Jerry Montgomery runs through the D-linemen
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Jerry Montgomery runs through the D-linemen

Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery goes into detail with Sam Webb on each of the Wolverine D-linemen: Q, BWC, Black, Roh, Heitzman, Pipkins, Ojemudia, Wormley, Strobel, Godin ... and on Northwestern's offense.

(Sam Webb) with Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. Coach, it has been an interesting ride for you this year, a lot of uncertainty for you upfront to begin the season, but boy, when you talk about improvement over the course of the year, you'd be hard-pressed to find a unit on the entire team that has improved as much as yours. Just talk about the progress you've seen from your guys so far this year.

You know it's always been a priority here and always will be, and the expectations are high. Like I said at the beginning of the year, our expectations at Michigan are for the position, so that's what's expected of them every single day. So when we go out there and grind, they eventually figure it out. It's part of the process and they've come a long ways. Q Washington is one of them. Coach Hoke's done a great job with him. Big Will is playing better than he's ever played. Craig Roh is playing very well at his position. Brennan Beyer, Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia, Keith Heitzman, everybody's expected to play and it shouldn't drop off from one guy to the next and that's what our expectations are, and it's still work in progress. We're not where we need to be yet, we're getting close, but we've still got to impose our will on people upfront and control the line of scrimmage.

Coach let's start off talking – you mentioned Q Washington first, and that's been like a theme with many of the analysts as well. He was spotlighted quite a bit on the broadcast last week on television. What's the biggest improvement, what's the biggest difference in Q Washington now from the beginning of the year? Where is he better? Why is he performing so well?

One, a confidence. He believes. He's always had the ability, now he's had some game experience and he believes in what he's doing. And when you believe and you have confidence, you have a little bit more swagger about yourself, and with confidence comes better play. He's throwing off blocks, he's making tackles, he's using his hands better, and obviously as a D-lineman, if you play with good pad level and use your hands, you are going to be okay, and he's doing those things… consistently, which is good.

You mentioned William Campbell playing better football than he's ever played. Is that about pad level with him as well?

Pad level, he's playing harder. He's using his God-given abilities, his physicality and those things. He throws some people around at times, and he just keeps improving. He's been working since we've gotten here and now it's just starting to pay off.

Coach, was there a moment – I understand you guys are constantly moving the finish line and looking at the next game, but was there a moment in this season up to this point where it seemed like, to you, from a coaching standpoint, that things were really starting to click? Was there a game or an experience that may have been a light bulb moment for these guys, where it just seemed like they started playing better?

You know, I remember the week before we went to Notre Dame. The preparation, the kids were preparing, and something just told me to go back and look at some previous film, and I went back and I pulled up clips from Alabama, and I put it up there, and I put in clips from Notre Dame the previous year, and I just put in front of the guys and I said now look, you guys played the number one team, the number one O-line in the country. You played a really good Notre Dame team last year with the same guys in here. Big Will, you were here, Q , you played some reps, Craig…and I put it on and I said ‘watch you guys control the line of scrimmage in these two games'. I showed them clips, I made a cut up, and they watched it, and I just remember leaving that meeting thinking they were ready to play. And then I remember going into that game, it didn't matter about the turnovers, every time those kids walked on that field, they looked at each other and sometimes you get a feel like, ‘oh here we go again, we've got to go back out'. These guys are happy to be out on the field. They wanted to prove to the world that they had become a good defensive line, and they proved that game that they were to be reckoned with in the run game, and that was huge, and they believed – and I think from that game on, they believed that you shouldn't be able to run the ball on us inside.

It's amazing, you talked about the growth of those two guys on the inside, the physical demands that you put on guys like Jibreel Black and Craig Roh to get bigger, to play in different places over the course of the year. How have you seen them kind of grow into their new roles on the defense?

Jibreel's playing extremely well. He's doing a heck of a job. He's playing hard, he's always played hard. He's been more physical than he's ever been. Craig is a pretty smart football player, where he's always supposed to be and things like that. And just as a group, and those two guys that have the weight changes have done a great job for us, great job, and they've gotten better and better. Obviously, you've got to cut some of their reps so they don't get as beat up being in those different positions, but they're doing a heck of a job for us and it should be a good finish for us.

You couldn't help but notice Keith Heizman on the football field at Minnesota, coach. Fans are calling us saying ‘where did he come from?' When did things start to click for Keith Heitzman? I recall his name being mentioned a couple times during fall camp, but as his position coach, when did you start noticing… ‘okay he's ready'?

You know, Keith had a good spring. We had two ends in the spring, so he got all the reps. He's a tough kid. He's where he's supposed to be. He loves the game. And did I say he's tough? You've got to love that about the kid. He's a Columbus kid, and just he got better in each and every week like he did in the spring, and you can't deny a kid like that playing time, and he's played anywhere from eight to 15 snaps, to this last week almost 30 snaps, and he deserves to be in the lineup, in the rotation, because he plays hard, he plays Michigan defense, and that's what you want and that's what it's all about.

You've been able to mix some young guys in there. We've seen some Ondre Pipkins, a different version of Ondre Pipkins than the one that got here who was about 347; he looks to be around 320 now. Talk about his progress. I'm sure people look at the rankings and they think he's going to come in and start but it's a process, is it not?

It is. It is. You'd be crazy to come in as a true freshman D-Lineman and expect, physically and mentally, to get it all. And let alone learn a technique for the first time, so what he's done is, he's come in and he changed his body, he worked harder than he's ever worked…ever. And he's learning technique and fundamentals and is getting more snaps each week because he's gotten better each week. Before it's all said, all done with, you're going to see a pretty good player out of him. You're going to see a really good player because he's got all the ability in the world, and we're just showing him how to use it now, and that's part of the process. And so kids are growing up right before your eyes, and he's doing a good job for us.

You mentioned another young guy in Mario Ojemudia. To play as much as he's played at the weight that he's playing at right now, I think has to say a ton about – you talk about a tough guy, you talk about motor, those two things would seem to describe him to a T.

Yeah he's another one. He's tough, first and foremost. He plays with a good motor. He's pretty smart, he picks things up. He's a good third-down rusher for us, but he can plan on first down, and that's what you love about him. He'll line up against a 300-pound guy and out-leverage them and hit them in the mouth, and I can't wait to get him back on the field, because he's done a lot of good things for us.

You know, it's great that we have an opportunity to kind of, as a brief aside, talk about some guys who aren't on the playing field, some of the young guys people have heard about heading into this year as part of your recruiting class. How is Tom Strobel coming along in practice coach?

Strobel's a motor guy. He's going to be a really good player for us. In the weight room, he is doing a great job down on scout team, but he's another guy who plays extremely hard, is learning the technique and fundamentals and is into everything we're doing. And I can't wait to get him on in spring ball so he can compete for a job, and same thing goes for Matt Godin, and they've done a great job.

Where are you playing those two guys?

They're both playing five technique right now. They're both at five technique and they're doing a good job. Doing a good job.

Now before he got injured, what about Chris Wormley? I know it's tough to see a guy that looked like he was that physically ready to go. He's obviously a mature kid. What were you seeing in him before the injury occurred?

He definitely was a kid that was ready to play and ready to compete for a starting position, and so he was doing things he needed to do, and he was getting better, and he was learning. But you know, things happen, and I think this is going to help mature him as far as a football player, to see the grind of the season, to see how this thing goes. And he's rehabbing, is doing extremely well. He's doing great in the classroom, which is extremely important to him and me also, but I really look forward to getting him back maybe in the spring, but definitely, he's going to be a guy who's going to help us and you'll hear a lot about him next year.

Was he a three tech?

He was playing three tech for us, yes.

Let's switch the attention of focus to Saturday's opponent. Northwestern is a volume offense. They do a lot of different things, big plays they're able to manufacture using guys in different spots. Kain Colter is like a chess piece. You've got a 1,000 yard rusher. Talk about what you see when you see that Northwestern offense.

You know, it's like Air Force in a way. It's option and shotgun is what it is, and they've got a great quarterback that can run that offense. He's a lot like Denard, and you got a quarterback that can come off the bench or start for them, and throw the ball around a little bit, and they'll run the ball around with him a little bit, but not as much as Kain. They've got a dynamic running back who's like Norfleet. They give him the ball in space and tell to make a guy miss and then, because they spread you out, he's got a chance to make some big plays. They're really explosive offensively, you know, and for them, it's about big plays, spread you out, and get a deep pass or break a big run because they skinny the defense by widening you out in the spread offense, and getting the little guy out in space. Just a really good offense, really good offense, we're going to have our hands full.

Now coach, you guys, and I know like I said earlier, you constantly move the finish line for your defense to keep them striving for perfection, which I understand coaches have to do that, but they have played really really well. Notre Dame went really well. You're holding all of these teams far below their normal scoring output. The only time, the only instance in those few games that it seemed like a team maybe was able to get a little rhythm going was when Nebraska tried to tempo you a little bit. Do you anticipate that that's something Northwestern will do and how do you, as a team, I mean, you guys mostly face your own offense that – you huddle and do all those kinds of things, how do you kind of replicate the tempo of what you might see in this contest?

For one, yeah, we're going to see tempo, we're probably going to see it early. They're going to try to jump out on us, I can guarantee that. The kids will be ready. This week in practice, we prepared. We prepared at a high-level, game tempo. I think we practiced extremely hard, as we do every week, but at a different pace and a different tempo. Hopefully we worked so hard in practice that when we get to the game, it's easy. We just picked up the tempo. We had four or five coaches running the scout team, and the defense had one play and the offense was lined up ready to run another play, so it's going to be faster than what we've gotten in the games, so hopefully, come game time, it slows down for us a little bit and it's golden.

In a situation like that, do guys have to anticipate playing more snaps consecutively or can you still get your substitutions in when you face something like that?

I believe you can still get substitutions in and out. I think it's got to be an understanding, I'm in three plays, after my third play, when the whistle blows, I'm headed to that sideline, the guy coming in for me is already running in. Where the problem becomes is, a guy, on his second play and he's winded and he pulls himself. Then you've got a guy who's running out there, who doesn't know that he should be out there yet. That's where issue becomes, but if we're all on the same page, we can get it done. We definitely can get it done.