On quarterback John Navarre, his improvement and the offense developing
... "John has made great improvement and our offense will continue to improve as he does. John has been willing to work at every facet of his game, which will make us better next year."
On any differences for him at the bowl game compared to last year ... "I kind of look at the bowl process from a different angle now being at a different position (offensive coordinator from offensive line). I couldn't tell you anything other than from the perspective of the offensive line last year. The difference I see from John (Navarre) this year has been that he's a lot more confident. The experience he had from the previous year helped his development from the fact that he survived that year and has grown from it. Again I think that things that John needed to improve he worked on, and sometimes that doesn't happen because a guy won't recognize what he needs to improve upon and he won't get better. John was willing to do the things that he was being coached."
What were the areas John needed to improve on ... "I think his body weight changed and he improved his mobility from the previous season. He didn't make decisions before the snap the previous year that he could have and he did do a much better job as the season progressed of reading defenses and being able to take what the defense gives you. In a general way but very important, John has accepted his role as a leader on this team. His mannerisms and the way he controls himself have improved with experience."
On fullback B.J. Askew's versatility this season ... "It is hard to think about losing a guy who has done so much for this offense. It is hard to coach athleticism, and having a guy that is such a threat out of the backfield is really important. That is why we wanted both B.J. and Chris (Perry) in the backfield at the same time. We have two guys that are ballcarriers in the backfield and threats to make plays at any time. I think B.J. Askew is a guy who really grew up in the last year and that is what you are hoping to see out of a player that progresses through your program. He has accepted his position and role on this team and put aside a lot of individual goals that he may have had in order to help the team be successful."
On the improved running game down the stretch ... "I haven't really taken the time to see how it progressed. We just take it week to week and do the best we can with the game plan but I think our offensive line has made great strides throughout the year. I think there is a real attitude among those guys that they can control the opposition's defensive line. Chris Perry getting healthy in the last month of the season certainly helped. We went a few weeks where he wasn't healthy and that hurt our run game. Both B.J. and Chris playing at 100 percent really helps our offense."
On the offense once B.J. Askew is gone from the backfield ... "We have a number of guys who have taken advantage of bowl practice. David Underwood and Tim Bracken are in a position where they've made improvements and are in a position to make a contribution to this offense. You certainly can't go into this game with one guy thinking that he can carry the load because that sets you up for failure. We have two other very good freshman tailbacks in Darnell Hood and Pierre Rembert. This bowl practice has given them an extra bit of practice time with our own offense as opposed to imitating opponent offenses like they've had to do the past couple of months. You can see those guys get better every day."
On the challenges of the Florida defense ... "They bring a lot of things that can worry an offense. First of all their speed is the best that we'll have seen all season. That is the one thing that they are tops at of all the defenses we've played this year. Florida's defensive backs are really outstanding. They cover guys very well and something that might go unnoticed is that they are very good tacklers in the secondary. There are very few teams that they've played that have been able to make big plays on them this season. They will make us earn every single yard that we get and they won't give you many freebies."
On Sean Sanderson's availability and not having him in the Ohio State game ... "It certainly hurt not having him against Ohio State. He is a force when he's in there. I think people pay attention when he gets into the game. He has helped in a lot in running the ball and has been good in the play-action passing game. You can definitely see a change in the defense's attitude about trying to stop the run when Sean is in the game."
On the offensive slide last year as opposed to this season's upward swing ... "I think we feel better about ourselves about the way we finished the year as opposed to last season. I give a lot of credit to the senior leadership that we have on the offense. We have a number of guys that were able to lift guys up when they were down and elevate their games. A number of players have carried the load for us this season and that is a big difference in our team compared to last season. Last year we had a few marquee players who carried the load last season that we needed every game. This year we've had a number of guys come through and contribute so if one guy wasn't quite up to par other guys stepped up and played. That is pretty comforting to have a number of guys to call on. In the end most of it falls back on our quarterback and John (Navarre) is playing a lot better football than he ever has so that is reasonably comforting."
On Matt Lentz ... "Matt is a tremendously talented young guy. He is extremely large. We want to start with size and he already has that. He has a tremendous work ethic and is really a tough kid. All of those things combined you know that he is going to be a great football player. He was slowed down by a few injuries this year and anytime you have a young player he has a lot to learn and many challenges ahead of him and when your injured it makes it extremely difficult to get better. I think down the road we have a lot to already build upon."
On implementing a new offensive system and how quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler has helped John Navarre ... "What made the transition a lot easier was the fact that Scot and I have worked together before. He was here my first couple of years at Michigan and understands what this program is all about. I think he understands about as well as anyone the pressures involved with being a quarterback in this program and I feel that is what has made a great working relationship for Scot, and because he knows all the things about dealing with that position that I don't in terms of weekly preparation. Scot was able to grab ahold of that and run with it."
On tight end Bennie Joppru's emergence this year ... "I'm not sure what buttons you have to push with certain guys but sometimes it just sinks in. That player in the end has to make up his mind that he is going to make good decisions all the time and he is going to take coaching, be focused, be dedicated and be ready to go every week. We have always known that Bennie is an extremely talented guy from the time he walked onto campus but for one reason or another he never fulfilled that potential until this year. I like to think that I was helping that but really in the end it is up to the player."
On how John Navarre has dealt with criticism ... "It's not easy to take criticism and it's also not easy to be criticized all the time. I think what John has been able to do is understand that criticism is part of what is going to happen and that no matter what we do the quarterback at Michigan is going to be criticized. It is probably not fair at times, certainly not fair at times, but that is just a matter of fact. That is the way it is going to be. He has to be able to handle that and shoulder that responsibility. I think he has become a lot more confident and last year he really struggled with it at times and it affected the way we were able to play. That is what has made him a stronger and better player though and the experience has given him the tools to be successful."
Have you ever had to pullNavarre aside and say, "You're not Tom Brady, Brian Griese or Drew Henson" ... "That is a big part of it. John just needs to be himself. As big as the quarterback is here at Michigan he just needs to do his job and not worry about being compared to others from the past. John needs to put us in position to win ball games by running the offense. When the pressure is on you, you need a person to remind you to just do the things that you can do. Scot Loeffler has done an excellent job of that every week."
On having a month to prepare for the bowl game rather than a week ... "At this point we are ready to play. We have been practicing for a long time and our guys are very anxious to get going and play this game. We aren't playing for awhile yet so we have to temper our enthusiasm. I think the challenge when you come to a bowl game is that there are distractions, you're out of your element and you have other things going on so you have to balance all of that with preparing for the game. I really sense that our guys are handling it very well. Their concentration level has been very good when it's time to practice and meet."
On the young players who have caught his eye in bowl practices ... "I think we have some outstanding young players on defense that have played against us on scout teams. I have had the opportunity to see them more than some of our young offensive players since we go against the young defensive guys every day in practice. If Jeremy Van Alstyne is not a very good football player here then I'm going to be very shocked because he's been a real pain in our neck the last six weeks. He is really coming on. David Harris on defense has done an outstanding job. Willis Barringer has been a very good player in the secondary against our offense. Offensively, I think Mike Kolodziej has an opportunity to be an outstanding football player. We have a couple of receivers that I think are going to be something special in (Steve) Breaston and (Carl) Tabb. We have had a lot of young guys step up during these bowl practices and I think they'll help us in the near future. Those are just a few players I can think of immediately off the top of my head."
Could Breaston and Tabb have played this season ... "That is a tough call. We were just downstairs celebrating Ronald Bellamy's 21st birthday. He should be back for another year with us. Ron is a young guy but he played as a true freshman and will be leaving at just 21 years old. A couple of years ago we decided that we needed him and he played. When you look back I know we wish Ronald would be back for another season. The defense always talks about how Breaston and Tabb are making plays every practice, which makes you rethink about redshirting them but I think in the long run it will pay off for us."
Contact: David Ablauf, Jim Schneider (734) 763-4423