How are the young receivers coming along?
“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]
Who’s your quarterback?
“We have several.”
Who’s the starter?
“We have, potentially, several.”
What kind of progress/improvements are you seeing in the quarterbacks as camp progresses?
“They have more ownership of the offense. They’re doing a better job recognizing certain defensive looks. As you guys mentioned, the timing of the passing game; there’s marked improvements in the overall passing game. Their overall ability to manage the game has improved or manage our offense, should I say, has improved. There’s still a long way to go. We still have a lot of practices ahead of us. There’s still a lot of work for us to do, as well.”
What does Wilton have to do to win the job and what does Brandon [Peters] have to do to win the job and are they different things?
“Well, they all have to execute our offense at a high level. Our goal is to score the ball every time we have the ball and attempting to do just that. The guy that can manage bad plays when the play breaks down and ultimately mitigate situations where we could have a negative play is the guy that we hope can be that and lead our offense.”
How are the young receivers doing from a blocking standpoint?
“Coach Hastings and our entire staff, we challenge guys to play hard without the ball just out of respect for your teammate that’s carrying the ball. That’s always something that we’ve made a point of emphasis. They’re working hard at it.”
Did you see any improvement from the player-led workouts when they came in?
“Well…yes. I mentioned that before. We’re not able to watch or be a part of the player-led workouts. I think the measuring stick was just that they were able to come in and on our very first practice we practice very well considering.”
What changes for a quarterback when they go from having three senior targets to having such a young group? What does the quarterback do different?
“There’s a period of having to gain trust in the young guys that you’re throwing to, or should I say the new faces. For the quarterback, he can’t wait to see guys come open before he throws the football. He has to know and trust that the receivers are going to get to the spot, so that’s the challenge. That’s been the challenge, and that’s why all the time that our guys spent together in the summer was really important for us to go out here and have a chance to hit the ground running now as we start camp.”
Are there certain routes or plays that you feel like you can’t call because the trust might not be there yet?
“No comment.” [smirks]
You’ve had about seven months to work with the guys: Wilton, Brandon Peters, John O’Korn, McCaffrey. How have those personal relationships developed and getting to know them as individuals as opposed to just quarterbacks and why is that important?
“I think it just took time for all of us to gain an understanding of what is expected from each of us. These kids are smart kids. They’re smart kids, they work hard, and being successful on and off the field is important for them. And it’s important for me to help them realize their full potential. That word ‘trust,’ amongst coaches and players it’s something that just takes time to build and gain and I think we’ve been taking some steps in the right direction from that standpoint.”
I know you’ve had limited time with him but what have you seen so far out of Dylan McCaffrey?
“Oh, wow. He’s a smart kid. His football IQ is off the chart. It’s really what you would expect from a kid that grew up in a football family, and he’s been very impressive up until this point.”
You mentioned all the new faces at receiver. You’ve got a lot of them but you’ve got a lot of talent there. How much of an emphasis do you put on getting more of those guys on the field at once, whether it be a set or whatever it is?
“I don’t know that you can just say that the receiver position has a lot of young talent. I think our tight ends are pretty talented. I think we have a very talented running back group. I think the challenge more so will be finding ways to be multiple, as we’ve always been in this offense, but it’s ultimately to get the playmakers the ball.”
Do you think that being multiple could expand maybe some? You just mentioned the tight ends and running backs and receivers. Could that expand?
“I would say there’s always room not just for improvement but just finding different ways to accomplish that one goal, and that’s to score the ball.”
What have you seen from Nico Collins?
“Nico is a big, fast, talented athlete. The more he practices in our offense and with our team, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Eddie McDoom was saying at a camp this summer that the offense just seems faster with you. How does an offense that scored 40 points per game get even faster?
“Well, I don’t know if we’ve gotten faster as much as these young guys haven’t had an opportunity to go through an offseason with coach Tolbert and our strength staff and once again spend time together as a team over the course of a summer. They just probably have more of a grasp or understanding of what it is that we’re coaching and asking them to do and as a result they go out and play fast and compete faster.”
Is it uptempo? Is your style uptempo, quicker?
“Oh no, it’s not that. It’s just more of a point of emphasis for the players themselves to know what to do and be able to go out and do it fast.”
Tarik Black and Donovan, specifically: Have you seen them make leaps from the spring to now?
“Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Oliver Martin, Nico Collins, that young receiver group, they’re very talented. But then we have some not-as-young receivers in Nate Johnson and Nate Schoenle and of course Eddie McDoom and all those guys, Mo Ways, hopefully I’m not forgetting anybody…Kekoa Crawford. Those guys, they’re pushing each other and then coach Hastings, they put a lot of time in to make sure that they know what to do. That’s a big part of playing receiver. And the quarterbacks are challenging the receivers to get to the spot and then they have dialogue about how to do things. They’ve had a lot of time on task this summer; that’s really important in the big scheme of things, but we’ll see.
“As I said, we’re 25 days away from playing a game and I do understand the Michigan fan base, media, and all the folks that are looking forward to us kicking off this season are excited to know what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it and the one thing I will say is the players are working hard and training camp practices, Camp Harbaugh, is as hard as you would imagine. We’ll see where it gets us in our preparations for the University of Florida.”