Can you talk about Quinton Washington emerging at nose tackle and moving Will Campbell to the 3-tech?
“What we’re looking for is getting the best four guys to be available to play inside. Q’s had a really good camp. Will’s had a good camp. So you kind of interchange those two to see which one makes that defense better, whether it’s one of them at the three and the other one of them at the nose. With so much trading and shifting and things like that, they both have to play the same position when they slide over, so it gives you an opporutnity to hopefully make yourself stronger rather than just having a true nose and that’s all he can play.”
Brennen Beyer is third on the depth chart. What does he have to do to move up?
“That group of three right there is never etched in stone. Brennen Beyer, I think, started out camp not as -- I don’t want to say tentative -- but not really realy playing as fast as I wanted him to play. Now the last week, though, he showed signs of being the Brennen Beyer of the spring. You’re going to see him play a lot. There’s no question about it. We got a group right there of guys, again, in the opening game, I don’t know how many plays you’re going to play -- you better have guys that can go in there, especially at that position because there’s a lot more running there. That’s a position that’s a defensive lineman sometimes and it’s a linebacker at other times, and he’s always got to run the farthest to chase the ball down … he has to be a guy that can run.”
Are Richard Ash and Nathan Brink at a point where they can play some quality snaps?
“Yeah. You know how Brady is and we all feel the same way -- anybody that makes that trip on the defensive side of it has got to be ready to go in at any time [whether it’s the] second play of the game, the 32nd play of the game. We feel that anybody that makes that trip, if they go into the ball game, we expect them to play Michigan defense.”
Do you like the amount of pressure you’ve been able to get from the front four?
“You know, we’ve worked hard at it. The hardest thing is you don’t ever know if you’re getting pressure or not because that guy who doesn’t tie his shoes all the time just takes off running, and that makes what you’re doing -- you go, ‘Well, I don’t know if that would have been successful or not, but against him, I don’t think it will be.’ That’s one of the hardest things that we have to judge on defense because we do want to be a pressure team. When you’re pressuring, if a guy like Denard is taking off, it makes it look like it’s not a very good defense sometimes, but you can’t gear everything towards stopping Denard. That’s what we on defense have to always talk about. We have to get ready for the season. We can’t worry about what he’s doing to us.”
When did you make that change in mindset?
“That was last year. I think the first time we brought blitzes at Denard, when I first got here, I said, ‘Whoa! You don’t see that in the NFL.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re going to keep blitzing,’ and you keep blitzing and he keeps -- it’s kind of neat because the officials … Brady will blow the whistle and you say to the official, ‘He would have been tackled.’ And you’re looking on tape and you go, ‘I don’t think so.’ That’s something we have to work through. That’s something we can’t, on defense, get shell shocked or get nervous because of what you’d do against Denard because Denard can make you look really stupid.”
“Well they obviously have great speed at wide receiver. Anybody in the SEC will always have great speed, but Alabama shows that they have great speed at wide receiver. They have a tight end that’s 280 pounds. He’s a returner. I think he has 20-some starts in his career. He’s obviously a very established football player that can catch the ball. Whoever their running back’s going to be, it’s Alabama. That guy’s going to be the next guy, so we know that the offensive line is a very very strong point. The quarterback is a very good football player, but the other guys are very good players also. You’re just going to have to play the way we play and make sure everybody’s doing their job.”
What about their offensive line makes them so good?
“To me, they’re so good at their combination blocks. Without getting too technical, but always in a defense, there’s a person who is shaded so he will get help with a guy slamming down on him, and sometimes a guy stays on him, and that frees up the linebacker. They’re really good at slamming down and coming right up on the linebacker as if he went to the lienbacker right away. I think they’re as good of a combination blocking offensive line as I’ve seen. Obviously a lot of that comes from playing together. Tremendous experience from strength, where you don’t have to overextend yourself to do your job because you know you’re strong enough to be able to do it with just a little bit of help.”
How do you counterract that and prepare for it in practice?
“Yeah we work on it every day. That’s always a part of practice that we work on because our defense, we’ll always be in a position where those kind of blocks will always happen.”
Are you doing it more than usual?
“No. No. That’s just the nature of our defense.”
Because Alabama’s so fast, have you done anything in practice to prepare for that?
“No, I mean, we always preach here, and we always will at Michigan, you always have to keep the ball inside and in front. That’s something that we’ve preached since we’ve gotten here. There’s going to be times when the ball will break. Your’e not going to stop every play at the line of scrimmage, but if you can always get your safety over the ball and get your corners cupping it like they’re supposed to, then you’re going to have a chance to play another down. We’ve really emphasized that. Not any more than we would have, but it’s constantly emphasized because that’s what makes a good defense, a defense that doesn’t give up big plays.”
What do you remember about Alabama when you were at Florida?
“You know, obviously coach Saban wasn’t there then. I know it was probably my first away game in the SEC and I kept looking back at Michigan and places like that, and I went, ‘This is no big deal,’ We were driving through town, people were all dressed up, I went, ‘This is not like going to Michigan where it’s just unbelievable.’ And then I went into the locker room and there was hardly anybody there. I remember coming out of the locker room and a friend of mine was on the staff, Charlie Strong, the head coach of Louisville now, had been in the SEC a long time, and he said, ‘Just wait. Just wait till you see this.’ And I said, ‘Charlie, this is nothing. I mean, compared to Michigan, what, are you kidding me?’ We came out of the locker room and I went, ‘Whoa! Where did all these people come from?’ It’s just like they just dropped in there before game time. Alabama, the SEC, that’s a good conference. They take great pride in their conference. The Big Ten is a great conference. This is what it’s all about. The Big Ten vs. the SEC and Michigan vs. Alabama. We look forward to that.”
Is it difficult for the defense to practice against Denard all fall and then turn around and prepare for a guy like A.J. McCarron?
“Well, Brady does a tremendous job at this. If you’re at some programs where you want to run a spread offense, your defense has the capabilities of possibly becoming softer because everything goes sideways. Brady from Day 1 has established that we have set periods where we go against typical Big Ten hard nosed offenses so we can always keep our edge that way. As we get into the week, like game weeks and stuff like that, we go less and less against our offense and more and more against the team that we’re playing.”
How much have the linebackers improved in pass coverage since the spring?
“I think they’ve improved a lot. Now that’s what the game’s for. But I know watching in practice, I feel like they’re much more aware of the quarterback, they’re getting deeper, I think our backers are improving a lot. Now we’ll see how much, and that’s what a first game is all about. You come out of that game and you see exactly where you are, and you go from there. It’s never as good or never as bad. That’s the great news about it. It’s the first game and it’s Michigan vs. Alabama, and that’s what makes it really exciting.”
You’ve said throughout camp that you’re not ready. The game is on Saturday. Are you ready yet?
“You know me, and you’ve got to know me now. We’re never ready in my mind. You know that. And that’s why we will be coaching right up until that kickoff. We’ll be coaching right through that ball game. One thing I do believe, and I noticed it the last three or four days, our players seem to be a lot more intent on the little things. Maybe it’s because we have the freshman who aren’t in class anymore and the whole team has been together now -- all of us and not just parts of us. But I’ve noticed that. I’ve noticed a game week type atmosphere, where you bring up little things that can possibly help them. They seem to say, ‘I got that. Okay, I see that,’ instead of, ‘Well this is just another thing coach is trying to tell me.’ I do feel that a little bit.”
James Ross is listed at No. 2 at the Will linebacker position. What do you like about him?
“Well, I liked his physical play. Again, I would have loved to have James Ross for three weeks. I mean, wow, he has made some plays, and then he’s made some freshman mistakes. Some freshman not checking, some freshman not communicating. I look at that as a guy that’s only been here a week. So we look at him as a possibility of him getting better and better as he’s with us the entire time.”
Is that going to be different in terms of how you approach it with the freshmen?
“That’s not my call. I’ve got all I can do to try to get them lined up on defense.”