Michigan Wolverines: Cam Gordon

At this time last year, prospects for the SAM linebacker position were great. But by the end of spring football, there were more questions and fears than anything else because of Jake Ryan’s ACL tear. But Ryan made a speedy recovery and an impressive return, and his absence early in the season brought more depth to the SAM spot. A lot can happen between now and next fall, but at this point, there seems to be the same optimism there was a year ago.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsJake Ryan, coming off a torn ACL that cost him a sizable chunk of his junior season, should be the full-time SAM linebacker in 2014.
THE GOOD: Senior Cam Gordon and junior Brennen Beyer really played well as they stepped in for Ryan. Some wondered if there would be a huge drop in production or a gap in the defense without Ryan on the field and it really didn’t seem that noticeable in the first few games, which is a credit to Beyer, Gordon and the defensive coaches. In the 2012 season, Ryan took the majority of snaps at the SAM position and Beyer played on the defensive line, so neither Gordon nor Beyer came in with the experience of an upperclassman at the position. But with Ryan sidelined, both played very, very well, and when Ryan came back, the rotation still seemed to work. Gordon led the team in sacks (five) and Beyer was second on the team with five quarterback hurries. Ryan played in eight games and finished the season with 30 tackles. The position, as a whole, was productive. The three accounted for 97 tackles, including 17 for loss.

THE BAD: Obviously the Ryan injury was terribly unfortunate for both himself and the defense. Had he played a whole season and been 100 percent, he could have been in the running for conference or national awards, based in his production in 2012 as a sophomore. The injury also forced Beyer and Gordon to move around … again. Gordon came in to Michigan as a wide receiver before being moved to safety and then outside linebacker. Beyer has flip-flopped from SAM to defensive end nearly every season for the Wolverines. All things considered, the trio seemed to make the best out of a situation that was less than favorable.

THE FUTURE: Ryan will be the Wolverines’ starter in 2014 as a senior, and with another offseason of weight training and conditioning, he should be able to play almost full games at the spot. When he needs to take a break here and there, the coaches are going to have to decide whether they want to go with Beyer -- who should be back on the defensive line, but can come in at SAM to give Ryan a break -- or Allen Gant, who could use the experience as a sophomore but only played on special teams this season. Past that, the coaching staff would really be looking at true freshman talent, so it seems doubtful they’d get that far. Depending on the situation, Gant might be the better way to go because he’s going to need the experience. Ryan and Beyer will graduate after next season, so it would be good to have someone step into Ryan’s shoes with a bit of experience.

Previous posts:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Middle, weakside linebackers

Week 11 helmet stickers

November, 10, 2013
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The Wolverines picked up their third loss in four games on Saturday against Nebraska. However, even in a loss, there are bright spots and here are a few players who earned helmet stickers:

LB Cam Gordon. The senior recorded a team-high eight tackles. However, his 13-yard sack on third-and-7 is what got him recognition for a helmet sticker. The Wolverines had just tied it up at 10-10 and Gordon’s sack gave Michigan an even bigger burst of momentum. On top of that, he also forced Nebraska’s only fumble, which Chris Wormley recovered.

QB Devin Gardner. He really hasn’t gotten enough credit for his passing performances the last two weeks. Against the Spartans he threw for 210 yards (second best of any QB this season against Michigan State). And against Nebraska, he threw for 196 yards and was 18 of 27 with no interceptions and one touchdown. Those are pretty impressive numbers, especially considering the physical and mental beating he was taking in both games. He admitted that maybe he held on to the ball a bit too long on a few occasions, but even with that his numbers are good.

WR Devin Funchess. He scored the Wolverines’ lone touchdown and led Michigan receivers with six catches for 66 yards. In the game’s final drive, Gardner went to Funchess three times -- twice he caught them (for 17 yards). It showed how he’s become more of a threat recently. In the past, Gardner would generally go to wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in those situations.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke gave his team a bit of a lighter schedule during this bye week -- getting back to practice Thursday while doing lifting and conditioning throughout the week. Hoke said they would focus on getting the team healed a bit and begin thinking about Michigan State (Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

The Michigan offense has lacked consistency this season, so this week will give the Wolverines an opportunity to find that and jell more as they begin what will be a tough stretch to end the season. Defensively, Michigan had appeared stout until last weekend against Indiana, so this off week gives that group a chance to regroup and examine what went wrong.

Here’s a closer look at what this week means on both sides of the ball.

Offensively

Offensive coordinator Al Borges has a lot of talent on his side of the ball, but it hasn’t always come together to show the most cohesive, productive unit.

[+] EnlargeAl Borges
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIAl Borges is still examining his options on offense.
Michigan will always start up front, so that seems a good place to begin. The offensive line has gone through multiple starting lineups, and still, nine weeks into the season, the Wolverines don’t know what their best unit is up front.

Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and Graham Glasgow are safe at the tackles and center spots, but it doesn’t really matter how well those three play if the guards let pressure through on both sides. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant all seem to be battling for those guard spots. With two full weeks to prep for the Michigan State game, it does seem likely -- at least with what the coaches want -- as though the starting group against the Spartans will be what Michigan will go with the rest of the season.

“We’re not eliminating anybody,” Borges said. “We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. … We got to this point where we’re pretty functional now, because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”

The O-line showed cohesion against Indiana and gave quarterback Devin Gardner plenty of time in the pocket. Gardner likely spent the week watching film with Borges to figure out how to attack the Michigan State defense. The Spartans boast the best defense in the country and have given up fewer than 14 points per game this season.

Gardner is going to need to continue improving his accuracy, as MSU will make sure to put its defense in prime positions to make plays on the ball. Already this season the Spartans have accounted for five defensive touchdowns.

However, they haven’t had to game plan against a tandem as unique as Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Both are effective but completely different as playmakers, and when one draws attention from a defense, the other seems to make big plays.

The Wolverines were ultra-effective in the pass and run game last weekend largely because they showed such a diverse offense, which in turn opened up the game for Gardner and allowed him and the playmakers to make plays.

“We’re not becoming a spread team … but we’re going to have that dimension in our offense,” Borges said. “We’re going to have the ability to take you sideline to sideline; we’re going to have the ability to mow you over. … If you have both, certain games one is going to be better than the other.”

Defensively

Michigan’s defense looked so solid … up until last week.

But it wasn’t the point total or the yardage total that disappointed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison the most. Instead, it was the fact that there weren’t 11 helmets running to the ball on every play. If the Wolverines want to take care of business next weekend in East Lansing, that (and many other things) will have to change.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarHow close Jake Ryan is to 100 percent will impact the Wolverines' defensive plans.
Mattison said he’d spend every second this week planning for the Spartans’ attack, which has gotten stronger every game since Connor Cook took the starting QB job. But even with that, Mattison said he feels good about what kind of team will take the field in a week in East Lansing.

“I feel very confident in our guys, because we’re going to work every second to do it,” Mattison said. “I know we’ll have Michigan defense back on that field the way it’s supposed to be when we play that game.”

The coaches haven’t come out and completely said what their plan is for Jake Ryan at this point. But if he is 100 percent and still has that quick step and instinct, it doesn’t seem like they’ll continue the three-play rotations they’ve employed with Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon for much longer.

If Ryan begins picking up more reps for the MSU game, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see Beyer moved back to the defensive line to bring an extra body and experience to that group, while also being able to give Ryan a break here and there.

The secondary needs to clean it up this weekend. The Wolverines allowed several big plays over the past two weeks, and on many of them it seemed as though the defensive backs were right there but didn’t finish. But almost doesn’t cut it in football.

Mattison said Saturday’s disappointment for each position group on the defense could be a positive experience in the long run, as it’ll fuel each player for the rest of this season.

“That experience from Saturday -- you can’t pay for that, that feeling, and them seeing how it isn’t supposed to be,” Mattison said of the Indiana game. “You can’t pay for that. If you’re going to be a great defense, they’re going to remember that for a long time.”
On the eve of the Michigan football team’s first game week of the 2013-14 season, the team voted on captains. And for just the third time in Michigan’s 134-year football history, four players were named as captains.

Senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, senior linebacker Cam Gordon, senior defensive back Courtney Avery and redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan were voted as team captains, according to a school press release.

“I think all of our seniors have done a great job of leading since we started the season in January, and the team did a great job of voting four guys who are extremely deserving of being named captains of Team 134,” coach Brady Hoke said in a press release. “They all are great examples of team leaders.”

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 7, 2013
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Happy Sea Serpent Day.
As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players that if Michigan lost them, the team would be in the most trouble.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Cam Gordon has never been more than a contributor during his first four seasons at Michigan, bouncing between safety and linebacker, an athlete without a position.


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WolverineNation mailbag 

July, 2, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Position switches. Recruiting. Tickets? Yes, tickets. All of these topics are covered in this week’s WolverineNation mailbag, featuring your questions.

Have queries for next week, send them to jenningsespn@gmail.com or @chanteljennings on Twitter.

Now, for this week’s questions.

lbwcc010 from The Den asks: What do you think of the coaches decision to move Allen Gant from safety to strongside linebacker? And how do you think Gant will adjust?


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Michigan spring wrap

May, 3, 2013
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2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- All players who walk through the door to Schembechler Hall understand what Michigan once was. They merely have to keep their eyes and ears open.

Many college coaches, even those at traditional power programs, concern themselves only with the present and the future. Michigan's Brady Hoke puts the past on a pedestal.

Hoke's players know what the numbers 134 and 42 mean -- Michigan enters its 134th year of football and boasts 42 Big Ten championships. They know about the program's national titles and award winners. They see the Bo Schembechler quotes, the Big Ten banners and the legends lockers dedicated to program greats.

Many of the current Wolverines hadn't put on a helmet and pads in their lives the last time Michigan won a national title in 1997, but they know what the program was like because coaches like Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, both Michigan assistants that season, tell them about it all the time. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk, who had no ties to Michigan before arriving with Hoke in 2011, often shows his players tape of former Wolverines stars Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Jon Jansen.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesBrady Hoke and the Wolverines are working to get the program back to where it once was.
"There's a tremendous sense of pride that Brady instills," Mattison told ESPN.com, "and our entire football organization feels that 'Let's get Michigan back to the way we remember it,' where when Michigan gets on that field, everybody goes, 'Whoa, here they come.' That's what I envision. I want to do anything that I can do to help us get there, to get Michigan back to the football level it was when I remember it."

Senior linebacker Cam Gordon was 6 years old when Michigan won the national championship and 13 when the Wolverines claimed their last Big Ten title (2004, co-championship). But he hears about the glory days from coaches like Mattison and new outside linebackers coach Roy Manning, who played for Big Ten championship teams in 2003 and 2004.

"I do remember the stories about Michigan," Gordon said. "Before they even stepped on the field, the game was won."

The constant history lessons taught inside Schembechler Hall don't stem from an unhealthy state of nostalgia. Hoke wants his players to understand the standard at Michigan. He's also extremely blunt about the fact that the Wolverines have yet to meet it.

Hoke guided Michigan to 11 wins in his first season and ended the seven-year losing streak against archrival Ohio State. He has yet to lose a game at Michigan Stadium. He has pulled Michigan out of the fog of the Rich Rodriguez era. Recruiting is undoubtedly on the upswing, and Michigan looks more like its old self on both sides of the ball.

But Hoke's tenure to this point, by his own barometer, has been a failure.

"We didn't get it done," he said of the 2012 season, when Michigan went 8-5. "We were still in a second year of changing a culture and changing a philosophy to some degree, offensively and defensively and the whole scope of what we try and do as a team. But still, at the end of the day, this is about winning Big Ten championships. We have 42 of them, and we need to start on our 43rd."

Hoke's message is heard loud and clear from the team's best player on down.

"The standard at Michigan is a Big Ten championship every single year," All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "That's the minimum. Everything else is a failure. The Sugar Bowl, the BCS game, that was awesome. It was such a great experience, Bourbon Street was cool, New Orleans was cool -- failure. Outback Bowl, close game, lost in the last 20 seconds -- failure.

"Those are all games that are failures. The only way this team would be happy, would be satisfied with one season, is if we win a Big Ten championship."

Things weren't that way when Lewan arrived in 2009.

"The main goal was to make it to a bowl game," he said. "I don't know if that's how it's supposed to be at Michigan. I don't know how much my opinion counts, but I think it should be a Big Ten championship every single year. These coaches have done a great job of preaching that.

"We're not going to settle."

It has been nearly a decade since the Wolverines could call themselves league champions, their longest drought since a lull between 1950 and 1964. Every year that passes without a title means Michigan moves a little further away from the great times, a little further away from regaining the mystique Mattison and others preach about.

Talking about a winning culture in the past only goes so far without establishing a winning culture in the present. It's why much of Michigan's offseason work has been from the neck up.

"There were times where we were down in games and we came back and won the game based off our mental toughness," wide receiver Jeremy Gallon said. "And there were times in games where we didn’t come back, and it was our lack of mental toughness."

Defensive tackle Quinton Washington said Michigan worked on breaking "mental barriers" this spring, one of which is playing better away from the Big House. The Wolverines dropped three road games (Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State) and two neutral-site contests (Alabama, South Carolina) last fall.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
AP Photo/Dave WeaverTaylor Lewan (77) knows expectations are high for every player who wears a Michigan uniform.
Michigan is just 5-7 in road or neutral-site games under Hoke.

"We didn't play well on the road," Hoke said. "We didn't play with the toughness that it takes. We learned a lot in the bowl game about us as people, especially the guys coming back, good and bad."

Hoke has a Sun Tzu quote displayed in the weight room that reads: Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. The goal is for the Wolverines to enter games with the same mindset as their predecessors.

Many think the Michigan mystique is dead, but Hoke's players are driven to revive it.

"If they don't fear Michigan," Gordon said, "then obviously that's something that we're going to have to change."

Beginning this fall.

"Anywhere you go in the world, everyone knows Michigan," defensive end Frank Clark said. "Anywhere in the nation, as far as college football, everyone knows Michigan. For the last couple years, we haven't lived up to those expectations. This next season, we have to.

"It's time. There aren't anymore excuses."

Video: Michigan LB Cam Gordon

April, 16, 2013
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Michigan linebacker Cam Gordon talks about filling in for the injured Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker and his expectations for the 2013 season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Linebacker Jake Ryan was supposed to be the brightest spot of the Wolverines defense next year. A season removed from being Michigan’s leading tackler, the expectations were high -- Michigan’s MVP? Big Ten defensive player of the year? All-American?

But those hopes were dashed when he tore his ACL just a few games into spring practice.

Now, the Wolverines have to look to rotate in other players with less experience or playmaking abilities, and by the sounds of it, two names have jumped to the forefront of the conversation -- Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer.

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WolverineNation roundtable 

March, 28, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With Michigan enduring a big injury to linebacker Jake Ryan and in its first Sweet 16 since 1994, there’s a lot to discuss this week.

Our writers look at the impact of Ryan’s injury, Michigan’s matchup with Kansas and what happens in Atlanta in this week’s WolverineNation roundtable.

1. With Jake Ryan out indefinitely, what does that do to your expectations for Michigan football next season?


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Michigan has suffered a huge setback early in spring practice, as the team announced Wednesday that junior linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL during Tuesday's practice.

Ryan is the team's top returning defensive player, having led the Wolverines last year with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. We named him to our 2012 All-Big Ten team and rated him No. 17 in our Big Ten postseason player rankings.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIJake Ryan's knee injury leaves a hole in the Michigan defense that will be difficult to fill.
Michigan officials said Ryan is out "indefinitely." If there's any bright side to this injury, it's that it happened on March 19. Typical recovery time for torn ACLs is generally said to be between six to nine months. We don't know how severe Ryan's injury is -- whether it's a complete or partial tear, for instance, or whether there's damage to other ligaments -- but if he were to meet the most optimistic side of that recovery timetable, then he could still come back and play for the Wolverines by midseason. But again, that's if everything goes perfectly.

There have been success stories of athletes recovering quickly from torn ACLs. The most notable one is Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season after suffering his ACL tear on Christmas Eve 2011.

"I know he will attack his rehabilitation just like he does everything else and will be back when he's ready," head coach Brady Hoke said in a statement.

Linebacker also looks to be Michigan's deepest position. Hoke told ESPN.com last week before Ryan's injury that "we feel a little stronger at that position" and that he expected great competition. Desmond Morgan, who started at weak side linebacker last year, had been working out at the middle linebacker spot to allow him and rising star James Ross to play at the same time. The Wolverines also have sophomores Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone, senior Mike Jones and incoming freshmen Mike McCray II and Ben Gedeon to compete for snaps.

However, most of those guys -- with the exception of McCray -- profile more as middle or weak side linebackers, and lack the size to play the strong side spot that Ryan occupied. That puts more pressure on senior Cam Gordon -- Ryan's backup -- to play a bigger role. Gordon has appeared in 33 career games, and Hoke praised his winter workout efforts in his interview with ESPN.com last year. But Gordon has yet to show that he can be a star or a major disruptive force the way Ryan has been. Make no mistake about it: this is a big, big loss for Greg Mattison's defense.

The Wolverines have plenty of time to figure out some answers, but it remains to be seen if they can find anyone to fill the playmaking shoes of Ryan. It's the first real negative of the offseason for Michigan, which got great news when Taylor Lewan returned, when Devin Gardner got his extra year of eligibility, and of course on signing day.

Time will tell how well the team will fill in for Ryan, or whether he can return at all for 2013. But until then, the guy with the flowing golden locks and penchant for making impact plays will be sorely missed.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison arrived at Michigan a little more than two years ago with a defensive plan in hand. They had both coached here before, knew each other well and had similar philosophies for how defenses should go.

Now, almost three years in, one of the many facets of the team they would like to put on the field is closer to being possible. Mattison and Hoke relish being able to rotate their defensive linemen and linebackers throughout games in an effort to get more players game reps and keep them fresher for both the fourth quarters of games and the back half of each season.

Yet for the first two seasons at Michigan, it didn’t always work as well. Lack of depth combined with a youth movement at both spots led to some rotation, but not as much as Hoke would prefer -- especially at Mike and Will linebacker.

[+] EnlargeMichigan/Notre Dame
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDesmond Morgan (right) will slide from Will linebacker to Sam, but the rest of the Wolverines' LB setup is still iffy this spring, at best.
“That position, if you could have four you could rotate through and they are all quality, that would be great,” Hoke said. “We rotated a ton at San Diego State. We rotated every four plays.

“We’re getting a little more to where we would be able to do that.”

Herein lies the snag, something Michigan is hoping to figure out this summer at what could be its deepest position: The talent level is there. The experience level is not.

(Read full post)

Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.

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