Aug. 12, 2011
By Leah Howard
Football season has begun. Finally.
Every fall camp in Ann Arbor is full of anticipation. But this year, with new coaches, new schemes and new scoreboards, the enthusiasm and energy surrounding the Michigan team is palpable.
Friday afternoon, Michigan will take the field for its first practice in full pads. According to head coach Brady Hoke, if you had seen the Wolverines practice throughout the week, you would think they were already in pads, operating with a mindset of speed and intensity. The problem, however, was you couldn't hear them.
"You've got to be able to hear football," said Hoke in Thursday's post-practice press conference. "I'm talking about offensive linemen coming off the ball, defensive linemen; that contact, that secondary contact you get down the field. I told them last night I didn't hear it yesterday. I heard it a little better today. Hearing football is important. It kind of tells you what's going on. Luckily, it's not September 3, and we've got some days to get after it."
As U-M continues to get after it on the practice fields, we take a look back on a few of the top storylines from the Wolverines' initial week of fall camp.
Tipping the Scales
Before they even stepped out onto the practice fields, several Michigan players made strong first impressions when they reported back to Schembechler Hall last weekend. Some had been asked to gain weight over the summer months, while others needed to trim down. Strength, physicality and endurance are important parts of the game, according to Hoke, and if physical transformations are any indication, U-M is off to a strong start.
The Wolverine player that particularly caught Hoke's eye was junior defensive tackle Will Campbell, who spent the summer in Ann Arbor, participating in the Wolverines' voluntary workouts with strength coach Aaron Wellman and his weight-room staff.
"Will Campbell I think left in spring at 342 pounds," said Hoke on Monday, "and he came in at 316-319, in that range. Just watching him move around and do those types of things tells me a lot. That's a commitment. A commitment is always important. It shows his teammates that he's got a commitment."
"He looks good," said senior center David Molk. "He came in, as a freshman, heavy, slow, sluggish, and he really had to develop -- not only physically but mentally -- over those couple years. Once he got it, you saw the hunger in his eyes. That's something that's really prevalent this year, and I'm excited to see what he does."
The U-M coaching staff referenced several other players who have bulked up since spring ball, including junior/sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan, junior defensive end Craig Roh and fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen.
"For me to be the most comfortable I needed to gain weight," said Van Bergen. "I needed to make sure I could hold up my double teams as a five technique, make sure that I'm keeping guys off the linebackers so they can make plays, and make sure that I can hold my ground. I just want to be accountable to my teammates, and to do that I felt I needed to put on weight."
Back for More
The Wolverine defense experienced a huge preseason blow last year when fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk -- its most experienced player in the secondary -- went down with a season-ending ankle injury early in fall camp.
Throughout his lonely year on the sideline, Woolfolk at times questioned his ability to return from the injury. Would he be the same athlete? Would he be able to break on the ball like he needed to? Would he still be as fast as he once was?
After returning to the field near the end of spring ball, participating in team warm-ups and one-on-one drills, Woolfolk spent the summer working on his conditioning, mechanics and film study and is confident he can hit the ground running this fall. And while he certainly wouldn't say he's happy the injury occurred, he does suggest that he's better for it.
"I never really paid attention to the mental aspect of the game," said Woolfolk. "I was just going out there and trying to [take advantage of] my athletic ability, which I don't think would have been able to take me to the next level. [Now] I'm able to understand why I have to play cover two and why I have to re-route the receiver to the outside. Learning the mental aspect of the game versus just the physical will help me a lot."
In the Running
If offensive coordinator Al Borges had his way, he would have identified Michigan's No. 1, go-to running back 'yesterday.' But it can't be a rushed selection, he stressed, and until a particular player emerges from the pack, he'll be willing to wait.
"We're going to find who the best guy is," said Borges. "It may take a couple scrimmages and quite a few carries before you understand what the kid is capable of. You'd like a decision ASAP, but you don't want a wrong decision. You want a right decision. If that takes a little bit longer, so be it."
Borges says he wants someone who will win in the open field, break tackles, make people miss, understand the protection scheme and, to a lesser extent, have solid receiving skills. Simply put, he is looking for a playmaker who can give the Wolverine offense some of the electricity that junior quarterback Denard Robinson provided so often last season.
"Before too long, we'll narrow it down to a few guys," said Borges. "You can't get five and six guys carries. There aren't enough reps. We don't have a timetable for this either, but there's a point we're going to narrow it down and start thinking about the guys we really think are going to be that guy."
There are still several in the running to be that guy, and they aren't discouraged by the uncertainty. Michigan has long been known for its premiere running backs, and, according to senior running back Michael Shaw, competition for the top spot simply comes with the territory.
"It just makes me want to work harder," said Shaw, "and it makes the guys want to work harder. At the end of the day, the guy who works the hardest and who shows he's physically and mentally capable of handling the duties of the running back position at Michigan, he'll get the job."