Hoke notes coming on Monday. Apologies for minimal editing, but I'm eager to leave the living hell that is McCormick Place.
Why does Denard smile playing football? "It's a game, and I enjoy playing it. Obviously I'm still playing, so I'm still smiling."
Even though there was a switch in offensive scheme, Denard said his first thought was to do whatever it takes to play. Denard doesn't worry about outside perception that he can't throw. He and his teammates know what he can do, and he'll show it on the field. The timing with receivers is looking good. "We've got some deep routes in there, and we have some routes where they can make a choice and get open. It's a good deal."
The biggest thing Denard has been working on this offseason is his footwork. "Keep my feet underneath me so I can make throws anywhere I want to throw it." Stepping up in the pocket is another adjustment he's making. Getting timing down with receivers is another area for improvement.
The team has been working hard all summer. They're getting bigger, faster, and stronger. "The seniors and I, we organized the workouts and 7-on-7s. That was a big thing for this year." Everybody was ready to participate in the offseason workout.
Denard never got to a point where he was leaning toward leaving Michigan. It was tough when Rich was fired, "That's the guy that recruited me, but at the same time, I was with my teammates and my family." David Molk and Ryan Van Bergen gave him the best advice, along with Mike Barwis. They told him that there's no better school or family than the University of Michigan. After he got fired, Coach Rodriguez told Denard to completely buy in to Hoke's system, and he would continue succeeding. It meant a lot to Denard that he told him to continue buying in. Coach Smith (now at Indiana) also told him to buy in 100%. "I bought into Coach Rod's offense, and I'm buying into this offense."
Brady Hoke's first message to the team was to hold each other accountable. "We're Michigan, and we're supposed to compete for the Big Ten every year." "What we've been doing lately is holding each other accountable." If guys aren't doing what it takes to win a Big Ten Championship, their teammates are on them.
The national attention is different after coming from a small town. "It's alright, it's good. I don't do crazy stuff anyhow" so it's not harmful. He likes being recognized around campus, too. It's easy to ignore media hype. "I don't too much care for the hype."
Asked about the Ohio State/Michigan State clocks: "We do have a countdown for the Western Michigan game, so that's the main thing right now. That's the main thing. That's a big game, we have to prove ourselves." Denard grew up watching the Florida/Florida State rivalry, but the Michigan/"Ohio" game is a much bigger rivalry. "It's the border. We fight for Michigan, and they fight for Ohio."
Denard was nicked up a lot last year, but "playing football, you're gonna have nicks and bruises, so you've gotta play through that."
"It's still going to be exciting, we've still got the guys we had last year." There are explosive receivers, and some good running backs. "I know all of them are gonna be ready to play."
Denard isn't usually a vocal leader, but when he has to speak up, he will.
There was no issue getting guys to come to workouts this year. There was pretty much 100% attendance at voluntary workouts, which was not the case last year.
"You get a feel for when you want to run and when you shouldn't run. If you see an open receiver, don't miss him. You want to get him the ball."
Despite last year's individual success, Denard always maintains drive to improve. "How I look at it is always work like I'm second string or third string." He plays and works out with a hunger to improve.
Denard isn't much of a celebrator, so he's not worried about the effects of the new taunting rules that can take scores of the table.
Denard has gained 5-10 pounds since last season.
"I did a lot last year. It's going to be hard to say I can do any more than I did last year, but I think I can do a little more, I can outdo what I did last year."
Low expectations? "They say the 1997 team was one of the teams that was underrated."
Whenever Darryl Stonum earns his way back on the team, he'll be welcomed. "I want him to be back on the team, but it's up to Coach Hoke."
The offensive line has gotten a lot bigger, but they're still mobile.
Denard's improvement: His arm has always been good, he can throw touch passes and the long ball. His arm strength isn't a question: he mangled one of Kevin's fingers with a pass in practice. It's still bent (pictured at right).
"I honestly feel like we don't have a #1 [receiver]." There are a number of guys that can step up and be the top target on a given day. Still sounds like a blessing and a curse to me.
"Dileo, he's deceptively quick." He did well on returns last year, and is now improving his route running and hands.
Jerald Robinson has good hands and body control.
The freshmen don't work out in the same groups as the returning players, and they can't participate in 7-on-7s due to their schedule. They've come out to play catch with some of the guys, though.
Chris Barnett is an established pass-catching threat, and Kevin's advice is to work on blocking. "It's a long season; if you don't play in the first game, you might play the fifth, sixth, seventh game."
In 7-on-7s, Koger is usually covered by Carvin Johnson or Brandon Herron.
Marvin Robinson is a big hitter. It doesn't take him a long run-up to build power.
Troy's return has brought some enthusiasm to the defense because he's a funny guy, and a fun guy to be around. JT Floyd is back as well. "Troy, he's a veteran, he knows where to be at, when to be there, he knows how to disguise coverages well, he drives on the ball really well.
Carvin Johnson is not the fastest, biggest, or strongest guy. "But he has a knack for making plays, he's always around the ball." Kevin has trust in the safeties to make plays.
There's a lot of competition among the linebackers, and there are spots up for grabs. Whoever plays the best in camp will earn starting positions.
Brandon Herron is a fast guy, and Koger has to beat him with technique, and Demens is a strong guy who you have to beat with separation, because if he gets his hands on you, you're done.
"Look at Wisconsin last year, look how many points they put up during the season. They ran a pro-style offense. They ran tight ends a lot of the time. It's proven that a pro-style offense can put up a lot of points."
The offense wants to control the tempo of the game this year. The defense is ready to get back onto the field whenever they need to, but the offense can control the ball.
Outside of Denard, Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway are some of the big play guys. Kevin jokes he'll be happy to catch any passes at all this year because there are so many good options for the offense.
Coach Hecklinski has done a good job with the receivers, making sure they do what they have to do.
A lot of the running backs haven't gotten much game experience, so it's exciting to see who will emerge.
There's been a lot of improvement since last year's defense. The seniors especially are working to leave the school the way they want to be remembered. "We've all been through it together. We know what needs to be done. We don't want to have any problems. We don't want to have it be like last year."
"At the end of the day, we don't want to say that Michigan beat Michigan." What happened in the past is gone, and they're excited about what's going to happen in the future.
Martin likes what he saw in the film from spring practice. Everyone looks excited to play defense, and get out on the football field. "There's a lot of worry; guys were doing a lot of thinking on the field." Now, guys are able to not think and simply execute their assignments.
On Greg Mattison: "The guy eats and breathes excellence." He's a great teacher of the game. Hoke and Mattison have credibility, and have proven that they know what they're talking about.
There's a big emphasis on being tough and hardnosed on defense. Hoke gets in the D-Line's faces specifically, because they're where the defense starts. Everything "starts and ends in the trenches." Previous Championship defenses at Michigan were defined by words like "toughness," etc.
Martin, Van Bergen, and a couple of young guys will get a lot of small-group attention from Coach Hoke in practice. Technique and fundamentals are stressed every day. Hoke, Mattison, and Montgomery are all on the same page and teaching the same things. Hand placement, footwork (down to the inches), hip movement, etc., need to be second-nature to the D-linemen, because they can't be overthinking on the field. The coaches are detail-oriented. They also are learning to adjust to the offensive formation without having to think about it.
"I've never seen more clocks in a building. I always know how many days there are until whatever game it is." It's a constant reminder of what is coming ahead. "We know what we have to do come September 3rd."
It's fun to watch film with Coach Mattison because there's active involvement by people, instead of a lecture-type format. They're always learning, and picking Mattison's brain. "Watching film and seeing me drop back, it just looks funny."
The four-man front makes it easier on the point of attack for the defensive line, because somebody is going to have a one-on-one matchup, and there are fewer double teams.
"His attitude and his mindset has totally gotten better." He was in a bit of a comfort zone before, where he wasn't constantly being pushed to improve, because he was a backup. Now he's being counted on, and has answered the call. He's a key component of the defense, as the 3-tech is a key part of Mattison's defensive scheme. "He answered the call and step up to the play. Q's been doing a great job behind him."
The team likes watching Ravens film, because it's a good comparison to what scheme they're going to be running. Otherwise, Mattison doesn't talk about his NFL success (HALOL Charlie Weis). Watching the guys who are the best at their positions helps the players realize what little things they need to do to improve. "I think all the guys are always picking stuff and trying to make their game better."
The defensive line is doing a good job at the point of attack, but their main room for improvement is making the second move and getting off a block to make plays in the backfield.
There's more accountability among players in the weight room this offseason. The new strength staff also puts an emphasis on getting bigger and reps to failure.