Aug. 29, 2011
By Leah Howard
It's Welcome Week in Ann Arbor. That means it's also Game Week in Ann Arbor. And the Wolverines are reminded with signs at every turn around Schembechler Hall. As if they needed reminding.
"I love it -- every single first game," said fifth-year senior center David Molk. "It's an experience that is unmatched by anything else. I can't wait to play a game. It could be some D-III school, and I'd still love it. It's just good to see someone else."
The Wolverines officially will kick off the 2011 season -- the first under head coach Brady Hoke -- against Western Michigan on Saturday (Sept. 3) in Michigan Stadium.
Michigan is 108-20-3 all-time in season openers and also boasts an impressive 27-1 record against teams from the Mid-American Conference. But Hoke warns that the Broncos should not be overlooked.
"Western Michigan is a well-coached, disciplined, tough football team," said Hoke. "I've had a little experience with Coach [Bill] Cubit and how his teams play offensively and defensively. They play in a great conference.
"Offensively, they're led by a great quarterback in Alex Carder. When I say great, I do mean that. I think he's as impressive as anybody that you'll turn tape on the entire year, with what he did a year ago. Thirty touchdowns -- over 63 percent in completions -- their offense starts with him.
"Defensively, the defensive line may be the strength of their team. It has everyone coming back. Their secondary is, they feel, one of the better ones in the Mid-American Conference. They've always had guys back there who are going to be physical and going to attack the football."
N O T E S
The Wolverines voted on captains Sunday night -- each player chose one offensive and one defensive player -- and the results were immediately tabulated and announced to the team. While there were several worthy candidates, fifth-year senior center David Molk, senior tight end Kevin Koger and senior defensive tackle Mike Martin emerged with the distinction and were humbled by their selection.
"It's a great honor," said Molk. "It's something that I really didn't understand when I got here, but once I became a Wolverine, it was something that I wanted. When you walk through the building, you see the big wall that holds captains. Those guys are always well respected. They've done great things in and outside of football. It's a good group to be a part of. It's something I knew I wanted to be a part of."
"It's a huge honor," said Martin. "Our whole senior class does a great job of leading. It's an honor to be selected by my peers to represent those guys and the guys that came before me."
"It was kind of surprising," said Koger. "I really didn't expect to be a captain. There are a lot of other qualified guys in the senior class, but I was honored to get it."
Since 1891, Michigan head coaches own a combined 14-3-1 record in their debuts with the Wolverine program. Nine years removed from his stint as a Michigan assistant coach, Hoke is excited for his opportunity to lead the Wolverines out of the tunnel on Saturday. But he insists there are more pressing matters to think about.
"It's a special place, being at Michigan," said Hoke, "so I'm sure it will be very humbling. But at the end of the day, we're playing a football game. Our consistency as coaches is important. We'll move pretty quickly with what we have to do. I'm hoping we'll get to the sidelines the right way."
According to Hoke, the end of the fall camp will not mean the end to the evaluation period. The Wolverines will continue to be evaluated every day -- on the practice field, on the playing field and in the weight room.
"I hope they're hungry," said Hoke. "This is a competitive game. This is the winningest program in college football. So, I hope they understand those expectations that we have as a team and as a program.
"We want to evaluate them every day, and if a guy doesn't meet the standard or expectation we need to play with -- and it could be any position -- then we've got to find somebody else."
"Coach always says that when you come to Schembechler Hall," said Martin, "you have to come with energy and be ready to complete. Competing every day keeps energy and excitement in practice. Guys are going hard every single day, and that's what it takes to get your team better. You have to give guys looks and push them every day. That's what guys are doing, and that's why we've become such a better team throughout camp."
Junior quarterback Denard Robinson has a far better grasp of the Michigan offensive package than he did in the spring, says Hoke, and he is much more settled in his fundamentals and techniques. The Wolverines' offense will look a little different than it did last season, but it will still cater to Robinson's strengths.
"The basic plays of a pro-style offense are a big part of it -- the play-action game and all those things," said Hoke. "There are some things out of the spread that we're going to obviously stay with that kind of overlap a little bit with how you want to block at the point of attack. We're still going to line up and run the power play a bunch."
"A player that is that good can be dangerous in any offense," said Molk. "He still has the ability to get out, run around and do his thing this season."
A handful of true freshmen could play against Western Michigan, according to Hoke, including defensive end Frank Clark and cornerback Blake Countess. Clark could appear in the Wolverines' nickel and dime packages, while Hoke praised Countess' feet, makeup speed and toughness.
"Both of them are tough," said Hoke. "From a defensive mentality, we don't want to overload them so they go out there and have paralysis by analysis. We want them to be able to play the game. I like them; we'll put it that way."