- The defense is confident, with good reason, it turns out
- Alex Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor
- Ambry Thomas' development
- Ronnie Bell stepping up fast
[After THE JUMP: Stuff and things]
[After THE JUMP: Stuff and things]
[After THE JUMP: Mike Zordich isn't sure exactly what happened early on, but he's not happy about it]
chomp chomp chomp chomp. [Fuller]
This is the defense section: I had to split these up for length which means the offense bits are here.
Yeah so the McElwain presser on Monday opened up a bunch of questions about who’s in charge of the offense. Let’s clear that up with a bit of Bo knowledge and some CK2 references, because everybody who covers Michigan football must understand those at least.
I think Harbaugh told us how he’s going to do it when he said Bo didn’t have an OC, and everybody—or at least everybody who didn’t buy HTTV 2015—missed the reference. Indeed, when Harbaugh was playing here, Bo had a defensive coordinator (Gary Moeller) and more or less allowed Mo to run his duchy. But there was no like position on offense. Instead Bo had a “quarterbacks coach,” Jerry Hanlon, Bo’s right hand man going back to their Miami days. Hanlon coordinated the offensive staff, and called the plays from the box, but never got the title. They also had two offensive-minded former head coaches on staff in Alex Agase and Elliot Uzelac, not to mention Bo was an offensive (line) coach at heart. With all of those vassals with kingship claims, hierarchy was less important than council positions.
That’s how I think it’s going to work now. Pep is your Hanlon—he’s got his job and if he cares what you call it he won’t say so publicly. McElwain is Uzelac—he’ll contribute his thoughts while getting back to position coaching and waiting for an OC job. Warinner is Agase, the guy we know all too well from a long career on opposite sidelines, here because he became available and we need him. They’re not Pep’s vassals because Harbaugh holds the Duke of O title himself, but Pep is the Marshall, and leads the armies.
There. Now the offensive staff makes sense, or if it doesn’t make sense at least now you know it’s only because you don’t know enough about Bo and CK2, and you need to rectify that.
Oh, and Sam’s apologizing to anyone he sees for not being hype enough on Joe Milton, with the why at the link($).
Really would like to know how solving your problems with aggression works in baseball [Patrick Barron]
The thing about Michigan’s defense is they return all but two starters from an excellent unit, and the coordinator has put out three top five defenses in three years—one with Boston College talent—so sunshine is to be expected. At places used to such riches they’ve learned to ask more about strategies for using the varied abilities they’ve collected. We haven’t learned to do this yet, so this is going to be mostly chatter about backup battles.
What we want to hear: Now that some of Dr. Blitz’s weapons are coming into their second and third years, how are they being incorporated into the defense?
What we’re hearing: This week new linebackers coach Al Washington met with the press. Washington played at BC and later coached (running backs and special teams) with Don Brown there. He was part of Fickell’s staff at Cincy that gave Michigan fits by going to a 3-4/4-3 under front and gap-switching a ton. He has been put in charge of Brown’s Swiss army knife position: the Vipers, SAMs, Edges, and whatnot, right when third year Brown hybrids like Josh Uche and Khaleke Hudson are coming into their own. Adam, our presser guy, has a one-week-old so he wasn’t there to ask our questions, and now I’ve got a beef with the Michigan press corps for wasting this opportunity for knife talk to instead lob questions about Mt. Rushmore. But we got one thing out of it:
He said this might be his fastest defense ever. What have you seen of the talent level out there?
“Man, I’ll tell you what, I made the comparison of somebody dropping a steak in a tank of piranhas. You see the quarterback drop back and it’s like…man, it’s overwhelming. So, speed is lightning quick, they’re physical, and they’re smart. That, to me, is probably the biggest thing.
“These guys get it. This is a lot of—I think he had two new starters last year. Ten new starters, excuse me. So, a lot of these kids are coming back and they know it. They have a mastery of it and so that just makes them even faster. They’re tough. They take pride in what they do. It’s a great group. A special group.”
Piranhas it is.
What it means: If a Minnesota Twins fan complains ask him what state Ron Gardenhire collects a check in.
[After the JUMP: The Piranhas]
[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]
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]
Jim said the Lavert [Hill] pick was not a penalty. What did you see on that play?
“Yeah, I was astonished. I actually asked the official at halftime, I said, ‘What happened? What’d he do?’ He said he tugged on his top shoulder and that’s what made him able to slingshot in front of him. You look at the film and you don’t see that, you just see a kid making a hell of a play, so I was surprised.”
Tyree [Kinnel] said he sees a little Jourdan [Lewis] in him. Do you see that?
“Yeah, you know what, I can see it. I can see what Tyree’s saying, and Lavert is starting to come out of his shell a little bit and you can see his fieriness, his competitiveness more in practice as the year goes, so absolutely.”
Have you been pretty happy with David Long’s progression at the other spot?
“David has progressed well. B-Wat has progressed well. Yes, happy. We still need to progress, absolutely.”
We’re starting to see a little bit of Ambry Thomas in pivotal game moments. What has he been able to do?
“Ambry’s come along. He had to go in there because David got dinged up a little bit or a little dizzy, but Ambry’s coming and so is Benjamin St. Juste. Both those guys are working extremely hard. I would say if they keep up this pace, in a couple weeks I wouldn’t be afraid to put them in more than what they’re seeing now.”
[After THE JUMP: the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau is gonna love this]
How far has your group come since you told us that you were a little concerned?
“You know what, I gotta give credit where credit is due. They’ve definitely stepped up and been playing… playing okay. Yep.”
Okay but not great?
“It’s the third game of the season. We’ve got a long way to go. They know it, I know it, I think our whole team knows it. Each week we’ve got to just keep getting better, so nobody’s arrived for sure.”
Your rotation hasn’t been very deep. For the most part you’ve been going with three; maybe Ambry [Thomas] is getting a little bit of playing time at corner.
Is that part of you just waiting for other guys to show that they can get on the field?
“Same deal, yeah. Competition’s wide open. It’s really been those four: Vert and then Ambry’s been in the mix and then Brandon Watson and David Long. Those are the four that are kind of getting into all of the action now. But, you know, the door’s always open and the competition has been open.”
What unique challenges doe the Air Force offense pose for the secondary?
“Well, for us, certainly all the misdirection on almost a down basis. The offenses that we play, the misdirection isn’t—it’s here and there. Now you have to be ready for it on just about every down, and the fact that they’re gonna run the ball, we think, the majority of the time, so the run game comes into play for our guys big time, too. Those two things are the areas that we’ve got to concentrate on this week.”
[After THE JUMP: Lavert’s UFR grade, where the corners need to improve, and Don Brown’s lessening angst]
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. 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]
What were your initial impressions of the secondary after the spring game?
“After the spring game I thought—I still believe we’re young and talented, but there’s quite a ways to go. Quite a ways to go. On the outside, the young guys were still very critical of the technique we play, especially in our man coverage. So, they’ve got a ways to go even though they should be in high school. We’ve got to change their habits, if you will. So we’re happy, but lot of room for improvement.”
Last week Brian [Smith] was saying that Keith is coming along a little bit but that he was pretty hard on himself, like he’d pick up something, maybe wouldn’t get it again the next time, and was pretty hard on himself. What have you seen out of Keith?
“Yeah, Keith has always been hard on himself. Keith is a competitor, and that’s one thing I always like about Keith. He works his tail off. You gotta remember, he played at quarterback at high school. We brought him over and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make you a cornerback’ in a system that plays press-man 90% of the time, so it’s not an easy thing to do and it’s a tough technique to learn. That’s what he’s trying to do and I think he’s doing it very well.
“I thought he had a heck of a game Saturday. Played really well, was very aggressive, had some nice tackles. He’s come along really well.”
[After THE JUMP: On winemaking, which is not a metaphor. We talked about making actual wine. Also defending fades, but wine, too]
Is it hard to be anything but elated with your group at this point in the season?
“Yeah, I think so. I think if you ask any team in the country they’d like to be sitting at 9-0 and our ranking, so yeah, we’re happy but certainly not satisfied. There’s work to be done.”
How about your position group?
“Playing well. I think we had a little bit of a slide in the Michigan State game. Other than, I think they’ve learned from it and are moving on.”
What’s the key or you guys in the short-yardage situations, in the red zone, to be as effective as you have?
“Well, I think in short yardage it’s just gap integrity. Guys in front have to stay in their gaps, linebackers have to stay in their gaps, the secondary fits and fills where needed, so that’s very important in short yardage. Then red zone is something we work day in and day out, starting on Monday all the way through Friday. That’s an area we hit every day, so it’s important in the game and you have to practice it.”
You talked about Channing [Stribling] in run support earlier in the year. Have there been some teaching moments the past few weeks?
“Well, yes, absolutely. The Michigan State game is a big teaching moment. He realized it and he knew he was wrong and he fixed it. That’s important. Just gotta keep building on it. That’s what he has to do.”
How do you fix that, exactly?
“You work at it. In practice we do some tackling drills, and we have some nice talks about it, too.”
[After THE JUMP: who is mini-Jourdan, more on run support, and talking about tunnel screen defense]