Talk about the progress you’re seeing in the first few weeks.
“You know, it’s been really good. The guys have been working hard. Had a great summer. There’s a really good vibe. They’re fighting. It’s been really just a pleasure watching them grow, excel, learn, and then become a team.”
Tim [Drevno] talked a couple weeks ago about the division of responsibilities, [how] you taking the tackles kind of frees him up as an offensive coordinator to do a little bit more that way. How have you seen that division work for you guys?
“When coach Harbaugh and I talked a long time ago and then when I met coach Drevno, whatever helps us win, I’m 100% in. My history obviously leans toward offensive line play, so if I can help coach Drevno and free him up or help coach Hamilton in some way I’m going to do it, but really we’re just a really good, close group of offensive coaches working together. No egos, and it’s been awesome.”
How’s that battle at right tackle so far?
“As far as those things go, we’re just—our focus is on us and developing these kids and correcting things. Everybody’s doing really good things and everybody’s doing some things you want to do better. At this point in camp really legs are tired, guys are fighting, and so it’s a situation where you’re really trying to bring the stress level up and individually correct and develop, and as we get through camp I think separation occurs. It’s a little too early to tell right now.”
Jim was saying that on the offensive line, nobody can block Mo Hurst. I guess Rashan Gary, Rashan’s been pretty good. What—
“Wait, wait, wait. Rashan’s been very good. No ‘pretty.’ Nothing ‘pretty’ about it.”
At that elite level, is it a cause of concern for you and the offensive line or do you look at the level of competition—
“I don’t have to play him this year. I’m on the team with him, so I’m watching him. You know the old saying ‘Iron sharpens iron.’ When you’ve got guys and they’re coming in and you’re trying to prepare them to play, who you practice against plays a big part in that. And while you can’t go every single snap every single day against Rashan or Mo, what does happen is it becomes competitive. And so when it becomes competitive it brings the level of play up for guys.
“Mason Cole may not need that; he’s a four-year starter. We’ve seen him in a lot of game reps, but when you take guys that maybe haven’t, being able to get in there and compete and get some game-level intensity reps helps. And those two guys are unbelievable and coach Mattison and the whole D-line are unbelievable. We love it and going against them, you win some, you lose some, but the biggest thing is we’re stressing ourselves to become a more cohesive unit.”
[After THE JUMP: on Mason Cole, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Jon Runyan, and getting a group (not just a starting five) ready]
Is it a kind of scenario where you’d almost rather have them take lumps against guys like Rashan and Mo rather than learn that later in the season?
“Well, yeah. When you’re talking Michigan practices and you’re talking Michigan D-lineman and Don Brown defenses, it’s a stress situation. And so you’ve got to think: you’ve got to be powerful, you’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to react, you’ve got to pick up stunts, you’ve got to pick up blitzes, you’ve got to see safety rotations; there’s like a million things to do in order to be successful. And so to see what these guys are capable of without being in a game and saying ‘Uh oh, I wish we would’ve done that,’ we’re seeing a lot of things right now that allow us to develop the knowledge bank of some players that maybe don’t have 13, 14 starts under their belt.
“And so yeah, it’s a great thing. It’s an unbelievable thing. And then you get the pass rushes against Rashan and Mo Hurst, who I’ve watched the last three years and I think is incredible and he’s an incredible person and so yeah, it helps. I think it speed s the development of maybe some younger guys and some guys that haven’t been in as many games.”
You’ve got at least a few guys that are moving around to different spots on the line. Do you think in general offensive linemen are being asked or are being more versatile than in the past?
“Oh, I’m not sure. I don’t know how last year was handled with those things.”
Not just here but in general.
“Oh, yeah, you know, I don’t know. We’ve always developed guys in a way—you’d like to think the system is conducive for a guy being able to play multiple positions. If they have any aspirations of playing in the NFL they better be able to play multiple positions. Most of the time you get one guy that maybe, like Taylor Lewan, who is a left tackle. Other than that, the other seven guys on the travel team better be able to play a lot of different things. So the more they can do, the better it is, in general. Really you’d like to have a two-deep; you’d like to have a three-deep ready to play and not have to worry about it and just create great competition.”
Do you find more guys are capable of doing that these days?
“I don’t know. I guess it really depends on the guy, I’d say, more so than anything. But yeah, I would say yeah. I don’t know, because when I first started playing we played tight and split so I had to learn right and left and all kinds of different things. It’s just different. It’s a little different system. I think it really depends on the player individually.”
What have you seen from Chuck Filiaga in the early going?
“Oh, Chuck’s awesome. He’s winning some, he’s losing some, but he’s a great person. And he’s trying really hard, so those are really like the judgment characteristics right there; he’s fighting, he’s competing, he’s taken some lumps, he’s given some lumps, so we’ll see if we can harness it and keep him rolling.”
What have you seen from some of the younger tight ends [like] Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks?
“Like I said, at this point—and again, the stress being that our defense is very good. They’re coached very well. They’re very talented and even though I know they’re replacing some guys over there and doing some things, but it’s been a really good battle. Watching Sean McKeon develop in his run blocking and pass catching, just running routes. TJ’s doing an awesome job.
“The five tight ends are doing outstanding, and each of them in their own way are really providing something for the offense, so that’s really been good to see. And they’re doing against a high-level, talented defense, so it’s been good. They’ve been really good. Nick Eubanks is a wonderful kid to coach; great personality.”
With the offensive line, given that they have to work as a group, is there an emphasis on getting the top five finished and decided a little more quickly?
“One thing I’ve learned and I’ve seen, and this is just my personal opinion and everybody will have their own, [but] if you were to promise me that the next 13 weeks everybody was going to stay healthy I’d say absolutely. However, in a contact sport, a violent sport, you don’t know when somebody’s going to get hurt. You don’t know when you’re going to have to replace somebody, so it’s really not about five guys getting ready to play, it’s about getting a group of guys ready. So you’d like to walk in with, like I said, a three-deep where everybody’s awesome, but it’s unrealistic. Really, if you can get into it with eight or nine guys that are game-ready, that are ready to play at the level and the effort and the strain level that coach Harbaugh wants, then you’re sitting pretty good. So that’s what we’re focusing on.
“Like I said, you’re going to get injuries. It’s football. We understand that. We learned the hard way last year when Jay got hurt and some of those things. That’s going to happen. You’ve got develop more than one and in some cases more than three.”
When you first came in, what were your thoughts when you first got a look on film at Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Jon Runyan and how, now that you see them actually on the practice field and up close and personal, have they met those expectations or maybe exceeded them?
“Oh, they’re doing excellent. So with both of them, I didn’t really go back and study a whole lot. I watched but I didn’t study a whole lot because as we go forward each year, each game, each day, each play, it’s really a mentality of attacking their weaknesses and continuing their strengths, and that’s really what we’re focusing on.
“You take Jon Runyan, very fluid, good athlete, probably one of the better athletes on the offensive line, and try to harness his strengths into where he helps us win. Then you take Bushell-Beatty, who’s a big, monstrous guy and cares a lot, pushing through, doing some good things, so we’re trying to put them in a position where they can be the best player they can be. And so what’s stuck out most on those guys is their enthusiasm to learn and just that willingness to attack and [take] constructive criticism and respond, and with both of those guys it’s been really, really fun to watch.”
So you didn’t come in necessarily with expectations or preconceived notions of them?
“No, absolutely not. Players react differently to different coaches, different people, different situations, and I think our job is to help them help this offense this year. So you find that way to develop and bring them along to put them in situations where they can use their talents to help Michigan win.”
How long have you known Mason [Cole]?
“I think—I think, and you’ve got to confirm this, I might have been his first offer. So we’re from the same hometown. Actually my dad lives in Oldsmar which is East Lake. His parents just moved out of there but where he went to high school, East Lake High School, is very close to where I grew up in Clearwater High. I’ve had the privilege of watching him develop as a young man and just as a person and he told me no. It sort of pissed me off so I joined him. That’s what I told him.”
Having seen him from that young age to now, did you see him evolving into the kind of leader he is?
“Yeah. He was special in high school. He had a great team down there and coach Hudson and East Lake does a wonderful job and he was a leader there. You went and watched him practice, there was something different. They call it the ‘it’ factor or whatever, but he had it and he has it. So it’s a situation where I think maybe his sophomore year, spring of his sophomore year is maybe the first time I saw him, which would have been, what, six, seven years ago. So it’s a situation where watching him develop and watching him grow just as a man, as a person, has been really neat. Now I’m intimately involved, sitting in the same room, traveling on the same bus.”
Do you remind him often that he told you no?
“We talk about it every once in a while. You know, he’s really—he’s from my hometown. I’m a big fan of anybody from my hometown and I want him to succeed. We can only take a certain amount of guys. We can sign, what, 25 a year. So wherever we are, it’s a situation that you want to see kids that you develop a liking to or a bond to even after the game, I’d talk to him; ‘Great job, watching you on film and you’re doing awesome, if there’s anything I can do to help you let me know.’ I’m a big fan of just guys taking [the] opportunity to chase their dreams, and Mason was doing that whether I was here or not, he’s been doing a great job of it. Just being able to be a part of it now makes it special.”
How much more do you like him at tackle?
“You know, whatever. Whatever helps us win. If that helps us win, I love it. If him being a center helps us win, I love it even more. It’s whatever helps us score points and win games. That’s what we’re looking for on the offensive side. And I think if you asked Mason, he’d play wide receiver if he thought it would help us win, so it’s a situation where whatever puts us in the best opportunity to put our team and our guys in the best opportunity to succeed and win, I love. That’s always just sort of who I am and how I believe.”