Another football season is fast looming larger for the Wolverines, their 132nd.
Another new season, repleat with new coaches, new defensive and offensive schemes, and to compound the imponderables, it is also the advent of the now split in two twelve team Big Ten with Legends and Leaders divisions, a championship title game, and a new adversary in the formidable Nebraska Huskers.
Obviously first year Head Coach Brady Hoke faces real challenges in his first go round as the head Wolverine football cheese. Serious challenges. Recent Swiss cheese Wolverine defenses were aggravated by recruiting defiencies which in turn diminished the defensive talent pool. This, with other problems, resulted in a last place defensive finish in the team’s previous season. There was a problem implementing schemes, and inexperience. Special team debacles were at times a catastrophe.
You follow Wolverine’ football, I don’t have to name all the defects for you. You saw the defense last year. Sadly, it was among the most ineffective in Michigan’s long history and was ineffective despite all the hard work and effort that went into that season by both players and coaches.
Despite coming off a dismal season, so far, Coach Hoke is clearing all the off season hurdles, not knocking any over. The Wolverines have retrieved respect and enthusiasm in their home state. This shows up in the recruiting process. High School coaches and some kids have bought in. Recruiting has exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations, and Hoke seems to have been accepted far and wide amongst restive Wolverine fans. Much pride and enthusiasm is restored. At the very least until the first loss or losses arrive.
The new cadre of coaches seems to fit into their new Wolverine skins very comfortably and appear very certain of their teaching and coaching skills as well as Coach Hoke’s leadership and football schemes. They are quietly very confident, seem aware of and comfortable with Michigan’s assets and traditions, and it appears they are working together seamlessly. Even if real pressure only arrives with the first games and a loss or losses, it seems everybody not only preaches accountability but will try to practice it. The new management seems to get it.
This off season has played out nearly perfectly, if not perfectly. So well it is a little scary.
Nothing about this media day football wise occurred to spoil that atmosphere. They even had a band in the stadium, and the new scoreboards are awesome to say the least.
Perhaps they do need to adjust administration of the fan autograph lines. I’ve been told several hour waits sometimes saw the closure of lines before kids got their autographs. While I did not see it, there were rumors of collectors cutting in line and burdening signers with multiple items. It is a good bet that AD David Brandon will see any problems are corrected before next year.
As expected Coach Hoke addressed the media. He said that the team is pretty healthy, that every practice is important, that there is healthy competition, and that the two-a-days coming up will stress the players physically and mentally and will reveal who can contribute consistently. Accountability was stressed.
Brady said freshman kicker Matt Wile is the son of the SDU team physician, and will contribute this year. He may take over the punting duties abandoned by punter Will Hagerup, who has put himself firmly in Brady’s doghouse. Possibly the best punter in the Big Ten, Hagerup will miss several games this fall as punishment. Wile can kick off, punt, and hit field goals.
Coach Hoke emphasized looking for “consistency every day”. Hoke wants a power running attack, with a feature back getting 25 carries, another getting 7 to 10, and DRob getting 10 to 15. He mentioned that Denard’s leadership is growing, and mentioned Kevin Koger’s leadership ability, on field and off. RB positions are still up for grabs. Twenty days from the opener, he wouldn’t talk Notre Dame, wants to stay focused on tasks. Said Troy Woolfolk is progressing well, and defense was improving but not up to standard yet.
Mentioned Jordan Kovacs as lining guys up, attacking to the football and is in the right position. Mentioned Tom Gordon, K. Demens, JB Fitzgerald, as well as Kovacs. Also mentioned John McGolgan at FB. And Nathan Brink who is a RS sophomore who is bulking up into DT material, and appears to be on the brink of some success as he was mentioned. He is 6’5” and 263 pounds so he needs to keep growing.
Coach Hoke says he now has a better understanding of necessary teaching and where we stand. He emphasized there are no excuses at Michigan and it is his job to put them in position to win, and “we can do power running game”.
It remains interesting in that no back has yet been able to claim the featured back position. There are upperclassmen choices like Michaels Shaw and Cox, sophomores Stephen Hopkins and Fitzgerald Toussaint, and newcomers Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes.
According to Coach Fred Jackson, Rawls and Hayes are on a par with the veterans. While it is well known that Coach Jackson seldom down plays the talent of his backs publically, it is significant when youngsters are considered on a par with the RBs listed above. They may have the talent, understanding, and the work ethic to carve out a niche as freshman. Rawls especially seems to garner attention.
I interviewed Rawls and he is a well-spoken kid who grew up a Michigan fan in Flint. Says he loves the competition. He indicated that intensity of play was the biggest change from high school. His roommate is FB John McGolgan, and Thomas appreciates John’s toughness and hard hat football attitude. As well he might, running behind John. He has been academically successful in Economics and sees a good professional future.
Also interviewed Michael Shaw, who appears bigger and shared some stories regarding Coach Jackson, and says he is competing hard for playing time.
DT Will Heininger is now 100%, he says. Chris Bryant, freshman OL, says that he is still a few pounds overweight, but getting closer to 330.
I spent some time with OL Coach Darrell Funk, who says this is often the case with freshmen as they don’t know the requirements but change their bodies over their redshirt year, and says that he likes all five freshmen OL line recruits. He said that the new blocking schemes have some similarity to old schemes for some plays. He is very happy with Mark Hugye who can play multiple positions. That is great for a coach, but can”water a kid down”. There are exceptions and Mark is doing a good job. Depth is a concern.
From what I have observed I believe the Wolverines are on track to a successful season, more so than in recent seasons.
But they need eight or nine wins for that to happen and they need to knock off one or both of MSU and OSU, and need to not have losses attributed to the futility of their own mistakes. Big plays, turnovers, poor special teams must be avoided. They have to cure this kind of ineptness.
It’s a big order on all fronts, but especially on defense. I remember Greg Mattison from his last stint here and he is no miracle worker. He is just a very, very solid football coach. A preseason myth has risen around him that will perhaps be hard to live up to. Recall the early Barwis myth and how that translated to wins?
Expect things to go wrong in a new system sometimes, but also expect a coach like Mattison to fix faults timely. Also, a few Charles Woodsons wouldn’t hurt, but I believe he will get the most possible millage out of his current players. They have a mutual respect. Reports are that Will Campbell will contribute along that defensive line this year. Maybe Mike Martin can shake things up a little.
I also expect special teams Coach Dan Ferringo to get control of the special teams. I have been most impressed with his sincerity and desire to see special teams succeed.
As it always has been, there is no Santa Claus in big time college football, and the Wolverines will have to earn their own success. It seems they are off to a good start.