University of Michigan Football held their media day last Sunday and for the first time this year, members of the media saw a more detailed picture of what Wolverine football will look like this season.
At 10:30 AM, head coach, Brady Hoke addressed the media at Schembechler Hall.
Hoke initially praised the team for their hard work during summer activities and fall camp so far.
“We are not there as far as being a good football team yet but the way they’ve come to work every day and what they’ve done is good,” Hoke said. “I think the identity of this team is still one that we’re developing and trying to develop. I think the team has vested themselves in each other and in what we’re trying to get done.”
During the conference, Hoke addressed everything from injuries to the kicking game. As far as injuries, Hoke said defensive back, Delonte Hollowell still has a cast on his hand and defensive tackle, Ondre Pipkins has been intentionally held out of several practices as a precautionary measure.
Hoke, along with the rest of his staff and players, heavily emphasized physicality as the primary goal of the team.
“I want it to be a football team that can run the football and have toughness at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Hoke said. “We want high execution in everything that we do.”
This season brings a new addition to the offensive side of the ball, former Alabama Offensive Coordinator, Doug Nussmeier. Nussmeier is a proven coordinator with an impressive resume including an NCAA National Championship in 2013 while at Alabama.
Nussmeier said he is excited to start his tenure at the University of Michigan and though expectations are high, he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“The expectation here at Michigan is extremely high and that’s the way we want it,” Nussmeier said. “That’s why you coach at Michigan that’s why you play at Michigan you embrace it. There are a lot of guys that have played in this program and coached in this program before that set a standard and you want to be part of that. That’s why it’s a special place.”
In addition to installing a new offensive scheme this year, Nussmeier has challenged his players to perform better by creating more competition. Nussmeier said they are even moving players around to different positions for the sole purpose of creating more competition.
“We think it brings out the best in every player,” Nussmeier said.
Learning an entire new offensive system is a daunting task for players and staff but Nussmeier was optimistic about the transition.
“With anything you do that’s new, there’s always going to be an adjustment. And obviously it’s a steeper learning curve when you go anywhere new and install systems and you try to get everybody on the same page,” Nussmeier said. “Our guys have worked extremely hard and we are going to continue to work hard while we’re growing every day.”
“Coach Nussmeier is the kind of guy who knows everything, he is a genius,” offensive lineman, Kyle Kalis said. “It’s nice to play under a guy who you know has it going on and knows what he’s doing. That just makes us trust him more and want to play harder for him.”
While some areas of the team may be younger and a bit inexperienced, the Wolverine’s defense and linebacker corps are definitely not.
Defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison had high praise for the entire defense but singled out linebacker Jake Ryan as the glue that holds the defense together. This season, Ryan will be switching from his previous strong-side linebacker position to the middle linebacker position.
“The reason I moved Jake to the middle was because you want him on the field the whole time. We try to play our base defense even against spread offense, just to keep Jake out there,” said Mattison. “One of our better blitzers on the team is Jake and it’s a lot easier to blitz in the middle than it is blitzing from way outside on somebody. “
Ryan said he played middle linebacker a bit in high school and he likes the position because it’s “more in the mix of things”. Ryan says watching and studying film has been very beneficial for his switch to middle linebacker.
“It’s going well,” Ryan said concerning his switch to middle linebacker. “I’ve learned a lot over these past few months from spring to fall camp. It’s been great. It’s a great transition for me.”
A knee injury hindered Ryan last season but he says his recovery is essentially complete. According to Ryan, he feels like the injury never even happened.
“Jake Ryan has unbelievable pride,” said Mattison. “One thing that we’ve really put on our linebackers is; we are only going to be as good as you are. You guys gotta get everyone going right away.”
Senior quarterback, Devin Gardner is coming off a turbulent 7-6 season and is looking to make his final season a successful one. Despite being the starting quarterback for one of the most storied football programs in the NCAA, Gardner says he doesn’t feel any pressure.
“It’s just an opportunity to prove everyone wrong; whoever doesn’t believe in us. It’s an opportunity to show the world that we are a good football team,’ said Gardner. “I feel like I’ve done a good job of weathering the storm. I’ve responded to adversity for the most part. I feel like I’ll be fine.”
The new offensive system of Nussmeier already seems to put a lot more responsibility on Gardner in particular.
“It’s going to look a lot different. You know, with the quarterback making a lot of the checks and calls and a lot of screaming,” said Gardner. “We’re going to be up tempo, we’re changing our scheme a lot. It’ll be fun to watch I think.”
Since he’s been starting at Michigan, there have been times when Gardner has relied too much on his athletic ability. There are occasions when the offensive scheme would break down and Gardner would got himself into trouble attempting to make an athletic play as opposed to protecting the ball and making an intelligent football decision.
Hoke says he wants to definitely use Gardner’s athletic talents but also be careful not to abuse those talent. Hoke says he has seen improvements in Gardner’s game but is still working with him and emphasizing good football decision making.
“Realizing that on fourth down, sometimes punting the football is not a bad thing,” Hoke said about the concepts he’s been stressing to Gardner. “He’s a guy who is very athletic. He’s a guy who is tough. And I think the other part of it is he has to learn that he doesn’t have to do it by himself.”
Gardner seems to be maturing and was very positive about what Michigan Football will do this season.
“The thing you can’t do is take steps back and I don’t think we’ve done that on either side of the ball,” said Gardner.
Thanks to Nussmeier’s philosophy of competition, the battle for the starting running back position is heating up.
“It’s good competition,” said running back, De’Veon Smith. “From racing to get in the showers to who gets on the practice field first. We compete at every little thing we do.”
Smith admits all the running backs at Michigan are tough but his upbringing gave him a unique perspective.
“The only reason I’m tough is I grew up in a house with two other division one running backs. So I had to be tough and not the soft one of the group,” Smith said.
When asked about the physical condition of running back, Derrick Green, Hoke says he’s seen a positive change.
“I think he looks a lot different. A year ago, he looked more like me,” said Hoke. “He’s really worked hard through the nutrition with Joel Totoro, our nutritionist. From a physical standpoint, he’s done a really nice job being a little more intelligent with what he feeds the engine, because that’s a big part of it. He looks a lot different.”
“Last year, at my highest peak point I was 248 pounds,” Green said. “Right now I’m 220, with 9 percent body fat. I just feel the best I’ve ever felt before. Explosive, stronger, faster; I just feel good. I’m ready to go.”
Though Hoke said he isn’t necessarily trying to create a running back by committee, he hasn’t ruled out the idea.
“I’d say right now, it’d be Drake (Johnson) and De’Veon (Smith), say, 1A and 1B, and then two is Derrick (Green),” Hoke said about the current running back depth chart.
Probably the biggest question for the Wolverines this season is the offensive line. After losing two offensive linemen to the NFL draft last spring, the new-look line is young, talented, and has a lot of growing to do.
Offensive lineman, Kyle Kalis says the offensive line has made some great strides so far under the guidance of Doug Nussmeier.
“I think just the fact that we are getting the terminology down, it’s a much easier system for all of us. Especially the way coach Nuss coaches everything,” Kalis said. “It was just a good feeling to know that we had that within ourselves. To know if we want to, we can control a game, we can control the line of scrimmage and run time off the clock if we need to. It just felt good.”
“Everyone’s eating right and doing the right things outside of football. We came into camp with no doubt in our minds that we were going to be able to do this,” Kalis said.
“When we first came into camp it didn’t feel like practice one, it felt like practice 16,” said offensive lineman, Ryan Glasgow. “It felt like spring ball carried over though all those months of summer.”
Hoke says the final depth chart for the offensive line hasn’t been decided but should be finalized by later this week.
Game one is coming fast for the Wolverines and first up on the schedule is Appalachian State.
I asked wide receiver, Devin Funchess if he felt a responsibility to make up for the loss when Michigan last played Appalachian State in 2007. His response was perfect.
“That was a different team. I wasn’t even watching football at the time, I was still a basketball player,” Funchess said. “I just feel like they have an edge on us. They’re 1-0 against us and were 0-1 against them. So, August 30th will tell the tale.”
Good call Devin. I can’t wait.