Michigan Wolverines: Kaleb Ringer
These, though, aren’t so bad.
Michigan has significant depth -- albeit some inexperience -- at every spot on its defense. This allows the Wolverines to come closer to reaching defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s goal of being able to rotate players at both defensive line and linebacker to keep them fresh for later in games and later on in the season.
1) What will you remember most about the Michigan-Louisville game?
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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.
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.
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.
The one spot where Michigan will be breaking in a new linebacker next season is in the middle, where Kenny Demens graduates after two-plus seasons as a starter. By the time his career ended, Demens ended up being a fairly reliable backer for the Wolverines and someone who could be depended on in pass coverage.
His loss will be underrated because of the talent behind him at the position, but whomever fills that slot will have some adjustment early on. There are a lot of candidates for that, though.
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Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday that he feels comfortable with where his team stands now with its freshman class after 12 of them have played in the first two games of the season.
And if they haven’t played yet -- it is likely they won’t until 2013.
The Wolverines have already lost defensive lineman Chris Wormley and cornerback Blake Countess for the season to torn ACLs and linebacker Kaleb Ringer to a knee injury.
On Saturday, depth took a bigger hit -- temporarily -- with injuries to defensive linemen Brennen Beyer and Richard Ash.
Bryant suffered a fractured tibia, and Ringer underwent knee surgery, though the university declined to specify exactly what for.
Bryant was expected to play in the two-deep on the offensive line behind Patrick Omameh at right guard. Bryant’s injury depletes the O-line, a group where Michigan coach Brady Hoke has already said four true freshmen could play.
Hoke had praised Bryant early during fall camp on his progress since spring. Sophomore walk-on Joey Burzynski, who lost a tight competition to start at left guard to senior Elliott Mealer, is the likely No. 2 at both guard spots. Freshman Kyle Kalis also could move up to the two-deep at one of the guard positions.
Ringer was an early enrollee expected to compete at the weakside linebacker position. Michigan has not revealed its depth chart for the opener against Alabama on Sept. 1, but Ringer had a shot at cracking the two-deep.
Ringer is the second true freshman to be lost for the season. Defensive end Chris Wormley suffered a torn ACL on Aug. 14.
But the Wolverines will have answers to many of their lingering questions, from line play to receiver and tight end and even to quarterback Denard Robinson’s accuracy. Right now, though, speculation is still key.
With that, we enter this week’s WolverineNation mailbag. Got questions? Shoot them over to firstname.lastname@example.org or @chanteljennings for next week.
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BuckeyeNation’s Austin Ward and WolverineNation’s Michael Rothstein take a look at the men in the middle of both defenses.
Rothstein: Michigan’s linebackers can rejoice. For the first time since any of them has been a Wolverine, they will play in essentially the same defensive scheme with the same defensive coordinator for the second season in a row.
And if you think that doesn’t make a difference, you’re kidding yourself. Even defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said as much, that having the players learning the same system for the second year allows for a faster refresher course along with more advanced teaching. And for the linebackers more than any other defensive position group, this is critical.
Michigan has the bulk of its main playmakers at the position back, including fifth-year senior Kenny Demens in the middle along with sophomores Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan on the outside.
Demens is Michigan’s leading returning tackler with 94 last season, including three sacks. Morgan, as a freshman, was fifth in tackles with 63. At linebacker, that kind of production is expected.
That starting group, though, will be pushed. Junior Cam Gordon is fighting with Ryan for time, as is senior Brandin Hawthorne behind Morgan. Also involved are a gaggle of talented freshmen, including James Ross III, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Kaleb Ringer and Joe Bolden, who enrolled last spring and could see a lot of time his freshman season.
Still, though, it is a young group with a lot of room to grow and likely won’t see its true potential for another season or two.
Ward: There may not be a linebacker with the name recognition of the Ohio State legends that have come before them.
By its own admission, the current group of Buckeyes didn’t live up to the expectations established by those predecessors.
But even without a Hawk or Laurinaitis this fall, the middle of the defense should be much improved even if there isn’t any established star on the roster during training camp.
Perhaps by the time the Buckeyes take on their rivals at the end of the season, though, sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant could make themselves a lot more familiar to folks around the Big Ten. Shazier in particular began building some buzz for himself during a three-game tackling barrage when he was inserted into the starting lineup due to injury last season and responded with 30 takedowns.
Now Shazier appears to have a more permanent spot in the rotation, and along with Grant and senior Etienne Sabino they should give defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell a solid foundation to start with. While there isn’t much experience in reserve to work with right now, the Buckeyes loaded up with five talented signees in February who will ultimately be charged with restoring the program’s proud defensive tradition.
There probably won’t be as much pressure to do it right away with arguably the best line in the nation in front and a skilled, veteran secondary behind them. But they should be able to get things back on track either way.
DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART:
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Here's a look at this week's questions from the readers:
Q: Paul, Pasadena, Calif.: I see so much #Team134 on the internet that I'm mistakenly starting to think of Michigan as Team 134 even before this year's Team 133. Do you think this type of branding has made a tangible impact on recruiting? If so, do you think the next recruiting classes will have similar success, or is this more attributed to Shane Morris and other recruits’ efforts?
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After their spring practices, the Wolverines will take the field in a coordinated scrimmage with the ones facing the ones and the twos facing the twos, according to Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
The coaching staff is planning on playing about 60 snaps and having a scoring system, though Hoke didn’t specify exactly what that would be.
Some players will see limited playing time and certain parts of the game will be regulated due to the fact that it isn’t a full team. Hoke mentioned the lack of depth on both lines and at the wide receiver position as reasons for this.
“You always have depth problems in the spring,” Hoke said. “We’re not at the point, program wise because of depth issues on the offensive front and defensive front, to draft like you’d want to.”
It won’t be anything compared to the Wolverines’ kick off against Alabama next September, but it is a chance to see how far the team has come since its All State Sugar Bowl victory.
“We get a chance to go in the Big House, play football and compete,” Hoke said. “Kind of assess where we’re at to some degree.”
The scrimmage is the highlight of Michigan’s annual “Victors Weekend,” which will also feature an alumni scrimmage. More than 350 former football players will be in town for the weekend.
The only player that will definitely sit out of Saturday’s scrimmage is defensive tackle Nate Brink.
Brink, who has a leg injury, has done individual drills through spring practices, but has yet to compete in any full-contact drills.
Linebacker Kenny Demens will play, though he was held out of practice last Saturday and Tuesday with a mild concussion. Hoke said Demens probably could’ve gone, but they chose to be very cautious with those types of injuries.
Wide receiver Jerald Robinson has been “a little beat up” with an AC separation, but, according to Hoke, Robinson has played through it.
The team will vote on team captains during fall camp, but Hoke has already pointed out a few rising seniors that have stood out to him in the leadership category.
Wide receiver Roy Roundtree, safety Jordan Kovacs, offensive lineman Patrick Omameh and defensive lineman Will Campbell were the four that have impressed Hoke so far, though other names will surely pop up between now and voting.
“I’d be remiss not to name a lot of those seniors,” Hoke said. “But I think they’re really understanding this is the way we want to go about our business.”
“LONG” TIME FRIENDS:
With how intertwined college sports are these days, of course, there’s a connection between what’s going on at Arkansas with former football coach Bobby Petrino and Michigan football.
Hoke and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long were high school football and baseball teammates.
Hoke said he reached out to Long recently.
“I texted him, ‘I’m glad it wasn’t you,’ ” Hoke said. “That’s a hard deal for anybody.”
EARLY ENROLLEES IMPRESSING:
During Thursday’s press conference, Hoke mentioned all three of the early enrollees as players that have impressed during spring football.
With Demens out with his mild concussion, it gave Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer opportunities to step into the MIKE linebacker spot and show their stuff.
“It was probably a great indoctrination for a young guy,” Hoke said of Bolden. “It’s been good.”
Hoke also said that safety Jarrod Wilson will take “a bunch of snaps” on Saturday and has throughout the spring.
“I’m real proud of how they made the transition,” Hoke said of the early enrollees. “When you think about it they would be going to prom [right now].”
Ohio may have beaten Michigan in the NCAA tournament. The Athens, Ohio-based school expressed its displeasure with Wolverines coaches and players referring to Ohio State just as ‘Ohio’ -- a battle those two schools have gone through themselves.
Yet when Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs was asked about Ohio State on Tuesday, he referred to the Buckeyes as ‘Ohio.’ When a reporter joked that Kovacs couldn’t say Ohio State, he laughed.
Then responded: “I can’t.”
He started with his backs.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls has been working well at running back along with getting some carries at fullback behind Stephen Hopkins. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has also stood out as Michigan tries to work some of its younger players into the rotation.
“Rawls is a pretty tough guy running the football but he has to take care of the football a little bit better,” Hoke said. “Hayes has shown some things with his abilities.”
He also cited all three early enrollees -- linebackers Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer along with safety Jarrod Wilson -- as guys who have looked good and been pushing. Hoke also liked the competition between Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark at rush defensive end and Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon at the SAM linebacker.
One of the bigger surprises has been Elliott Mealer’s play at left guard. Initially a potential afterthought as a fifth-year senior who hasn’t played much in his career, he appears to be holding on to a lead for the starting slot through the spring, holding off redshirt freshman Chris Bryant, who has now been working at right guard as well.
“When you look at Elliott, his confidence level is better and that’s a big part of it,” Hoke said. “Guys feeling confident and being in a system obviously helps. Chris has mainly taken snaps at right guard but that doesn’t mean we can flip-flop him. For a young guy, you’d like to keep him on the same side and same stance.”
Hoke wouldn’t mind a scrimmage
One of the long-time issues between football coaches and the NCAA has been not allowing teams to scrimmage other Division I teams, either during the spring or fall. Most other sports, including men’s basketball, can have scrimmages.
Hoke said Thursday he would be open to the idea.
“That would be kind of cool,” Hoke said. “I thought of it before, whether we do the NFL with different teams going to different places and interacting for two days, three days, off of that model.
“That would be kind of neat, if you could do that.”
This and that
Hoke said he and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon have discussed the Big Ten-Pac 12 alliance when it comes to scheduling, but didn’t go into specifics. ... Michigan is holding a high school coaches clinic today and as part of the clinic will be practicing the next three days -- today and Saturday in pads and Friday without pads. The clinic was not made open to the media. ... Hoke said there has been no recent attrition on his team. ... Hoke, through a spokesman, asked the media not to ask him about the death of his father, John, earlier this week, instead requesting privacy.
The Wolverines return seven starters and many other reserves who played roles in orchestrating one of the more impressive one-year turnarounds for a defense in recent college football history. Mattison remains grateful for their contributions.
"Nobody has a right to any position," Mattison told ESPN.com on Monday. "It doesn't matter if you've started for three years, four years, one year. Every practice and every week is judged. We are always going to put the best football players on the field."
While this is a common refrain for coaches, who want to maintain as much competition as possible, Mattison finds himself doing more than paying lip service in spring ball, which kicked off Saturday. The scheme is no longer new. Neither are the expectations.
The learning curve for players hasn't so much been accelerated as it has been evened out. Other than three true freshmen who enrolled early and are practicing this spring -- linebackers Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer and safety Jarrod Wilson -- Michigan's defenders all have gone through a full year in the system.
"If a guy was a veteran, he would have picked up the new scheme at a certain rate," Mattison said. "If he was a younger guy, it would have taken him longer to pick up the scheme. Now, they've both had it, and there shouldn't be that learning factor that sometimes separates younger guys from older guys.
"Now it's who's playing the best and understanding the defense."
Mattison didn't shy away from using young players in 2011. Michigan started three freshmen -- linebackers Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan, and cornerback Blake Countess -- for much of the season. Although all three earned invaluable experience playing for a successful defense, they're not assured of anything in 2012.
Consider what Mattison had to say about the linebackers, a group that returns all three starters (Morgan, Ryan, senior Kenny Demens).
"Those positions are not solidified in any way," said Mattison, who stressed the need for the linebackers to improve in zone coverage. "Every day, those are evaluated."
The same standard is applied for veterans like safety Jordan Kovacs, who many expect to become the undisputed leader of the defense.
"I was really proud of what he did a year ago," Mattison said, "but it's the same thing, and he knows it, and it's why he's such a great young man. ... He knows he has to improve. He knows that if he just goes out there and plays like he did last year, that may not be good enough."
Kovacs will provide leadership, but Michigan needs more after losing standout linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Team 132 raised the bar on defense after it has sunk to historic lows.
But simply maintaining the level won't be good enough.
"That season, Team 132, is over," Mattison said. "Some of them had a big part in that, but they're 133. What are they going to be? Just because you played on that team does not mean you automatically will play on this team."
The reproving process is under way in Ann Arbor.
Bold Predictions For Spring Recruiting
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD Kent State Illinois TBD Southern Illinois Indiana TBD Illinois State Iowa TBD Richmond Maryland TBD BYU Nebraska TBD Norfolk State Rutgers TBD Penn State Temple TBD Stanford Northwestern TBD Wisconsin Alabama