“You guys get me McGary yet?”
Isn’t that your job?
“Heh, no. I’m done with recruiting.”
How consistent was your four-man rush this spring and what’s the potential?
“Well we worked very very hard on it. We made a definite [goal]: ‘We’re going to do that.’ We worked hard all spring on it. The thing about pass rush that makes it something that you can achieve is that’s a phase of football you can work on all summer. That’s something like catching passes, like throwing passes. You can’t go out and hit a guy one on one, you can’t do all that in a summer, but you can improve pass rush technique better than anything else. And with our belief of that being important and our kids believing that, I think that’s something we’ll just continue. They did show some signs in there, but they also showed why you have to be a technician when you do it, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. We’re kind of in the growing stages of it, but we’re growing in the right direction.”
What can you do in the summer?
“You can practice on the blue bags. You can do the footwork, you can do your hands technique, your finishes, all the little techniques that take a guy to being a great pass rusher are things that you don’t need a guy across from you to do. Then it comes down to the next phase [which] in fall camp will be going one on one with a live person doing it, but your footwork and hands and getoffs and all those things should be much improved by then.”
Do you feel like you don’t need your first year players to contribute as much as you did in the past?
“I don’t know if you’d ever say you don’t need a lot of first year players because our belief is best players play.”
But as far as depth goes --
“Yeah, right. You can’t ever need that. If you do, you’re in trouble. What you want to be able to say is a guy coming in – every player when they come here is the same. It doesn’t matter, the best player’s going to play. Hopefully the talent you recruit and the more they understand what we expect of them, then they come here with that attitude and maybe they’re a little ahead, but we always need 22 more guys that are coming in and throw them in the mix and see who the best players are. The best players will always play here, no matter what age they are.”
The secondary felt responsible for the Outback bowl loss. Have you seen increased focus as a result of that?
“They understand that. You’re exactly right. Any time a team scores when you have a lead, that’s the defense. It goes back, again, we never talk much about this, but pass rush is part of the secondary. If the quarterback has time to throw, unless it’s a three-step drop, that’s the whole team. That’s the whole team on defense. That’s where we haven’t been before because we blitz so much. If we’re going to say, ‘Okay, this is a passing situation and we decide not to blitz,’ then that front four has to get there or it’s unfair to that secondary. To answer your question, the secondary has worked extremely hard. I’ve been proud of them on how they’ve tried to improve. Again there’s another position that can really improve over the summer.”
Delonte Hollowell was a bit of a surprise. Was he someone you saw coming on throughout the spring?
“In our defense and in this program, it’s measured – I think you probably thought it was rhetoric when we first got here and you heard me say it before. You’re evaluated every day in practice. The thing that Brady does such a good job of is that we have competitions in practice. Competition means it’s a game. How you react in that competition is going to decide who’s going to earn the right to play the next day and be where they are the next day in the depth chart. So that depth chart can change day to day. Delonte had showed great improvement, worked completely hard. He’s had some tough days here. He’s been coached hard since he’s been here. Does that mean he has that position? No. No. It just means that he showed that if he does it the right way then we’ll put the right player at that time in the game.”
Brennen Beyer came out with the ones. What did he do to earn that spot?
“Win the flip of a coin. I mean, Brennen had a really really good spring. You took a guy that spent a whole year as a rush and looking to be a rush and looking to have his hadn on the ground. And in one play moves to SAM linebacker. Brennen is a smart football player, an intense player that will do whatever you ask him to do. That’s the thing we have here. He and Cam compete every day. A lot of times at some positions, two guys make one. The ability for two guys to function and be really really successful in their times on their field make it so they’re one person. That’s what they’re doing right now. They’ll compete all summer on how they work, on how they improve, and when we come back in the fall, the competition will be there again.”
What does each of them bring?
“Brennen, as I said, is a very intense, strong player. He’s a very intelligent football player. He’s played that position probably longer from high school to his freshman year. Cam is a very athletic player, can run very very well, and has become a very good leader as a senior. Now it just keeps him understanding what the SAM position is. Again, there’s a safety/wide receiver that is still now a SAM and he never was one until two years ago. He’s still continuing to understand what we’re asking him to do.”
What has Desmond Morgan shown you he can do this spring?
“Desmond had a very good spring. Desmond showed what we’re looking for in a linebacker position in being more vocal, getting everybody set. His footwork has improved a great deal. His strength, he’s just starting to understand more and more every day what we expect of a linebacker. Now I think the next step for him is to become a better blitzer. He’s got to beat somebody one on one when he’s blitzing. But I would say Desmond is one of the guys you look at and say, ‘Boy, this guy has had a good spring’ every day.”
Does Morgan fit in the middle better because of his skill set?
“Well, he was in the middle all the time. I’ve had that question asked a number of times. Is he a better MIKE than a WILL? The MIKE and the WILL are almost the exact same player. They’re the same thing. There’s not much that separates the two. It just allows us to get guys on the field quicker. He was the most experienced of the guys -- so if there are any subtleties -- to move there. And age. He’s got [two years] of being out there in the big games, where James [Ross] has had one year. Joe Bolden showed some very good things again, too. Royce [Jenkins-Stone] did some very good things. It’s just again, who keeps improving this summer.”
Do you see James Ross emerging as one of your better defensive players?
“Yeah. James is a tough kid, a fast kid, and strong. You don’t look at him and say, he’s not that big, but James has a lot of things you look for in a smaller sized linebacker like that that allows him to be able to compete and be able to play as well as he does at times.”
What do you want to see from him this summer?
“Keep getting all the little things. Keep understanding his pass drops. Understanding he has to get as strong as he can. He has to work harder than anybody to keep getting strong. We don’t talk a lot about added body weight. Aaron Wellman is the best there is. He’ll decide what we need those guys at, but [Ross] just needs to work extremely hard in the weight room.”
MGoQuestion: A couple times it looked like your linebackers hit the gap and tackled so quickly that it looked like they knew the play before it even started. Were those run blitzes that you called, i.e. a double A-gap blitz?
“No. I think that’s experience. I think that’s now seeing, ‘Okay, this is what they’re showing us, and this should be what it is.’ The other thing that I was happy with with a number of our linebackers is in the past, when a team runs a play-action pass and it looks like a run, it looks like a blitz and we don’t get out of there. I think our guys came downhill, saw it was pass, and got out of there. So they’re taking the next step now in becoming total linebackers.”
MGoFollowup: So did they make the decision to blitz pre-snap?
“They didn’t blitz. Those weren’t blitzes. That was just them reacting to the play. The only way you would know if it were a blitz or not is if the guy does pass and they were coming into the line of scrimmage. But no, I just think that was just some very good reactions by them.”
Is this the closest you’ve felt to having a ‘Michigan defense’ in three years?
“No. I mean we’re not a Michigan defense yet. We’re a Michigan defense trying … the effort and what we believe in, the work ethic, the pursuit to the football, that’s Michigan football right there right now. Now being strong, being physical every play, being better at technique, when they put that with their wanting to right now, then you can say, we’re close to a Michigan defense now. They’re really trying to do that. I think for the first time, every man in there knows what that means when you say we have to be a Michigan defense. I think they’re understanding that better and better.”
What has Keith Heitzman done to earn a starting spot in the spring game?
“I think his technique day to day has been the best. All of them – Matt Godin showed some good things in there. Chris Wormley showed he has back from the knee. Tom Strobel is a guy we’re very very happy with at the end of spring because here’s a guy that plays the 5-technique and because of an injury, we moved him to the three. When you have a really really good defensive front, you can move a guy like that and it’s not a panic. It’s okay. I’ve paid attention. I understand what I’m supposed to do. And it gives you flexibility. I think all those kids that are five-techniques, this summer’s huge. The defensive linemen, the summer is as big as it ever gets because not only do they have to improve their technique but they’ve got to become as strong as they can in a two and a half month period. How strong they become and how much better they become on their technique this summer, then you’re going to find out where they’re at in the fall.”
MGoQuestion: Dymonte Thomas played at the nickel position. Is that because you like his skillset there or is that because of depth issues elsewhere?
“No – that position, for our defense, has to be able to be a blitzer. He really shows that that’s something that he’s going to be able to do very well. He’s a very conscientious young man. For a guy that comes that should have been at his prom to be here the whole time, and for him to pick it up like he did … Dymonte Thomas had a very very good spring for a freshman.”
MGoQuestion: Do you think he’s physically ready to contribute?
“He’s definitely physically ready. He’s very very fast. He’s a young man that it’s not too big for him. He comes in every day, and you correct him, he doesn’t go in a tank. He immediately says, ‘Okay, what do I have to do.’ Very seldom does he do it wrong again. He’s a guy that, this summer again, if he continues to do what he’s doing … we’ve been very happy with him.”
Do you think he’ll see the field in the fall?
“Based on the spring. Based on the spring, you’re going to see a guy that’s heading in the right direction to be there quite a bit in the fall.”
Courtney Avery played a lot of nickel in the past. Do you see him permanently moving to corner?
“What it allows a guy like Courtney to do is to just become as good as he can be at one position. And then he will go ahead and work as a backup at that, or whoever becomes that nickel, but to have a guy like Dymonte – it also helps Dymonte. Now he doesn’t have to work at the safety or corner until we find out where he should play, and he can work at one position.”
What is the work that they do in the summer and how does it help them?
“Well the first thing is it shows commitment. When they’re here every second with coach Wellman … and then each coach, the offense does the same thing. Every position has a set group of things they have to do. It takes about 15, 20 minutes, maybe a half hour. And that’s extra from weight training. And if you really do that, it’s as if a coach is standing there. The seniors become the coaches. If you’re doing the things all the way through the spring, then it’s automatic and they understand exactly what you want. They work at it not because they have to, but because they know it’s going to make them a better player.”