[Ed: I just TL;DR'd myself, so I've reorganized the quotes into "non-fluff" and "fluff."]
- One day of practice has passed since the last press conference.
Greg Mattison knows that I am consistently failing to take pictures of him.
Opening remarks: "The thing I'd like to say is that it's great that it's close to game time. It seems like we've been practicing for three months now. I'm excited to see this defense, to see what they're going to do. They've worked very hard. It's not always been perfect, but everyday i still see that they come out with the attitude of trying to get better. (Saturday) is going to be an interesting day and a great day, to see these guys go out on that field. Some of them have never played. Others I know have something deep inside that they want to prove, that they're a michigan defense. It's going to be a great day."
Which position battles are still ongoing? "I think every position battle is still going. That'll always be the way it is with us on defense. Our guys know that. I don't care if you're a guy that started for four years straight. If you don't play up to your ability now, there's going to be consequences.
"I don't know if there's any specific (positions in question). The starting lineup, I don't know what that is really yet. We've got a couple practices yet to make sure everything is set. The one thing we'e gonna do is we're gonna try to rotate people. I believe in two starting lineups. That's how important it is. Whoever's not in there after the opening kickoff, whenever that next group of guys comes in, they're just as valuable as the ones that are there. When that second guy is in there, that first guy has got to get that rest and come back and he's gotta go as hard as he can possibly go. That's how we'll make it. That's one of the ways in which we will get where we have to get, is play as hard as you can. You can't do that 75 plays a game. You can't do it. So we've gotta have guys behind him, (and that second guy) goes in and goes as hard as he can. He may not be as good, but going hard is good enough."
Because it's a new system, are you more likely to improve as the season continues? "Definitely. A lot of times when a player isn't successful right now in practice, it's the mental part. Not understanding where all pieces fit in the defense. Right now it's not uncommon for a younger player to just do his thing and do what he thinks is right, and not knowing that he should have done this a couple steps to the left because there's somebody over here. And that comes and that's where the correcting comes in. You hope they don't make that mistake the second time. That's what we're all about right now, is every little thing there seems like there's a correction to be made, and that's why I respect these guys because they've listened, and they go, 'Okay!"
"We've done so many walkthroughs. Every second when the kicking game is going on, our defnesive line is walking through what they're supposed to be doing. They're not standing there watching. I think from the start of special teams, every defensive player is moving and working to get better. And that doesn't happen in a lot of other schools."
You've talked up Nathan Brink. What has Will Heininger done to stand out? "He's a big strong physical kid that's a senior. He's been around a long time, and that's what we're looking for. The two of them make one. Quinton Washington is the same thing. When he goes in that ball game, go as hard as you can, Q. as hard as you can. That'll be good enough. That's all you can give us right now until you get the experience and get the tehcnique things. and then you just keep going right down the line. Will Campbell, the same way. When he rotates in there, Go. Go. You dont' have to play 70 plays. Go to the plays you're in, get your rest, and go again."
What stands out about Western's QB? "I think he's a great quarterback. I think this guy is special. I think you're gonna see this guy playing on Sundays some day. Ge's got an arm that he can throw it from hash to sideline. The thing that impresses me about him is that he's a very tough kid. He takes some really really strong hits and he comes right back and he's going again. He's got mobility. He can run when he has to. I think this guy is the real deal."
Talk about Mike Jones. "He has consistently come out everyday trying to do what he's supposed to do. I got a feeling Mike Jones came from a program where he probably either blitzed all the time or played 'sic'em' football. Now all of a sudden he's getting coached every single second. Some guys can't do it. He is one that I've been really excited about. It looks like everyday he's looking to get better and he's listening. I see signs of him -- now you did it right, you stayed back, you didn't run past the hole -- that kind of thing. And hes' a sophomore, that's what should happen."
How often will you alternate starters and backups? How much playing time will each group get? "We haven't come up with a number yet, but some guys might go six (plays). Some guys might go six and sit two or three. Some guys might go four and four. All the way through the ball game. It all depends on how close at the end of the week we feel their talent level is."
Is rotation frequency different for D-line versus the secondary? "You don't do that as much with the secondary. In the secondary, you might go one out of the four. Or you might go one safety for two positions or one corner for two corners. The big boys, if this is going to be a game where they're throwing the ball, that'll wear you out right away. you can't compete if you don't go hard, so we gotta be able to (rotate)."
Talk about competition between Floyd, Avery, and Countess. "It's a great battle, and what happens is everyday somebody different seems like they're taking the step, and then the next day (another) guy steps. I'm hoping that all three of them are getting better. You can't ever have too many corners."
What makes Thomas Gordon special? "Great effort. He's played with a lot of energy. He's got versatility for us. he can be in some of our different packages where he cn almost be a linebacker at times, and then he can go be a safety, and then (he) can go be a nickel. He's understood the defenses. He's been a real student, and his flexibility has really helped us."
How many packages will you use? "We're gonna give our guys enough bullets. We're not gonna go out there and play one defense. My belief is always give your guys every opportunity to be successful. Now if they can't pick it up in the heat of the battle, and they're making mistakes, then that can't work, and that's why we've worked so hard on our walk-throughs and that's why we're constantly challenging them on, 'Here's the call, what do you do?' And they're stepping through chairs, stepping through bags, making sure everything is exactly right. If they know where to line up and if they know where they're supposed to be, that's half the battle. Now the rest of it's playing hard."
Do you prefer running different defenses out of same look or same defense out of differnet looks? "Both of them. I like to be able run the same defenses out of two different packages, like fast guys out there compared to this (other) group of guys. The reason I like that is because you don't ever want to get caught on the field with a certain personnel group and then you can't call some of the defenses you want to call. So whatever you call out there, you should be able to do what you want to do with your defense."
How are you going to deal with play-calling against no-huddle offense teams? "We've worked all camp on our wristbands. We will always be ready in every game, if a team's a no-huddle team, to go immediately to wristbands and all you gotta do is point to the wristband and give them the nubmer and they know exactly what defense it is."
What one-on-one matchups between your defense and opposing offenses are you most excited about? "I like Ryan Van Bergen in there, I like Mike Martin in there, I like Craig Roh. I think those are three positions right there where we gotta win. That's what you look at when you look at your defense. We gotta win some of these positions, and I think those are three guys where you say, 'Hey, we're gonna win these battles right here.' I want to win every battle, but those are ones that i think you gotta say, 'We gotta win these.' "
What makes you say they got better from last year? I don't know how they were (last year). All I can go by is since the day I got here watching them work in the off-season, watching them come out to practice everyday and try to go as hard as they can. It's not been perfect. It's not where we're going to be, but every single day they've come back in the meetings and on the field, trying to do what we're asking them to do. That gives me confidence. As long as they keep doing that, i really believe we'll improve and we'll become as good as we can be.
Is there a chip on their shoulders? "I don't know if there's a chip on their shoulder. I really believe that everyone of them wants to prove that they are a Michigan defensive football player, and we are a Michigan defense. They truly believe that and truly are grabbing for that, or they wouldn't have led like they've led. One of the hardest things for a group of seniors is to have a new staff come in. That's really really a hard thing, and that's why I respect this group so much, because they have bought in from day one."
Have you changed your coaching to ease the transition? "No, I don't think as a coach you ever try to change the way you coach. They knew from day one that our staff with Brady starting at the top, we're going to demand (doing it) the right way in everything they do, and if they don't do it that way, they're going to know it. We're going to change it, and you're going to keep doing the right way, from how you act off the field to how you train in the weight room to how you practice and how you work on your technique. That's the only thing we're ever going to be about. When there's consistency in a staff -- speaking for the defense and starting with brady hoke the head coach -- we're consisistent. We know what you have to do to be successful, and we're demanding that. Every day, every second, every step they take is corrected or commented on. Every film is graded, every film is evaluted. They watch every piece of film with the coaching staff."
What one moment this month has impressed you the most about Hoke? "I think there's a lot of them. I've been doing this a long time, and when you come in everyday and when you're fired up about coaching, it starts at the top. I'll use today as an example. We knew we had to come out and really really have a high energy practice, and there we have the fight song going upstairs for an hour from 1:30 to 2:30. I'm just bouncing in my office, and it's blaring. I just kind of smiled and said, 'Man, this guy's really got it.' And I think it's going to be consistent all the way through. If there's bad times, hey, we'll go through them. We'll go through them and we're gonna get better. We're gonna keep going and going and going until we get to where we have to go."
Are you happier here than in the NFL? "I'm happy. I don't know if I'm happier -- I'm happy ... I don't have some boss standing over me just making me feel like I'm the dumbest guy in the world. I get to see kids that look at me and go, 'Coach, coach me today.' I don't know if it gets better than that. Coaching is great profession when you have great kids. We happen to have great kids here, and it's a great school, so how could you not be happy?
"Now, winning is the most important thing. Bottom line. Bottom line is winning, and we know that's what our job is. That's the next part of it."
Al Borges thinks comparing me to Tim is an insult to Tim.
How's the RB battle shaping up? "We'll probably take it all the way up to the game. They are competing. They're going hard at the starting positions. It's kind of fun to watch. They know it's pending. they're working hard, both of them."
Will the starter get 20+ carries? "If he's hot, (if) he's rolling -- we're going to spell guys one way or the other because we're gonna do that anyway. But if he's feeling it, and we're gaining yards, we'll give him a chance to gain a little momentum."
Will RB competition continue through Saturday? "Absolutely. Sometimes you don't know until you play. The lights go on, and guys are tested. Are they going to hold onto the ball? are they gonna beat people in the open field or break tackles? Sometimes you get a completely different animal when it's gametime. Sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's bad."
Will you give other guys carries or will it just Fitz and Shaw, and then the 3rd down guy? "Yeah I think that's pretty accurate. You never know based on who could go down. Other guys could get involved, but I'm just not a big running-back-by-committee kind of guy. In my experience as coordinator, for the most part, we used the second back more to spell the primary back than we did to actually play two or three series at a time."
Do you tweak the playbook more as Denard develops? "I want to see, in spring football, how much we can run of our offense, the offense that I've run for the last 20 some odd years. Once you get a feel for how much of that he can do ... you incorporate what you can do in your own offense, and meld it with what he's capable of doing or what you've seen him do. Hopefully you come up with a delicate balance that allows you to get under center and run a power game or get in the shotgun and run the spread. Whatever fits. Yes, there has been some tweaking going on since spring football, and there continues to be."
Is Denard still completing 70% of his passes like he was earlier? "I don't know if it's 70, but it's a high percentage. We monitor him every single day. I get numbers from my offensive analysts everyday on what his completion percentage is, how often he scrambles, (and) when he would have been sacked, although with him it's hard to tell because they don't tackle him. He's right around (70%). He's done a nice job. The issues with Denard is just the footwork. Our style of play is so geared to footwork with regard to the timing and such. He also adds another dimension with that athleticism."
How is Denard's pocket presence? "It's been really good, but you don't really know because he's done a limited amount of pocket passing. Until you get into a game where they're actually going to hit him, you don't really know the answer to that. But you can, based on what we've seen in practice, and the little that he did in the past -- I think he's getting better at that. He's a different kind of quarterback in that you're not going to train him in the same manner and fashion that you might coach a guy like Tom Brady, who basically utilizes his arm to deal with the improv, whereas denard can use his legs to deal with improvisational scenarios. I coach him different, but I want to first develop him as a passer and second as a runner in our passing game.
"Now, in our running game it's a different story, but in our passing game I just want him to give that pass every opportunity, knowing that he's always got the athletic ability and the presence to make a play when he has to."
Is the RB situation like the one you had at Auburn? "The two guys I had at auburn were 1000-yard rushers, so that's not a fair comparison. If I told you that, it would be an insult to (the Auburn running backs). Not that (Shaw and Toussaint) couldn't be that, but they haven't done that yet. When you have two guys on your team who've one year after another rushed for 1000 yards, as coordinator, number one, you better figure out a way to get them playing, and sometimes in situations together. If that came up here, we'd do exactly the same thing."
Are you going to put the two RBs in situations together like you did at Auburn? "Oh yeah, sure. A little bit. It's a different dynamic, but there's always bits and pieces that I've used from the past."
Come on. Tell us if you're going to give Devin some snaps. "We're stiill pretty much where we are. I won't commit to putting in the second quarterback. I know everybody wants me to say, 'Oh I'll give him quality time in games and such. I've heard that ever since I've been coordinating, but people who say that don't have to do what I do. He's a capable kid, and he's going to be a heck of a quarterback. But right now we're trying to develop Denard in our system, and we gotta give him every opportunity to take advantage of that."
Do you have a number-three receiver? "It matters based on the (wide receiver) position. Roy and Junior and Grady and Dileo and ... Yeah we kind of do (have a number-three receiver). When we go to three- and four-wides, those guys are all in there. I think we do have a true number-three receiver, but it could be any one of two or three guys. They all bring a little something different to the table."
Will you make Denard throw some passes early during the game to get him in rhythm? "Yeah, to a degree. We're always going to throw some passes early in the game. You just have to pick the ones he has the best chance to complete, and then knowing that there's a few times when you're going to throw some low percentage throws just because you want to take some big bites out of the defense. And the residual effects of those low percentage throws are more important than the actual result, because sometimes just throwing the ball down the field lets the defense know that you will."
How many receiver packages do you have? "We have several. If you've watched us play, the grouping changes almost every play. We do it all."
How have WRs and TEs taken to new offense re: route running? "I think they've done a good job. It's different than what they're used to do, but receiving is kind of receiving, if you know what I mean. You just kind of have to learn the nuances of the routes that we want to run and understand when the ball is coming out, and then make the routine plays. This is something I've talked to quarterbacks and receivers about, is the ability to make the routine play when it's there. When they throw you the ball and you're open, you catch it. And if you're a really good player you'll make some great plays. Don't try to do something you can't. But when that ball's there, you gotta catch it, and I think our kids for the most part have done a prety good job with that.
"We were starting a little slow in camp with that. We were rusty in our first few days. We were dropping some balls and throwing some bad passes, but that's come around considerably in the last few weeks or so."
How are you going to put games away if you have a lead? Will you pound the ball? Will you throw to run up the score? Victory formations? "All of the above. Football -- and coordinating, in particular -- is dealing with these situations that arise, and knowing what the landscape of the game is if that makes any sense. if you're running the football well, in certain looks and certain ways ... you get into crucial time, then you gotta tap that part of the game. If you're struggling running the ball, then you have to maintain your mix, throw the ball some. You do want to wind some time off the clock.
"It's a battle. It changes. It's fluid depending on what you're capable of doing, and how they're defending you can force you to shift gears. We want to be able to run the football in times they know you're going to run the football. That's the goal .... You gotta be able to pound it, but if the pounding doesn't work, then you gotta shift gears and go to plan B."
How confident do you feel about this Michigan offense compared with how you felt last year at SDSU? "The only thing about here that's different is that it's the first year. And because it's the first year and everything's new, there's pain that goes with that. There's natural transitional growing pains anytime there's a shift in systems. San Diego State our first year, we had some pain. We weren't 9-4 my first year, but once they understand the system better, the wheels started turning better. The gears meshed.
"Here I think we have more talent than we had my first year at San Diego State. Here we have a really receptive audience with regard to our kids. That's huge. Huge because if it's met with resistance, then that pain could be all the more excruciating. So am I as confident? Yeah I'm as confident, but I know how this thing goes. This is the ninth time I've done this, and some (changes) have been met with great results instantly, and some have not. So we'll see what happens."
Will you give yourself a moment to take in the Big House before going into coordinator mode? "Oh yeah, I'm gonna stand there, look around a little bit, and say, 'This is pretty cool!' But then that's going to be over. That's gonna be over, and I'll have a job to do."
(Thomas Gordon, Will Heininger, and Junior Hemingway notes will be posted tomorrow morning.)