a mindset. We want to get better every week throughout the season, because if you don’t, if you go backwards, you’ll really struggle. I think it helps us in a lot of different areas., from the environment we’re going to play in, and being able to be focused and the preparation, the mental part of it -- because come Saturday, it’s all mental. It really becomes all mental. It’s physical abilities guys have, but it becomes mental in how you determine how you’re going to play and react. So I think it helps us.”
Have you determined how Devin Gardner will split time between QB and receiver?
“You’ll see him at receiver a little bit. He’s done some of that during camp, and it’s been good on both ends of it. He’s taken some snaps at quarterback. I don’t know if -- and I won’t tell you this is the amount of plays he’ll do either, but I expect to see him out on the field.”
So, what is the rationale for determining whether Fitz and Frank Clark will play?
“Every day. How they come in every day. How they perform every day. How they are true teammates every day. They’re not done paying consequences on our level yet.”
Do you feel caught between giving your team the best chance to win vs. making sure the players pay the consequences for breaking the law?
“Well, I think whenever you’re in this position. You’ve got to make decisions that are best for the program. And that doesn’t mean for one specific team, it means for the program. It means for the identity and the character of the program that you represent. Are they easy decisions? No. Are they decisions you want to make because you love the kids? No. But you have to make them.”
It seems you’re in a very uncomfortable spot.
“I’m comfortable with what I want to do. Very comfortable with that. Talking to all you guys about it? No. That’s not comfortable because it’s talking about two kids who are sons to us and made bad decisions.”
Do you know what you’re going to do?
“Oh I probably have an idea.”
The punting thing?
“Hagerup will do the punting … Will’s done a good job. They’ve both done a really good job. I’m excited about how they competed. I didn’t think we started the summer off as well as we’d have liked, but I really like how they’ve competed. Right now Will will do the punting. Matt will do kickoffs, and Matt will also do some of the pooch punting if we got into those situations.
Are you going to spit the FG kicking duties between Gibbons and Wile based on distance?
“I still think the way Brendan’s been kicking the ball, I think we’re in good shape with him. If it got outlandishly long, then we’d probably say, alright, Matt, go ahead.”
What’s outlandishly long?
“Well, probably 54, 55 yards. Something like that. I think that’s outlandish.”
Would you really try an outlandishly long one?
“Yeah. I’ll try about anything.”
Do you feel like you have enough running backs to have a running game right out of the box without Fitz?
“Oh I think we have guys who have worked awfully hard. I think we have guys who have gotten a lot of reps through the course of spring football and fall camp. I think the two new kids, the young kids, have gotten some valuable time from a special teams standpoint and a running back standpoint. So I feel very comfortable with whoever’s going to dot that I or be in the gun next to Denard. Vince Smith’s played a lot of football here. Lot of football. Rawls carry-wise probably not close, but Thomas Rawls -- he fits. And then Justice is a guy who I’ve seen grow as a back.”
Will you reveal your decision on Fitz to the public, or will you keep that secret until game time?
“I’m sure I’ll say something when the time’s right.”
And that means…
“When the time’s right.”
Right before kickoff?
“I don’t know. I haven’t figure all that out. I’ve got an idea.”
Fitz’s arraignment is on Tuesday. Does that affect his situation?
How ready is Denard for Saturday?
“Well, you know, Denard’s, in my opinion, always ready. Sometimes you have to bring him back a little bit because his excitement and love for the game of football, love for his teammates, and love for Michigan -- at times you have to rein him in and make sure he’s not … I don’t want him to go out there and we don’t want him to go out there and think he has to do it all on his own. That’s not what he needs to do. He’ll be a big part of what we do offensively, as he always is, but I’d rather rein in a bucking bronco than try to get an old mule moving. I like it when he’s excited.”
That was sort of a problem last year prior to playing Western Michigan. How does that change going against Alabama?
“Well, a year older. A year wiser. I think all those things are part of it.”
You said he gets too jacked up sometimes. Have you found ways to temper that?
“Yeah I think you just talk about it. You can be an amateur psychologist all you want, but it still comes down to that guy, understanding where he needs to be. I think at times when he thinks he has to do more than what he needs to do. He’s been great. He’s been great in fall. When we have game day -- anytime we go to the stadium it’s our game day -- he gets himself exactly where he needs to be. And I can tell when I walk in the meeting room.”
How has Schofield performed in fall camp? The O line as a whole?
“He played well. I think he’s improved. I remember a year ago when we had to count on him with Ricky Barnum being out, and I think he grew up a lot. We were excited about Mike. We’re glad he’s at Michigan. I think he really did do a nice job of changing himself a little bit from a mentality [standpoint] and how you prepare and how you get ready. And also from a physical standpoint.
You had more success when you balanced the rushing attack. How important is it for you have a marquee back like Fitz?
“I think it’s very important to our offense. I think if you ask Al, he’d tell you the same thing. We need to. Number one the balance that that can give you keeps the defense a little more on edge or they’ve got to plan for it more. The other part of it, we’d like to keep Denard healthy, and that’s a big part of it. When you’ve got somebody who can carry the other part of the load, like Fitz ended up doing, I think that’s huge to have that balance.”
How worried are you about offensive line depth especially after losing Chris Bryant?
“We probably are a little better off when you look at the numbers [compared with last year]. It still is a very young -- Elliott Mealer, and I don’t know how many total snaps he’s played in his career. He’s an older guy with not a ton of game experience, but I think his confidence level and how he’s really done a tremendous job -- he’s by far, in my opinion, has had one of the best fall camps I’ve seen an offensive lineman have. I think there’s enough in there with the difference combinations of guys -- we played Pat Omameh a little bit at right tackle. We played Mealer at center. We’ve done a lot of different combinations that I think have been good for us.”
In the practice at Ford Field, was that in part to help Ricky and Denard get used to the noise?
“It was for the whole team. To be honest with you it was for the whole team. See how we handle -- number one we wanted as many distractions as we could get. Part of that was noise, and part of that was what was on the big screen. I heard John Belushi up there and Samuel L Jackson from Pulp Fiction. You kind of looked to see who looked up. I looked up at Belushi once. He never won an Oscar, I can’t understand why. But to be honest with you, it was really good for the defense because they’ve got to be talking, communicating, checking formations, whatever it might be, and it was really good for the offense. I think we all thought we had a very [good] tempo, not many mistakes practice. It was kind of getting them out of their same routine, too.”
Re: kickoffs: Is giving the other team the ball at the 25 worth preventing the risk of a long return?
“I think it is.”
Jibreel Black put on a lot of weight. How does that transform the way he plays his position?
“He’s a little stouter at the point of attack. If you’ve ever seen Jibreel’s brother who plays at Indiana, Jibreel can get bigger, let’s put it that way. His brother’s a big man. But I think it’s helped him. The initial punch, the extension, all the things from the first time, I think the first step is a lot better.”
When did you settle on this defensive front?
“Probably a week ago at the most. Maybe four days ago.”
Alabama’s offensive line -- is that the best you’ve ever seen?
“From what I’ve seen of them, yes. I compare them to some of those Iowa lines when I was here before, being as good as anybody.”
Are you concerned about how you’ll hold up against Alabama in the trenches?
“No. I don’t think so. Because it doesn’t always mean how big you are and how tall you are and how heavy you are. There’s a lot to be said about fundamentals, playing with technique, playing with an unbelievable motor is probably as big as everything. There’s times you can get blocked, but if you are playing from snap to whistle, good things can happen.”
You are huge underdogs in this game, but do you feel like one?
Is that because of something you saw on film? Or something you saw in your team?
“I like Michigan.”
Would you agree with the assessment that Alabama is defending its title and Michigan is defending its honor?
“ ‘Defending its honor’ … Idunno. I don’t know if ‘defending its honor’ … I don’t know if we’ve ever had to defend our honor, but I know it’s a competition, and you go to win competitions. You prepare to play your best and represent 133 years of Michigan football, represent a great institution, and represent ourselves and our families.”
Does it put even more pressure on Michigan in light of representing the Big Ten?
“I think some people would probably look at it that way. To be honest with you, our first and foremost is to represent the University of Michigan and this team, team 133. I think representing the Big Ten is a big part of it. I don’t see pressure. I see guys going to play their best football and preparing to play their best football.”
Dennis Norfleet is on the depth chart pretty prominently. Should we expect to see him in return game?
“Yeah. I would think so. He’s difficult to defend sometimes. He’s got the ability, he’s got good vision, he’s quick, he can accelerate. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he has a knack and he has a skill level for kickoffs and punts.”
Can you talk about the captains and how they’ve developed individually since the time you’ve been here?
“I think they both have always had a voice. Again, since we’ve been here -- 19, 20 [months], I don’t know how long we’ve been here -- but they’ve always had a voice. They’ve always represented themselves in a first class manner, and at a same time they’ve done a good job within the framework of the team. I think Jordan and Denard, both from their actions, speak so much more loudly than their words. I think the comfort level, though, from being a senior probably has allowed them to speak more prominently.”