“This is the week you look for. This is a big week for us, and you know, I know our guys are going to prepare that way. I think as a football program, we’re very very excited about this challenge.”
Can you talk about the emphasis on physicality this week?
“There’s no question about it. I think last year if you look back, that’s something that kind of sticks with us the entire year. They took it to us. You can cut it any way you want. They lined up, ran the football, and knocked us off the football and we don’t like that. We don’t believe in that at Michigan. It’s going to be that kind of game. It’s going to be a very physical football game.”
Do you feel like that game motivated your defense the rest of the way?
“Oh no. I don’t think -- any time you don’t play well, I hope you don’t use that for motivation. I think if anything, it emphasized that each and every week you must play physical. You can’t go out there anytime and think we’re Michigan, we’re going to play. In this league, against the people we play each and every week, you have to bring your a game.”
Did you go back and figure out why they weren’t prepared for the physicality?
“Any time that happens, that goes on the coaches. It goes right on our shoulders. Our job is to make sure they’re technically ready and mentally ready. When a team doesn’t play up to Michigan standards that way, then I think we have to do a better job. That would be the first thing that I would have thought of after that football game.”
MGoQuestion: Can you talk about the similarities between Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen at the SDE position?
“You know, I don’t like to compare guys. I just know that Craig Roh each and every week has come out and played very very hard. He’s understanding the position better every game. He’s been a guy that, in my opinion, has played very very well and maybe doesn’t show it all the time because that position doesn’t get all the glamour, but a lot of time when there’s pressures and a lot of times when good things have happened it’s because he’s demanded a double team. He’s maybe chased the quarterback out of the pocket. He’s adapted very well to that position. It’s very important for us to have a physical, strong five-technique in our defense. He’s everything that we had hoped when we moved him there.”
You forced some turnovers -- is that something the defense needs for a jump start?
“We always want to do that. Any time there’s an opportunitity, any time we can get the ball back for our offense, that’s a real positive. Again, I think some of that has happened because of guys being where they’re supposed to be, playing with a lot of energy. Guys running to the football, and the preparation. I can’t emphasize it enough. This defense appears to be very very focused on trying to get better each week. The play that Kenny intercepted, that’s something I know Mark Smith has gone over and over with him. He’s showed him on the field, practiced on the field, saw it on film, then good things happen when you prepare, and each and every position, this defense has really bought into the preparation that’s necessary, and this next week’s going to be a huge example of preparing.”
How do you determine rotation at rush end?
“Well, it really goes by who’s had the best week of practice and who has, throughout practice, been accountable for their position. Not that Frank wasn’t. Brennen Beyer did some things very well in rpactice against the run, so we said, ‘Okay, we want him to go in that role.’ And then we kind of tweaked our sub package to move guys around a litte bit and get guys a little more speed on the field. It had nothing to do with Frank not doing well. It’s three pretty good football players right there, and we’re rotating all three of them, so you’re not going to get half the reps. you’re going to get a third of the reps.”
What has Mario Ojemudia done to put himself in a position for more playing time?
“He’s been very consistent. For a young guy he is a very good technician. He’s obviously had very good coaching in high school. Plays very well with his hands. His footwork, he’s a very intelligent young man, and he plays very fast. I think it’s a good example of a young man who understands a defense now that it’s been the same defense for five, six weeks. All three guys -- Brennen’s coming back off the knee, and you know our feeling towards Brennen coming into the season, I think he’s feeling better, and then Frank continues to play well and do some good things, so we have three guys that can rotate in there.”
What do you look for in a freshman playing on the defensive line?
“How he practices … The way we practice, we go good against good all through practice. If he holds his own against our offenisve line, then you know he’s ready. If he doesn’t, then you say we got some more work to do. Some people don’t do it that way. Sometimes you’re going against the second or third string guy, and you look good, then all of a sudden you get in a game and you go, ‘Oh boy, that’s not the same guy.’ If you’ve had a good week of practice or a winning week of practice, then you should be ready to go in that game. That’s what our guys have done that way.”
Have your linebackers surprised you by how they’ve played?
“No. No. No. What the linebackers have done is bought in and worked extremely hard on correcting anything that we did not feel was good enough. Again, it goes back to the preparation, the physical preparation. They’ve worked extremely hard. They come out early. They work on their footwork. They work on everything that may have held them back from palying as good as you wanted early, and now you’re seeing the rewards from that. Now you’re seeing guys doing it more like we want it to be done. They’ve put in the time and the effort.”
With Demens specifically, was there an issue earlier in the season when Bolden was pushing him? Did you say anything to him about it?
“We didn’t say anything to him. I think every guy on our team, they know exactly how we feel from day to day. If something’s not good enough, then we’re going to tell them it’s not good enough. If something is good, then we’re going to tell them that way, too. Kenny’s got a lot of pride. He’s a senior, and he’s played a lot of football here. You probably wouldn’t have to say a word to him if he didn’t play well sometimes because he would have seen it himself. It just shows his pride in wanting to play Michigan defense is supposed to play.”
Is Kenny playing as well as you’ve seen him play?
“Yeah I guess. All of our guys I know can play better. They know they can play better. Is he improving? Yes. Has he improved a lot in the last couple games? I would say the answer is yes. He has stepped his game up.”
Where have you seen him make the most growth?
“Footwork. When you’re a linebacker, if you take a false step, and that usually happens from your key. You’re looking at a key. It’s a simple game. It’s like playing tag. If the ball carrier has the football, and you’re a little kid out in the street, and the kid went to the left, you’d go to the left. You watch any Sunday, you watch any game. Just watch the linebackers sometimes. The back goes that way and the linebacker takes a step back that way. If that happens, you’re a step late in the race. If you’re not an overpowering fast, gifted -- all those things -- you can’t make up for that race, and now you’re blocked. Our guys have worked very very hard on that part of it, on making sure they take perfect footwork, they get great keys, and that comes from preparation and watching film -- when a guy does this, this is what I’m going to do. At the linebacker position, the secondary position, all those things I believe you can see it a lot faster on the field than you do other places.”
How far is Raymon Taylor come along in that process?
“Ray hasn’t been tested really really hard yet. We’re about to get into it now. I feel very strongly about Ray. The thing I like about him is every day he works on improving something and practices very hard, and when he does do something wrong, he corrects it. I think he’s starting to get the confidence that’s necessary for a corner in this league to play succesfully. Every game is a test. That position is a final exam every day. Other ones are midterms sometimes. But as a secondary that’s a final exam, but you can’t go in there afraid. Just like a final exam, when you’re taking tests, if you’re prepared, you go play. You go write it. I’ve seen him work very hard.”
What’s the thought behind putting a linebacker over the slot vs. having a nickel corner out there?
“One of the reasons is because people have tried to run the football on us. When you put nickel on the field, sometimes you have a guy that’s a pass cover guy that you want to help on the run. The other thing that helps a young team get settled when you’re not sending people in and out. Okay, you guys are going to play, and here you go. That’s the two biggest reasons. And then our depth. I think sometimes you put guys in the game because they’re supposed to be in the game, because they say, “Okay, this is a lot of wide-outs, put a long of these guys in here,’ where it’s really, if your guys understand what to do, sometimes it’s better to have your guys that are playing all the time in there rather than in and out all the time.”
Is that why Kenny goes out over the slot so often?
“Well, because he has to cover number three. It’s all by numbers. If a team spreads you out, then he has to move out.”