Offense finds comfort zone
Denard & Co. say they know where to be, what to do in Hoke's second year
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In a sport in which you hit and tackle, and at a school where you're taught that at any point in time you could lose your position on the depth chart, an interesting word is popping up among players and coaches: comfort.
With a year under their belts in Michigan coach Brady Hoke's offensive scheme, the Wolverines are finding themselves more and more comfortable running what has become their identity offensively, after going through a few too many schemes over the past few seasons.
"You can see that we're not thinking as much as we used to," senior quarterback Denard Robinson said. "It's coming naturally to the receivers, it's coming naturally to the quarterbacks, it's coming naturally to the running backs and the linemen -- they all look comfortable."
That comfort would be expected to come with time: the more the Wolverines played for Hoke, the more comfortable they would be in his offense. But Robinson said the players also took it upon themselves to really dive into their playbooks so they could learn the nuances that would make this offense really volatile.
Wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said he has noticed the difference between this season's fall camp and last season's, just within certain drills and being able to go more in depth with the players who have been around for the past year.
"We're able to work on a lot more detail rather than just, 'On this play you run this route,' " Hecklinski said. "Now we're able to get into a lot more details, working on a lot more technique. There's obviously a better comfort level."
And that comfort level for the offense is popping up at the right time as it faces down its first opponent of 2012: Alabama. The Crimson Tide defense gave up just eight points a game last year, making it statistically the best defense in the country.
So Robinson knows that against Alabama, and through most of the season, much of the offense's success will fall on his shoulders. But even with that kind of season opener looming, he still feels as though he's more prepared for Alabama than he was last season, when the Wolverines kicked off against Western Michigan.
"I'm way more comfortable now," Robinson said. "It's like day and night. I feel like I'm just going out there and having fun with the team. It's like I'm playing street football -- I'm that relaxed in there."
This relaxed, comfortable feeling is allowing the upperclassmen to mentor the younger players and help them out with calls and schemes.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon said that last season it was as if everyone was a freshman, relearning how to play within a new offense. But this year, there is a solid group of players who can lead by example just because they are so comfortable in the offense.
"Last year if a freshman asked me a question about what to do I would've been like, 'Go to the coaches about it because I don't know what to tell you,' " Gallon said. "But now, it's just if they need my help, I got it. If they need help from [Roy Roundtree] or Denard or Devin [Gardner], they got it. There's no looking back or guessing, because we do know."
A year ago, there was guessing, assuming and a bit of uncomfortable play from time to time. The Wolverines hope that this year there will be less of that. But this year, there will also be Alabama waiting to pounce on Robinson and his teammates, doing its best to make the Wolverines anything but comfortable.