[Ed. A- So my wife and I had a baby a week ago and since then I think of sleep like I used to think of vacations, like, “Oh, that would be nice to do someday.” Last night I caffeinated just in time for the baby to actually fall asleep, so I had a chance to transcribe this. Huge thanks to Orion Sang for passing along the audio.]
How’s your group look?
“Our group looks good. The guys that are out there are working their tails off and pleased with the progress.”
So you’re not going to come here and do what you did last camp?
[laughs] “We’re just gonna talk about the guys that are out there practicing, getting better, how about that? That fair enough to say?
“Yeah, but Ambry Thomas, B. Watson, David Long, then you got a young guy in Myles Sims who still should be in high school, he’s our here working his tail off getting better, so it’s been promising. Then Hunter Reynolds, a walk-on, really getting better, so it’s been good for ‘em.”
You mentioned Ambry Thomas. What’s the biggest difference in him from year one to year two?
“He is very comfortable now. We were just talking about it over there about maturity level. You know, last year we were so young and now all the sudden these guys have had some playing experience and it has helped them, and so that’s last year and now you’re walking into a new year and just much more confident. And things are slower for them, and he’s been really improved. [Inaudible] with the ones quite a bit, so he’s been showing up a bunch.”
If he’s been working with the ones does that mean maybe that Vert moves into the inside? Are you guys messing around with those combinations there?
“Well, yeah, you know, Vert hasn’t practiced, so he’s losing valuable time, unfortunately for him. But it allows Brandon Watson to continue to get better, Ambry THomas to get better, David Long to get better, and as I mentioned Hunter and Myles. So, it’s great for those guys. They’re just growing by leaps and bounds.”
Why hasn’t Hill practiced?
“He’s got an issue with his hips or his groin. Trying to figure that out.”
[After THE JUMP: who’s rising, who’s out, and where guys might end up]
[Everyone in unison like the end of a Peanuts special] Happy Thanksgiving.
Talk about the Ohio State Offense and the challenge of preparing for them.
“Yeah, they’ve got good players. Two really good running backs, quarterback’s a veteran guy who knows how to play this game, some explosive guys at the receiver position, I think they’re improved in the offensive line, tight ends solid, so yeah, we’ve got a good offensive outfit to get ready for.”
Chase Winovich said that the highest praise he feels he’s ever gotten here is you calling him an ‘animal, bro.’ What do you think the highest praise is that you give out to a guy?
“Well, that’s pretty close right there. I think he’s really played well. You know, we try to make our living here on sacks, TFLs, living that approach, and you look at the numbers at the end of the day and he’s right up there in the TFL piece for sure, so I think he’s playing at a very, very solid level.”
Do you have different levels? Do you have like a guy, a man—
What are they?
“You know, you’re a Guy, and that’s your first start. Then, you know, if you’re really playing well, then you give ‘em Dude status, and then you give ‘em the competing animal status, so there’s your three levels of it. Being a dude’s not easy to do, now. I mean, that’s pretty high esteem.”
How do you approach the challenge of not only trying to slow JT Barrett but also the fact that they have the two really talented running backs?
“Yeah, they’re good. You know, the bottom line is you’ve got to pick your poison and you’ve got to stand for something. Some guys try to sit there and spread out and cover everything and that’s one approach. Some people try to read and react and that’s another approach. Obviously we try to do it all and make it tough on them. So, that’s our goal.
“But you got to stand for something. I can’t tell you what that is, but you’ve got to stand for something. You just can’t let ‘em pick you apart and move you down the field. That’s not going to happen anyway, so our approach is always try to be on the aggressive side of things, but at the same time, you’ve got to be intelligent.”
[After THE JUMP: the best practice of the season, not cheating the game, and playing with an X on your chest]
Talk about David’s [Long] play. He’s really seemed to pick it up.
“Yeah, David, from week to week, really from day to day, is just getting better. Really he’s working at his craft. It means something to him. It’s really good to see. I’m really happy for him.”
Any update on Lavert [Hill] or is that just a wait-and-see kind of thing?
“I think that’s a wait-and-see kind of thing. Know he’s in the protocol right now, so we’ll wait and see.”
What does that mean, ‘the protocol’?
“That means that he has to see a doctor every day, and certain symptoms have to go away or if they stay then certain things happen.”
How are you preparing to go without him if he can’t go?
“Oh, we’re fine. We’ll be fine. I have all the confidence in B-Wat and certainly David. Those guys are true starters anyway, and then Ben St. Juste behind them and Ambry [Thomas], he’s been playing, so we’re good. Then Jaylen Kelly-Powell, he’s been kind of working the nickel corner mode too, so we’ve got enough. We’re in good shape.”
Speaking of Jaylen, we saw him against Maryland actually on the defense and not just on special teams. What has he shown you?
“Well, he’s shown that he can cover. He’s pretty—he’s like a little magnet. He’s able to get in the slot and cover very well, and that’s why we had confidence to put him in there. He’s been doing well. Really well. What’s great about Jaylen is he can do a lot of different things. He’s a freshman; we’ve asked him to play safety, we’ve asked him to play corner, and now nickel. So those are—it’s not an easy thing to do and he’s done it and he’s done it well.”
[After THE JUMP: Kelly-Powell’s long-term fit, Ben St. Juste’s progress, when they need a decision on Hill, and intercepting the China concept]
[Ed. A- I was too sick to make the trip in yesterday, but thanks to 247’s Isaiah Hole I had video from which to transcribe.]
“I thought after the first big run that he has we did a decent job of containing there. They hit some big plays. Quarterback’s phenomenal. Hit some big plays on us in the pass game and kind of flustered us a little bit and then we couldn’t get re-settled down in terms of that. I don’t think we paid too much attention, though.”
What happened to Quinn on the missed extra point? Crowd was booing him pretty heavily but did that affect him?
“No, I mean, that’s unacceptable. That can’t happen. He knows that. He just let his emotions get carried away and kind of kicked the ground a little bit and pushed it and that’s got to be fixed immediately from a mental standpoint. Can’t have that ever happen again.”
Ambry [Thomas] seems to really be progressing in kick return. Talk about what you’ve seen from him.
“He’s explosive, fearless. He’s what you want back there. It’s a really good combination we have now. We got Ben Mason, Brad Hawkins, Ambry, three true freshmen working together, getting to know each other, feeling each other out, because all three of those guys could get the ball and two of them have to be a blocker on every kick. Really, really happy with that unit’s progression and how those guys are really coming together and feeling each other out and stuff like that. Really happy with that group.”
[After THE JUMP: Rashan don’t read this, he wants you to keep the chip on your shoulder]
Must hit. That's the long and short of it. Abominable roster management by Brady Hoke, the draft prospects of Jabrill Peppers, the departure of Brian Cole, and addition of Don Brown's three-safety defense has thinned options here. Michigan simply must hit on Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus or play true freshmen or walk-ons. That would be interesting times.
So far so good for the starters; this is another start-by-default situation that could have a nasty downside.
got some [Eric Upchurch]
Junior TYREE KINNEL [recruiting profile] is the only member of the secondary who had a significant role on last year's team. He was last year's dimeback; Michigan would add him on passing downs and stick him in Siberia. Occasionally he'd arrive from offscreen and offer up a pretty good Jordan Kovacs impression:
This was the only thing he did when he showed up on the viewer's screen. Here's another one:
Those are the only clips of Kinnel in UFR; at all other times he was offscreen dissuading long throws until the quarterback was consumed by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts of Traal. This means that there's relatively little information on him despite the fact that he was clearly Michigan's #6 defensive back a year ago. He got about 150 snaps; this was the only item from UFR on him:
Tyree Kinnel is going to be just fine next year. I mean, probably. He has the look of an excellent run support safety. Coverage hasn't been tested yet but he was supposed to be a CB/S combo out of high school; if anything the Kovacs stuff was supposed to be a hole in his game. If that isn't the case Michigan shouldn't miss a beat at one of the safety spots.
Life without all-22 is occasionally rough. Whatever insight we might glean will have to be from circumstantial evidence.
Fortunately, there's plenty of that. Kinnel has progressed exactly as you'd want a mid-four star safety. Frustrating burned redshirt, meaningful role in year two, unassailable death grip on starting job the next year with accompanying insider quotes about how this dude has it down, man. Webb: "a rock in the secondary and has been showing his coverage chops"; Lorenz asserted that there was "zero doubt" Kinnel would start and labeled him a future captain; Rivals had a coupleitems where they called him "potentially special."
That latter is probably optimistic since Kinnel is going to be out of sight, out of mind for much of the year unless things are going very badly. Like Jarrod Wilson before him he will aspire to boringness, with the occasional backfield jet when Brown gets frisky.
Press conferences have been about as encouraging as insider talk. This from Brian Smith is more or less exactly what I want to hear about any new safety:
"I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."
On our post-spring-game podcast Ace pointed out that the spring game lacked the incessant pointing and repositioning that last year's defense featured even late into the season, and Kinnel is no doubt a major part of that. Later, Partridge would tell the assembled media that he graded out better than anyone else on special teams—a skillset easily translatable to safety—and that he's a "natural leader."
"He has the body, size and physical measurable of a safety, but he covers like a cornerback, I am very high on him as a prospect. He is certainly very talented, and physically, he brings everything to the table that you want from that position."
...which makes him a good fit for Brown's defense. He's the free safety, which means he'll be playing a deep centerfield more often than his compatriots, but when he's lured into man coverage either by opponent or Don Brown subterfuge he should be able to cope.
Kinnel will organize the defense, hopefully preventing the deep bombs Michigan saw early and then very late. His influence will be better measured by the things that don't happen to the defense as a whole than the ones that he executes himself. There's always a question when you break in a new starter; the vibe here is as reassuring as it can be.
This spot has gotten steadily wobblier as the offseason has worn on. Talk of an open competition went from fanciful to deadly serious. Coaches made grumbling noises about player availability. One of Michigan's only experienced wide receivers was added to the mix after spring practice. The ideal scenario where Long and Hill are second year players just like sophomore Jourdan Lewis seems unlikely at the moment.
Things probably shouldn't be bad. If you're not a little nervous you're braver than this preview. There is a distinct whiff of job-by-default here. If the two highly-touted second-year players aren't up to it the alternatives are either true freshmen, a couple of modest recruits with little on-field track record, and a guy who flipped from WR in spring.
But it'll probably be fine? Maybe?
The #1 spot here was an open question even after the insiders had several cracks at making projections. Then Mike Zordich evacuated LAVERT HILL [recruiting profile]prior to the Dresden portion of his recent press conference. Nobody can accuse Zordich of being a coachspeak robot after this:
How are those young corners coming along?
“Not fast enough.” [/laughs] “Not fast enough. They show flashes. I’ll say this: Lavert has, since his injury, he’s been pretty consistent and you can see him increasing every day and getting better. ...
So Lavert’s responded to whatever challenge you—
“He has. He absolutely has. He came back. He didn’t practice much in the spring. We were very disappointed about that and we expressed that with him. This summer he really worked hard, then unfortunately he gets injured. But he came back and just picked up and the arrow’s going up. The arrow’s going up. Can’t say that about the rest of the guys.”
In a way this might be good news? Seriously? Zordich clearly wasn't around to spare anyone's feelings and he was fairly enthusiastic about Hill, who entered as a massive wildcard. If he's putting it together enough to spare himself from a coach on the warpath... I might take that and run. One wonky spot is easier to fill if you have a bonafide War Daddy who can man up an X receiver aligned away from trips.
Hill can be that guy. He is a high ceiling, low floor gentleman. During high school he was either in Lewis-level coverage or watching a long touchdown from the next county. Current Belleville head coach Jermaine Crowell, who was at one time the position coach for both Hill and Lewis, laid it down:
“Vert is more athletic than JD [ed: Lewis's nickname]. He’s faster than JD ... His vertical is better. But JD has always had that edge, he doesn’t care who you are, he’s coming at you. JD will line up against a seventh grader and treat him like he’s the best receiver in college.
“Lavert might not necessarily do that. He rises to the challenge. He wants to go against the best of the best to prove himself. You have to be more consistent. Once his consistency gets there he’s going to be unreal.”
That take has been spot on so far, with Hill reports alternating between marvels at his "hip pocket coverage" and worries about his compete level. Webb cited an anonymous rival coach comparing Hill to Ambry Thomas:
"If Vert had Ambry's intensity he'd be the #1 corner in the country. Hands down."
Elsewhere in that post is an assertion from another Detroit-area high school coach that Hill, not Lewis, not Thomas, not Desmond King, is the "most talented corner in recent memory to come out of the city." Janus looks both ways. The duality of man, man.
In limited time last year (about 60 snaps) Hill came out at essentially zero to PFF; he was not frequently mentioned in UFR. He did have a couple moments where the incessant Lewis comparisons seemed pretty on point:
He had a couple of similar plays in garbage time; in the bowl game he was in good position and got hit with a dubious PI flag after mutual handfighting between DB and WR:
This is largely encouraging. When Hill was targeted he was in a good spot and able to make a play on the ball. Pass interference savvy can be developed. Being close enough to need it is a good start.
But inconsistency has continued to dog Hill, at least until recently. After spring practice the coaches were openly frustrated with his tendency to take a knock and then miss reps. Zordich:
“Lavert is a natural at it. LaVert has got to get better at finishing, straining, more effort, but talent – he has it. He just has to make up his mind on how he wants this to roll.”
Similar grumbles persisted through the first half of fall camp, and then they cleared like smoke. Webb started talking him up a few days before Zordich confirmed Hill's rise to the world at large, saying he is the lone "fixture with the first group" and that he "stepped up his game significantly"; Rivals reported that Hill has "finally stepped up, big time."
Webb has also asserted that Michigan trusted Hill covering the slots last year and might be the guy sliding inside when Michigan goes to a dime package. That opens up the sixth DB spot to any of the competitors and is a valuable thing in one of your corners. It's also a Lewis comparison point.
Hill could be anything from sophomore Jourdan Lewis...
...who was already an All Big Ten guy at that point in his career, or he could be a version of Jourdan Lewis who gets lost way too much and sees a bunch of TDs go over his head. Finding out will be fun! Or possibly not fun!
“Hello. Thanks for coming out to Schembechler Hall.”
Can you talk about the two guys that were selected as captains and what you think their teammates saw in them that put them there?
“Yeah, first of all, it was a really good group. We looked at the seniors and the fifth-year players who could be elected captain and put it up there on the wall, on the screen. Really good leaders in that group so felt like we’d get two really good captains. We voted and we did: Mason Cole on offense, Mike McCray on defense. Both “Go Blue” guys, both poised to have big years, both starting players, both very good players at the highest level, so excited about both of our captains.
“And, as I said before, all of our seniors, our leaders, the way the leadership group is coming together.”
Are you ready to announce who is starting at quarterback?
“Have not heard Florida announce who their starting quarterback will be and we would love to have that information.”
Is that a no?
“So, uh, no, we’re not announcing our starting quarterback. As I said before, people make a big deal about our roster or not announcing a starting quarterback; I’m not seeing a starting quarterback—I haven’t seen the starting quarterback come out at Florida but never any mention of that. Very interesting. But yes, we would like to have that information from them. I’m sure they’d like to have it from us and right now neither is giving that information.”
This is typical [in that] you normally don’t name a quarterback early. Do you have a certain philosophy as to why that’s the case?
“Well, it’s been that the philosophy is it’s a meritocracy and competition is healthy and fair and productive. It’s been very good. As I said, it’s been a good camp for our quarterbacks and we feel confident in our guys. We believe in them.”
Obviously you don’t want to tell us but do you have a plan in mind? Do those guys know who’s going to be in at quarterback heading into game week at this point?
“We’re, uh, working on it, yes. It’s been formulated and we’ve communicated it.”
[After THE JUMP: a more focused offensive line, one surefire starter at corner, Florida standouts, and the deputization of leadership]
“Not fast enough.” [/laughs] “Not fast enough. They show flashes. I’ll say this: Lavert has, since his injury, he’s been pretty consistent and you can see him increasing every day and getting better. The other guys, they’ve shown flashes. They just need to grab it. Somebody’s got to grab it and run with it and take it. It’s just not happening. Hopefully somebody will in the next five to seven days because we’ve got to get ready for a game in less than two weeks.”
So Lavert’s responded to whatever challenge you—
“He has. He absolutely has. He came back. He didn’t practice much in the spring. We were very disappointed about that and we expressed that with him. This summer he really worked hard, then unfortunately he gets injured. But he came back and just picked up and the arrow’s going up. The arrow’s going up. Can’t say that about the rest of the guys. Again, you see some flashes. You know they can do it, but they’ve got to do it every single day.”
How often have you gotten to a point in camp where you feel like that and in other years have seen a group, a secondary, come along and do what you want?
“Well, I’ll go back to when I was in Philadelphia coaching with the Eagles. My second year there we had some new faces but they came together and played well. Certainly we’ve got new faces—I guess I can say young faces—and they’re not coming together. I don’t know if they’re just afraid to make plays because, again, they have the ability and they’ve shown the ability and they’ve done it in live situations out here. It’s just for them to understand that it has to be on a consistent basis and that is just not happening right now.”
Is it just a matter of experience?
“Possibly. It could be. It could be experience. It may be. It may just be that they don’t know how to dig a little deeper and to find it. That could be part of the problem, too.”
Is anyone closer? Do you feel like anyone’s making more flashes than someone else?
Are you sure this isn’t coachspeak?
“No. No. I’m not—I’m not gonna tell a story that isn’t true. That fair enough?”
“I mean, we got a game to play in, what, twelve days? They’re working hard, they just gotta work hard more consistently and do the right things more consistently.”
[More honesty (and WR and JKP and Brad Hawkins hype) after THE JUMP]
“I’m pleased with the position group right now. We’ve got some talented young players and it’s coming together well so far. It’s a good safety unit and I’m happy with their progress so far.”
How is Woods looking?
“Woods is looking good. He’s a young guy who came in mid-year. He’s picked up the system well. He’s a guy that studies hard off the field and puts in the time in the classroom and he’s progressed well so far.” The news came out yesterday that Florida suspended seven players, including their top wide receiver. Does that affect how you prepare in any way to face Florida’s receivers?
“Well, right now we’re just focusing on trying to get better. We’re at a point where that’s a few weeks in the future and we’re just trying to get better from the standpoint of our assignments, getting guys lined up—you know, we’ve got a lot of new guys in there—and focused on getting better.”
How much has Tyree Kinnel been able to really embrace that leadership role?
“He’s embraced it. It’s something that we’ve been talking to him about, stepping up and being a leader in the group, and he’s done a good job of that so far. He’s a guy that communicates well back there. He knows the system well. He’s been in it for a year and he’s the most experienced guy, so he’s done a nice job taking some of the younger guys under his wing and showing them the right way in how we do things and how we practice. He’s a good example for them.”