“The thing I would say starting out is we have a long way to go. When watching from the side and seeing what I thought I saw, we’ve got to become a lot more physical. We’ve got to improve a great deal over the summer. The good news with that is our staff and this program believes in working very hard at improvement over the summer and not just lifting weights. I think we’ll make a lot of gains this summer.”
Blake Countess had a nice INT today. Can you talk about his spring and maybe your feelings on the secondary as a whole?
“The thing that I was pleased with with Blake is I’m always leery of a freshman who has success and then what is he going to be like that next year? You’ll tell really big what he’s going to be like in the spring. Blake has come out every day and worked to improve. Blake has tried to become a better football player. I didn’t see any signs of a guy thinking that he’s arrived. As far as the secondary, I think we have a long way to go yet. You always are looking for guys to step up because you need to find who’s going to play every day, who’s going to go out there and do what you’re asking them to do, and you can’t miss tackles back there. You can’t do that. We had that happen. I think we have to become a better blitzing team out of the secondary. I think we called a pressure, a guy was unblocked and didn’t hit the quarterback in the backfield. That should have been a knock-out hit. Those kinds of things are what we have to improve on.”
Kaleb Ringer got a lot of snaps today. What have you seen from him this spring?
“He’s a freshman. I think we saw, and I think I said before, he should be going to the prom. But the good news is he has been out there to be evaluated and to be coached every day. And hopefully that will pay dividends and show him what he must work on this summer to make coming this early be a benefit.”
You did a lot of shuffling with the defensive line this spring. How much more comfortable are you with them this spring?
“I feel very comfortable with the moves. Very comfortable. I think that might be one of the bright spots of the spring. Craig Roh showed me that he’s got a chance to be a pretty good football player there because he plays with such a good motor and he’s so prideful of his technique. And now when he gets stronger, I think you’re going to have a good 5-technique. Jibreel Black has to really -- the key to him is how strong he gets this summer. He did some good things this spring, some other things he showed why you can’t play at 270 in there if you don’t have great technique. The combination of Beyer and Clark give us a lot more athleticism on the edge. All three of those things … have been very beneficial for us.”
Have Beyer and Clark separated themselves at WDE yet?
“No, they haven’t separated themselves. Beyer is a very strong football player and can run. What Beyer has to work on a great deal is he gets a habit of getting high. He’s got to stay lower. Then he’s going to be a real force I think. Frank, on the other hand, wants to run to make plays before he beats the block at times. He needs to take some of what Beyer does and Beyer needs to take some of what he does. Both of them, I have been very pleased with the two of them and how hard they’ve worked and how hard they’ve tried to improve on what we say they need to improve on.”
Was the defense’s performance today pretty indicative of what you’ve seen all spring?
“Yeah. I think it was. I think you saw we’re going to be a defense where if we lose one or two guys at this point before the freshmen get in here, you’re going to fall off a little bit. I think that’s going to happen when Des[mond Morgan] was out of there. That’s a key guy for us. But it’s forced us to put a younger backer, where you know we need a lot of help, under the microscope. When we watch his tape we’re going to know exactly how he did, and then you’re going to have to say okay we have a lot more work to do.”
Do you think you’re well ahead of where you were a year ago at this point?
“I don’t know if we’re way ahead. The thing is we didn’t call many defenses today. I think I only probably called four defenses the whole day because I wanted to see how they were going to play under the gun. I know Al didn’t call a lot of stuff either. We wanted to make it really really hard nosed. I think this group wants to be really good. Like I said, I think sometimes maybe you don’t believe what I’m saying, but we make more gains at Michigan in the summer with what they do on technique than a lot of programs. That’s a three-month period of them doing it, the same individual [drills] that we’ve done with them for 15 days.”
What have you seen from Will Campbell this spring, and what did you see from him today?
“I see that we need him to be a football player. We need him to not just knock people around, but tackle the football. Will and I have talked long and hard about that: that the ball is the issue, not how many lumps you can put on that guard or center. Will’s getting it. Will’s getting it and Will’s the key. Will’s a big key because you’ve heard me before, you’re only as strong as you are down the middle. That’s going to be our whole deal this year because we’ll be fine outside. Jake Ryan had a good spring. Cam Gordon, you can see he’s going to help us. Our outside will be fine. It’s inside.”
You mentioned the gains you make over the summer. Is Will one of those guys you’re counting on to lead those efforts?
“Definitely. Will is definitely a leader. Will is a guy that has bought in totally to being a senior at Michigan.”
Do you see that this defense is faster than it was at this point last year?
“I do think this might be a little quicker defense than last year. One of the biggest reasons is they understand the defense. That defense last year was all new to those guys. You can’t play defense unless you know what the problem possibly is, so you can play faster. Any time you know the defense well you play faster, and I noticed that this spring.”
How do you shore up the middle of the defense?
“Well I think a lot of it’s technique, but one of the things -- down the middle sometimes means linebackers and taking on guards. One of the biggest things we have to improve on is using our hands and not using high school forms. That’s what some young freshman linebackers are doing right now. But the beautiful thing is they have sleds to work on all summer. Little techniques that will help them be stronger down the middle I think we have in place.”
Keith Heitzman made a bunch of nice plays today. Talk about his progress, and how do you talk about the overall depth on the defensive line?
“Yeah, Heitzman is one of those players that may not pass the eye test when he walks out on the field, but you know what? He’s always around the football. I made a comment one day at a meeting. We were watching the practice film, and I said, ‘You know what? This Heitzman kid, before it’s long, he may be one of those Michigan defensive linemen that just plays hard and tough.’ He needs to get a lot stronger. He needs to get a lot better at his technique, but he’s a young kid, and I think that’s a big thing. As far as the depth, everybody had their day. We have to all have our days. That’s what bothers me. I can name every player that played inside and there will be one play where it’ll be, ‘Yeah! See, that’s what you’re looking for!’ and then you won’t see it on the next one. We need to get consistent. Mike Martin, you’d see it every play you looked at. Will Heininger you might see it every play. Those guys, we need to get that kind of consistency out of that front.”
So many young linebackers will be working on technique over the summer. How important is Kenny Demens going to be in leading them?
“Very important, because Michigan’s always a senior leader -- and Kenny Demens needs to work on it as much as the young guys. So he can be the first guy going and they’ll be following him along, but every guy -- there’s a lot of competition at that position. There’s a lot of competition at every position, but at the linebacker position there’s going to be great competition.”
Where does Brandin Hawthorne stand right now?
“Yeah, I mean he has that ability to make plays. You remember he started some games last year for us. He has the ability to make plays, but the key in our defense is a guy has to be a very physical football player and he has to play with consistency. Guys that make plays put a lot of pressure on the coach to see if you hit it right when he’s going to make a play. We need guys that are going to be consistent all the time. He’s going to be another one of those linebackers that’s going to be in the mix.”
Is it his physicality that needs work?
“Well he’s been a little banged up ever since he’s been here. That would keep a guy from being real physical.”
Did you play him at MIKE out of necessity?
“You had a number of guys banged up. Mike Jones had a hamstring I guess, and Des, and Hawthorne’s got an elbow -- it’s spring. A guy that plays the WILL can also play MIKE. He should be able to play both. The linebacker thing, it’s going to be a heck of a competition before it’s all done.”