Weekly Press Conference: Head Coach Rich Rodriguez

Opening statement... "We're obviously excited to play a game. I think our players have a little bounce in their step because we are in game week. They have it put a lot of work in. I think we still have got a lot of work to do. I still have a lot of question marks coming into the game Saturday, particularly because we have so many guys playing for the first time. But the guys that put in a lot of work, I think everybody in the program is ready to go against another opponent. We know what the challenge is in front of us and hopefully we'll be ready. I'm excited about having our honorary captains in Bob Chappuis, Ron Kramer and Dan Dierdorf. That's something that I'm really excited about. Each home game we will have a few honorary captains, some of our past greats that will be coming, and the fans have a chance to see them. We will also have an opportunity tohave them in the locker room with our team prior to the game."

On his starters for Saturday's openers... "When it says 'or' on the depth chart, it means 'or'. I obviously hope that by the end of the week, we're going to have somebody on all of these ors go out with the first group but it's still a wide open competition. It will remain so at a lot of positions. Right now Nick (Sheridan) and Steve (Threet) are still battling and by Saturday somebody separates themselves. I just hope both of them are ready to play and win by the weekend, and they have made great steps. At the tailback position and a couple receiver positions and the quarterback position, this week will probably determine who starts on Saturday."

On the Beanie Bowl... "I'm glad we did it. It was good to get accustomed to substitutions from the sidelines, guys knowing where to sit when they come off the field, the organization using the headphones and having no coaches at all on the field, which is the first time for that to happen. I thought it was very, very beneficial for us and we'll do something again on a smaller scale this Thursday. We particularly found out with our freshmen, not that they got all wide eyed, but it was a little bit different when Coach wasn't standing behind them, or telling them what to do. It was good work for us, and having been in the stadium for the first time even for our upperclassmen, because we didn't even have a spring game there. We got to the field and we're getting excited about being in the Big House."

On what to expect on Saturday... "I think one, obviously, is a transition to the spread scheme. The skill guys on offense all had a chance, and it's played out true. The fact that we want to play so many tailbacks and can play so many tailbacks in our system tends to lead to more guys having opportunities and that's where (Sam) McGuffie and (Michael) Shaw have had a chance to taken advantage of that. Martavious Odoms has had a had a terrific camp. We thought he had an opportunity but we didn't know how quickly, and he's going to make mistakes -- all of these guys are going to make mistakes. But he's shown enough play making ability that we have to get in the game. Obviously the receiver position, where we lost a couple of guys, that's where Darryl Stonum and even Roy Roundtree will have an impact. There are five or six true freshmen on offense and even a few on defense. Mike Martin is going to play, Boubacar (Cissoko) is going to play and J.B. Fitzgerald is going to play. So we have maybe eight, nine, ten true freshmen who will play for the first time this weekend. That's why we are a little nervous but I'm also excited for them."

On the possibility of Kevin Koger starting at tight end... "I've been really pleased with the tight end play for the most part but Kevin has shown us enough. He's a very, very quick learner, a very intelligent guy and he's obviously got some ability. We think Kevin will be right there in the mix. Mike Massey is a veteran, Carson Butler has played a good bit, but Kevin has shown us quite a bit. He caught our eye and will have an opportunity to play."

On the new Victor's Walk tradition... "Talking to Scott Draper I think that the Victor's Walk was already in the works before I got hired. A lot of schools have the type of thing when they go to the stadium on game day. I thought, when he talked to me about it, that it would be a great idea and we talked to some of the players and they are really excited about it. It's going to be new, and hopefully it will continue and grow and the word will get out so when they drop off the teams coming to the game, there will be a bunch of our fans lined up on either side getting the guys fired up. Not that they need any more firing up, but think it's kind of fun. You work like crazy, seven or eight months of the year to play twelve games and hopefully play in a thirteenth, so those twelve games ought to be very, very exciting for them all the time. We'll drop off in the parking lot near Crisler Arena and it's about a 200 yard walk. The band will lead the way when we get off the bus and the players will walk a couple hundred yards right here to our locker room. We tried that on Thursday and the guys got a smile on their face. I think that's pretty neat, and it will be a neat tradition."

On how the team's quarterbacks have improved since the spring... "The biggest improvement with them is learning the system. There are so many things, so many variables that you can do, in any offense, but this is particularly so with the spread. There are so many decisions a quarterback has to make and so many things he has to see, not just on pass plays but on run plays as far as seeing the field. I think as they become more and more familiar with the offense, they are going to get more and more comfortable.Every player will tell you, the more comfortable they are, the faster they can play and the better they can use their abilities. That's the thing for the coaches, in order to run an offense or defense, you've got to have enough in the playbook to answer the problems you face, but yet you can't confuse your players. That's the dynamic that they are dealing with now, because of the new scheme, everybody is a freshmen, mentally.The guys that have some experience or are used to picking up or understand different things about offense and defense learned it very quickly. Nick (Sheridan) and Steve (Threet) have both picked up more things than we could have anticipated. We haven't done it in a game, in practice they have shown improvements from spring to now in their ability to grasp the offense and they will continue to get better. Both of them have got to the point where we are confident that we can win with both of them."

On wide receiver Daryl Stronum... "One of his advantages is that he was able to come here in the spring semester and go through spring practice and get in the weight program. Even though he is the same class with the other true freshmen, he has a few more months ahead of him, and I think that's helped. He's a fast guy and he's got good skills. He's a pretty quick learner, too. We're having all of our receivers learning both sides, what we call both the X and the Z receivers. They are two different positions, yet they are very similar. Normally by the second or third year they all have it, but we are having them all learn it now. Darryl is a pretty quick learner on that. A lot of these guys will make mistakes and hopefully we'll keep them to a minimum. Darryl has these skills but he's also a very, very competitive guy, so he's going to play."

On Michigan's possible contributors at wide receiver... "All of them could play. Really, all of them. (LaTerryal) Savoy, (Greg) Matthews, all of them. Junior Hemingway is another guy that's probably not even listed because he's been banged up, but as Junior gets healthy he'll practice this week. He's another guy in there. Toney Clemons may play outside as well. I mentioned Roy Roundtree, the true freshmen, who will have an opportunity probably to play as well."

On what fans can expect for the opener... "I can understand why the fans wouldn't know what to expect, because in some respect, the coaches don't either. We know a lot more because we've been around in practice, so I don't want to say we are going into this thing totally blind, because we are not. We've been practicing for several weeks now. Still, until you put them in a game situation, you don't know for sure how certain players are going to react, particularly the freshmen. There are some sophomores and even upper classmen that are getting their first opportunity to play a significant amount. There will be a few anxious moments until we get out there and perform, but what we try and do is put pressure on the players in practice and do some situations where we at least know in our mind that this guy is ready to play or not. In the game we want to play a lot of people. I think we are going to be in a situation where we are going to play a lot of people and see who responds well in the game."

On any pregame superstitions or rituals... "I've never been too superstitious. Every place you go to and coach, it's always a neat experience the first time do you hit the field. I think the very, very first time you run out as a head coach is probably the thing that you remember a lot. Having done it for a few years, not here, you get excited for the games, but all of the hoopla and all that kind of stuff doesn't particularly make me feel one way or the other to be honest with you. I'm just happy to play and keep score and see how we compete. All of the other stuff is not a big deal to me. As far as superstitions or something like that, we have the same kind of routine practice-wise but nothing in particular that we're superstitious about. Most of the time I come out and watch our team warm up about an hour before, sometimes an hour and ten minutes before and sometimes 50 minutes before. I don't have a particular routine. I look at the game plan, talk to the coaches. You obviously get a little bit nervous. If you're getting butterflies as a coach or player, you shouldn't be playing or coaching. But by and by, I usually have a little more fun Fridays and Saturdays because the work is already done as far as your preparation. The preparation is when you've got more of a sense of urgency. I have more of a sense of urgency today than I will Friday or Saturday."

On the selection of game captains for every contest... "We pick them as coaches, every Thursday, and I had the seniors over at the house the other day for a little meal and told them that our philosophy on that is I want every senior, as long as he proves worthy and doesn't do anything wrong, to have an opportunity to be a game captain their senior year. It doesn't necessarily have to be the star player. At the end of the year the team will pick their permanent captains. I like doing that because every senior, they put all the work in throughout their career and can say, hey, I was a captain for Michigan. I think that's a pretty neat thing for them to talk about and put on their resum and I've always believed in that and I think it's worked out pretty well."

On the return game... "We didn't go live on the Beanie Bowl, so it is hard to evaluate. On punt returns we are going to use both (Donovan) Warren and (Martavious) Odoms. Warren will be the first guy. He's the more experienced player. Any time you put a true freshmen on the return, it makes you a little nervous but also want to put your most explosive player out there. (Michael) Shaw may be back there on the kick returns, but we'll definitely have Brandon Harrison and Morgan Trent ready as well."

On the status of Michigan offensive line... "The most damaging part injury-wise in camp was to our offensive line, which was an area we couldn't afford. Zirbel went out with a knee and his backup, Huyge went out with an ankle and all of a sudden we are scrambling with already inexperienced players. That was the most concern we had. To have John (Ferrara) helped. I think John is still learning but he's certainly going to help there and David (Moosman) being able to play both center and guard has helped us as well. We are very, very thin there, which we knew coming in. We are thin there on experience too. You're going to have four new starters there regardless. Those guys have worked pretty hard and I think they have gotten a little bit better each day. We are going to see a whole lot of pressure from Utah. They are going to bring a lot of blitzes. They are a very, very aggressive defense and give you a lot of different looks, and a lot of fronts. They bring in guys from off the edges and up the middle so we have to do a lot of work this week in making sure they can take up all the blitzes and be ready for the freshmen."

On Michigan's starting running backs... "I have four tailbacks right there. All of them -- (Sam) McGuffie, (Michael) Shaw, (Brandon) Minor and (Carlos) Brown -- are all right there competing. We may start two at one time. In our offense we can play two tailbacks at the same time. I know it's important to a lot of people who who takes the first snap, but to me, it's more important for us to play the guys we feel we are ready to win with, and for us, we'll play four equally."

On the number of carries the running backs can expect... "I don't ever go into it. It's more of a feel thing. If a guy is playing well and he's making plays and he's not making big mistakes and he's not getting tired, we'll keep feeding him the ball and doing that. But we don't ever go in saying this guy will get eight carries and this guy will get seven carries. We just kind of let it happen."

On the status of Kevin Grady for the Utah game... "Kevin will not play. He's suspended for this Saturday and he knows that. He will be out as long as we deem necessary. He has a few things he's got to do and he's been doing them daily. With Kevin, I know he's learned his lesson and he's working hard to get back in good graces and he's done everything that we've asked on the field and off the field so if he continues to do that, we'll lift his suspension at such a time."

On Michigan's other players who will not play Saturday... "Like I said before, Corey (Zirbel) and Mark (Huyge) will be out with injury. Terrence Robinson was another injury. Terrence would have played as a true freshman this weekend but he has the knee situation and he'll be out a few weeks."

On what to expect from Utah... "The experience they have is one thing, because they are going to a team coming in that's going to be very confident and very aggressive defensively. I've said it before, they may be the best team since Urban's (Meyer) team went to the BCS. They have a very athletic quarterback who runs the spread that we've had problems against in the past. They have explosive players and they have some of the fastest corners we'll play against. They are pretty solid and they have a great punter/kicker, so there's really no weak spots and they are a veteran team so it not like we are opening it up against somebody that we can mess around and play awful and win. We have to play well."

On Utah running back Darrell Mack... "He's an explosive guy. I think they have the other tailback, Asiata, those guys can play for anybody. Mack had a great year last year. He's a perfect spread back. He can catch the ball. He's got quick hips. We've done some live drills, like everybody else, but it's different in the games, so our defense is going to have been prepared. We have to really tackle. That's the key playing in the spread. Any coach will tell you, if you're playing a spread team, one of the biggest keys to defense and playing well is tackling and spacing. You don't do a lot of live tackling in practice. The games are what you really have to judge it on. We've done some in practice against each other, but the biggest concern is can we tackle in these guys in spaces."

On who will start at quarterback on Saturday... "Can you keep a secret (Laughing). Will I name a starter Wednesday Maybe. I might. I don't know, maybe. Maybe not. I've got a gut feeling. I think it's overrated. They are going to prepare. Neither one is on film, so it's not like you can watch that guy and say he does this and say he does that. They are both similar players anyway. I think if you had two totally different type of players where one was strictly a runner and one was strictly a thrower, and then maybe you would keep an advantage in not saying something. But they are very similar in what they do, and neither one of them played, so I don't think it gives you one particular advantage one way or another."

On comparing some of Michigan's running backs with other running backs he has coached... "I don't think it's fair to compare players with other teams. I have been fortunate to have a lot of explosive players the last several years, and that certainly helps the dynamics of your offense that you've got guys that are great in space or run away from people. (Michael) Shaw and (Sam) McGuffie are both explosive players. What you don't know until you get them in this environment is how quickly they can learn. They are making mistakes but they are learning very quickly. We'll see how competitive they will be as far as getting in there and pass blocking and mixing it up a little bit. I always tell them, I'd rather tell you 'whoa' than not stick them. Those guys will come out in practice going full speed and not miss a rep. This weekend, hopefully they have their legs back under them again and I'm excited for them. They are going to have great careers here, both of them. I think we will get a little more depth which we need at that position, so they will play a lot of football."

On what Michigan needs to do each week to win... "I think for us to win, I told the team, Michigan can't beat Michigan. We can't turn the ball over. We can't make a lot of mental mistakes even though we are going to make some, especially the young guys. We can't do the dumb things to beat ourselves. If you're more talented than everybody you play, you can mess around and do those things and still win. But we are not there right now. We are not to the point where we can mess around and screw up and win the game. That's where we are at right now, so we are going to have to execute and keep the mistakes to a minimum."

On the level of contact in practice the week leading up to Utah... "I don't want to lose any more players this week getting ready to play. We'll bang Tuesday. Tuesday will be a physical practice and we'll be in full pads and get after it pretty good. We won't tackle to the ground. Tuesday we'll get after it pretty good. The other days it will be full speed and the execution part we will go full speed but we won't be hitting."

On Michigan's defensive linemen wanting to be the best group in the nation... "I'm glad they want to be that but we have to see it. I think we have a lot more experience defensively and a lot of guys have played. I think they have worked pretty hard and they are in pretty good shape. I still think we have some things to work on defensively, as well as offensively. There's no question that we would expect and hope that we get a high level of play, in particular, against a team like Utah that is talented and runs a spread scheme. Our guys have to be in great shape because when you're playing in an open space and you're running a whole lot, there's going to be a lot of guys that are going to be winded at times."

On comparing Utah quarterback Brian Johnson to other quarterbacks coached... "He's a little like Shaun King. He's a little faster than Shaun I think. Shaun wouldn't tell you that. Brian is very, very competitive. He ran more, I think, before he dinged his shoulder up and then he didn't run as much for obvious reasons, but he can run. That is a part of their zone read and running is a part of their offense, so we have to be ready for that."

On facing Utah's no-huddle offense... "We are prepared for both. We have done no huddle and we'll prepare for them to run it and run it fast. Our team has seen it a good bit in practice, but every team runs at a different pace, so we've got to be prepared for that. We will be, I hope."

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