“Everything’s great. Enjoying myself.”
What's caught your eye the most about your running backs?
“Talented group. Real talented. They haven't even scratched the surface. That's really what has caught my eye, so right now I'm kind of like an artist with a blank canvas. I can just have at it. That's really what it feels like.”
What's it been like for you to be back here as a coach?
“Haven't really thought about it to be honest, because my focus is Big Ten championship, national championship, 2000-yard rusher, so my days here haven't really – and I've been the type of person once I left here, I left here. I was onto better things, things that this place had catapulted me on to do. That's where my mindset was. But now I'm back for a totally different reason, so… you know, I'm a coach.”
We haven't talked with you since your son signed with the University of Michigan. Talk about that aspect of having him join you here.
“Well, it's a great thing. As a father you're always happy for your child and his success and the things that he's done, but once again, I'm just focused on the guys that are here right now and when he gets here he'll have his fair time. He'll have his time to get it, but right now my focus is on the guys that are here.”
Were you getting a little bit of a better feel for them today with them having the pads on?
“Not really. You can understand who they are even without the pads. The pads is just kind of one of the things a) that shows the physicality and b) if they are in hitting shape and that type of deal. As far as the feel, watching film of those guys and studying them I kind of already had a feel for who they were.”
We haven't had a chance to see Ty Isaac with him sitting out last year. What does he bring different than the other guys in terms of style and things like that?
“I don't think it's just Ty Isaac being different. Each guy brings a different aspect to the game. I’d just say that probably – I wouldn't say probably, he is the largest one out of the bunch. But in terms of difference, that would probably be it just about him being different – [he’s] bigger. He has great feet, good vision, he's a smooth runner but I wouldn't say he's any different than any other guy.”
[After THE JUMP: the characteristics of an ideal Tyrone Wheatley-coached back]
Jim Harbaugh's track record shows that he likes big, beefy running backs. Are you guys looking for the same thing here?
“Yeah, but once again it's still the early phases so everyone still has to prove who they are and what they are, so I don't want to put the cart before the horse right now. But size does help.”
A lot of those guys put on weight. Did you want them to gain weight?
“I didn't know that.”
What do you want their weights to be? Like for Derrick [Green] or Ty?
“Once again, that's up to the training staff and Coach Harbaugh. They set the weights. As long as they're not rolling around looking like they can't play three plays in a row without huffing and puffing then I would say something, but for right now our strength and training staff handles that for the most part.”
Is Derrick fully healthy?
“Yeah, he practiced today. Had a good practice. Did a good job.”
You mentioned that you feel like an artist with a blank canvas. What does the picture look like after four practices and what do you hope that it looks like come the end of spring?
“Well, if I was painting a house I've got one brick, okay? Like I said, these guys, they’re a talented bunch. They are very talented and like I said, I don't even think they understand who they are or what they could be at the end, so it's a lot to work with and I'm excited to work with these guys. So to answer your question, right now we're just scratching the surface and really just understanding how to run the ball, what to look for, blocking schemes, things of that nature so really we are just in the infancy stages right now.”
You mentioned they don't know who they are. How do you help them? Is there a trick that you had that maybe helped you gain some comfort level?
“A lot of tricks you don't reveal, so you'll see. You'll see.”
Do you feel like you want to have one lead back or do you feel like it's going to be more of a rotation?
“Like I said, right now you would like to say you want one back but right now you really can't tell. We don't know who's going to emerge. We don't know what's going to emerge after this thing, so as a coach you want a great competition. You want everyone to rise to the top. You want the decision to be the hardest decision you ever make, so that's what you want to shoot for. But to answer that question right now I really can't.”
What does a Tyrone Wheatley running back look like, and is there anybody looks like that in this group?
“I'm not sure I understand the question.”
I guess what makes a running back that you want in the starting lineup?
“Oh, characteristics. Smart guy that handles not only the ball but can handle the game, meaning that the game never gets too big; meaning he can basically be a coach on the field. Make corrections, see the game, and basically just as they say make the game slow down for himself; understand the ebb and flow of situations. Sometimes a three-yard [run] is probably one of the best runs you can have in the game. Not always looking to make the home run. Pass protection. Just a well-rounded back, a smart, well-rounded back that's going to understand; when I say understand who he is, to play within his talent level and just take care [of] and manage the game.”
And has anybody shown you some of those things so far?
“Once again, we're still verrrrrry early.”
What do you do with Drake Johnson to keep him involved with the running backs?
“Well, Drake's like my coach. He's like my assistant. He comes in-he's basically the tattletale. 'He made a mistake, he did this wrong,' but it's also keeping his mind sharp so as we call it mental reps. He gets the mental reps. He's telling me – he's basically my second set of eyes.”
MGoQuestion: What’s been your impression of the running backs’ pass protection abilities so far?
“Once again, still early. It’s still early. Got a lot to learn.”
Having worked with NFL backs and now going back to college, are there things you see that you can bring to these guys that you gained from the NFL guys and that experience?
“Even at that level those guys still need things in their game and still have holes in their game that they need to get ready. I would just say the overall thing that you would bring from the pro game to here is the actual word ‘being a pro.’ What it means to approach your job every day, to take care of your body, to take care of learning the play book, to take care of, once again, how to be a- even though they’re in college, but you use the word- pro. How to attack your job, so to speak, is the best thing I can bring from that level.”
Is it realistic to think you’ll have a back emerge by the end of spring?
“I hope so. I wouldn’t say realistic. That’s why we also have fall ball. I guess it just kind of gives you a standard of what you’re going into and then a midway point of what needs to be done and where are you. So you would hope to have one, but you still have fall ball.”
This program hasn’t had a great back in eight or so years. Do you feel a pressure to build a new legacy here for the running backs?
“I wouldn’t say feel a pressure because it’s going to take some time, and once a person or a group of guys emerge and once this thing turns it’ll come. It’ll come. The guys understand the history. They understand who’s played and who was before them, and I think a lot of times that’s where you get the impression that they’re trying to demonstrate and show that they can be the backs of old and I’m trying to get them to understand that you can’t be that until you understand who you are right now. So is there pressure? Yeah, there’s always pressure to get those guys going, but we have a bigger picture other than just having a great back to be here at Michigan.”
Have they dug up any old video of you?
“Nah. I’m not for sure, so I don’t- I don’t talk about that.”