“Hello, everybody. Hope you had a good summer. Time to get going I guess, huh? I don't know if you want me to start out with an opening statement but I guess my opening statement would be that I'm really, really excited about this season, excited about this defense and excited about the young men that we've had the opportunity to work with. Every day we are around them through camp I feel more excited. I really like the direction it's going. So, any questions?”
The defensive staff was shuffled in the offseason. What prompted that and what has been the response and progress from the players and the defensive coaches?
“First thing is I thought long and hard about it and in today's football you've got to make a lot of adjustments during a game and you got to make a lot of spur of the moment things where you have the right way to do something and all of a sudden a team does something different and you need to be able to tweak a blitz or be able to bring pressure or change something, and I just felt being with the defensive line you're not with two thirds of your defense at all times and all the other times I've coordinated, or most of the other times I've coordinated, I was with the linebackers, I was in the middle and I just felt that was the way to go. We also felt very, very strongly that in today's football with so many spread offenses you need two guys on the backend. That was really a big part of it. There's times where we have six defensive backs on the field and you can't ask one person to coach six guys that are all a little bit different so it was something that I felt was important for us to do.”
What's been the response from players?
“It's been tremendous. First of all, every coach accepted it with open arms because it was not anything to do with how anybody was being coached or anything like that. It had nothing to do with that. It was about making your defense better and what was the best way to make our defense better and we thought that's what it was. Mark Smith's done a tremendous job with the defensive line and I've seen tremendous growth in them and obviously I'll always watch the defensive line because I've been with them for a long time. I'm really excited about that. And then to see Roy [Manning] and Curt [Mallory] in the backend, that was really neat. That was something I think we really had to do and they get so much more individual attention. Now let's just hope we don't screw up the linebackers, you know, that's the biggest thing but it's going good. It's going good.
[After THE JUMP: depth depth depth, the obligatory Jabrill Peppers question, and Greg Mattison will make you excited about this defense]
Brennen Beyer mentioned a little while ago that experience is kind of helping this year and he said there's a little bit more attention as far as walkthroughs. Did you– was it a conscious effort for you to be, I guess, more precise? Is that the right word? Just the difference in their approach this year. He said everything is just sort of clicking right now.
“I think one of the biggest things Brennen’s probably talking about is that we feel very strongly about the young men that we have and so as a coach you have to do is make sure what you're teaching them they understand so we're all on the same page when we're out there, and if we get these young men to go at the level they should and will then you're going to have something exciting and that's the way we feel. So we have done a lot more walkthroughs to make sure everyone's on the same page. We're going at the top speed and I think that's what he meant.”
A fan shows up at the stadium on Saturday and is watching the defense. What differences would you expect him to see over last year?
“I would expect him to see guys playing at a faster pace not because they're faster but because they're older and more experienced. People don’t realize that even though you’re a sophomore and playing you’re still really young. I know this summer, for example, I was looking at some tape and it was the Notre Dame game, it was the middle of the Notre Dame game and I stopped the tape and I counted them and I think there were 10 underclassmen with two years or more left out there at that time. You don’t ever think of that as a coach. But now when you see them a year older the things you used to coach so hard with them they do naturally. So I would think you would see a lot freer, a lot more aggressive, guys just doing it rather than ‘Boy, he’s got to do this perfect’ or ‘He’s got to step this way perfect.’ It now comes time just to play more.
Beyond the experience, what do you have more of? Is it size? Is it speed?
“We’re stronger. There’s no bones about it, I feel that we have one of the very best strength and conditioning coaches in the country. Aaron Wellman just works so hard with our guys and if you could see the pictures of the guy when he’s a freshman and the guy when he’s a junior. I mean, it’s like, ‘That’s not the same guy. That’s a different person.’ Well, that’s the way it is on the football field too. The guys that did play as freshmen, that did play as redshirt sophomores are now men. They’re now juniors. They’re three years, at least, under coach Wellman.They’re three years in the Michigan program so you really feel like you’re going to see a much stronger player.
“I mean, Frank Clark’s a great example. I mean,the numbers. He came here at 219 pounds [and] he was a safety. Today he’s 275 pounds. You could say that about a lot of guys on that defense and that’s because they’ve worked hard with Aaron and worked hard in the program.”
Somebody that doesn’t have that level of experience obviously is Jabrill Peppers, and yet Brady just a little bit ago said that over the last 20 days he’s done things in practice that give me confidence in him. Where are you with that and seeing what he’s been able to do in a short amount of time?
“I’m very good with that. Jabrill has come in and bought in right away. Bought in to playing the scheme, to trying to do exactly what Roy and Curt are telling him to do in the back end. He’s played extremely fast. He’s played with great confidence. He’s a very confident young man. There’s always things you have to work on. You have to work on making sure you’re doing it right every time, make sure you’re focused every time but every practice he comes out with great energy. He loves to play the game of football, he loves Michigan. He’s so far, in everything we’ve done in practice and all that, everything we thought he’d be.”
What do you think will be the strength of this defense? Is it the linebackers that everybody talks about? Is that the one unit that jumps out to you?
“To me, I’m looking forward to the defensive line being a big strength of this defense. We’re so deep. We’re three-deep at almost every position of guys that have played in big games. When you go down through it and guys will say, ‘Who’s the starter?’ Well, the competition’s so great in practice that our guys know from day-to-day there will be a different starter if you don’t live up to your expectations and it’s not something that’s punishment. Bottom line, it’s what did you do on film.
“You look at, and I don’t want to miss names, but you look at the three technique position and you’ve got Willie Henry, Matt Godin, you’ve got Chris Wormley and not miss anybody but the nose position’s the same way. You go right down the line. These are all kids that we recruited and they’re all kids that have bought in and worked so hard. They’re all competing and when you compete then you come out every practice and do it the way Michigan’s supposed to. And that’s the way it always used to be. At Michigan you never really had a job. I mean, you just better make sure you’re doing it the right way every day because there’s somebody right behind you that is really, really good.
“The linebacker position, we’ve got great depth there. Same exact story right there. You’ve got guys that have played and started in a lot of games. You can only start two or three of them depending on what personnel group you’re in at one time so there’s guys standing there just waiting for their opportunity and I think we’re in a good place with that because they all understand that this defense, everybody in this defense wants it to be the best it’s been. To me that’s very evident. There’s not the little petty things like, ‘I need to be playing more.’ I’m sure some of them think that and you want them to, but they want this defense to be special so wherever the coaches put them and whatever their role is, that’s what they’re going to do.”
Will this be, do you think, the best defense you’ve had here this time around?
“That’s what I’m planning on. That’s what we’re working for. I don’t ever want to say anything against Mike Martin and his group, you know, they did some pretty neat things. I just like this group. They have to do it every day and I have to do it every day and our coaches have to do it every day. This is just the start. I will say that I think we have pieces now and it’s time that we put it all together.”
As far as those pieces are concerned, is that going to change the way you guys are going to operate this year? With the defense are we going to see anything a little bit different or is it just going to be a continuation from last year just with [inaudible]?
“I think we’re going to do our scheme. We’re going to play our style of defense. We’re going to do what’s best for our players. What that is, it’s like it was before. The one thing I don’t think you have to do as much depending on who you’re playing- I really felt strongly with all the young kids we were playing last year, you had to roll them because a young kid couldn’t play a full game and be the best he could be and so you had to roll guys. I really believe that will pay dividends now because those young kids now have experience. If you were to play one guy there’d be a lot of guys who hadn’t play. We’ve got a lot of guys that’ve been in games now. Now, I don’t know that you’ll have to because they’re older and more mature roll them as much. I don’t think we’ll have to do that now. I think more guys will play more snaps in a row until they have to come out.”