Have you been able to address some of the problems in the secondary that you mentioned at the last press conference?
“Yeah. And again, anything that we saw based on last year we wanted to address. That, underneath coverage where we wanted to see the quarterback throw it more rather than locking in to people, not giving up big plays -- we address it every practice. And I tell you this, just yesterday your job is to address it before it happens. When the secondary isn’t playing deep third like they should, and if they’re not right over the football or if I saw like yesterday a guy’s trying a little too anxious getting up too close to that pile, every time I’ll put an arrow on it and say that’s a recipe for a big play. Now you understand that didn’t now but that could happen during the season and we can’t allow that. That's, to me, what coaching is: preventing something from happening before it happens. We’ve really tried to address that, and in every practice we will continue to address that.”
It seems that Terrence Talbott has been really impressive. What have you seen from him?
“He’s like a lot of our guys out there. We’re trying to rotate through and find out who’s going to step up each day. As you know, our program is about nobody ever really having a position locked. Raymon steps in there, shows some good things. Terrence goes in there and shows some good things. It doesn’t matter but what we’re looking for is a guy that’s going to come out there every day and do it the way we want it every day. We’re getting the ability now to have guys where if somebody for some reason doesn’t have a great day, there’s a guy that can go in and [we can say], ‘Okay it’s your turn, let’s see what you can do.’ That’s at every position. That’s the way we will always do things here.”
Have you been able to see that from Terrence every day?
“I’ve seen him wanting to improve every day. I’ve seen him working on improving every day. I think at the very end of spring we’ll evaluate and say who had the most good days and where does he fit, now? … All of this is a process until we get to that opening game.”
What specifically has he done, though?
“He’s been physical. He’s a guy that’s done a really good job of taking out blocks. He’s done an adequate job of coverage. When we have blitzed him, he’s come hard. All the things a corner’s got to do. You’re just evaluating each day which one does the best at what you’re asking them to do.”
How has Blake Countess looked?
“Blake Countess has had a good spring so far. You know, the thing with a corner is you can have a whole bunch of really good plays and practices and just slip up once and everybody on that field sees it. You’re really looking for the guy that never slips up. That’s the deal. That’s what happens at that position. Blake has come out and has been very hungry. He wants to get better, and that’s something you always worry about when you have a guy that had a pretty good freshman year. What’s he going to be like next year? Again, that won’t happen here. We won’t let that happen here, but we haven’t had to guard against that with him. He’s come out every day and has worked hard.”
Depth was a major concern before. How good is it to see younger guys step up and give you some depth in the secondary?
“That’s good. I think that’s -- and our whole defense, they know the whole system now. If a young man is not physically strong enough, if he’s not big enough, he still knows his system now, and he’s been allowed to play better than when he’s learning it from scratch like everybody was last year. And that’s one thing I’ve noticed about the guys on defense. They appear to be playing faster. When you put something in or when you run a defense and something breaks down, you can just tell them what it was and they go, ‘Oh I got it, I see it now.’ That’s the beauty of being here a second year with the same system.”
How has the defensive line come together so far?
“I would say I’ve been very very pleased with Craig Roh playing the end position. Here’s a guy who’s been a rush to the open side for three years and has done a very good job. Now he’s inside the tight end. He’s played very physical. The key is the technique there, because you’re not bigger than everybody you’re playing against, so you'd better have great technique. Craig has come out every day. Jibreel Black has worked very hard. Shows why we made the move. I think like Ash, like Heitzman, you can go right down the line. They’ve all had moments. They’re the group now where you have to say those moments have to become every play. The coaches are working very hard on getting that done.”
What kind of moments has Jibreel Black had?
“The thing he shows, like we thought, is you’re going to have a faster player in there. So now when a guy beats a block, he has the ability to run some things down. Now on the other end of that, he’s not as big, so you'd better play with better technique. That’s what he’s had to work on the most.”
How does the technique change going from end to tackle?
“Well you have people on both sides of you. The position that he played was the same position that Craig played. You’re almost always out in open space and you only have one guy inside that you really have to deal with. Now you have a guy on both sides of you and you can get blocks from both ways. It’s a little bit more physical in there, but it’s also a place where you can become a faster athlete in there than if you were out there in space.”
How quickly is he learning to beat double teams and things like that?
“Craig has done a very very good job of working on his technique. Craig always does. Craig has unbelievable pride in himself. He’s a very intelligent football player. He wants to be very good, so he knows I have to do it this way, and I’ve been pleased with Craig.”
What about Jibreel?
“The same thing. It’s the exact same position, you’re just in a little farther. One’s getting double teamed from a tight end and a tackle. Another guy’s getting double teamed from a tackle and a guard. So it’s the same position, both of which you better play with great technique [otherwise] you’re going to get knocked off the football, so they’ve worked very hard on that.”
Does it change the way you coach having guys who have been in your system for a year now? Can you do some different things now?
“No. In fact, it’s kind of changed back to the old fashioned way for me personnally. I feel very strongly that we need to get the rush position and the SAM position playing better than it ever did. I’ve enjoyed this spring because I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Jake and Cam and the SAM position and Brennen and Frank at the rush position. The one thing it’s freed you up a little more is you don’t have to spend your whole time on the blackboard putting in defense. You don’t have to take as long putting things in. Now you can spend more time on little things that will help that defense. The players are smarter in that when you say, ‘Hey you have to do it this way,’ [they say], ‘I get it now.’ You can kind of do that to help the defense.”
With the position battles between Jake and Cam and Brennen and Frank, are those players similar or do they complement each other in terms of skill set?
“They’re different in that Cam and Jake are part secondary, part defensive line. In other words they have a lot of pass responsibility that goes with it. Cam Gordon and Jake have worked very very hard at that position this spring. I really believe they’ve improved. I can tell a lot of their technique is improved. Cam probably is, if you asked him, probably says okay now I know I’m a SAM. A year ago he moved from safety down there, and we’ll see. Now he says, ‘Yeah I understand this part of it and I want to be good at this.’ I’m really excited about that because Jake never came off the field last year. He truly played almost every snap of every game. Now it allows you to say, okay, you got a very very good player that can complement him. The same thing is true with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. The two of them are competing every day, and every little step they take is being coached, and now you have a little better speed on the pass rush with them there and you have an extra person. I’m really excited about those guys.”
Did Cam struggle with his transition from safety to SAM last year?
“Not outwardly. And that’s just me guessing that. I would, too. If I was a safety and some old, bald-headed guy came in here and said we’re going to take you from safety and we’re going to put you up on a big tight end, I have to go, ‘Okay …’ Any time it didn’t work well, I’d look over at that coach. This year he’s doing it very very physically and if it doesn’t work he knows why it doesn’t work and he’s got to get better at it.”
So he’s embracing the position now?
“Yes. Yes. I think he feels very comfortable at it. And he’s learning every day how to be a pass rusher. So now you end up getting a guy that’s a little faster that might put some more speed on the field that way.”
Was it a struggle for him not to be able to play last year?
“Well a lot of why he didn’t play last year though was [because] he was hurt. A lot of last year I think, he had a bad back and he was out for about five or six weeks I think.”
How is it now?
“Oh he’s been great. He’s worked very hard in the weight room as all of our guys have, and Aaron keeps doing a great job with him. I see it. I see it on the field where the punch that you had last year, you’d go, ‘Okay …’ But now you say, ‘Oh that’s a good punch. I see it. That guy’s really using the strength a little more.‘ That will happen more all the way through the summer, too.”
How did he hurt his back?
“I don’t know. Just football related. I don’t know how he did it, tweaked it, I don’t know.”
Was that during the summer or the fall?
“It was during the season.”
How has Josh Furman been?
“That’s something you can ask Coach Hoke.”
How do you see Joe Bolden fitting in next fall?
“He’s a guy that should be at the senior prom right now. But he’s really really really done a good job of picking up the defense. I really believe he’s going to be a very very good linebacker. Very good. You could never tell that he was going to the senior prom watching him out there on the field, but just think about that. That young man should be thinking about what tux he’s going to buy or rent. And then he’s out here practicing every day and getting coached harder than he’s ever been coached in his life. Just keeps coming back. Jarrod Wilson is the same way. Kaleb Ringer is in the same boat. You have three guys that really should be taking their advanced calc class and they’re here at the University of Michigan practicing as if they’ve been here for two years. That’s what I think is a real, real plus with them. And they’ve taken care of business in the classroom. They’re doing everything they should be doing, so you have three guys for a whole ‘nother period of time.”
How well did they transition into padded practices?
“They’re football players. I think if you asked them, probably they’d say, ‘Let’s get in pads sooner.’ The only reason there’s a transition is because he’s worried about hitting. I don’t think it’s a problem with these guys. The reason they’re here at Michigan is because they do like to hit. The biggest thing with them is being able to get them lined up. They’re like what the team was last year. They’re learning it all new. I really feel like they’ve picked things up maybe faster because everybody else around them has been able to help them with the call.”
Besides football, what did you want Will Campbell to learn from your teaching and being tough on him last season?
“What the bar was. A lot of times I have higher expectations and goals than what a young man is willing to work for. And really to play defense at Michigan, you always have to try to strive for the very very highest. Just striving for it doesn’t work. You have to now do the footwork, you now have to do the study of film, you now have to get off that block and make a play. If you didn’t make a play that you should have made, that’s not good enough. You have two ways as a coach that you can go about it. If you really really want a young man to be a great player, then you tell him about it every time and show him what he should have done to do that. And let him know that you’re going to tell him about it as long as you’re around him because you expect him to make that play. If you want to just walk away and let it go, then that guy will never get there. I think that’s where Craig found out that I happen to think he was a lot better player than what he was playing. Maybe sometimes he thought it was adequate, but adequate doesn’t cut it here, and that’s the same thing with Will and anybody on our defense, really.”
MGoQuestion: What’s your evaluation of the WILL linebacker position?
“I think our linebackers have improved. I don’t look at the WILL and the MIKE being anything different. I think they’re all linebackers in there. The WILL and the MIKE are really the same position, it’s just one’s closer to the tight end and one’s not. That was the position that I wanted to see a lot of improvement, and I think we have taken steps. Not as much as you want yet, but I think there has been -- they’ve all worked. They’ve all tried. That’s the one thing I like about this defense, and I’m not saying last year’s wasn’t that way because they obviously were, but they come out every day wanting to get better. They really have energy and they really have tried to do it. It hasn’t been perfect at all, but you feel good when you walk off the practice field and say, ‘These guys worked hard today. These guys flew around today.’ I think that’s been kind of everybody.”
Has Desmond Morgan been the standout at that position?
“He’s had good practices. He’s got a long way to go, too. There’s been as many times with Desmond that you say, ‘You’re better than that,’ [as you say], ‘That’s a great play.’ I don’t know I’ve ever been in a spring where everybody’s perfect. You can say they are and you’re not going to have a very good defense. Again, it’s get to that top. Do every play perfect. Maybe that’s unrealistic but I don’t believe that.”
How has Kenny looked at the MIKE position?
“He’s working hard. Working hard. He’s improved on some of the things he’s had to improve on. I think that’s where you look in the spring. Are you getting better? Yes he’s getting better.”
How do you feel about this defense now vs. this time last year?
“I know them better. I’ll tell you, I said this before, maybe in all my years of coaching I’ll never forget last year’s team. I mean, ever. What they did. But there’s something about this defense already where they’re all so eager and they know they have a little tougher job. They have to step up and so you want to help them get there. I’m looking forward to this group. I’m looking forward to what we can do with them.”
What do you mean by tougher job?
“Every year is a tough job here. It really is. Every year. And I’m not skirting the question. I couldn’t have told you anything about last year’s defense at this time other than, it didn’t matter who the guys are, we have to get better, we have to get better. That’s the same thing I’ll say about this defense. They come out eager every day. They enjoy hitting, and now we have to teach them how to hit and how to line up to be perfect at what we’re doing. We’ll see how good they can be.”
Is that your new Sugar Bowl ring?
“Yup. Proud of it.”