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Thursday, April 9, 2009
Checking in with ... Michigan's Tate Forcier

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

He could still be in high school and has yet to take a snap in a college game. So why is Tate Forcier such a popular man this spring at Michigan? Because he plays the most important position on the field for a program trying to expunge a historically bad season and move forward behind second-year coach Rich Rodriguez. Perhaps most importantly, Forcier appears to fit the spread offense, something that couldn't be said for Michigan's quarterbacks last fall.

The true freshman from San Diego, who enrolled at Michigan in January, is taking the majority of snaps this spring after Nick Sheridan broke his leg and Steven Threet transferred. Forcier is considered the frontrunner for the top job, at least until classmate Denard Robinson arrives this summer.

As his spring education winds down -- Michigan's spring session wraps up Saturday -- the 6-foot-1, 187-pound Forcier took some time to discuss his progress and the outlook for the season.

You're almost done with spring ball. Has it flown by?

Tate Forcier: I've had a lot of fun. Just picking up the offense and getting in more of a rhythm with the plays and everything, it makes it fun when you start to understand what you're doing. That's kind of the stage I'm at right now.

Do you have any idea what you'd be doing right now if you were still in high school?

TF: I'd probably be sitting on my butt. I'm happy I'm here. I'd actually recommend it to kids who graduate early. You'd be surprised how much these 15 practices help you. Just how far coach [Rod] Smith has brought me along, it's unreal. I learned more from him in this period of time than I've learned my whole life. So it's an advantage and I'm happy I'm here.

What was the hardest thing to pick up? Was it the differences between this spread offense and the one you ran in high school? Was it the speed or the number of plays?

TF: Really, it was more understanding why they're calling this specific play at this specific time. A spread is a spread, no matter how you run it. I ran the same type of spread in high school, so there's no difference between it, except it's a little more complicated, obviously, because there's signals and everything, rather than just getting a play from a coach. It's more understanding why they're calling that specific play. But speed wise, I heard it was such a different speed, but I'm still playing at the same speed. It's not like my game's slowing down. You get used to it. You're going against kids that are just as good as you. The way I looked at it, I stepped my game up.

In terms of the pace of the install, was it faster than what you thought? Did you expect them to throw a lot at you?

TF: They throw a lot early in the week, and that first practice of the week, you're so lost out there, you don't know what you're doing. And then you'll go back and watch film, and then that next practice, you had that week and you understand it more. And then when you have practice that Saturday, you understand exactly the full play, the progressions and everything. They help you build on it so you understand it more. Coach Smith and coach Rodriguez, they've done a great job at bringing me along. They're not making me do too much. They're just trying to get me to understand the playbook and the plays and everything. Right now, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the playbook.

How has practice changed for you since Nick [Sheridan] got hurt? Is it just more work with the first team? Are they asking more of you?

TF: I'm still being myself. I'm not going to change. With Nick getting hurt here, it's just the amount of reps. I'm taking more reps, and it's building up my arm strength a lot because you throw so much, you've got to get used to it. Nick being out, he's doing everything he can to help me and bring me along as fast as he can. He's almost another coach to me, and I've got to give a lot of credit to him.

Do you feel like you're competing?

TF: It's weird. When we're on the field, it's like we're competing against each other, but when we're off the field, we're great friends. We hang out all the time, we go eat together. That's what coach Rodriguez wants. He wants competition on the field, but when you're off the field, you're buddies. He's doing a great job emphasizing that with the whole team. That's how me and Nick are.

Coach Smith mentioned to me that you guys are kind of starting over at this position. That may scare a lot of the fans. What would you say to people who are worried that it's going to be a repeat of '08 at that position?

TF: I don't think it's going to be a repeat. I think our team is starting to understand it more. Before, it was like they were thrown into the fire. They didn't really know what they were doing. They were just kind of out there running plays. Now, they're understanding it more. And with the [quarterback] position, I think what he meant by that is I'm new. I'm new to this program and new to this playbook. It is a new start, a brand-new start for me. They're doing a great job at bringing me along as fast as they can. I feel like I'm doing really well so far. There's always more you can do and more you can learn, but so far practices have been going really well.

It seems like you've impressed people with the way you can make plays with your feet and improvise. Do you consider that one of your strengths? And is that going to be important this year, that you can do things a little bit outside of the strict playbook?

TF: That's what coach Rodriguez wants. When the play's not there or the play breaks down or you get a blitz that's unblocked, he wants you to be able to break out of the pocket and make a play. I've been doing that quite a bit in practice lately, but our line's doing a great job. They're doing a lot better understanding it and understanding the spread and the blocking techniques to it. I've been doing that here and there at practice. I've been doing that my whole life. So it's different how I can make plays when nothing's there. Coach Rodriguez likes me for that. I think it's why he recruited me. I'm just going to play my game and step up my game and make new moves, pretty much do new things every week so a team can never prepare for me.

I know Pat White wasn't the biggest quarterback; you're not the biggest quarterback, either. As far as the physical development, do you have goals for where you want that to go in the offseason?

TF: I'm trying to gain some weight. My speed's fine. I'm not 40 speed, I'm more game speed. When I'm in the game, I'm a lot faster than I am when I run the 40. But just the weight, I'm trying to put on 10-15 pounds, and I want to get up to the 200 mark. I was actually up to 190 and I got sick. I had the flu, and I lost like 10 pounds, which kinda sucked. It's like everything you worked for, and all of a sudden it all goes down the drain. But I'm coming back and just trying to get up to 200 poun
ds. I feel like that'd be a comfortable weight with me, and I could maintain my speed. And then as far as goals, I want this team to go as far as I know we can go. Just being around the team so far and seeing how well we work together, how much of a rhythm our team gets in when we actually get going, I feel like we're going to do some big things next year.

Do you know Denard at all? Do you expect anything to change when he enters the mix? You sound like a confident guy, and from talking to Denard a few weeks ago, so does he.

TF: Honestly, I've never talked to him before. I talked to [2010 Michigan commit] Devin Gardner. He's actually coming up to our game this week. I've talked to Devin plenty of times, but I've never talked to [Robinson]. I'm excited to meet him. I've seen a little bit [of tape] on him, and I know he's pretty good. I feel like competing against him is only going to make me better. Really when he comes here, it's just more competition.

Do you think you have an advantage having been there this spring?

TF: Oh, yeah. It's because I'm here. As much as coach Smith can talk to him over the phone and go over things with him, it's so much different than actually being here and getting into a rhythm with all the guys, how these guys run their routes and the timing of everything. It's just so much different. That's with all the guys that are here early, understanding everything. Vince Smith, the running back, Brandin Hawthorne, all the guys that came in early are going to have that advantage. The mentality of the guys and how fast they are, just everything, you have to understand that.

You committed to play for coach Rodriguez and you knew what he was about beforehand. How is he different now? Is he more demanding? Any different than what you expected?

TF: [Laughs.] Well, there's the recruiting part of it, and then when you actually get here, it's a little different. But coach Rodriguez is a great guy. He means well. I can tell what he's doing. I can throw a touchdown and I'll still get screamed at, but it's expected. I expect for him to scream at me. I think what they're trying to do is yell at me as much as possible and see how I handle it. And I feel like I'm handling it real well. He's a coach on the field, but off the field he wants that family feeling for everybody. And he does a great job with that.

Being on campus, a lot of people knew about you coming in, and this position is always under the spotlight, especially this year at Michigan. How has it been for you so far? Do you have to wear a disguise yet?

TF: It's pretty crazy. Some people in class, walking to class, they'll say, 'Hey, you're Tate Forcier.' [Forcier replies] 'Yeah, what's up, man?' But it's cool. You've got to love it because the fans make the game. They make all the excitement. You've got to respect everybody, just like they respect you.

Is it pretty overwhelming for you?

TF: It is. It's fun. But you don't want to let it get to your head. You still want to be yourself and just stay humble. That's what I'm trying to do.

What are you expectations for the spring game on Saturday?

TF: I think our spring game will go real well. Our team seems real pumped up for it. I know there's going to be a lot of fans there. It's going to be fun. It's definitely going to be different for me. But I'm just going to do what I can do and go out there and compete.