Hoke signs recruits who fit his style
In early January, when Michigan's top brass determined that the string had played out for Rich Rodriguez and that it was time to make him the former coach of the Wolverines, the search was on to find the right guy to put the luster back in the program.
Michigan did not need an eloquent speaker, an expert on Baroque architecture or someone who could mingle with all of the assembled pointy-headed academics. It needed a football coach. A roll-up-the-sleeves, sorry-about-the-gravy-on-my-necktie, spitting and barking football coach.
Many close to the program think Brady Hoke is that guy, and Hoke moved to put his stamp on things less than a month after the firing of Rodriguez by bringing in 20 recruits, most of whom share his approach to the game. If you were not a physical player with more than your share of toughness, it was probably best to not even return Hoke's calls.
He sought to rapidly mend Michigan's sad-sack defense by bringing in a dozen recruits on that side of the ball. With former NFL defensive boss Greg Mattison already on staff, the Wolverines can go to work rebuilding the unit.
"One thing I know from coaching in the Big Ten and being here at Michigan, you have to play defense," said Hoke, a former Michigan assistant. "All of those guys, we think, have the right stuff when it comes to a physical-ness and a toughness that we want to play defense with."
The vultures had been circling for a couple of months as Rodriguez was left to flap in the breeze while the Michigan brain trust determined his fate. Other schools raided Michigan's recruits, feasting on the doubt that cast a pall over the program.
Hoke had precious little time to mend things, hang on to the recruits in hand and try to recover a few of those who wandered. His blue-collar, gritty approach paid off.
When Hoke first met massive offensive lineman Christian Bryant from Chicago Simeon, there was a handshake, but that was the end of the formalities. "He hugged me," Bryant said about the bear-to-bear embrace he shared with Hoke. "We hit it off from the very get-go."
Hoke's easy-going demeanor, his ability to salvage a very respectable recruiting class in the eleventh hour, and his Michigan background should get him started on solid ground. Now he just has to remind the folks in Ann Arbor that he is not there to lead the English Literature department or to lecture on the socio-economic crisis in the Third World. He's a football guy, which should be fairly obvious.
--New head coach Brady Hoke made a significant hire when he lured defensive coordinator Greg Mattison from the NFL to take charge of Michigan's beleaguered unit. Mattison has more than 30 years experience at the collegiate level, most recently as defensive coordinator at Florida.
--The Wolverines have added Air Force to the 2012 schedule and will face the Falcons in the home opener a week after opening the season against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium. Alabama, Air Force and Notre Dame will make up the nonconference portion of the 2012 schedule. The Wolverines beat Air Force 24-7 in 1964 in the only previous meeting between the schools.
--Hoke brought six members of his staff from San Diego State to Michigan, including offensive coordinator Al Borges.
--To provide a critical link with the current players, Hoke retained long-time Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson at the same position on the new staff. Jackson will begin his 20th season as a member of the Wolverines coaching staff in 2011.
Practice priorities: New Michigan head coach Brady Hoke had to look at just one line on the 2010 season stat sheet to determine where his focus would need to be once he got his team out on the practice field for the first time this spring. The Wolverines gave up an average of 35 points and 450 yards per game last season, and that needed to get fixed. So Hoke takes his team into spring with a revision in the format, moving from the 3-3-5 defense preferred by former head coach Rich Rodriguez and converting to a 4-3 scheme. Both Hoke and new Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison prefer the 4-3. "That's something we're both familiar with. We've played it a lot and coached it a lot," Hoke said. Their first order of business for spring is to make that Michigan's defense for the 2011 season, and make certain it works much more efficiently than the unit from 2010.
Michigan will also spend some time this spring tweaking its offense, which was one of the best in the country in 2010. This is not a case of fixing something that is not broken, but rather a move to protect junior QB Denard Robinson from the punishment he took last year when he rushed for 1,702 yards, the best single-season rushing performance ever by a quarterback. New offensive coordinator Al Borges plans to tweak the Michigan spread into more of a pro-style attack that more evenly distributes the workload, uses the pass more and is more adept at ball-control.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our mind-set and our goal was to get guys who were going to represent Michigan and Michigan football." -- New Michigan coach Brady Hoke's succinct assessment of his approach to assembling his first recruiting class.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY LOSSES: The Wolverines were one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten this past season, so most of their key personnel is returning. But they do have some work to do up front on offense, where fifth-year seniors Perry Dorrestein and Stephen Schilling were critical parts of the blocking unit that opened lanes for fleet-footed QB Denard Robinson. Fortunately, there are skilled backups in place who should keep the phalanx in front of Robinson moving. Dorrestein will likely be replaced by Mark Huyge, who shared the right tackle slot with Dorrestein this past season. Schilling has been backed up by junior Ricky Barnum, and Barnum appears ready to move in to a starting role.
LB Jonas Mouton is likely the biggest loss on the defensive side. Mouton was a ferocious hitter who recorded 111 tackles last season. Since both Moundros and Mouton played the weak-side position, spring will see a wide-open competition for that spot. Brandon Herron will have the inside track coming in, but eventually he could be pushed by one of the talented freshmen.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2011:
QB Denard Robinson -- The Florida product ran an offense that averaged 500 yards per game in 2010, and he set an NCAA record for quarterbacks by rushing for 1,702 yards. As the offense morphs into more of a pro-style attack, Robinson will carry the ball less, but when he does run, the excitement won't diminish a bit.
C David Molk -- As the anchor up front, Molk started all 13 games at center for the nation's sixth-most-productive offense. He was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center. Molk was a first-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches, and he should go into his senior season as the premier center in the conference, and possibly the nation.
WR Roy Roundtree -- He emerged as Michigan's top outside threat in 2010 when he put together four 100-yard receiving games and had 72 catches for 935 yards. As the Wolverines move to a more pro-style attack, Roundtree's role should expand.
P Will Hagerup -- He came in as a true freshman and won the starting job, and he went on to post the second-best season average in Michigan history (43.6 yards). A tremendous talent who is a critical field-position weapon, Hagerup crossed the line and was suspended for the Ohio State game, so he will need to stay out of the doghouse and on the field in 2011.
--WR Martavious Odoms broke his foot in the Iowa game last season, but he is expected to be cleared for contact by the time spring ball arrives.
--PK Matt Wile, a member of the 2011 recruiting class, has solid roots with the Wolverines. Wile's father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather all attended the University of Michigan Medical School. Wile's dad, Dr. Peter Wile, is the team doctor at San Diego State, where new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was employed before coming to Ann Arbor.
--DB Troy Woolfolk, a designated starter and one of the most reliable members of the Michigan defense going into the 2010 season, dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula in practice last August, forcing him to miss the complete season. After surgery and a lengthy rehab, Woolfolk is working his way back. He could help Michigan revive its troubled defense.
--DB Greg Brown, who comes from the same Fremont (Ohio) Ross High School that produced Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, enrolled in January so he could get a jump on learning the system and take part in spring practice.
TSX Files: U-M F-Ball: Recruiting, Team Notes
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