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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Braden’

The Michigan Medley breaks silence on the Brady Hoke/Shane Morris situation

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Hoke

I have refrained from posting or commenting about the fallout from the Minnesota game, both on this site and on Twitter to this point. It’s not because I didn’t want to or had nothing to say. As happens every now and then the real world stole my time, and since this is such a hot-button topic, I felt I would be doing it a disservice by commenting on it if I couldn’t commit my full attention to it. What a week for that to happen, huh?

Unlike the chorus of sudden Twitter doctors I wasn’t going to rush to conclusions and shout accusations without facts. And unlike other sites I wasn’t going to post controversial snippets and rumors just for clicks. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions and challenging those in the know for answers, but I believe in doing due diligence before speaking, especially on a subject such as this.

That said, here’s my stance on everything that has transpired over the last few days.

On Brady Hoke and the Shane Morris injury

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Hoke’s results on the field, but the criticisms about his character are flat out wrong. We have seen some of his former players come out publicly in support of Hoke and to defend his character and love for his players:


Other former players I’ve talked to since Saturday have backed that up as well. One didn’t agree with the way Hoke prepared him for the next level, but stood up for Hoke’s character, describing Hoke and his staff as “some of the most kind-hearted people you can meet…loving and very welcoming.” I have yet to find a former player who didn’t share that sentiment.

It’s easy from a fan’s point of view to watch what transpired on TV on Saturday and claim that Hoke knew Morris was concussed and put him back in. We had the benefit of instant replay and commentators stating their disgust for the handling of the situation. I was listening to the radio broadcast in the car at the time and had no idea there was even the possibility of a concussion until I got home and looked on Twitter. Jim Brandstatter and Dan Dierdorf said nothing about a head injury or a hit to the head and kept talking about him limping because of his ankle.

Shane Morris

Morris is held up by Ben Braden after getting hit (Getty Images)

On the field, Hoke and the rest of the staff didn’t see the close-ups and replays that were shown on TV. So when Hoke says he was following the pass down the field and didn’t see the hit, that makes complete sense. And in the aftermath of the play, going from would-be fourth down to now first down because of a roughing the passer penalty, the likeliness of Hoke not knowing about the head injury, or seeing Morris stumble into Ben Braden, is very, very probable. Like he said in his Monday press conference, it’s his job to coach, and regardless of whether or not anyone feels he’s doing a good job at that, it’s the medical staff’s job to determine and evaluate injuries.

So if you take Hoke’s word that he didn’t see the hit and Morris stumble into Braden, then when Morris waved off offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, it would have been assumed that he felt he could still play based on his ankle injury. They pulled him one play later and he was evaluated by the trainers on the sideline.

As The Concussion Blog points out, coaches and trainers don’t step out onto the filed to remove a player that got up and “shook it off.” Had Morris stayed down, warranting an injury time out, the trainers would have come out, evaluated him, and removed him from the field. Or if he had come out after the hit and told the trainers his head hurt, this situation could have been avoided. But he didn’t. That’s not to say this was all his fault; that’s just the mindset of a player, especially when you consider that he was the backup quarterback getting his first start of the season, fighting to win the job. In retrospect, Morris should have stayed down or taken himself out in this instance, but you can’t fault him for not doing so. I have personally suffered a concussion in a high school soccer game many years ago and stayed in and finished the game. It’s in a player’s nature to shake off an injury and try to play through it.

So if Hoke didn’t see the Morris hit or see him stumble into Braden, and Morris waved off the staff trying to get him to come out of the game, when Devin Gardner had to come out for a play because of his helmet coming off, Hoke didn’t put Morris back in for a play to hand the ball off knowing he had a concussion. So let’s put to rest the vitriol directed towards Hoke about willingly playing a concussed player. If you want to argue whether or not he’s the right coach for Michigan, fine. But stop the baseless attacks on his character.

That said, there certainly was a breakdown in communication as someone should have seen the hit and stumble and relayed that to the training staff on the field. According to the statement released by Dave Brandon (more on that below), the team neurologist didn’t see the hit, but did see Morris stumble, and “determined he needed to head down to the sideline to evaluate Shane.” The breakdown appears to have been between the neurologist who saw the symptoms (stumble) and the team physicians who evaluated Morris for his ankle injury when he was taken out of the game a play after the big hit and determined he was okay to go back in the game for one play when Gardner’s helmet came off.

Brandon has promised changes to improve that communication in the future, such as having a dedicated physician staff in the box to review each play and look for injuries, and then be in contact with the on-field training staff about them. Hoke wearing a headset or not is irrelevant in the situation that occurred last Saturday. That, like this whole situation, is blown out of proportion because of the results on the field.

The public relations aftermath

The program did itself no favors in the aftermath of the situation, allowing it to balloon into a national story instead of getting out in front of it and killing it right away. Had the program or Brandon released a statement Saturday night or Sunday morning admitting the mistakes and promising to put new processes in place to prevent it from happening again, and allowed Hoke to be forthright in the Monday press conference, the story wouldn’t have gained so much traction.

As former Michigan athletic director Don Canham used to say, and John U. Bacon pointed out on Twitter, never turn a one-day story into a two-day story. Michigan turned it into a story that is still all over the mainstream media by waiting until after midnight on Monday to release the statement. It became less about the situation that happened, and more about the final straw for those already wanting Brandon and Hoke ousted. Waiting more than two days to release the statement, and allowing Hoke to go into a press conference not answering questions about the injury and promising a statement from the medical staff, lost the public’s trust and made it look like Michigan was trying to cover it up.

By not killing the story up front, they allowed people to speculate about Brandon trying to persuade the medical staff to lie, Brandon and Hoke’s job status, secret meetings between the regents, and more. And it led to a student petition calling for Brandon’s dismissal and a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally in the Diag, which culminated outside the house of new university president Mark Schlissel. Then, of course, ESPN sent Joe Schad to campus to report throughout the day from in front of Schembechler Hall.

All of it has amounted to a major black eye for the university and the football program that could have been avoided — or at least greatly reduced — if handled properly.

The student rally

Rally at the diag(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Our own Derick Hutchinson attended the rally on Tuesday and wrote the following:

Hundreds of students milled around the diag on Tuesday evening to protest the actions of an athletic department that faces national scrutiny in the wake of Shane Morris’ handling against Minnesota. Students began the rally with chants of “Fire Brandon,” “We want Harbaugh,” and “Down with Dave.” By 6:20 there were at least 1,000 frustrated students in the small section of the Diag near the Graduate Library, some yelling and others walking around with signs.

Students rally outside president Schlissle's house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Students rally outside president Schlissel’s house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Perhaps the most noticeable fan stood in the center of the crowd with an Ohio State sweatshirt on in protest of his team’s AD, holding a standard “Fire Brandon” sign. Others brought bottles of Coke to mock the university’s ‘buy two Cokes get two tickets to Minnesota’ promotion.

Finally, the mass made its way over to the home of university president Mark S. Schlissel. Once there, the chants increased in intensity and frequency as one student took to the front steps with a megaphone. A police officer stood to the right of the steps, but the rally remained peaceful throughout as the students tried to make their points heard. At around 7:10 p.m. the students cleared out.

Though the turnout from the rally was substantial, the president’s statement that no further action will be taken has not changed. It’s strange that after doing nothing on the field started this mess, and doing nothing afterwards until 1 a.m. Tuesday made it much worse, that the president’s response to the national outrage is to do exactly nothing.

Moving forward

Michigan just released a statement outlining the new player-safety measures that will be in place beginning this Saturday at Rutgers. The new system will incorporate three measures:

1. Putting a certified athletic training professional in the press box to view the entire field and identify players that might need evaluation by a trainer on the field. This person will have access to the television video feed and direct communication with the trainers on the field.

2. Added two-way radio communication, which includes mandatory radios possessed by the individual in the press box and the trainers on the field, with hard-line phones and cell phone communication as backups.

3. Taking helmets from players determined to be unable to continue playing. The medical team will take the player’s helmet to ensure he cannot return to the game.

Those safety measures will hopefully ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again. Saturday cannot get here soon enough and hopefully the players rally together around the adversity and do the only thing that can turn down the heat: win.

Predicting Michigan: The offensive line

Monday, June 30th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-OL

Kyle-Kalis

Michigan’s offense was difficult to watch for much of the 2013 season as a normally-reliable Wolverine rushing attack imploded before vanishing from the offense by the middle of Big Ten play.

To compensate for the struggles on the ground, quarterback Devin Gardner was asked to drop back on more than half of the team’s snaps. Unfortunately for Gardner, he was almost never alone in the backfield. The middle of the offensive line was a sieve and turned the mobile quarterback into a proverbial tackling dummy.

Despite the group’s struggles, both tackles, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, further weakening the unit and raising major question marks for Brady Hoke and his new-look offensive staff.

The Starters

Perhaps the brightest spot on Michigan’s offensive line comes in the form of two talented young guards. Sophomore left guard Kyle Bosch and redshirt sophomore right guard Kyle Kalis played a major role on the line last season and hope to solidify a group that lost its two leaders during the offseason.

Kalis had a breakout 2013 season, starting eight games and lining up with  Schofield to form a right side that largely held its own during the majority of the season. The redshirt sophomore is the strongest run blocker on the team and will play a huge role in turning around the running game.

Bosch blossomed much later in the campaign than Kalis, earning his first start against Michigan State because of his teammates’ struggles during the first half of the season. With the departure of Lewan from the left side, Bosch will have to improve his run blocking game, which was his calling card during high school.

In between the two strong guards Michigan returns center Jack Miller, who struggled for much of 2013 but started four games for Al Borges. Miller earned the starting spot after a strong offseason, and will likely start Week 1 while Graham Glasgow serves a one-game suspension for an offseason offense.

Michigan needs Miller to decrease his mental errors after he snapped the ball several yards over Gardner’s head and fumbled exchanges as a sophomore. Hoke hopes that a more focused offseason under Doug Nussmeier will eliminate many of the baffling mistakes that reared their ugly heads last season.

The departure of Lewan and Schofield leaves a mammoth-sized gap on either end of the offensive line, as the two seniors started all 13 games for Hoke last season. The left tackle position, which has seen the program produce two top-12 picks in the last decade, will likely be filled by redshirt sophomore Erik Magnuson.

Magnuson stormed onto the stage as a redshirt freshman, playing in 12 games and starting seven times as a guard. The sophomore admitted that he struggled with injuries throughout 2013 before a shoulder surgery sidelined him for this year’s spring game. Despite the medical concerns, Magnuson is the top candidate to succeed Lewan on the left side, as he owns the dominant run-blocking ability to carry the rushing attack.

Ben Braden figures to earn the nod at right tackle. The redshirt sophomore is the only projected starter to not have a career start to his name, but he came out of spring practice with the job, and at 6’6″, 319-pounds, has the body for the position.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Erik Magnuson Kyle Bosch Jack Miller Kyle Kalis Ben Braden
2013 Starts 7 3 4 8 0
Career Starts 7 3 4 8 0

Veteran Depth

While Miller starts the opener, Graham Glasgow will be ready to replace him in Week 2 if he either wins the job in fall camp or Miller struggles. Glasgow is the only returning lineman that started every game last season and did well at center. But his natural position is guard, so Hoke and Nussmeier will be able to evaluate the Week 1 performance and either insert Glasgow into any of the three interior positions or hold onto him as a quality if-needed backup.

Nussmeier owns plenty of other options if his initial lineup falters early in the 2014 season. One of the strongest offensive line recruiting classes in recent memory brought four players to Ann Arbor last season that are ready to contribute as redshirt freshmen this fall. Former five-star Patrick Kugler is a potential breakout player to watch if Miller’s struggles continue at center and Glasgow is needed at guard. Kugler was one of the top linemen in the country to come out last season and his elite quickness equips him with the skills to start on the inside line.

Four-stars David Dawson, Logan Tuley-Tillman and Dan Samuelson also joined the rotation during the spring game and provide Nussmeier with critical depth on the line. Dawson is the mostly likely to join a regular rotation, as his pass blocking ability complements a group of linemen that were recruited to help the ground attack.

Newcomers

The only freshman that figures to play a significant role on the 2014 team is Mason Cole, who offers Nussmeier an elite pass blocker for his pro-style offense. Cole may already be the best pass protector on the team, and took first-team snaps at left tackle during the spring game. If Magnuson’s shoulder isn’t fully healed by the first game, Cole will likely get the nod at left tackle. Otherwise, he’ll be a top sub at tackle. Look for the freshman to make a splash despite the abundance of veteran options.

Check back on Wednesday and Thursday for Drew’s Big Ten offensive lineman rankings. Will any Michigan linemen make the list?

Countdown to kickoff: 71 days

Friday, June 20th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-71(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

Burning questions as Michigan football opens spring practice

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Morris-Gardner(Detroit News)

It has been just 59 days since Michigan’s season wrapped up with an underwhelming loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 2014 season seems eons away as basketball season is about to head into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. But while it may be hard to turn our attention back to football, Brady Hoke’s squad is set to return to the gridiron today to kick off spring practice.

Last season was as disappointing as any in recent memory because no one expected it to go the way it did. Most preseason expectations ranged from 9-4 to 11-2, and after the Wolverines topped Notre Dame in Under the Lights II, there was even some talk of national championship possibilities. Of course, Michigan followed up the high of that game with a thud against Akron, needing a last-second goal line stand to hold off what may have been a bigger upset than when Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines in 2007. And the season unraveled from there.

Now, needing to get the bad taste of 2013 out of its system, Michigan has a 2014 season opener to look forward to against, well, Appalachian State. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the biggest questions the Wolverines face heading into spring ball.

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How much will Gardner be able to do this spring with a new offensive system to learn? (MGoBlue.com)

How healthy is Devin Gardner?

Brady Hoke turned some heads earlier this month when he seemed to imply that the starting quarterback role was up for grabs this fall.

“I think (the starting quarterback for next season) is an unknown,” Hoke said. “We were 7-6 (last season). And we’ve got a lot of young guys (on the team). We’ve got a lot of competition.”

In a technical sense it’s true. Gardner finished the 2013 season in a walking boot and couldn’t even play in the bowl game. Until he’s fully healthy he can’t be 100 percent presumed the starter. What if the injury is even worse than thought? What if it continues to linger throughout the offseason?

But assuming Gardner is able to fully heal there’s no question he’s the starter on Aug. 30. The main question is how much will he be able to do in spring ball?

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be the third Gardner has had in his career, and although he didn’t start under Calvin McGee, it will still be the third offensive system he has had to learn. Nussmeier has done wonders for the quarterbacks he has coached during his quick rise up the ranks, from Jeff Smoker to Drew Stanton to Tom Brandstater to Jake Locker to Keith Price to A.J. McCarron.

Sophomore-to-be Shane Morris is likely to benefit the most from Nussmeier’s quarterback expertise since he has three more years to work with him, but Gardner could very well take a significant leap in 2014 given his talent and experience. In 2003, Nussmeier helped Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker set a school record 3,395 passing yards after struggling as a junior. He then helped Drew Stanton improve from 1,601 yards in his first season to 3,077 the next year. Most recently, he helped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron improve on a near flawless 2012 season.

It will be important for Gardner to participate in spring drills to continue the work that he has built upon the past four years, but most importantly to work with Nussmeier and learn his offense. Gardner can still do that if not at full speed, but it’s obviously better to learn at full speed than not.

Who will catch passes?

Jeremy Gallon graduated and took 42.6 percent of last season’s receiving yards with him. Add the production lost from fellow seniors Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, and Fitzgearld Toussaint — who finished as the team’s fourth-leading pass catcher — and Michigan has just 41.3 percent of its production returning.

Jehu Chesson is Michigan's leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

Jehu Chesson is Michigan’s leading returning true receiver with just 15 receptions (MGoBlue.com)

To make matters worse, tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in offseason workouts, and while he’s likely to return at some point during the season, he may not be 100 percent. Devin Funchess was almost certain to make the official move to the outside prior to Butt’s injury, but with no other established pass catching tight end, Michigan may not be afforded to move him permanently.

The leading returning true receiver is Jehu Chesson, who caught just 15 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. No other true wide receiver that caught a pass returns. The x-factor will be Chesson’s classmate, Amara Darboh, who was in line to start last season before a foot injury in fall camp sidelined him for the season. At 6’2″ and 212 pounds, Darboh has the size to be a formidable outside receiver, but will his foot be healthy enough to fully participate in spring ball? He impressed last spring and fall before sustaining the injury. Can he regain that form?

The unknowns are the cadre of true and redshirt freshmen that have been brought in in the past two recruiting classes. Jaron Dukes, Csont’e York, and Da’Mario Jones all redshirted in 2013 and Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways are incoming. Of the latter group, Canteen and Harris enrolled early and will have a chance to show what they can do while getting their feet wet this spring.

All five have good height but will need to add some bulk to their thin frames, Canteen (6’3″, 170) and Harris (6’4″, 180) especially. Chesson played last season at 6’3″, 196 and seemed thin at times. York was listed at 6’3″, 180 last season, while Jones was 6’2″, 192 and Dukes 6’4″, 190, but by the time the spring roster is released, they will have surely added some muscle with a full season under their belts.

There is plenty of young talent and great size to go around, but who steps up and garners that hype that Darboh did a year ago before his injury will be one of the biggest aspects to watch this spring.

How will the line shape up?

The biggest disappointment in 2013 was undoubtedly the poor performance of the offensive line. While senior left tackle Taylor Lewan earned the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight year and right tackle Michael Schofield was solid, the interior was a sieve all season. Several different combinations were used throughout the season and the coaching staff even went as far as to try odd tackle over formations to utilize Lewan’s strengths in order to hide other weaknesses, but nothing seemed to make the offense any more efficient.

With the bookends gone to graduation and a new offensive coordinator the development of the line will be interesting to watch. Much was said throughout last season about Brady Hoke’s supposed inability to develop offensive line talent, but let’s not forget that his first full class was redshirt freshmen in 2013. Most linemen, even the most highly rated ones, don’t gain starting roles on the line until two or three years into their careers at minimum.

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Graham Glasgow and Erik Magnuson struggled in 2013 but gained experience that will help them in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

Highly-ranked offensive line hauls are great, but we shouldn’t have begun to sniff the payoffs until this upcoming season at the earliest. In a normal situation without the attrition from previous classes decimating the line depth, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, and Ben Braden would have simply played reserve roles in 2013, heading into the spring of their redshirt sophomore season looking to work their way into the starting lineup. Instead, Kalis and Magnuson, along with true freshman Kyle Bosch, were forced into action before they were clearly ready and it showed. While that hurt the offense in 2013 it should pay dividends in 2014 as they can build upon the experience they gained.

One thing that is for certain is that, aside from injuries, everybody will get a chance to compete throughout spring practice for a major role this fall. Magnuson and Chris Bryant — both of whom started games last season — will be held out due to injury, but aside from that, who emerges as the starters is anyone’s guess.

Hoke hinted that they would start the spring with Logan Tuley-Tillman, David Dawson, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden as the starting five from left to right, and the competition would go from there.

“We’ll obviously start with a five, but all that is going to be competitive, and with a young team, to some degree, even though they played a little bit, you’ve got to have it competitive,” Hoke said.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t bring huge changes, but he will simplify the schemes the line uses in the running game. Last year, Hoke and then-offensive coordinator Al Borges tried just about everything they could think of to find something that worked. This year, Nussmeier will start with a basic inside zone and build from there. Whichever five emerge from the April 5 spring game as the starters will carry confidence and cohesiveness into fall camp.

How will the defensive coaching shakeups impact the defense?

Nussmeier replacing Borges was the only coaching staff change this offseason, but last week Hoke announced that the roles of several defensive coaches would be shaken up in an effort to create a more aggressive defense and streamline the staff. Most notably, Hoke won’t be coaching any specific position groups himself. He spent the past three seasons coaching the defensive line. Stepping back will allow him to take a larger role and perhaps devote more time to areas that may have been overlooked in the past.

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Greg Mattison switches from coaching the defensive line to linebackers this season (MGoBlue.com)

Mark Smith, who has coached the linebackers the past few seasons, will take over the defensive line, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moves to the linebackers. Mattison coached the Baltimore Ravens linebackers — and good ones like Ray Lewis — and said on National Signing Day that he has been looking for bigger linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, spent 15 of his 32 years as a defensive line coach, but hasn’t specifically coached the position since 2002 at Indiana State.

Curt Mallory will be taking on more of a specialized role with just the safeties after coaching the entire secondary the past three seasons, while Roy Manning will take over the defensive backs. Manning was hired prior to last season to coach the outside linebackers.

“Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes,” Hoke said. “Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle. When you look at Mark’s experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.”

Michigan’s defense has gone downhill in each of the three seasons under the current staff. In year one, Hoke and Mattison transformed what was a sieve under Rich Rodriguez into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense. But those numbers have fallen the past two seasons from 13th and 19th in 2012 to 41st and 66th last season. While the offense had its share of well-publicized struggles, the defense was virtually unable to stop anyone over the second half of the season.

The coaching staff shakeup sounds like a sign of desperation at first glance, a coach trying one last ditch set of moves in order to save his job. That may be partially true, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Moving Mattison to coach the middle of the defense makes a lot of sense as that’s where he coached in Baltimore and the linebackers run the defense. Hoke stepping back from coaching a position group also seems like the right move, and Smith taking over a group with which he has considerable — if not recent — experience could invigorate the line. Finally, splitting the secondary among two coaches also make sense since there are so many bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties.

In a perfect world, the moves will create excitement among the players — at the very least shake up any complacency or entitlement that may exist. Even though Nussmeier is the only new addition to the staff, the whole defense will be playing for a new position coach and thus fighting even harder to make a statement and earn playing time. Should it have gotten to that point? No. But it can only be a good thing throughout the spring.

Central Michigan postgame transcript: Brady Hoke

Saturday, August 31st, 2013


(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Opening Statement
“One thing I really want to do is thank our students and the fans, because it was really neat to see the student section and the maize and all that stuff. It just kept building, so I want to thank the students because it’s fun and they make the atmosphere fun.”

On Cam Gordon’s play…
“Cam is a guy who has matured in a lot of ways in his time at Michigan. From receiver coming in and going to safety, and the work ethic that he showed during the offseason, his leadership, and I think his motor that he plays the game with. He’s a better technician. He’s bigger, he’s stronger. That’s a credit to him and what Aaron Wellman does in the weight room. He also is an intelligent football player that can handle a lot of things and do it well.”

On Devin Gardner’s play and his ability to improvise…
“Well, you know, he’s athletic, and sometimes I’m crossing my fingers when I see him out there being athletic. But he had a couple of decisions that I think, one for sure, he should have made a better decision on, but at the same time, he’s got a lot of confidence in his abilities. And you like that. I’d rather have a quarterback that has that confidence than a guy you have to keep feeding all the time. So I thought he had a good game. I wouldn’t say elite, or excellent or anything, but I thought he had a good game.”

On the offensive balance and it’s importance…
“Well, I think to the offense itself it’s really important. When you have balance you can run the ball, and I don’t know, I think the tailback position had probably 150-160 yards, and then I think Devin had the rest of it, but it just opens up so much with the play-action game. That’s the one thing that Devin, more than a lot of quarterbacks, does such a great job with ball handling and play-action, which is a big part of our offense.”

On what you liked and didn’t like…
“There’s a lot of things probably in the negative side. Winning was good, the defense responding in a couple of sudden change situations was good. I think running the football was something that we want to do, obviously. Getting a lot of touches to a lot of different guys was a good thing. On the negative side of it, I thought we were sloppy. Some of it is body posture, demeanor, getting into the huddle, getting out of the huddle, penalties – those things drive me crazy. So that’s a negative. The other negative, I didn’t think we tackled as well. In the second quarter they had a first down running the ball, first down running the ball, first down running the ball, and some of that’s tackling, some of it’s getting off blocks and fitting the defense.”

On playing a lot of true freshman, how they responded, and which ones stood out…
“I don’t know if any of them really stood out, until you watch the film. We think, obviously it’s a talented group. At the same time, there’s discipline and things like that you need to play with, and that’s something they’ll learn. They’ll learn a lot off this game. We took 68 guys to the hotel last night and 36 of them are first or second year players. That’s a lot of babysitting, a lot of teaching going on. And yeah, it is babysitting.”

On the importance of the young guys getting experience…
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that’s important. That’s something that we are fortunate enough that the game went the way it did so we could do that.”

On how he decides when to take out the starters and put the young guys in…
“Well, that’s a really good question, because I’m always nervous, to be honest with you. Luckily, I’ve got good coaches who remind me that we’re up by 35 or whatever, and it was time maybe to play some other guys, because I’ve seen teams come back and I don’t want that to happen.”

On whether he got everything he wanted out of this game with Notre Dame coming up next week…
“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we really wanted to go out and (get a) first impression of this football team, make a really good impression. At the same time, there’s so much to teach from this film, and so many mistakes, maybe assignment-wise, penalties and all that I can talk about all day. But I think it’s a game that we were fortunate enough to play well enough to get enough guys in so they’ve got real tape in a game situation and we can correct from that.”

On what he liked about Central Michigan…
“I told Dan (Enos) before the game that you’ve coached long enough that when you watch a team on tape, I was very impressed. They won the last four games a year ago, and they had to win three to get bowl eligible, in a row. To do that is significant. You watch the tape, and I’m a defensive line coach, so I watch the offensive linemen, but to see the pad level they played with, their footwork, their mechanics, and that’s what I told Dan. And defensively, how hard they play, you see that on tape. Their receivers and their routes, the timing. All those things, and I told him before the game he’s got the thing going in a really good direction. I think we were fortunate today that it worked out our way but I was very impressed.”

On when he started thinking about Notre Dame, and how this game gets him ready for Notre Dame…
“I didn’t really think about it until we were done in the locker room. I think it gets you ready because young kids have played in front of 112,000 people. I think there will be a few more thousand next week and the atmosphere on campus, the atmosphere in Ann Arbor, I would think will be electric. It’s the last time Notre Dame is going to come to Michigan for a while so I would think that’s got a significance to it on both parts. So yeah it was good.”

On the injury status of Drake Johnson, Devin Funchess, and Joe Reynolds…
“Drake and Reynolds both we’ll find out a little more. I don’t know. Funchess has a cramp. That’s what he told me.”

On Devin Gardner’s nerves early on and whether that contributed to his first interception…
“It could be. I’m not in his mind, but it could be, wanted to do too much too fast.”

On when he decided that Thomas Gordon wasn’t going to play and if this is an issue that will linger…
“No. He’s part of our team, part of our family, and he’ll be out on the field next Saturday night.”

Follow-up on when he decided he wasn’t going to play…
“He’ll be out on the field next Saturday night.”

On how he determines how much improvising is too much and how much is the right amount for Devin Gardner…
“I think as long as he does a good job of protecting himself, we’ll let him do what he does well.”

On if he worries Devin’s decision making could be affected when he improvises too much…
“Well, sometimes guys who have that kind of ability, I’ve said it before, it’s a blessing and a curse. He can make a lot of plays, and as long as he keeps learning the decision on third down sometimes punting the ball on fourth down is not a bad decision.”

On the defense’s approach being so young and how it responded…
“I think when we really dig into the tape we’ll find out more. I mean, you can say you gave up nine points. I guess they responded, but did they respond well enough? This is all about winning a championship, and if we get satisfied for one effort we’re not going to win it.”

On Josh Furman’s performance in his first career start…
“Again, I think watching tape helps you. I saw him on some plays, I thought there were some plays I thought he needed to be over the top a little bit more, but we’ll look at it.”

On the punt block getting the team rolling…
“Dan (Ferrigno) did a nice job. We thought we had an opportunity and the guys executed it. So, did it give us some momentum? Yeah, because the whole team knew we were going to go after the first punt. When it works, they get excited.”

On whether he and other people were anxious to see Devin play today…
“Yeah, I think we all were, to be honest with you. I have the luxury of seeing Devin play a lot. I think to see him come out there, first start, being at home, I think it was good for him to get out there. I think they all, because they’re competitors, they always have a little bit of nerves to them.”

On honoring Tom Harmon next week and the considerations that go into who will get that jersey…
“I think it’s significant like all the honorary numbers. To be able to honor Tom Harmon and what his career was here at Michigan, and legacy that he left, obviously we want to make sure that we honor the family with the person that wears that jersey.”

On his early impressions of the offensive line…
“We started the game in a little bit of Nascar, quick tempo, and the first series we threw a pick, defense does a nice job. Come back out in the second series and we drive it down. Those were more of throwing situations. I thought when we started running the ball there was some movement at the line of scrimmage. I thought guys were finishing blocks. I really think as we watch the tape I’m going to be anxious to see how Kyle Kalis and Jack (Miller) and Graham (Glasgow) on the interior, how they really worked together.”

On whether there was one position group that he really wanted to focus on coming into this game…
“I would say both fronts. I think how they played and how they came out was good to get a lot of the young guys in. Ben Braden is a guy we think has a good chance of being a good offensive lineman here. I’m just using him as an example. Willie Henry on defense, and those guys. So it will be good to watch some tape with them and really coach them off that tape.”

Predicting Michigan: The offensive line

Thursday, July 25th, 2013


Continuing our positional breakdown and predictions series, Derick takes a look at the offensive line and what we can expect from the unit this season. For previous posts, see Quarterbacks.

Last Year’s Line

Many fans wonder how Michigan will fare after losing over half of the starters from the 2012 offensive line. Brady Hoke graduated three talented linemen this year, when Elliott Mealer, Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh moved on to the NFL. All three former starters were left undrafted in April, but signed as free agents afterwards.

Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are the only returning starters. Lewan started every game for the Wolverines at left tackle in 2012 while Schofield did the same at right tackle. These two fifth-year seniors will be critical in shaping the 2013 line, as Michigan offensive line Coach Darrell Funk tries to restructure this unit with the help of a couple of talented recruiting classes.

Returning Starters: Know What To Expect

Losing three starters from the offensive line may look like a blessing to Michigan fans when they consider the makeover project that could have taken place had Lewan declared for the 2013 draft. He may only make up one-fifth of the line, but the first-team All-American gives what promises to be a very young offensive line the anchor, leader and teacher it needs.

Lewan returned for his senior season to take care of unfinished business and lead the young line

Lewan figured to be a sure-fire top-10 pick in the 2013 draft, but elected to return to Michigan for his senior season. Lewan’s decision not only gave Michigan a talented player on the field, but also an unquestioned leader at a position where it definitely needs one.

In returning to school, Lewan proved himself to be a ‘Michigan Man,’ a label that only the Maize and Blue faithful can understand. Much as Brady Hoke did when he took the job at Michigan, Lewan will demand immediate respect from the young players that will share important minutes on the offensive line this season. As the returning Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award-winner, Lewan will make everyone around him better while solidifying the most important position on the offensive line: left tackle.

On the field, Lewan is one of the best lineman in the country, and has even been named to the Walter Camp Player of the Year Watch List. He has the ability to protect the quarterback against almost any other player in the country, as he showed in the 2013 Outback Bowl when he contained South Carolina’s freak athlete Jadeveon Clowney for the majority of the game. One thing that has frustrated fans is Lewan’s tendency to pick up personal fouls after the whistle. While his competitiveness has caused him to pick up some of these late flags, Lewan should be able to stay away from these types of mistakes as a fifth-year senior. Hoke will count on Lewan to be a leader this season, so the mental mistakes should be rare for the tackle.

On the opposite side of the line should be Schofield, who will likely start at right tackle. The redshirt senior spent most of the 2011 season at left guard before moving to his current place on the right side for the entire 2012 season. With Lewan and Schofield, the tackle positions should be a strength of the Michigan team in 2013, despite the questions that remain for the rest of the offensive line.

Projection
Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will both start in every game, barring injury
Career Stats
Games Played Games Started
Lewan: 37 Schofield: 39 Lewan: 35 Schofield: 23

Next In Line: 2013 Contributors

For a football team to have the kind of success Michigan is hoping for this season, having depth on both lines is crucial. The starters get most of the attention, but when the big guys need a break, the back-ups play a big role. Michigan returns three players that have seen time on the line and could be called on to play bigger roles now that three major pieces have graduated.

After redshirting his freshman year, center Jack Miller appeared in six games at center last season. Redshirt senior Erik Gunderson has seen little game time but did play in five games last season and can give Michigan another veteran presence during his fifth season. Joey Burzynski started to see more minutes on the line near the end of the 2012 season and could contend with the freshmen for major minutes this season. Even if these veterans don’t play a majority of the snaps, they will provide Coach Funk with much more security at the offensive line position if some of the highly-regarded recruits have difficulty holding up in the Big Ten.

Projection
Miller, Gunderson, and Burzynski all come off the bench and contend for important minutes
Career Stats
Games Played Games Started
Miller: 6 Gunderson: 9 Burzynski: 12 Miller: 0 Gunderson: 0 Burzynski: 0

Worth The Wait: Last Year’s Class

Don’t let this year’s top-10 class make you forget about the group Brady Hoke recruited in 2012. All the senior leadership on the line last season allowed Michigan to redshirt several highly-rated recruits at the offensive line position.

Magnuson is the next in line under Lewan's guidance (Jeremy Wadsworth, Toledo Blade)

These redshirt freshman will be led by former five-star Kyle Kalis and four-star Erik Magnuson. Kalis was rated as a top-10 offensive lineman by Scout, Rivals and ESPN and considered one of the best high school players out of the state of Ohio. Kalis is highly regarded for his athleticism and superior blocking ability, which he used to completely dominate defenses in high school. Magnuson is similarly gifted, and is known for playing harder than most other players on the field. One word that has often been used to describe the two young linemen is ‘power,’ which has turned them into great run-blockers. If Kalis and Magnuson play big roles on the line this season, expect the Michigan running game to improve drastically with physical backs like Thomas Rawls.

Fellow classmates Blake Bars and Ben Braden also received redshirts last season, despite receiving high grades during recruiting. Bars is an interesting player, because he could take advantage of Michigan’s hole at center to land himself a starting job. Always regarded as more of an interior lineman, Bars was more of an under-the-radar recruit in the shadow of Kalis and Magnuson, but could fight for minutes and play a significant role for the 2013 team. Braden stands out from his classmates because his strength is in the pass-blocking category, and he could see some playing time as a result. He had the lowest ranking of the four recruits, but that says more about the strength of the class than it does about Braden’s game.

Projection
Kalis and Magnuson win starting jobs while Bars and Braden battle with the impressive freshman class for more time
Career Stats
Games Played Games Started
Kalis: 0 Magnuson: 0 Bars: 0 Braden: 0 Kalis: 0 Magnuson: 0 Bars: 0 Braden: 0

Fresh Faces: The Sequel

Everyone around Michigan football is excited about the group of offensive lineman that make up the 2013 recruiting class. Brady Hoke landed six standout players for the line, and now the team might have more depth than ever at the position. Dan Samuelson, Kyle Bosch, David Dawson, Chris Fox, Patrick Kugler and Logan Tuley-Tillman are six of the top players in Hoke’s latest top-10 class. Kugler and Bosch have a chance to start from day one, and their classmates aren’t far behind. While the 2012 class gives Hoke the option to redshirt the whole class like he did last season, some of these guys may be too good to wait on.

Likely the newcomers will be split, with a couple earning true-freshman minutes and the others taking a year to develop. That being said, their performance in pre-season practices will obviously determine who plays this season. The fact that Hoke can even consider redshirting so many of these players speaks to the talent of the players that came to Michigan before them.

Projection
Kugler and Bosch play during the 2013 season, with one of them winning a starting job. The other four either redshirt or fill in for injuries where needed, and play big roles in the future.
Average Star Ranking:
Bosch: 4 Kugler: 4.25 Dawson: 4 Fox: 4 Tuley-Tillman: 4 Samuelson: 3.25

Wrapping Up

With so many options at offensive line, Michigan is one of the deeper teams in the country at one of the most important positions. Two strong recruiting classes in a row will build that kind of depth, and in Lewan they have potentially the best player in the country to help groom the young talent. Offensive Coordinator Al Borges has 19 offensive linemen on the roster, and so many of them have the talent to be starting Big Ten players that it’s hard to imagine blocking as a weak point for the 2013 team.

To help Devin Gardner settle into the offense in his first full year as starting quarterback, Lewan and company need to be strong. Physical running backs like Rawls and Derrick Green will also count very heavily on the interior strength of this unit to create space to run inside. While skill players get most of the national attention during the course of a football season, the teams with the best play in the trenches usually come out on top. Luckily, Michigan has many talented options to choose from in 2013.

The Michigan Medley discusses the importance of Lewan’s return

Thursday, January 10th, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan announced in a press conference that he would return to school for his senior season. It came as a surprise to nearly everybody as the 6’8″, 309-pound junior was projected to be a high first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. It’s rare for a player of his caliber to forego what would have certainly been a large paycheck, but it’s very refreshing to see.

During the Lloyd Carr tenure, especially as his career went on, it seemed that making the jump was pretty much the norm, though Jake Long, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart all stayed for their senior season. Long, like Lewan, was a sure-fire high draft pick and parlayed the gamble to come back into the top overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Lewan has the potential to do the same as long as he can avoid the injury bug.

Lewan proved his NFL potential by shutting down Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl

It’s always a risky move to put on hold an NFL contract for one more year of college ball. Just ask USC quarterback Matt Barkley who would have likely been a first round pick last season, but chose to return and suffered through a poor and injury-riddled season that will likely hurt his draft stock this April. On the other hand, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck did the same a year ago and it payed off.

What’s most impressive in my opinion is the reasons Lewan stated for his decision. For one, he loves college, and that was evident more than ever during Wednesday night’s basketball game against Nebraska when Lewan got up in front of the band and led them in The Victors. Secondly, he stated that he has unfinished business, having not achieved a Big Ten title yet in his career. Third, Michigan has a long tradition of great offensive linemen such as Jon Jansen and Steve Hutchinson, in addition to Long, who have stayed through their senior years and still went on to long and productive NFL careers. Lewan realized that and what a special opportunity it is to play for Michigan.

“If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, there’s a tradition here and there’s something you want to be a part of,” Lewan said. “And if I do what I need to do, I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long, but you only get one more year of college.”

The other reason he gave for returning is the most telling and the most important: he wanted to be a leader the way last year’s senior offensive lineman, David Molk, was for the younger guys on the team. Brady Hoke has brought in a great haul of offensive linemen to fill a void that was left thin by the previous regime. While the young guys such as Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, Ben Braden, and Erik Magnuson, as well as this year’s incoming class, are extremely talented, perhaps nothing is more valuable than being able to grow and learn alongside an All-American to see what it takes to become one and what it takes to be a lock for the first round of the NFL Draft.

The foundation that was put in place by Janson and Hutchinson and Long and Molk has now transcended three coaching staffs and personifies exactly what it means to be a Michigan Man. Had Lewan chosen to make the leap, no one would have blamed him for doing so, but it would have left next year’s offensive line extremely young and inexperienced. That’s not a recipe for success in college football. His return provides leadership in addition to talent and it sets an example for the talented young guys.

“Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, I want to be a part of their lives for one more year and help them develop into something where they can possibly be in my position in a couple years,” Lewan said.

Lewan’s return is probably the best news Michigan could have received this offseason – better than any recruit Hoke will sign on Feb. 6 – because it will have both an instant impact next season and a residual impact on the future of the offensive line. Bravo to Lewan for embodying what college football is supposed to be about rather than simply using it as a stepping stone to the riches of the NFL.

Meet your 2012 Michigan recruiting class: The offensive line

Friday, February 3rd, 2012


[Ed: We decided to break up the recruiting profiles by position group, so today is the offensive line (we will add Diamond tonight if he goes Blue). Tomorrow will be the backfield and we'll pick things up again on Monday as we work through the rest of the position groups]

Michigan hauled in a great offensive line class, perhaps second nationally behind Stanford. And not to beat a dead horse, but if Jordan Diamond chooses Michigan over Auburn and Arkansas this evening, it will get even better. For now, we’re not counting him. The four players signed hail from four different states and carry an average ranking of 3.7 and all four are among the top 52 offensive tackles nationally. They’re all nearly the same size – Kalis is about 20 pounds heavier – and should form the backbone of Michigan’s line for years to come.

A Quick Look at Michigan’s 2012 Recruiting Class

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012


National Signing Day came and went on Wednesday and when all was said and done, Head Coach Brady Hoke announced a 25-member recruiting class. The day started off well with a surprise commitment from four-star running back Dennis Norfleet from Martin Luther King High School in Detroit. The rest of the day went as expected with all 22 signed Letters of Intent arriving (three are already enrolled for spring semester).

There still remains a shot at Chicago Simeon offensive lineman Jordan Diamond, who makes his announcement on Friday, and Colorado offensive lineman Alex Kozan who verbally committed to Iowa on Sunday but didn’t fax in his LOI on Wednesday.

Below is a position-by-position breakdown as well as a location-based look at this year’s class. Stay tuned tomorrow for in-depth bios of each offensive recruit and then Saturday morning for the defensive side.


As you can see above, Michigan didn’t sign a quarterback in this year’s class, but has Shane Morris committed for next year’s class. He’ll enter as Denard Robinson graduates and battle for the starting spot with Devin Gardner. The four offensive linemen are all listed as tackles but in tomorrow’s individual breakdown, we’ll discuss where they project on the line. The same can be said for the four defensive backs. Terry Richardson is the only one listed as a cornerback; the other three as safeties. 
Michigan’s class is very Midwest-focused this year, as opposed to the classes we saw under Rich Rodriguez which pulled a bit more from the south, most notably Florida. Hoke didn’t get anyone south of Tennessee, and only ventured out west for two – Erik Magnuson from Carlsbad, Calif. and Sione Houma from Salt Lake City, Utah. If Kozan switches his commitment to Michigan, that will add another player from the west, as he hails from Colorado, but we won’t bet on that happening. If Diamond commits to Michigan on Friday, he will add yet another player from the Midwest.