Big Ten: Michigan practice 090823
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Here's the second half of my interview with Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez.
You've said you've learned from last season. Has it changed the way you coach at all?
Rich Rodriguez: Well, I learned what I had. I also learned that at every program in America, the formula for success is the same. It's recruiting the right people, it's developing the right way. Whether you're Michigan or West Virginia, it doesn't change. Get the right guys and coach 'em up and have them do all the right things on and off the field. In that sense, I don't think I learned that here. I expected that to be the case here and we found out it is. You don't just show up at Michigan and it's ready-made to win.
You've talked about that before. Does it take time to settle in that, 'Hey, it's not just automatic here. Winning doesn't just happen?'
RR: We did talk about not having a sense of entitlement, a feeling of entitlement. Just because you're at a great place like Michigan doesn't entitle you to anything. You've got to earn it and deserve it. Everybody wants to know when we're going to win more. I've said this a hundred times: When we deserve to win more. You're going to have to earn it. That was a lesson learned.
Have you laid out specific expectations for the guys this fall?
RR: We talk about goals. We have certain team goals every year, and we talk about them, about our rivalry games, winning Big Ten championships. Those are tangible goals, and then we talk about other goals within the team. More than anything, we've talked about the team becoming closer and understanding our great tradition here, the expectations of how we're supposed to work and act. We've really tried to stress the fact, and it's probably easier to do now that everybody's gotten humbled, that we're all part of something bigger than ourselves. It's OK to have individual goals, but they can't ever supersede the team goals. It's harder to do that nowadays than ever before because they're coming out with these so-called high recruiting rankings and people think they're heading straight for the NFL as soon as they get here. That ain't the case. They've got to work and the one thing I'm proud of our kids, they're working. They worked last year, and I don't know if they could work harder, but they worked harder this year. That will keep going.
Do you look at this as a two-year plan, a three-year plan, to get things where you want?
RR: I don't know if you can ever do that because sometimes you go in a situation and you can get it going and cranked up right away if it's all ready-made for you. Maybe the perception of Michigan is, 'Oh, it's ready-made.' That's not always going to be the case. We had some things to work on and some things to fix. And that's what we're doing, we're fixing them. I don't know if it's going to be fixed to the level that everybody wants right away, but it'll be fixed eventually. We're confident in that, and we've made those steps. Hopefully, we'll see it during the season. I expect us to be better this year. I expect us to be better than [this year] next year and I expect us to be better than that the year after. All the indications I have in the program are going that way.
Did you expect it to be more ready-made here?
RR: I didn't look at the depth chart. I didn't see that there were eight or nine starters leaving on offense and the recruits, what was coming in, what was committed or what was on defense. Or looked at game film to see what the struggles were in the games that they won. I saw the [Capital One Bowl] where they played great against Florida, but the Appalachian State game, the Oregon game, I didn't see those games. It didn't really matter. I figured, 'Once we get there, we'll figure out what we have and go from there.' Were there more issues than I thought? Sure. But I think every new coach coming in would tell you the same thing, at any program.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Rich Rodriguez needs to get Michigan moving in the right direction after arguably the worst season in team history. So it's fitting that most of this interview with the second-year Wolverines head coach took place on the move.
It started on the field at Michigan Stadium, where the suites and club seats are taking shape to create what should be a more exciting and intimidating game-day atmosphere. It continued in the Wolverines' locker room, past signs that read "Go Blue. Hold the Rope" and "Finish. Show No Mercy." We then chatted on board one of the campus buses the Michigan team takes to home games. Things wrapped up inside one of the offices at Schembechler Hall.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Rich Rodriguez is looking to take a step forward in his second season at Michigan.
Rodriguez shared his thoughts about the team's youth, the struggles last fall and his hopes for 2009.
You've still got a young team this fall. Do you have to remember that when you're setting the expectations, at least publicly?
Rich Rodriguez: We don't talk about youth much. The coaches don't and the players don't. They're just guys. Whether you're a freshman or a senior, we're going to put you out there, and you're supposed to perform. That being said, as coaches, we've got to realize these are 18-year-old kids who have never been out there before and be a little bit more patient as far as when they make a mistake or something like that.
But you don't feel like you're in the same place you were last year, even though there were a lot of young guys then as well.
RR: No, because the only guys that are new to the system and the way of doing things are the 25 freshmen. The other 100 guys have been here. They know how we run practices, the system, the offseason program, all that. It's night and day, in that regard. The strength and the conditioning gains that our kids have made in a year has been amazing.
There was obviously a lot made of guys leaving the program, but do you feel you have the group you want here, the guys who really want to be here?
RR: There's always going to be some attrition when there's transition, but there's 120-something guys on the team and we've got a lot of guys that hung through there and wanted to be here. So to make a big deal out of a handful of guys that left, and some of them, frankly, weren't up on the depth chart and weren't doing real well academically as they needed to. More has been made of it than there needs to be.
Your teams have historically made a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Is it going to be different here because there are so many young guys, or are your expectations, 'Hey, I've done this before, and we can do it here?'
RR: I don't like to compare too much because every situation's different. It's like every season is different. Whether you had a good year before or a bad year, you have to restart all over again. Because we have done it before, there is some confidence that, 'Hey, we've been there, done that.' But I think that's natural. If you look at most coaches in their second years, you probably see some progress or improvement simply because of their familiarity with everything that's going on.
As far as the quarterbacks, it sounds like you're pretty comfortable letting it go for a while without naming a guy?
RR: I don't have a choice. It's just the way it's playing out. I'm not really worried about it, as long as they all make progress. Now if all three of the quarterbacks weren't taking steps [I'd be worried]. I hope at the end of the next two weeks I have that confidence in all three of them at some point, maybe not with the whole offense, but having a guy I can go to. Then we'll be OK.
When we talked last fall, it sounded like the biggest thing was the competition and depth here wasn't where it needed to be when you arrived. Is that getting closer to where you need it?
RR: Yeah, but it's not getting closer with experience. It might be a redshirt freshman [backing up] a senior or junior. It needs to be more seniors and juniors and then a handful of young guys. This year, last year, next year, it's going to be a lot of young guys competing. But if we're doing a good job of recruiting, it won't be like that for long.
Was that the biggest thing from last year, a big drop off from the first to second string?
RR: What happened offensively, it wasn't just guys playing for the first time. Those guys that left were multiyear starters. Jake Long and Mike Hart and Chad Henne and [Mario] Manningham and [Adrian] Arrington, those guys had been starting for three or four years. So those guys behind them, they stepped into a different role, and I don't want to say they weren't ready for it, but it's a big leap.
There's a lot of attention on your two freshmen quarterbacks [Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson]. Tate mentioned how quickly [Denard] has caught up this month.
RR: He's getting some things. He and Tate both, there are moments where they get you really excited because you know what they're get to at the end. And there are other moments where you're like, 'OK, that's a freshman.' You've got to be patient with them. Any time you get into assumptions, 'This guy will be alright, that guy will be alright,' then you're in trouble. We've just got to coach 'em up.
Last summer was such a whirlwind for you personally, especially after all the West Virginia stuff. Do you feel things have settled down?
RR: When all that stuff was going on, I never let it one time affect my day-to-day job. The same hours working, the same stuff. The only thing was it made the little free time you have, it wasn't enjoyable. It wasn't enjoyable for the family, it wasn't enjoyable for me. All that stuff is in the past. Everybody's moving forward, whether it was from the West Virginia thing or last season, it's time to move on. It's a new year, new season.
Do you sense that Michigan fans and people around the program have a better idea of what you're about now?
RR: I hope they get to. Over the years, they'll get to me more and more. And it's not me but the staff. That's the one thing when you talk about being comfortable. I think I've been comfortable [at Michigan] since Day 1, but I'm more knowledgeable about what's in the program, what our issues are, what fits. We've got a bunch of pretty good guys. Whatever's been said or written, if you come around Schembechler Hall, you go around our players, you see a lot of guys with smiles on their faces, you see a lot of guys having fun. And I don't know if that's out there, and that's unfortunate.
Are you seeing more guys having fun now?
RR: I saw a lot of that last year, as much as you could
have with a bad season. But even in the offseason, I saw that. I see it more now because guys know what's expected in the program. They worked hard last year and they're working hard this year. I think the outside people that see our guys for the first time in practice say, 'Geez, it looks like they're having fun.' Hey, that hasn't changed. It's always been that way.
hatever's been said or written, if you come around Schembechler Hall, you go around our players, you see a lot of guys with smiles on their faces, you see a lot of guys having fun. And I don't know if that's out there, and that's unfortunate. Are you seeing more guys having fun now? RR: I saw a lot of that last year, as much as you could have with a bad season. But even in the offseason, I saw that. I see it more now because guys know what's expected in the program. They worked hard last year and they're working hard this year. I think the outside people that see our guys for the first time in practice say, 'Geez, it looks like they're having fun.' Hey, that hasn't changed. It's always been that way.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith went down to Florida and asked to speak with Denard Robinson, he quickly learned that his recruiting target went by a different name.
"His coach goes, 'Hey, Shoelace!'" Smith said.
The story goes that Robinson hasn't tied his shoelaces since elementary school. Not for football games. Not for track competitions. Not for anything.
The odd practice seemingly would hinder an athlete's ability to stay on his feet. For Robinson, it's just the opposite.
Robinson's speed has become one of the top storylines during Michigan's preseason camp. After gaining attention in March for running a 10.44 in the 100-meter dash at a meet in Florida, the true freshman has amazed his Michigan teammates and coaches with his warp-speed, unlaced feet this month.
"Damndest thing I've ever seen," Smith said.
True to form, Robinson showed up Sunday at football media day with his shoes untied. When Michigan opens the season, Robinson will go sans tied laces.
That is, unless the coaches make him lace up.
"I really don't know [if they will]," he said. "I don't think so."
Not if he continues to dazzle in camp.
He had a 58-yard touchdown run in Friday's practice and tossed a short touchdown pass to Je'Ron Stokes in Saturday's scrimmage. Robinson accounted for two plays of longer than 40 yards on Wednesday, including a 40-yard scoring strike to Greg Mathews.
Smith was asked Sunday if Robinson reminded him of a young Pat White, who thrived in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense at West Virginia.
"I don't want to blow [Robinson] up, but he's fast," Smith said. "It's fun to watch, and if he breaks through, I love Pat to death, but I'm not too sure this kid is faster. They're close."
Robinson's speed has helped him offset the natural struggles that come with learning a new offense as a freshman.
"I get away with a lot," he said. "I'll probably make a mistake and get back on it with my speed."
Robinson didn't really have an explanation for his shoelace habit. Despite the risk of tripping or having a teammate step on his laces, he'll plan to continue the practice.
Though he's making it easier on opposing defenders to make shoe-string tackles, they might not even get a chance.
"I just enjoy running," Robinson said. "When I get the ball, I think about not getting caught. If I'm in front of everybody, I feel I shouldn't be caught. Nobody's caught me from behind [in practice]."
Robinson's speed might be too valuable to keep off the field, even if he's not the starter at quarterback. There are lingering questions about his arm and accuracy, but offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said the freshman can "throw the heck out of the ball."
So he's not totally anti-laces.
"Everybody says I can't throw," he said, "but I'll show you different when you see me start and see us play."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Kelvin Grady's new Michigan teammates often chide him about having a smile tattooed on his face.
One possible explanation is that Grady, who joined Michigan's football team this summer after playing two seasons for the Wolverines basketball team, has yet to get his bell rung in a Big Ten game.
But that's not it. His smile comes from a healthy dose of perspective.
After Grady quit the Wolverines hoops team after the 2008-09 season, his future in both sports and school seemed uncertain.
"It crossed my mind that I wouldn't have anything," said Grady, who started 25 basketball games as a freshman before seeing his time reduced last year. "I'd be out. I'd be just like the rest of the guys back home who dropped out of college and didn't have anywhere else to go. But I'm too strong. I've got too much will. I've got a family that supports me. I've got a brother [Kevin, a senior running back for Michigan] that's working hard.
"There were too many things going to the point where I could drop my head and say, 'Nah, it's over.' I knew I was going to fight."
Grady has fought his way into the rotation at slot receiver despite not playing football since high school, when he was an all-state running back for East Grand Rapids High. He rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior, and originally intended to play both football and basketball at Michigan before going the hoops route.
The 5-foot-9, 168-pound sophomore is pushing projected starter Martavious Odoms and others for reps at the slot, which typically is the most productive receiver spot in head coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Grady is currently classified as a walk-on, but Rodriguez expects to award several scholarships at the end of preseason camp, so Grady's chances of earning one look good.
"He's learned the system," Rodriguez said. "We've been, I don't want to say surprised, but really pleased with how quickly he's picked it up. He, in a sense, is a true freshman. ... It's a natural for him. It's been a good move."
Rodriguez spent a year and a half teasing Grady about playing football. The coach attended Michigan basketball games, noticed Grady's obvious athleticism and thought he'd be a good fit at slot receiver.
But only after Grady left the basketball team and contemplated leaving Michigan did the talks with Rodriguez get more serious.
"It was just one of those things, jokingly [where Rodriguez said], 'We gonna get you, we gonna get you on the field,'" Grady recalled. "And I would always look at this and be like, 'Nah, you're not going to get me. There's no way I'm getting on that football field.' But then the opportunity came and I really thought about it and put things in perspective. It's definitely something I wanted to do."
Rodriguez didn't make Grady any promises about playing time and told him he'd need to prove himself, first in Michigan's taxing strength program and then on the field at camp.
"If you're going to come over and try football, you better have a passion for it and you better love it,'" Rodriguez told Grady.
So far, it hasn't been a problem.
"Sometimes, I have to pinch myself because I'm here," he said. "At one point, my back was against the wall, didn't know where I was going to go. It's a blessing, man. It motivates me, it keeps me up, it keeps my smiling, it keeps things in perspective."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Whenever William Campbell's name gets brought up, so does the word expectations.
It's not a term usually attached to a true freshman defensive tackle. Then again, Campbell looks nothing like a typical freshman and Michigan needs capable interior linemen after losing Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson.
Campbell, one of Michigan's top recruits in the 2009 class, enrolled in January and should be part of the rotation at tackle this fall. Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez said Sunday that Campbell is getting work as a nose tackle and at the 3-technique.
"There's been steady growth with him," defensive line coach Bruce Tall said. "As far as the young guys, everybody has such high expectations and tries to push the envelope faster than sometimes maybe it needs to be. You've got to teach before you can demand, and he's still in the teaching phase."
At least Campbell can spend camp learning his responsibilities, rather than worrying about his weight. He came to Michigan at 355 pounds but has since trimmed 37 pounds off of his 6-foot-5 frame.
"Right now, I'm in the best shape of my life," Campbell said. "After one play, I'm not tired at all anymore, and it just goes on. I'm moving faster."
Campbell knew he'd have to lose weight to keep pace in the Wolverines' defense. He worked closely with strength and conditioning director Mike Barwis, whose summer workouts were grueling but necessary.
"If you hate it, you won't get through it," Campbell said. "So you've got to get used to it."
Added Barwis: "He's worked really hard. He's got a great attitude. He changed his body pretty effectively, but he's still got a ways to go."
Now able to concentrate on the game, Campbell has been mentored by senior defensive end Brandon Graham, who serves as his big brother on the team. Michigan pairs upperclassmen with freshmen in position groups to help the newcomers learn the ropes.
The two regularly watch film of their upcoming opponents, and Graham tells Campbell how to spot clues from offensive linemen on what play might be coming.
"All he wants to do is learn," Graham said. "That's what we've been doing."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If there was any doubt about Michigan's primary concern entering the 2009 season, it got put to rest at the start of head coach Rich Rodriguez's media day news conference.
Nearly 12 minutes passed before Rodriguez received a question that didn't have to do with his signal-callers. When a reporter finally asked how Michigan's talented group of running backs will assist the quarterback this fall, Rodriguez pumped his fists.
"Good," he said, smiling. "Eleven guys."
|AP Photo/Tony Ding|
|Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez knows a lot of attention will be paid to his quarterbacks this season.|
Whether Rodriguez likes it or not, the spotlight will remain on only one guy -- actually three candidates for one job -- who will have the biggest impact on bringing Michigan back from a 3-9 season in 2008. Freshmen Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are competing with junior Nick Sheridan for the position, and no decision on a starter is imminent.
Here's a summary of what Rodriguez said about his quarterback situation:
- All three players are expected to appear in the season opener Sept. 5 against Western Michigan. All three have practiced and scrimmaged with the first-team offense, and all three have made explosive plays. "I don't want to say it's fun," Rodriguez said, "but most people say, 'Geez, they don't have a starter.' Maybe we'll have three starting quarterbacks. That would be neat."
- Sheridan isn't out of the running. Not even close. When Michigan scrimmaged Saturday, he took the first reps with the starting offense, followed by Forcier and Robinson, who made several big plays. Though many continue to link Sheridan with the problems of 2008, his familiarity with the system continues to help his cause. "Right now, mentally, I think Nick's ahead of me," Forcier said.
- More on this later in the blog, but Robinson has really turned heads so far this preseason, mostly because of his track-star speed. Forcier has been surprised at how quickly Robinson is progressing, which intensifies the competition. "He's making me play a lot better, because I see the competition," Forcier said. "During the spring, when Nick got hurt, I caught myself kind of just walking through it. Now that the competition's here, there's no more taking the easy way. You've got to work."
- Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith is purposely having all three quarterbacks work with the first-, second- and third-string units in practice. "I want to see who's going to have some leadership ability, who has the ability to make plays," Smith said. "I have them go with the [third string] because those guys aren't playing as [much] as the other guys, but I want to see them be able to take something on their shoulders and do it themselves."
- None of the three quarterbacks are physically imposing, which doesn't mean much in Rodriguez's system. But all three seem to welcome the spotlight and the pressure that will be placed on them all season. They might be short on experience, but not on swagger. "I enjoy the suspense," Robinson said. "Just waiting to see who's going to start. ... I don't feel pressure at all, not at all."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As an inside linebacker, Michigan's Obi Ezeh not only wants to know his own duties on a given play, but the responsibilities of the 10 men around him.
New Wolverines defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is making that possible. Rather than having each position group meet separately, Robinson and his staff do much of their teaching with the entire unit present.
"We're all on the same page," Ezeh said. "You hear the coach teaching the secondary what they're supposed to be doing, and if you figure out the whole scheme of the defense, it's easier for you to figure out what you're supposed to be doing because you know where everybody else is supposed to fit."
Asked if the defense held all-hands meetings last season, Ezeh replied, "No, not too much."
While Michigan's offensive struggles drew most of the attention last year, the Wolverines defense had its own issues. The unit set a team record for average points allowed (28.9) and finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in total defense (366.9 ypg) and takeaways (20).
The Wolverines get a lot younger up front and in the secondary this fall, but they expect better results with improved communication all around. Ezeh said communication wasn't a major problem on defense last season, but it "wasn't stressed as much as it is now," which helps players grasp what he describes a more intricate scheme.
"Coach Robinson's all about playing to your help and not just playing the game alone," cornerback Donovan Warren said. "It's using your leverage and knowing where the other guys are, and knowing what [opponents] can do to you in certain situations."
Warren expects to play more man-to-man coverage under Robinson, but with each man fully aware of his surroundings, he's less likely to get burned.
"It really boils down to having a good relationship with your teammates," safety Troy Woolfolk said. "Me and Donovan, we both came in here together and we just have that special bond. It's the same thing with the other safety, Mike Williams. And we've taken Boubacar Cissoko under our wing, so we have a nice core foundation that makes the defense communicate better on the field."