Hoke said you talked to Shane Morris after Russell Bellomy’s injury. How does the injury impact Shane, and how does this impact how you coach him?
“Really not as much as you might think. He was going to come in and compete anyway. There’s one less slot there to go through, so that’s really all it impacted. He knows there’s one less body. Doesn’t affect him as much as you might think.”
Does Shane come around a lot?
“Oh yeah. All the time. He’s been around for a couple years, actually. He committed early, so he knows everybody on the team and they all know him. He’ll hit the ground running when he gets here.”
Do you think he knows the offense well?
“No. He doesn’t -- no. We haven’t talked about any of that other than the recruitment part of it. But he’s studious. He’ll work hard. We’ll catch him up.”
Does it concern you that you have to go into the season with a true freshman as your backup quarterback?
“Eh, the numbers are what they are. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that. I’ve been in this situation before. So it’s not a completely novel concept.”
How much of the playbook can Morris learn before he hits campus?
“I don’t know. I haven’t coached him yet. I can’t address that question. That’s a question better suited after a couple weeks of fall camp.”
In general, is it tough to pick up a playbook when you’re not around the coaches and players?
“It’s just different for different guys. Some guys, when they get here, it’s overwhelming. I don’t know that he would be that way because he’s been here so much. It’s just too hard to say. Every guy’s different.”
What have you seen out of Brian Cleary so far?
“He’s done a nice job. We were giving Brian reps from the beginning, so it wasn’t like we just tossed him in there and said, ‘Okay. It’s your turn now, go.’ He’s been taking reps, and he’s real bright. He got into Michigan on his own. He’s a very very good student. His deal was just to get him football smart. Get him out there to give him a few reps and give him some experience and let him learn a little bit through trial and error. But in terms of understanding, coachability, throwing ability, if you just watch Brian throw the ball you would think he’s a scholarship player.”
You said the other day that you still want to use Devin’s legs. Does your strategy change now?
“No. No. We’re going to do what we do. We’re not going to change anything. We’re going to adjust our plan as we go, but we’re still coming in with the same plan. We’re pretty much going to do what we do.”
Devin Funchess had a good start last season but seemed to need some more physical development. How is he doing this spring?
“This spring he’s really taken a lot of pride in improving every phase of his game. We go into spring football and Devin Funchess, during the season, was featured more as a receiver, but this spring football we’re not as concerned about that. We’re more concerned about developing his overall game rather than seeing how many passes he can catch in spring football. We kind of know that’s his strength. We want to shore up every other phase of his game. He’s done a nice job. His footwork’s improved in the run game and every part of that -- every part of his game has gotten a little bit better.”
What can you expect out of a guy like Jake Butt?
“I think because he’s here, it can help him in terms of that. He needs to gain a little weight, but he’s a kid -- he was in fabulous condition when he came here. He came out to our winter workouts and he looked like he had been here forever. Came out in spring football and from a receiving and route-running perspective, he caught on very fast. Now the other thing again is the toughest thing for young freshman tight ends to get is the blocking part of it -- it’s not knowing who to block, although he needs a little bit of that, too, but he doesn’t generally make the same mistake twice. It’s just acquiring and understanding the technique involved and getting him big enough and strong enough to execute the block. But he’s a very good player and in time I think you’ll see him show up more and more.”
Are you seeing any running backs separating themselves?
“No. Nobody’s separated, but flashes from all of them. Justice has really done a nice job. Thomas, too. Thomas in the open field has got a good burst and can punish tacklers. Dennis Norfleet, in spots, has run nicely inside the tackles, which you wouldn’t expect for a smaller guy, but he’s done a good job. And Drake Johnson, who’s a physical runner. He’s a little bit like Thomas, but he’s a great run finisher. As soon as he hits the pile, the pile generally moves backwards.”
Could Hayes be an every-down back?
“Possibly. Depending on how big he got, you know? He’s 190-something pounds, and there’s guys who have played every down that way. We just have to wait and see. How well does he hold up during the course of an entire football game? What you never really know with a guy like Justice, who hasn’t really done that yet -- some guys get stronger, some guys don’t. It’s still hard to say, but I certainly wouldn’t count him out of that.”
MGoQuestion: How do you like the way your interior line has come together?
“I like the -- uh. I like it. Because what happened early on, we were having some targeting issues. We were struggling a little bit with who to block. Now our tackles, no problem. They’ve been doing it forever. Now you’ve got three inside guys who are brand new. And a new center. Now the center a lot of times puts the whole line on the right page, so to speak. Jack had played enough -- Jack does a pretty good job of doing that, but still processing the information that’s being given to you quickly and then responding quickly, at the beginning we were slow to respond. But now that we’ve had what, 10, 11 practices, whatever it is, and they’ve seen the same looks, heard the same calls, we’re a lot better at it. We’re still not well oiled, but a lot better at it. We’re not turning people loose inside the box where as soon as the back gets the ball there’s a guy hitting him. They’ve come along pretty well, but it’s all working together. That’s all offensive line is. It’s all working together.”
MGoFollowUp: Are the struggles you had in run blocking last year something the current guys keep in mind?
“Well I don’t think they’re too concerned about last year, but yeah. They know what it takes to run the football, if that answers your question. We’re trying to push that more and more. Our style is such that it’s different than what it was a year ago. We’re playing more under center. We’re doing more things that allow them to have a more sic-em mentality rather than it being shotgun every play and a lot of sideways stuff going on. We’re more downhill now, and that helps the offensive.”
MGoFollowUp: You said last year that the problem wasn’t so much in targeting --
“No, no. Those guys had played a little more. These guys hadn’t played as much.”
MGoFollowup: So do you see a difference in the level of physicality or --
“Is that a word?”
MGoIdunno: I don’t know. I don’t think so?
“I hear it all the time. Somebody look up ‘physicality’ and see if that’s an actual word.”
I don’t think it’s a word.
“Because I’ve used it, but I don’t think it’s an actual word.”
Microsoft Word allows it.
“Microsoft Word -- it does allow it?”
It allows it.
“Well then, Microsoft word is a veritable Webster.”
Brady uses ‘physicalness.’ That’s not a word.
“Well if you think I’m going to tell Brady that’s not a word -- I’m not, okay? As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a word.”
MGoFocus: The point I’m trying to get at is that last year the guys were experienced but were lacking in strength or technique --
MGo: “How do you like that about the new guys?”
“I like it. I think we’re athletic in there. I think we’re stout. And I think when all of that stuff starts to come together that we’re talking about, they’re going to be a good offensive line. I’d be surprised if they weren’t.”
You have some highly talented linemen coming in. Do they feel as if they’re strong enough to compete at this level?
“I don’t know if it’s not strong enough. More of not aware enough. Some of it is strength, but with a lot of guys, the position is purely developmental. When a guy comes in as a freshman offensive lineman and plays, you’re going to take some hits. I’ve done it before. It’s a lot of awareness, a lot of chemistry, hearing calls, responding to the calls, stepping right, because there’s just not a heck of a lot of margin of error sometimes, you know. One bad move, one missed target, and the play is killed. We monitor that constantly. Who killed the play? Why didn’t the play work? It’s not always an offensive lineman, but a lot of times it is on a running play. You have to step right, target right, and that takes time. It’s just not something that happens right away.”
Jack Miller is different from David Molk and Elliott --
“Different from David Molk?”
“He’s a LOT different than David Molk.”
Do you get the sense that this group is starting to come together?
“I think so. I think so. They haven’t arrived. They’re not ready to be anointed, because there’s so much more we have to do. The biggest thing I think is when you start to repeat plays a lot. When you’re installing plays, you’re just installing plays and seeing how quickly the schemes take. But when the linemen really start to get better is when you start repeating plays. We’re going to run this play 15 times. Half of them to the right, half of them to the left. Now I can see the right guard, right tackle, left guard and left tackle. They’re going to work together and run the play, and now they’ve done it so many times they’ve seen X amount of fronts, X amount of movement from the fronts, and next scrimmage, do it again, you know what I mean? But the more you just keep repeating those plays, the better they get at running those plays. The problem at the beginning is you’re giving them a bunch of plays and it’s helter skelter and it’s, ‘Oh my god, it’s this play, that defense, and he moved! Sit still! Make it easy for me!’ It’s just not that simple, you know? But after they’ve done it and done it and done it, if they’ve got some talent and some awareness, they’ll get it done. They will.”
Do you feel confident with Jack?
“Oh yeah. Jack’s smart. He’ll do fine. Jack will do fine. He won’t make very many errors. But he’s still new, too. The thing about Jack -- Jack has been here for a little while. He watched David, and he watched Elliott a year ago, so I think he’s learned something from those two.”
How are the guards grasping concepts like pulling and getting to the second level?
“A little bit at a time. Combination blocks, and by that I mean blocks that start with two people blocking a guy and finish with blocking different guys. Temporary double-team type blocks. There’s a lot of chemistry there -- when do I leave? How long do I double team? Just working with that guy every single day and getting a feel for it. They’re getting better and better at it.”
Is Jeremy Gallon a true feature-type wide receiver, and do you have a number two yet?
“Well he is definitely by pure numbers the most reliable guy we have. I was kidding him today about when we first got here. His routes were just not very refined, for our offense anyway. And he’s just so much better doing it now. And because he is, he gets open a lot, and because of that, the quarterback has a lot of confidence in him. If there’s any doubt, where are you going to throw the ball? With the other receivers, we have a lot of talent out there. And they are going through a few of the growing pains that Jeremy went through when he first got here, but are really starting to show up. Every time they get opportunities, whether it be jump balls, whether it be run after the catch, whether it be making tough catches, having to get on the ground for balls -- they have shown up almost every time we’ve had a major competition. I’m excited about that position now. We have to see how it shakes out, but they’ve done a pretty good job.”
Who’s standing out to you?
“Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh. The guys that you have not seen much of. Those two would be the first two, and the rest of the guys you know about. But those two have demonstrated great range and some run after the catch ability, and both of them have made a great catch at one time or another during a team period or a scrimmage or whatever.”
Is Funchess getting reps at receiver?
“Some, but again it’s not a priority. Yeah, he gets some. As a matter of fact, we did a little bit the other day, but that’s not a priority right now. It’s more getting him shored up as a tight end.”
Has Shane Morris gained all his weight back from mono?
“You know, I’m not sure. He looked pretty good to me the other day. I haven’t really asked him that, but he’s looked pretty good to me the last time I saw him. He certainly doesn’t look skinny, but I don’t know. If you see him, ask him.”
Did you think you were going to redshirt him?
“You know, I never commit to that because I’ve been there too many times where that just didn’t happen. So when you don’t have a long line of quarterbacks, everything’s possible. So not really. I never really thought he would be redshirted, and if that happened, it just happened. But no, never really thought that way. Don’t really want to send that message, either, and he knows that.”
MGoQuestion: You’ve probably been experimenting with your playbook this offseason--
“I thought you were talking about bunsen burners.”
MGoYouHaveNoIdea: In terms of running plays out of the pistol, what do you like about it, and what are the advantages of using that formation?
“There’s a lot of advantages to running the plays out of the pistol formation. It explores the running abilities of the quarterback AND gets the tailback carries, too.”
MGoQuestion: Does that mesh well with your system?
“It might! Who knows? We might even do it! And we might not. Did that answer your question?”
MGoNotReally: Sort of.