We’ve heard you’re going to be a tougher defense. How will we see that on the field in the fall?
“Hopefully you see the aggressiveness in base defense as well as when we do pressure. And I think the way you see that, you’re going to see guys—it’s easier right now for our guys to run to the football than it has been in the past. In other words they understand that that’s how they’re going to play. The aggressive part of it is like, everybody kind of wants to get in on hits instead of saying you’re supposed to get over there on hits. The pressure, the way our secondary’s playing, they’re more aggressive, they’re trying to get on guys a little tighter, I think all those kind of things.”
Is this more the kind of defense you’ve always envisioned when you came to Michigan?
“Yeah, it definitely is. Offenses have made it difficult because they spread you out all over the place. If you’re going to sit and just let them take shots and take shots they’re going to have their success. On offense it’s just keep the ball moving, keep the ball moving but on defense I think you’ve got to change the math sometimes and you’ve got to say it’s not going to be, maybe, like it was in practice for you.”
Are you more comfortable with this defense than you have been maybe- is the transition finally over?
“No question. No question. The guys that are playing in this defense are ours. You know, I really respect the first group and the groups that we came in with. Anytime you come in and demand what we demand it’s hard, but these kids that are here now are all the ones that we brought in here. They’re the ones that we’re with every day of their lives. I mean, we spend so much time with these kids. You really are excited about their attitude. You’re excited about—you can coach them really, really hard and you don’t have to worry about, ‘Well, now do I have to go put my arm around them?’ No, they know that you are for them all the way. And I think our coaches have done a great job, and Brady from the top has done that where we’re going to coach you now, we’re going to make sure you do it the right way and sometimes it isn’t going to be pretty but the next play is the next play.”
What do you know about Jabrill [Peppers] today that you didn’t know seven days ago?
“I know that he’s a real good football player. Here’s what I didn’t know because you don’t know this because you’re not with him: he loves to play football. That’s what you didn’t know. You saw him in games be very, very aggressive and very talented but now that we’re with him, he just really loves to be out there playing and he brings it every play. He’s got to gain some maturity. You know, when you’re a guy who’s been as successful as he has I think you never, ever have heard someone say, ‘That’s wrong. You can’t do that.’ His coach is a tremendous high school coach, but he just brings a lot of fire.”
[Regarding Peppers] What went into the decision to finally settle on nickelback?
“Because the way offenses are nowadays you’ve got to play nickel so much more. The nickel position is a very, very important position on the defense now compared to what it was maybe five to ten years ago. You have to have a guy in there now that’s going to be playing a whole bunch in that game. If you put a guy at safety and then you need him at nickel he’s going to play two positions and he may not become as good as he could be at that time as a youngster.”
Brady has talked about talking to him [Peppers] about not getting wrapped up in how much attention he gets and all that stuff. What do you say to him about that and how do you think he’s handled it?
“I haven’t had to say a thing to him about that because we coach him really, really hard. There’s no pampering. You’re just a guy in our defense. Obviously, with what his success was in high school he’ll probably get attention. He’s been very mature about it. He understands it’s Michigan now. When you’re at Michigan you’re just one of the team and you’re responsible to do what the team’s asking you to do and that’s what he’s done.”
[After THE JUMP: more Peppers, improvement in the linebackers, and defensive philosophy]
Does it bother you as a coach for one player to get as much attention as he has?
“No, because I don’t even notice the attention. I really don’t. When he’s in a meeting I wouldn’t even know he’s there. I wouldn’t even know he’s there because he’s being coached just like everybody else. I mean, that’s the farthest from our thoughts. No.”
Do you expect him to make an impact this year? I know you try to temper it with freshmen sometimes but is he that gifted of a player?
“I expect him to play up to his ability and we wouldn’t have him in there if we didn’t feel that he could help us have a really, really good defense.”
But you feel good thus far with what you’ve seen?
“Definitely. He keeps being in there for a period of time or a length of time. Everybody in this defense has done that same thing. He’s no different than what Ray Taylor has done or no different than what Jake [Ryan] or Joe [Bolden] or the d-line. All of them are expected to have it up a whole notch and they’re showing that at times.”
Is Peppers a nickel corner still?
“Nickel. He’s playing everywhere but nickel is basically where we’re putting it on.”
On another topic, Brady Hoke. You’ve been next to head coaches. Can you talk about the pressure and stress here?
“You could be at any school, any place. You could be in the NFL. You could be in junior high. The only pressure that’s on anybody is the pressure you put on yourself. If you’re in the meetings with Brady Hoke and someone says there’s pressure I’d start laughing. In my opinion, the job that he’s done since the day he’s got here has been unbelievable. Me personally, there’s no way I would have come here if it wasn’t for Brady Hoke. You’d have to sit and see it. What’s happened here with the guys that we’ve had, what’s happened here is three years is phenomenal. We’ll find out. We’ll find out. All I’ll say is just watch. Watch and see and if there’s pressure on him there’s pressure on every coach in America.”
What do you think has been unbelievable with what he’s been able to do?
“His consistency. His stand to the gameplan. His demanding that everybody in this program play Michigan football. His graduating sixty-nine out of sixty-nine seniors. That’s unheard of. You hear about today’s world, how dysfunctional some of the kids are and how we cheat the athletes. Well, every senior that’s come through here since we’ve been here has graduated. Put that with any other place in the program, okay. Wins-losses I know is what he’s graded by, but to me where this program has come in three years—that’s just me. We’ll see. I happen to be pretty excited about what’s happening.”
A lot of players have been talking about the raised tempo in practice. Do you think that’s going to be able to help you keep up with spread teams like Indiana that really push the pace?
“Yeah, no question. I think we practice, in my opinion, at a higher level than most teams in the country. I mean, it is going. A lot of that is going to pay off when you get in those games. The pressure that we put on them in practice is the same thing they’re going to get in games. Everything we do in practice is for us to be a lot better football team.”
How close do you think you are to that full game speed?
“Close. Very close.”
Could you talk about the linebackers a little bit. You were excited about Joe Bolden in the summer. Could you update what’s going on with that position?
“I’m very excited about that position. You cannot have a great defense if you don’t have very, very good linebackers. There’s a lot of them. There’s great competition. There’s guys that have all played before they should have played, and then you add Jake [Ryan] into that mix. Now you should have a very strong unit. And as you saw in games last year, when a young guy’s playing sometimes he’s going to get exposed. You know, people are going to make it look like he’s not physical enough, they’re going to look like they can run the football and that’s where, in my opinion, you’re going to see a linebacking crew that’s a physical group.”
Who’s showing you the most right now?
“They all are. Joe Bolden, again, continues to do what he did in the spring. Jake Ryan just keeps getting better and better and better. The guy that I’ve really been pleased with is Des [Morgan]. He was kind of stretched in the spring because he’s getting his degree and he had to student teach so he had to miss some practices. He’s come out in this camp and you’ve seen why he’s started for three years. Then you’ve got the young guys, you’ve got [James] Ross, Royce [Jenkins-Stone], Ben Gedeon, Mike McCray. That’s a pretty good group of linebackers that’s already played some.”
How is the competition at safety and do you think you’ll have Delano [Hill] back?
“We think we’re going to have him back and Delano’s another guy that has really done a great job this offseason. He’s really worked with Coach Wellman in the weight room. He’s really put it upon himself to become a better football player, to put himself in the mix. It’s unfortunate with his jaw, but he’s right in every meeting and he’s way more attentive than he ever was a youngster and I think that’s because he’s matured. Jeremy Clark has really started to come on. I’ve seen that in practice and he’s been forced to. Dymonte Thomas is the same way. These kids now are getting more pressure reps than they ever have before. Dymonte, for example, we’ve talked about it before but he’s only playing one position now. Okay. He’s playing safety. Now he just keeps getting better and better at that position. I think he’s doing a great job.”
Can you talk about why you moved Jake [Ryan] to the middle and how that will affect him and the defense as a whole?
“The reason I moved Jake in the middle is because, one, you want him on the field the whole time. You’re playing so many spread teams and we try to play our base people against spread offenses just to keep Jake out there. That’s not fair to a guy like Jake. He’s a 240 pound linebacker playing out there on a wide receiver. So the next thing is to put a nickel in, well where do you put Jake? Jake now becomes a defensive end so now Jake’s a 240 pound defensive end when you really want to be bigger there. He has played linebacker before and we wanted to get a bigger, stronger guy in the middle. That added to the fact that Joe [Bolden] and Des [Morgan] had played a lot of football and done a great job, you need depth inside. We saw that before. We thought that was the right place, and one of our better blitzers on the team is Jake. It’s a lot easier to blitz him from the middle than from way outside on somebody. All those are reasons we thought about doing that with him.”
How’s Jake doing with the communication aspect of it?
“Tremendous. Jake Ryan has unbelievable pride. He knew the second that that happened that it was going to be important for him to take charge of the entire defense. One thing we’ve really put on our linebackers is that we’re only going to be as good as you guys are. You’ve got to get everybody going right away and frankly we’ve had some problems in the past because maybe they were some younger guys and communication hurt us in games. Well now it’s on them. Don’t let that happen. You’re a linebacker, take care of everything. I’ll be honest with you, Joe Bolden has set the bar on how to communicate. I’m not going to say any names but I was with a guy one time coaching and when he was out there every guy on that field knew where they were supposed to be and Joe Bolden’s trying to do that. When he does that it seems like everybody can play a little better.”
Last season, the last few games, do you feel like you have something to prove defensively this year?
“I can’t remember last year. All I’m looking at right now is I’m looking at this first football game. There’s one game right now, there’s only one game, and that’s Appalachian State. I’m going to tell you right now, judge our defense, judge these kids by what they’ve done in the offseason. When that season was over with it was over. We feel very strongly about this defense and you guys know me, I wouldn’t say that. I feel strongly about how they’ve practice, how they’ve worked and we’re excited about that very first game and that’s all we care about.”
Brady talked about Jabrill being no different than Jake [Ryan] or Ray [Taylor], but is he different skill-wise as a freshman? Different than what you’ve seen in recent years?
“Any freshman that is getting reps with the first or second unit at the University of Michigan is obviously going to be better than a freshman that’s not. He’s talented. Let’s just face it. He wins the state in Jersey in the 100 and 200 so that tells me he’s fast. He started and played great football for two or three state championships. That tells me he’s a good football player. Choosing to come to Michigan, now he has to prove he’s a Michigan football player. That happens every day in practice and to this point he’s tried to come out every day to be the best player he can be.”
Jourdan [Lewis] obviously had a very good spring. How has he continued that, and with Blake [Countess] back at corner instead of nickel you have a package of three guys or four with Channing [Stribling] that have experience and one of those guys will have to sit out, right?
“You could say that about any position on our defense, and I mean that sincerely. It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior, a junior, a sophomore—every single day we evaluate those practices and I don’t care if it’s a guy who’s started for three years here or hasn’t started, you are evaluated and you are going to play based on how you played in that practice. Nobody plays every play of every game anyhow. We’ve had to do that before but now maybe we don’t have to. It’s the guy who’s playing the best, that’s who’s going to be in there. There cannot be any hurt feelings, there cannot be any this and that. Nobody is entitled to a starting position in this defense.”
Has Jourdan looked good?
“Jourdan has had a very good camp. All of them have. Channing’s done some really good things. Ray’s done some really good things. Blake’s just getting better and better from his offseason. We’ve got a lot of time before that first game but every day’s a competition.”
Chris Wormley comes into this season healthy. Is he poised for a breakout year?
“Yeah, we hope so. And you know what, Matt Godin is healthy. We hope for a breakout year out of him and Ondre Pipkins is healthy—breakout year out of him. You want to start naming defensive linemen, we’ve got a lot of young ones that have played maybe before they were supposed to play and all of a sudden they’re men. That’s the same place. The competition there, you talk about Willie Henry and Matt Godin and Strobel and you can go right down the line, I’m going to miss somebody when I name guys like that. Every place there’s competition. Same thing with ends. Taco [Charlton] and Brennen Beyer. Brennen Beyer has been an unbelievable player here since he’s been here in my opinion. I mean, he’s played at 255 pounds at 5-technique over a tackle. That just shows you. Now he’s a year older and a year stronger.”
What do you like about how Wormley has progressed?
“He seems like he’s less hesitant about that knee. I think he feels like he’s very confident that he’s a lot stronger, a lot quicker, he understands what to do now. Like all kids he’s a year older and he just looks like more of a mature guy, more of a veteran.”
You get to go against Doug’s [Nussmeier] offense. Can you give us a scouting report?
“Yeah, I can give you the scouting report. They’re going to try to come out every day and knock you off the football and if there’s something that isn’t working for him don’t get too complacent because there’s going to be something that works the next day. We have great competition in practice. I’m really, really excited about what Doug brings to this program. The energy and the confidence and the toughness.”
I know you said you don’t really look at the offensive line when you’re watching tape on your guys but the big conversation has been-
“I don’t know anything about that. I don’t watch that. I know one thing—Funk will have them ready and they’re going to be a better offensive line. I know that.”
When you watch your defensive line, last year there was a lot of talk about not being able to get to the quarterback. Do you feel that this is the year you have a—
“Yeah, I do. The thing about it is when you say you’re going to get to the quarterback and the thing that happened if you were to watch that is three step drops a lot of times. It wouldn’t matter if there was no one in front of them, the ball’s getting released so much faster. Again, that kind of goes to why you say you’re playing more aggressive. Well, yeah, we kind of have to tighten down a lot more which that’s what we looked at because the ball is coming out. Now, when that happens and they hold it longer I believe we’re going to be able to get to the quarterback.”
Brady said he wants toughness to be the identity of this team. How do we see toughness on the defense?
“First ball game. You’ll see it in the first ball game. You see them come out every practice and have seven or eight competitive periods against the offense and you see guys going after each other like crazy, that’s where you see toughness. Toughness by what they did- if you could have seen what this group did this summer with Aaron Wellman, there aren’t a lot of teams that work like that. Toughness staying out of trouble, doing the right things, sticking together as a team. Again, as I’ve said before, there are a lot of head coaches that don’t demand that. There are a lot of coaches where all of a sudden things and happen and, “Oh, that’ll be ok.” That doesn’t happen here and that’s why we’re really excited about the program and where we’re headed.”