[Ed. A—Thanks to Orion Sang and The Michigan Daily crew for passing along audio]
“Well, I think we’re a tough group. I think we’re a tough group. Without a doubt, we’re still a work in progress. I think when you look at the group as a whole, we have some guys that actually have some game experience, and I feel good, really good about just the overall continuity of our staff and all the experience that we have and all the different ideas and how we were able to input the things that we feel like are going to be necessary for us to be a good offense next year.”
Tough how? More physical?
“I mea, physically tough, but a coach Harbaugh team, a Jim Harbaugh team, is always mentally tough as well. He likes to grind on guys. He likes to challenge guys to push past their threshold of comfort, and so we will be a tough group.”
With no designated offensive coordinator, how is the playcalling going to work?
“Coach Harbaugh, it’s his offense. Everything goes through Coach and it starts and ends with coach Harbaugh.”
Has your role in the offense changed? Are you taking on more responsibilities than last year?
“No. No, not at all.”
How do you and Jim McElwain process things together? Do you get some input from him?
“Yeah, we all work hard together. We all process things together, so to say coach McElwain, coach Warinner, Ron Prince, Ben McDaniels, along with Jay Harbaugh and Sherrone Moore, we work well together and it’s all a collaborative effort to present coach Harbaugh with some ideas of things that we like and he gives us the yes or no.”
So on gameday will there be somebody or will there be more than one person? Have you talked about that yet, who’s going to be talking to Coach?
The Amazon Special: Craig Ross is a star, Pep Hamilton is photogenic, Jim is pretty chill, Don Brown is our dude.
Best part of it is Chase Winovich: “You gonna protect your quarterback? Help me out bro run or pass? Why didn’t you block me?!?” Rashan’s mom: “Now go get some quarterback ass!”
Ed’s favorite part is Harbaugh using changing the baby as a metaphor for not fumbling and the entire team is like “What is he talking about?” except Karan Higdon like “Yup, yup, yup, with the toys on the floor…”
Hockey: Bad news is they were heavily reliant on their first line and that line all graduates/left early. Good news is they get Lockwood back, get one and maybe two Hughes brothers. People think Jack will stick it out with the NTDP but chance to play with your brother…
Hoops outlook: Expecting Moe to go the NBA but it’s not as sure as it was before. Next year they can be a really good defensive team with Teske at the 5 but that makes you wonder where the shooting comes from other than Poole.
The croots: Iggy is a shooter. Defense? Um. Passing? Not really. Buckets. Takes the Poole role. DeJulius the backup PG at least by end of last year, but only because Z is going to improve. Our slack chat is filled with drool over Castleton but might not get to use that until he’s had a thousand more trips through the buffet line.
“Working at it. [/looks at SID] Give me the updates. What do I need to know? What’s my man’s name? No. 1 from our defense, he spilled some—Ambry. See, I didn’t even remember his name, so you know he’s not in the gameplan.”
Is this a double fake kind of thing?
“Alright, here we go.”
Is Brandon cleared for any kind of activity yet?
“He’s progressively getting better. He’s still in the protocol and we’ll know—it’s on an hour-to-hour and day-to-day basis where he stands, but, you know, he seems to be a lot better than what he was after Saturday.”
Is there a cutoff time where if he’s not cleared by a certain point then he won’t play Saturday?
“That’s coach Harbaugh’s decision.”
Any update on Wilton?
“Wilton, he’s been back out on the practice field and he’s looked good. Once again, that’s the head coach’s decision.”
Is it still a red jersey [non-contact] thing for Wilton?
If it is John that has to play on Saturday, how do you feel that he’s—do you feel that he’ll be ready for that challenge?
“Yeah, I think he’ll be ready. It’s not like this is his first time playing. We’ve still got a lot of practice in front of us and it’s important that we go out and we have a few good days of practice and we’ll see where we stand.”
What’s it like practicing against a Don Brown defense every day?
“It makes us better. It makes us better without a doubt. It really is a true test of our rules, you know, with the energy that they bring and how intense his defense is. It raises the level of our intensity as an offense.”
Where have you seen Brandon Peters get better from the start of the season?
“Well, Brandon’s still a work in progress. He’s only played in a portion of one game. Just like a lot of our young players, time on task, having more time on task has allowed them to improve. I don’t want to say that there’s not still a lot of work to be done, because there is. But he’s gotten more reps as of late and we expect continued improvement.”
What did he do to convince you guys to put him in the game? What’s he doing in practice?
“He had a better understanding as the season went on of the offense. More recently, once Wilton went down he had more of an opportunity to get reps with the first offense.”
Was there a play or two that stood out Saturday as impressive to you for a guy getting his first live action?
“Absolutely. Finding the checkdown. The play where we had a four vertical concept called in the red zone, he didn’t force it downfield, he didn’t force it to one of our tight ends that were running down the seams, he stepped up in the pocket, showed tremendous poise, and checked the ball down to Henry Poggi and that was a big play for us.”
[After THE JUMP: finding offensive rhythm with the guys you’ve got, more on Peters, and Mo Hurst: destroyer of games, wrecker of handoffs]
1. Are we still in love with Harbaugh's offense? It was a bit inert last year.
The last couple years this post has led off with a high-level look at the things Jim Harbaugh has done to keep his dinosaur-lookin-ass offense on the cutting edge. These have mostly focused on Harbaugh's little run tweaks that keep the opposition unbalanced: traps, offset draws, gap plays with zone principles, various ways to clobber people on the edge, and formations, formations, and more formations.
In UFR I try to have a reasonably low-level listing of all the plays Michigan runs. A typical game could have 15, 18, or even 20 runs different enough for me to name them separate things—and I'm sure there are subtleties I'm missing. Harbaugh's offense is a world away from any I've charted before. Everyone tweaks; everyone presents a moving target. (Except Late Carr-era Mike Debord.) The sheer blizzard of stuff Harbaugh throws out, with the offense adding new stuff almost weekly, is fun and effective.
But it wasn't the flashy tweaks and run schemes Harbaugh's resurrecting from the Fritz Crisler days that really stood out a year ago. It was Michigan's prep. When Athlon pinged Big Ten coaches for anonymous takes on their compatriots, the Harbaugh mania stood out:
"The team is starting to reflect Jim — you could see it more last year."
"They want to outwork you. That was the whole satellite camp thing last offseason. He wanted to send a message to the SEC and other schools that he will outwork you to make up for any advantage you might have over Michigan."
"They’re scouting opponents better than anyone in our league. They’re at Alabama’s level of prep and analysis, and as they’ve started to fit talent you’re seeing the effects. It’s hard to surprise them."
This was clearest in the Michigan State game. As mentioned in the section on Mason Cole, Michigan comprehensively defeated the double A gap twist blitz that had annihilated Michigan for going on a decade. They didn't just defuse it, they ripped it:
The biggest tactical takeaway wasn't the existence of something but rather its absence: MSU's double A gap twist blitz. You may remember that blitz from Spittle Flecked Rich Rod Rant and Spittle Flecked Al Borges Rant way back when, because Michigan ate it over and over and over again for TFLs and stuffs and sacks. No longer. They still run it. It's not working.
Michigan's opening first down was a double A blitz that got Bullough through, but to do so he had to go so fast that he overran the play:
Michigan got the other guy; Cole probably biffs on Bullough but he doesn't compound the mistake by turning upfield. It's his block that makes the room for the Smith cutback, and then it's Godzilla versus the fishing village time. ...
This was even happening when Speight was your shotgun quarterback. Smith's six yard TD late in the second quarter was another double A blitz that Michigan had the answer for:
By this point it seemed clear that shotgun snaps got double A blitzed a lot, so Michigan might even have gone with the gun here specifically because they wanted the gut of the D to be linebackers instead of DTs. McDowell rips outside and finds air. ...
The trademark MSU defensive playcall was comprehensively beaten. Finally. All of these plays feature the extreme aggression of the MSU linebackers being used against them, something that Michigan hasn't been able to do in forever. Can't block 'em? Run right by 'em.
Michigan won't let that stuff happen to them for a decade straight anymore. So they've got that going for them.
Harbaugh continues to morph his offense, adapting it to the players at hand. Sometimes this backfires when his players can't imbibe the firehose he puts in front of them—see the departed OL. There's a reason that Harbaugh's offense developed so quickly and cromulently at Stanford, where his only asset early was a bunch of nerd brains. This year Michigan's OL makes most of the shift to the Harbaugh generation. The exceptions are Cole, an OL nerd brain if there ever was one, and Kugler, the son of an OL coach in his fifth year.
This might be the year Michigan can really start making some hay by out-smarting the opposition. To date they've given some of that back with blizzards of missed assignments. Now they've got a shot at really paying off on that diversity. So, yes. Harbauffense for real.
[After THE JUMP: Pep effect, and running a dang stretch]
“They’re working hard. They’re working hard. It’s a very talented group. I think they have intensified the level of competition amongst that receiver group. To say that they’ve made progress is somewhat of an understatement.”
MGoQuestion: Obviously it’s a meritocracy but how do you plan to get all those young receivers on the field considering the depth and the talent there?
“Well, we still have 25 days before we play a game, so there will be guys that continue to make progress that separate themselves and ultimately give themselves a chance to play. “
Have you already seen some players emerging in front of the group?
“I think there’s been a ton of guys that have had really good days. It’s just a matter of stacking days and being consistent and once again, in time Coach will have some hard decisions to make.”
There’s so much talk about the younger receivers. What about some of the older guys? Maurice Ways comes to mind. How is he doing and how does he fit in?
“Well, like I said, I think the younger receivers, they’ve made all of our receivers have to work hard—not that they wouldn’t have to work hard anyway, but just getting reps is really competitive at this point. We have a lot of reps over the course of practice so everybody has a chance to get up there and make plays and there’s a ton of guys that are making plays.”
Is there a noticeable difference in how the receivers are with chemistry [and] timing with Wilton Speight as opposed to in the spring?
“No. I think overall as an offensive unit we’ve improved from a continuity standpoint. I think that’s what you’re saying. I think that the time that the players spent this summer in the player-run workouts gave them a better sense of the timing that’s required for us to be successful as an offense, and so there have been improvements.”
Obviously the guys have to get a grasp on what you’re teaching. How much of a sense of control do you feel being new, going through camp? How much do you feel like you have a sense of control?
“I don’t know that ‘control’ would be the word I would use. I think the players are starting getting more of a conceptual understanding of what we want to do schematically on offense, so as a result they’re playing faster.”
[After THE JUMP: how QBs adjust to young WRs and an interesting point about the speed of the offense]
Jim said during media days that the three of them [Speight, Peters, and O’Korn] are basically tied. What, in your mind, separates one quarterback from another? Not specifically, but whoever wins out, what’s going to be the difference for them?
“We feel that’s the best player for us to win football games with.”
What are your thoughts on ever having multiple quarterbacks play regularly? ”I think you could do that. At times you have different packages and things. Going into a football game you’re always trying to look for the best way to attack the defense and if that’s something that presents a problem for the team that you’re playing then.”
What do you think about this fall that being an option?
“I don’t know yet. It’s so early in camp. We’re still putting this thing together and putting the offensive concepts together and things we’re doing, so we’ll see as we go.”
Jim talked about maybe ten practices or so to decide, to really know on a quarterback. How about offensive line? How long into camp is it before you get a good sense of that?
“It just depends, you know. Could be practice ten, could be practice 12. We just put pads on yesterday and things change when you put pads on. You know, with the competition of hitting and physicality and moving people off the ball and things moving faster. As we go we’ll make that decision.”
[After THE JUMP: RT possibilities; finding OL six, seven, and eight; how the staff complements each other]
“I’ve been very impressed with Wilton. Wilton is a conceptual learner, and so some of the things that we’ve put on his plate up until this point in the spring, I mean, he’s a quick study. And football’s important to Wilton. Winning is important to Wilton. So, very impressed with him.”
I don’t want to say you’re inheriting a quarterback, but he was here before you got here. What are the challenges of that, because he was actually here before Jim got here as well—what are the challenges of stepping in and having a guy who’s already been tabbed the starter and going from there?
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a challenge for me. I think it’s probably more of a challenge for Wilton to adjust to a different style of coaching than what he was used to, than what he had in years past. We haven’t had any issues. I think Wilton understands that, as the quarterback for the University of Michigan, the expectations
You’ve moved back to the college game from the pro game. Do you have to change how you coach or your expectation level when you’re dealing with a college kid as opposed to who you’re dealing with in the pros?
“No, you don’t have to change how you coach, but you have less time with your players. I think it’s more of a challenge when you’re trying to put a lot of volume or put a lot on their plate to get them to the point where they can handle all of the information and all of the strategy that you try to implement at times. But the kids here at the University of Michigan, they’re tough and they’re smart so they’re able to adjust and adapt to some of the concepts, for example, that we’re going to use this upcoming season.”
Why come back to the college level?
“I want to win a national championship.”
[After THE JUMP: working with Wilton, rotating centers, and Don Brown’s headache-inducing defense]
Adding Greg Frey to the coaching staff has allowed Drevno to more fully take on the role of offensive coordinator
Pep Hamilton and Drevno have a nigh telepathic connection thanks to their days coaching together at Stanford
Donovan Peoples-Jones appears to be everything he was advertised as being; Drevno said that with DPJ, “…there’s no letdown, man.”
Grant Newsome is not practicing yet
When asked about Grant Perry, Drevno said it’s an internal matter and didn’t elaborate further
Everyone is being rotated through different spots to find the best five (and the best fit) on the offensive line
Drevno praised Cesar Ruiz’s rapid processing of information and his ability to quickly get off the ball and to the second level
You’ve got a lot of new guys. What’s your impression through the first day of spring?
“Really good. They worked really hard. They’ve done a nice job in the classroom the last couple days. Like we’ve said, just in terms of the winter condition there’s some very athletic guys that we’ve recruited, especially at the wide receiver position and other places on the offense, so it’s been really good.”
The football classroom?
“Yeah, the football classroom in terms of just the last couple days we’ve met and it’s been good. And they carried it over into today, which is really nice to see just them doing it at a high level. They learn fast and can fix problems.”
Is Mason [Cole] going to be practicing at multiple spots to make sure you get the right fit as far as tackle and center goes?
“Yeah, we’re rotating guys through there and we’ll see who the best five guys are.”