Aug. 15, 2011
By Leah Howard
After seven days of fall camp, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is sure glad the team has 20 more to go before the Wolverines' season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 3. But that is not to say he has not been pleased with much of what he has seen so far.
"We find out a lot about our team at each practice," said Hoke at Sunday's Media Day press conference. "They've come with great energy, which is an important part. There's a sustainability that we have to have during those practices because of how we want to compete late in football games. You win championships in November in this league. That's an important part we talk about every day."
After Michigan's first padded practice last Friday and its first two-a-day practice on Saturday, Hoke expects to see adversity over this next crucial week. It's going to be hard, and it's going to be a struggle. But that's just a part of fall camp. This is Michigan, and there is an expectation of how Michigan players need to show up every day. He is excited to see how they respond to the challenge.
"Guys are willing, wanting," said Hoke. "I think as you go through it you always want to see the consistency. You want to see if they'll hit in the morning and come back and hit in the afternoon. This week we have three of the five days are two practices a day and we will be in full pads for all the practices. We will be physical with each other, and we will find out if they can consistently bring it."
Following the impending week, Hoke expects to start penciling in his two deep, and several positions have slots that are still very much up for grabs. It is an important week for the players, but no more important than any other week.
"You don't want to just pick out one week," said sophomore cornerback Courtney Avery. "You want to go every single day, every single practice and every down, and just try to do your best."
The Wolverines maintain that the challenges and intensity of camp forces them to slow down, focus on the little things and get the details down. Players said they cannot worry about the season opener three weeks away if they are not focused first about making it through a morning and afternoon practice.
Michigan's first scrimmage will conclude its second week of practice, and the players and coaches expect to see great strides made in the days leading into it.
"I see a lot of hitting," said senior defensive tackle Mike Martin. "You're going to hear football. That's something coach always talks about; if he doesn't hear football, it wasn't a good practice. There's going to be a lot of guys out there fighting for a job and fighting for some playing time. That's what we need."
N O T E S
Since the January arrival of Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges, a primary offseason topic for discussion has been how junior quarterback Denard Robinson would fit into the Wolverines' new offensive scheme. According to Hoke, he's fitting in quite well.
"He's done a tremendous job," said Hoke. "We're fortunate that he has some other things that he brings to the table that maybe another guy doesn't, and I think it's progressing. We're installing more and more that we want to do and that he can do. We're not going to ask him things he can't do. We wouldn't do that to Devin [Gardner] or him. I think he's doing great with it."
The coaches understand that Robinson is a playmaker and that playmakers need to have the ball in their hands. But they're looking to balance the urge to let Robinson loose with the need to keep him healthy. Hoke suggested on Sunday that Michigan could have Robinson run 10-15 times a game while putting most of the running onus on a featured running back.
"Our base run play will be the power play," said Hoke, "and that won't be any secret. That's where we want to start our football offensively, but depending on the scheme we're facing, depending on the team, depending on how we are running at the tailback position, it could be more or it could be less. It's a real fine line. The objective is to win, and we have to do what helps Michigan and this team win. When you look at it at the end of the day, the kids want to win. They practice hard. We've got to put them in and give them a plan that's going to put them in a position to win."
"I feel really comfortable," said Robinson. "I'm trying to get used to it. I'm not perfect yet, but I'm trying to get there. We have a lot of people that can take the ball, and I never looked at it as I was the only one last year. We've got options, so it'll be a lot of fun."
The other predominant offseason questions rested with the Wolverine defense and new U-M defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines are still a work in progress, says Hoke, but coaches and players alike believe they're heading in the right direction.
"I don't think we've played to the standard that's going to be acceptable to this point," said Hoke. "We need to be more physical at the point of attack. I think we need to have an urgency in some of the things -- change a front, change a coverage, all those things -- and I think that we have to have a mentality of how we want to attack the football. So, it's coming, but it's not where we'd like to have it."
"We're looking to improve every day," said senior/junior linebacker Kenny Demens. "We don't want to stay the same. Our coaches do a good job helping us get better every day. Whether it's footwork, technique, all around the clock, they're helping us and we're helping each other. I think the sky's the limit. We have the right coaches, the right players and talent; we just have to keep pushing every day."
Competition was a common theme heard Sunday at Media Day. And it was not just on offense or defense. The job at kicker remains wide open. Among those involved in the competition is freshman Matt Wile.
The relationship between Wile and Hoke extends back to Hoke's years at San Diego State, where Matt's father, Dr. Peter Wile -- also a Michigan graduate -- is the head orthopedic surgeon. Growing up, Matt would frequent the Aztecs' practices and home games.
"He's doing well," said Hoke. "This is a big stage. There's always that mental part about going out there, and until you get on Main Street in front 100,000, you've really got to see where the guy's at. He's very consistent. I think he's one of those guys who really knows his technique and fundamentals and can do a good job of coaching himself. I think he's taking all three phases on to some degree right now -- punting, kickoffs and field goals. He's done a good job with it."