Minnesota, Hour Four: An Endzone Excerpt

Minnesota, Hour Four: An Endzone Excerpt Comment Count

Brian October 13th, 2016 at 11:44 AM

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John U. Bacon has added a 60-page afterword to Brandon's Lasting Lessons Endzone detailing Harbaugh's first season in Ann Arbor. A paperback edition is coming out to accompany this afterword, and Bacon's generously offered to run an excerpt  from the afterword. This is it.

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History is replete with the dangers facing anyone declared the messiah. As Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, “Pride comes before the fall.” But the praise is only dangerous if the recipient believes it. Harbaugh seems too busy to give the hype much attention.

“We’re here, in Schembechler Hall, all day,” he told me in his first spring. “But I remember telling recruits there’s a lot of excitement and hunger for Michigan football right now.”

He paused just a bit before adding, “Hungry dogs hunt best.”

That Harbaugh, the biggest catch in the coaching sea, seemed to be hungrier than the rabid fans and determined insiders who helped bring him back to Ann Arbor only made them love the guy even more.

But could Harbaugh do the job? Given the scope of the task, it wasn’t a rhetorical question. Harbaugh had to restore a program that had fallen into almost unrecognizable disrepair. He had to fill the Big House, and help get the department out of debt, while adhering to Michigan’s values of fair play. And he had to reunite the Michigan family, which had been fractured for a decade.

Harbaugh, consciously or not, started doing all these things the day he arrived, but in reverse order. The moment the tires on Harbaugh’s plane touched the tarmac, Michigan's fan base was united, in a way it hadn’t been since at least 1997.

Likewise, after thousands of Michigan fans stubbornly held on to their ticket applications until interim AD Jim Hackett named the next coach, the instant Harbaugh took the podium, the fans’ forms started flooding the department to ensure they could keep their seats, including the all-important skyboxes, which quickly sold out. The Nike contract soon followed, worth a record $173.8 million, which prompted MGoBlog’s Ace Anbender to write this headline: “Nike Gives Michigan All the Money.” It’s safe to assume Nike didn’t back up the Brinks Truck based on Michigan’s 5-7 record in 2014, but because they wanted the man in khakis.

The stunning change of fortune could only be sustained, however, with success on the field, and that would be harder to achieve.

If Harbaugh and the fans were hungry, so were the players. The Wolverines got their five Big Ten losses in 2014 the old-fashioned way: they’d earned them.

One trait throughout history that all successful generals have shared is an uncommon ability to analyze their troops strengths and weaknesses with cool detachment. Leaders in the habit of kidding themselves do not last long. Harbaugh demonstrated this vital quality when he started evaluating the game film of Michigan’s returning players in his office, which he calls his “football bunker.” Despite Brady Hoke’s top seven recruiting classes from 2012 and 2013, who were now sophomores and juniors, according to several witnesses, not only did Harbaugh grade most of Michigan’s returning players as average or lower, he was alarmed by what he termed an “intensity deficit.” They simply weren’t tough enough, physically or mentally. As a direct result, they were prone to wear down and fall apart by the fourth quarter, a tendency Michigan demonstrated in numerous games the previous seasons.

The clear-eyed assessment presented only three solutions: recruit better, coach better, and play better. In typical fashion, Harbaugh didn’t waste any time getting to work on all three.

“The biggest change,” tight-end Jake Butt told me, “and a lot of people noticed it, was this: my first two years [under Brady Hoke] we heard constant talk of challenging each other in practice, and competing to win a Big Ten title, but the level of work did not compare to what we did when Coach Harbaugh first got here. We’d always worked hard before, but we were not as smart, or as efficient.

“He made it crystal clear: The only way to win is to put the work in. Because of the environment he created, we were forced to prepare to compete against the best, every day.”

This sea change started on the first day of spring practice. While most college coaches use the NCAA’s daily allotted four hours with their team by meeting for 90 minutes or more, then practicing for 2.5 hours or less, Harbaugh decided to spend all four hours practicing, which was unheard of.

“Very first day, he got our attention,” Butt said. “I’d never done a four-hour practice. No one had. It kind of just smacked you in the mouth. By the second hour, because of the pace, it started to hurt. By the third hour, Coach Harbaugh gathered us around him, and told us, ‘This is where you guys lost games last year. You ran out of gas. You started making mistakes. And you started turning on each other.

“’These practices are not supposed to be easy. We’re not focusing on winning this or winning that. Not now. We’re just going to be the hardest working team in the country. And we’re going to embrace that.

“’We’re turning our weakness into our strength. And that’s why, this season, we’re going to win games in the fourth quarter.’”

With that, Harbaugh blew his whistle, and sent them back to their stations to complete their fourth hour of practice, at full-speed.

The visitors to that first spring practice included Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, who’ve seen several thousand practices between them. But they’d never seen this.

“Four hour practices?” Jack told me. “I’d not experienced that in my entire career. Golly, is this thing ever going to end?

“After practice, Jim ran by me and said, ‘Class on the grass.’ And just like that, it all made sense to me,” Jack said. Yes, Jack is Jim’s father, but impressing Jack Harbaugh isn’t easy, even for his children – and perhaps especially for his children. But this impressed him. “I’ve been in so many of those team meetings, which you spend three hours just preparing to run. When you finally got up there, you always had a handful of players that are grasping it, but others who had no interest in it at all. And that was about the best you could do. You get two-thirds, you think you’ve hit a home run.

“What Jim did is take the meeting out of the classroom, and onto the field, where you don’t have much choice but to pay attention! In his class, they’re looking at an actual 4-3 front, or they’re looking at a blitz, they talk about it -- and then it comes after them! Yes, they were paying attention!

“My goodness! All those years I was coaching, there wasn’t anyone who could come up with that idea? Not me, I’m not smart enough. Glad Jim is!”

Ultimately, the only opinions that mattered were the players’ – and Harbaugh had them.

“Coach was right – about all of it,” Butt continued. “Last year, when just one thing went wrong, we we were so shocked we had no ability to adjust, to come back. And we didn’t have enough strength left to do it, anyway.

“Coach talked to us about the ‘football callus,’ the soreness, and the pain, you feel at the end of the day after a good practice. So you just toughen your skin a bit, and you go another week, you get a stronger callous, and by the fourth or fifth week, a four-hour practice is nothing. And everything he told us was true."

By the end of spring ball, Harbaugh had his team.

“The 20-year olds know when the coaches are sincere,” Jim’s mother, Jackie, told me. “I just marveled at the way the players reacted to the practices. They were all quick tempo, but I didn’t see one player coming off the field, dragging or complaining. They had smiles on their faces when they came off the field, because they knew they were getting better! ‘I feel better! I understand what I’m supposed to be doing in this situation.’ And you’d see them in the hallway after, they were all so happy, so polite, so very nice. You could just see the players wanted to compete! They wanted to be the BEST!

“It was just fun for me to watch all of that, to see it develop.”

What Harbaugh’s players were doing on that practice field, when almost no one was watching, was more important to the future of the program than all the things happening outside it.

Two weeks after the Michigan State loss, Michigan traveled to Minnesota to face a resurgent Gopher team, which had thrashed the Wolverines in the infamous “Shane Morris game” the previous season. The Gophers had more motivation in 2015, after head coach Jerry Kill announced he was stepping down due to epileptic seizures.

The Wolverines had plenty of motivation of their own, including a share of the East Division title if they won out. After suffering a historic setback, would the Wolverines fold the tents, as they had in recent years, or would they take the punch and come out fighting, as Harbaugh had been training them to do since their first four-hour practice?

The teams swapped the lead in the first half, with Michigan taking a 21-16 lead early in the third quarter.

“In the first six games,” quarterback Jake Rudock told me, “I’d felt my confidence and rhythm gradually improving, but it was on and off. It wasn’t until the Minnesota game that I really got in a groove, and knew the light was staying on.”

But late in the third quarter, Rudock tried to scramble for a few yards. “But the way the geometry and physics of the situation played out, I could see the play was not setting up well for me, so I just tried to get down.”

He did, but not before two Gopher defenders got to him. “When my helmet came off, I’m thinking, ‘That’s usually not a good sign.’ It was one of those hits that just hurt – hurt real bad – and I felt it in my neck and ribs. It hurt to move, and I wasn’t breathing.”

Once he was out of the game, he told backup quarterback Wilton Speight, “Just relax. Just play. Don’t worry about the coach, or anything else. If there’s a play you don’t want to run, tell him now! Trust me, [offensive coordinator Jedd] Fisch would rather not call it than have you in the huddle saying, ‘Shit, what is this?’”

It didn’t take immediately. Speight’s three passes were incomplete, resulting in three punts, while the Gophers took a 26-21 lead with 11:43 remaining. But with Harbaugh and Fisch giving Speight the plays he wanted, Speight found his own rhythm. On third and ten from Minnesota’s 12-yard line, and about five minutes left, Speight threw a perfectly placed pass to Jehu Chesson in traffic, for a touchdown, and followed up with a pass to Amara Darboh for the two-point conversion, and a crucial three-point lead.

Down 29-26, Minnesota drove the ball to Michigan’s one yard-line with two seconds left. Interim coach Tracy Claeys bypassed the field goal to force overtime, to try for the touchdown, and the win. In one of Michigan’s most dramatic goal-line stands, the Wolverines broke through the line, stuffed the runner, and held their ground, for a gritty victory.

Harbaugh had promised them that, if they stuck with it, they’d be winning games in the fourth quarter, and here was proof.

"To be able to win a tough one, it's a great learning experience because it reinforces everything you tell them about never giving up, fighting to the end," Harbaugh said after the game. "That's the thing I'm most excited about. Our team has learned a very important lesson."

Six months later, the lesson seemed just as big.

“Against Minnesota, we battled back,” Harbaugh told me. “The big thing, to me, was this: no one gave up. That’s why I don’t think anyone on our side was surprised we had a chance to win it at the end. And when we stuffed them at the goal line – man, that was great. A thrilling victory. The wonderful feeling of winning.

“Wonderful.

“Wonderful.”

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The revised edition of Endzone is available now. (Yes, they fixed the typos.)

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WTKA Roundtable 11/5: WOMAN

WTKA Roundtable 11/5: WOMAN

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[Patrick Barron]

On the roundtable this week:

  • Sam regales us with his marital advice, which is very good marital advice that everyone should emulate.
  • We eventually talk about football. Ed lords it over us that he thought this game would be tight, and I reject him wholeheartedly.
  • Rutgers! Not good.
  • A little basketball scrimmage talk stuck in at the end there.

THE USUAL LINKS

Upon Further Review 2015: Defense vs Minnesota

Upon Further Review 2015: Defense vs Minnesota Comment Count

Brian November 5th, 2015 at 4:50 PM

Sorry about the lateness of the UFRs this week. Finding all the video took forever.

HomeSure-Logo-NMLS-14_thumb_thumbUpon Further Review has a sponsor. We got a couple nice comments on the previous UFR in re: Matt.

I worked with Matt (aka HomeSure lending) and closed my refi last week. Everything went as planned and on schedule. He was easy to work with and there was good communication throughout. I've had other refi's that did not go as planned and caused wasted time for me or were chaotic. With Matt it went really well and I got a lower rate and now my monthly payment dropped and I'll pay it off in the same amount of years. …

Oh and one more thing. When I first called him, he talked me out of refinancing because he was honest and told me my current loan was better than what I was trying to do with him. Once the rates dropped he reconnected with me and that lead to the refi. He seemed really honest and truly trying to do what's right.

That guy has had an account since 2009 in case you're worried about astroturfing. He's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.

FORMATION NOTES: Michigan spent a lot of the game like this, with Ross at the buck (standing to the bottom of the DL) and Peppers and Hill flanked outside of the two ILBs.

nickel even 4-4

This was an especially weird game to play Ross as the buck since otherwise you would have expected him to play a lot as a third linebacker. I just called this "nickel even" since Ross was functioning as a DL.

This was "quads inner bunch"; Peppers is about to do something almost awesome.

quads inner bunch

All else per usual.

PERSONNEL NOTES: No Godin, who was injured, so the rotation on the DL was circumscribed. Hurst and Glasgow rotated at the nose with scattered snaps on which both played; Charlton got snaps here and there, but Wormley and Henry had a heavy workload.

Ross bizarrely got most of the snaps at buck instead of Jenkins-Stone; he did not do well. Morgan didn't come off the field; it was mostly Bolden at the other LB spot but Gedeon got a little time; there were a few 4 LB sets.

Secondary was mostly the usual, with Thomas the primary dime back this week. Clark got most of the second CB playing time.

[After THE JUMP: flukes and… not flukes]

Comments

Moving the (Stati)Sticks: Week Nine

Moving the (Stati)Sticks: Week Nine Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 5th, 2015 at 2:00 PM

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[Barron/MGoBlog]

Well, that was weird. Mitch Leidner, who Greg Jackson said wasn’t the same after a knee injury, did what’s pictured above while also passing for about four games worth of yardage against this secondary on a number of throws that just sort of dropped from the heavens. Minnesota fans had no problem pointing out just how bizarre this game was. Here’s a portion of the intro from The Daily Gopher’s piece on charting the game:

Minnesota received both gifts and sorrow. While clock management at the end doomed the team, Michigan should have picked off Leidner twice. Both times would have prevented touchdowns.

When they start that second sentence with a negative I expect the part after the comma to be exuberantly positive, and it is but in a really odd, we-barely-made-this-competitive sort of way. Their quarterback threw two how-are-those-not-interceptions that were only avoided because of some mystical combination of a holiday, a night game, a piece of crockery, and a Harbaugh. Their fans saw that as something worth celebrating, which seems overly punitive but is also an indicator of just how not used to having nice things they are.

The stats aren’t going to do anything to lessen the sting for Minnesota; they basically back up The Daily Gopher’s self loathing. Minnesota outgained Michigan significantly and put up more unexpected explosive plays than any other team M has faced this year. They had double the scoring opportunities Michigan did, an extra drive, and managed to run 10 more plays. Minnesota mixed spectacularly lucky plays with some that were just plain spectacular and still lost. For 58 minutes and 41 seconds they got gifts; for 19 seconds, the kind of sorrow that steals a little bit of your football soul and can only be made incrementally better by trying to rationalize how it could have been so much worse.

[After THE JUMP: Four Factors. Five Factors. Tables. A goofy Harbaugh picture]

Comments

Wednesday Presser 11-4-15: Tim Drevno

Wednesday Presser 11-4-15: Tim Drevno Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 5th, 2015 at 8:59 AM

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[Fuller/MGoBlog]

Everyone’s talking about Jabrill this week, so what’s it like for you having him on offense? What does he do for you?

“Well, he’s very explosive. You can see when he gets the ball he explodes and it’s a great option to have to be able to work him into the offense and an opportunity for a few plays on the offensive side of the ball. If he does or doesn’t, it’s nice to have that club in your bag.”

I know you don’t get a ton of time with him, but is he special in the way that he can not spend a whole lot of time with the offense and still pick things up?

“Yeah. I mean, he’s a football player, so he’s got that DNA that you can kind of tell once he fixes a problem- just special. Great football awareness.

“It’s really- dealing with him is like dealing with a pro football player. He just kind of looks you in the eye and takes what you’re telling him, understands it, and then puts it into action. He’s just got great football awareness and great football savvy. He’s a football player. I’ve said that before, so it’s exciting to have him.”

Do you customize the playcalling based on whether Drake Johnson or De’Veon Smith’s in the game?

“No, we don’t. No, we don’t. We feel like they all have strengths and weaknesses, but we just call the game as we call it and put those guys in the best opportunity up front and the receivers and the quarterback so no, we don’t like specifically say, ‘Hey, do this, do that.’”

What’s Jake’s [Rudock] status at this point?

“He was good yesterday. He threw the ball around, breaking the huddle. He looked good. Looked good to me.”

You expect him to play?

“Yeah, absolutely, yes. Really do.”

[After THE JUMP: “We’re changing this thing, and it’s going in the right direction and we’re really pleased with where we are.”]

Comments

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Minnesota

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Minnesota Comment Count

Brian November 4th, 2015 at 4:53 PM

HomeSure Logo NMLS-1

Upon Further Review still has a sponsor. You should really listen to the radio show because Matt has an ad with his kids now where it sounds like they have been dragooned into talk about daddy's business that never fails to crack me up. They just want to play Madden.

Matt's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call. (No pants required.)

FORMATION NOTES: I did an inconsistent job of it this week but I plan on denoting all 6 OL setups with "heavy" going forward. You can deduce which snaps were 6 OL when there are only four skill players listed this week, although I might have missed a couple.

The new things this week were mostly Peppers related. This was "Ace twin TE Peppers H":

ace twins peppers H

This was "Emory Tight":

emory tight

As a reminder, "Pistol" implies a tailback and a TE so Pistol FB is this:

pistol fb

As far as Minnesota goes they generally went with a 4-3 even or over. The most notable thing about their D was the MLB, who lined up a yard or two deeper than the other guys, as you can see in the above shot.

Also Minnesota's goal line formation was goofy. Just four guys on the line.

minnesota weird goal line

I still called this "goal line."

PERSONNEL NOTES: Line per usual with the exception of Grant Newsome, who had several snaps as a sixth OL. Poggi didn't play; he was left home with pneumonia; stay away from Ricky Doyle please. As a result Michigan played largely without an H-back, instead going with a lot of two inline TE sets.

WR was per usual except DaMario Jones got in briefly with Drake Harris out. Ways got a target on the first drive but then was absent; Chesson and Darboh got almost all the PT, with Perry the third guy in three WR sets.

Isaac and Higdon did not play at RB, where it was mostly Smith early and mostly Johnson late with some Derrick Green in the first half.

[After THE JUMP: here is Speight to save the day / no he shouldn't be the starter]

Comments

Wednesday Presser 11-4-15: Mike Zordich

Wednesday Presser 11-4-15: Mike Zordich Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 4th, 2015 at 3:04 PM

[Fuller/MGoBlog]

Over the past two games the passing numbers for the opposing quarterbacks were obviously a lot higher. Is there something that you can pinpoint on that to change?

“Well, the Michigan State game you’re facing a really good quarterback. They made a lot of plays and we made a lot of plays ourselves in that game, but you’ve got to give credit to the quarterback over there.

“Last week, I’m not taking anything away from Minnesota [but] we just laid an egg defensively, especially in the secondary. We just played poorly. That contributes to a lot of the passing yards this past week.”

Do you attribute that to rust from a bye week or…?

“You know, we’ve all tried to figure it out. Nobody knows but we’re fighting through it and certainly we’ve talked about it, we’ve addressed it, and we are working on getting better starting yesterday in practice.”

Anything you saw specifically on some of the breakdowns that led to long pass plays?

“I just, again, think our guys in the backend didn’t play as aggressively as they have in the past; weren’t going after footballs, had bad eye control, and just losing their guys. Did not play well.”

Connor Cook is ancient history at this point, but was he one of the better quarterbacks you’ve seen this year?

“Oh yeah. He’s a real good quarterback. I mean, he puts the ball places where it’s hard for other guys to catch. He’s good. A lot of credit to him. He’s gonna be- you’ll be watching him on Sundays for sure.”

[After THE JUMP: The wings on the helmet will tell on you if you lose eye control]

Comments

One-on-One: Ryan Glasgow

One-on-One: Ryan Glasgow Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 3rd, 2015 at 2:44 PM

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[Upchurch/MGoBlog]

Let’s go through the last two plays. I know that’s probably what you’ve been doing [He just finished a lengthy phone interview –A.], but what I really want to talk about isn’t the last play but the second to last. When they motioned what were you thinking, and did you expect that to happen?

“I mean, you can kind of tell by an offensive lineman’s demeanor what kind of play to expect, and they were all in loaded stances the whole game when they were coming off a run and they were sitting back. I was kind of confused at first when they were in their tight bunch set and everyone’s like really close splits but didn’t look like they were ready to fire out.

“So the center I was going against was a pretty big guy so I could barely see the quarterback. So I hear him say something and he moves back and I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ so I’m trying to peek around and see what set he’s in. Was he in empty? I believe he was in- was he in an empty set?”

Eventually.

“Yeah, yeah. Eventually, yeah.”

He starts with a back in the backfield and then motions him out.

“So then we’re like- my thought process was this is either going to be a QB power, a QB draw, or a QB run of some sort or it’s going to be a pass because I know they like to sprint out. I decided to come off the ball as hard as I could when I saw the ball snapped and Mo Hurst, being as quick as he is, shot right in the backfield on their sprint-out play, and Willie [Henry] discarded his guy pretty quick, too, and he decided it wasn’t a good idea to hold onto the ball much longer.”

“James [Ross] was glued to his guy, the guy he was trying to throw back to, the tight end, which we had prepared for that all week. So yeah, Mo basically made that play and Willie and James, and I was really confused on the empty spread thing. I could barely see where the quarterback was so yeah, that’s about the second to last play.”

[After THE JUMP: Breaking down the goal-line stand]

Comments

MGoRadio 1.7: Most Improbable Things

MGoRadio 1.7: Most Improbable Things

1 hour 57 minutes

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[Patrick Barron]

A big thanks to our sponsors. The show is presented by UGP & Moe's and frankly would not be happening without them; Rishi and company have been on board here from almost the beginning. Shopping with them helps us and supports good dudes. Check out 100years.moe for the rich history of Michigan's oldest apparel store.

Our other sponsors are also key in the expanding empire: thanks to Homesure Lending, Ann Arbor Elder Law, Liz Crowe, Tailgaterconcierge.com, the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, the University of Michigan Alumni Association, and Draft Kings.

Minnesota Recap

Don't do that.

Also: defensive holes poked but also just fluky flukes. Rudock status, Speight chatter, Drake Johnson for feature back. Peppers for all the things.

Gimmicky Top Five: Most Improbable Things

Good or bad, and about evenly split between the two. Extensive Mike Hart discussion. Ace accuses me of recency bias, which I strenuously dispute.

Steve Lorenz of 247

Michigan's battles with Texas and Georgia discussed: some of Isaac Nauta, Mecole Hardman, Jean Delance, Jordan Elliott, and Dontavious Jackson could come Michigan's way as those two programs get a little wobbly. Donnie Corley spitballin'; David Reese possibly departing.

Ace's Hockey Podcast

My opinion is exactly the same after a wobbly weekend against Robert Morris.

Catch us Mondays 5-7 on 1050 WTKA.

THE USUAL LINKS

Monday Presser 11-2-15: Players

Monday Presser 11-2-15: Players Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 3rd, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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[Upchurch/Fuller]

Ryan Glasgow and James Ross

James, coach Harbaugh mentioned the second to last play when they shifted and you had to stick with the tight end. What were you looking at on that play and take us through that.

“There’s a lot of plays Minnesota did with the tight end whether he’s releasing late or things like that and I just wanted to keep my eyes on him, and it just so happened that he did try to release late.”

James, when did you start taking practice reps at the BUCK linebacker position and can you just talk about that transition this week?

“I started transitioning to BUCK as soon as Mario [Ojemudia] went down, that week after. Just consistently getting reps and trying to find ways to get on the field.”

This is the first time that you’ve played it in a game, right?

“No, I actually played it last week versus State- or the week prior to this week. But yeah, against State.”

Ryan, talk about the job you guys all did getting underneath the blockers on that last play. You seemed to get off the ball pretty well.

“Yeah. I mean, Willie [Henry] and Mo [Hurst] did a great job on that play, and the linebackers got a great push. We’ve never really practiced that live; it’s all stepping through. You don’t want to hurt anyone in practice, but I thought we did a good job executing on the field. That was probably our first live rep of that type of sneak play this season and I thought we did a good job of executing it.”

Did you know he was short?

“Uh, I had a feeling he was short. I mean, I was on the ground, not really looking at it, but I knew the guys around me were pushing back.”

[After THE JUMP: Erik Magnuson, Jehu Chesson, Jake Butt, and animal analogies for the offensive and defensive line]

Comments