Sam Webb: You guys finally get an opportunity here to hit someone else. I imagine your guys have been chomping at the bit in that regard.
Darrell Funk: “Yeah, it’s been a long time. Camp seems like an eternity, and blocking the Michigan defense is getting old, so it’s time to block new guys, and in the Big House, so we’re excited about that.”
Sam Webb: We’ll start with your mainstay, the guy everyone knows about, Taylor Lewan. He had an opportunity to go to the pros, and he didn’t do that. That clearly spoke to his teammates; he’s a captain. Just what have you seen? What different, if anything, have you seen from him this year as you head into your first game?
Darrell Funk: “Well as soon as he announced his decision, right the very next day, he started being the leader we all knew he could be. He had to ask a little bit of guidance on how to do this and how to do that… some kids, they need to be trained on how to be a leader… but he’s taken the bull by the horns. Ever since that day there’s been no question about who our offensive leader is. You know, elected captain, all those different things, and he’s done a great job. He’s had great two-a-days. He’s backed his reps off a little bit, getting got look at some young guys here and there on some things, but he’s polished up some things and he’s ready to go.”
Sam Webb: I know from talking to you a number of times last year, as much as you coach technique, you also look for a certain temperament, an attitude, from your guys up front. As you watch them in fall camp, and let’s kind of set Taylor to the side, because we know he plays that way, but have you seen that from your other guys upfront?
Darrell Funk: “Well I’ve seen flashes of it, and it’s interesting you asked me that because about an hour ago at a meeting I told all these young guys I wish they all copied exactly how Taylor practices, because that’s how he practices… like he plays. But the other guys, Scofield has upped the ante. He’s always been a good effort guy, he’s just not been – I think the challenge to him is always be a little nastier, and kind of approach that line… not cross it… a little bit more. Just to play the game that way, and I think he’s done that; and all the young kids have flashed that. Not consistent enough yet, but they’ve flashed that temperament. Sometimes it’s a tendency for a young kid when he gets a little confused to go half speed. He doesn’t mean to do it, but he doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, and that has diminished as we’ve gone through camp, but our goal is to have five guys who play like Taylor across the front, and that will always be the goal.”
Sam Webb: You guys had very intense battles on the interior. Kyle Kalis was a guy I remember talking to you about. You said he looked at red-shirting as a personal failure, but it seemed like in talking to him during camp that he realized the benefit of that. He’s won the starting position. What’s the difference in him now compared to last year at this time? Is it just pure knowledge of the game?
Darrell Funk: “Yeah, basically, because he came in pretty much at the strength levels you want, and different things. It ends up just being – the game happens so fast at this level, you know. He’s not the biggest guy out there all the time like he was in high school, and this is not just the case for him, but for anybody, and it just happens so much faster. Guys are bigger, faster, stronger, and plus the schemes and the different looks, especially that we get during fall camp, or fall camp a year ago, it’s hard for a freshman, until the game slows down a little bit for him, to use a little bit of a catch phrase, and it has. He’s had far fewer assignment errors, which a year ago, he couldn’t go through a practice without several missed assignments. I think he’s been more consistent, and it’s time to see what he can do in the Big House when it really counts.”
Sam Webb: Left guard and center. Graham was competing at center and left guard, obviously you had Jack Miller at center, and Chris Bryant getting some time in there at guard. Talk to me about what you saw from that tandem, that center/left guard tandem, that made Jack Miller at center, and Graham Glasgow left guard, the two that you went with.
Darrell Funk: “Well, with Jack, Jack won the center job largely because he gets us in the right calls every time. He can initially see the front, make the calls, get everyone going. And then he’s a fighter. Like all players, he has his strengths and weaknesses, but he’s a fighter. He’s a little bit undersized in some situations, but he makes up for that with some pretty good technique. So he won the job based on that. Graham was going to win a job, regardless, as camp went through. He was either going to be the starting center or the starting left guard. It just kind of the way it shook out because of his consistently level. And I’ll tell you what, I graded these players as if it was a ball game; pluses, minuses, all that stuff, all the way through camp every practice from the get-go. My math skills were really put to the test and I have percentages on the brain, but I wanted to see every day, whether it was a 12-play inside run drill or a pass pro drive, I wanted to see who was really grading out the best. Graham, other than Taylor and Mike, was day in and day out the third most consistent, so he ended up with the left guard spot. He’s playing real well, he’s comfortable next to Lewan, which, you know, a lot of guys could get comfortable next to Lewan. Taylor is kind of a player and a half in a lot of those situations. I might still be able to line up and play next to him and get a block or two (laughter). But Graham’s done well, and we’re proud of him. He’s earned the job, and as you mentioned, Chris Bryant, Joey Burzynski, has been mixed in and out of there. Ben Braden, at one point, was in that mix, and they were just percentage points off, but the consistency and the lack of missed assignments is really what dictated the most the inside other positions, center and left guard.”
Sam Webb: Obviously the goal Saturday is to win the game first. Brady said if the opportunity presents itself that you guys would get some of the younger guys, some of the less experienced guys, in the game. Talk to me about some of the backups. We’ve heard a lot about Ben Braden. Brady said he thinks he’s probably your third tackle at this point. You talked about Magnuson really showing you some things in pass blocking. What about some of the guys as backups? What might we see from them if they get an opportunity on the field?
Darrell Funk: “Well, we mentioned Chris Bryant. He can play both guard positions, so he has been for most of camp either in the starting lineup battling, or the first one in. Joey Burzynski played more at center in this camp. He was a guy that was in there during crunch time last year. He was the sixth guy last year, so he can do some things. Braden and Magnuson are, to me, pretty much in a dead heat in terms of their ability, or in terms of their production, I should say. They’re different players. Ben started out as guard because we wanted to give him a run at that starting left guard spot, but he’s just more of a tackle, and I think he’s a tackle that down the road Michigan fans are going to see out there on that edge doing a great job; but him and Mags have had good camps, they’re ready to go, and like we said from the start, we have a lot of guys that could go in and be very productive should the opportunity arise, and that’s the key. You get three brand new starters inside, and I’m just anxious to get them on the right people, and get them blocking, and they’re not going to be perfect, they’re going to make some mistakes. Our goal is to minimize those, obviously, and get it rolling. Then after that, we’ll see what happens in terms of other guys that get an opportunity.”
Sam Webb: Let’s talk about Central Michigan. You’ve obviously had an opportunity to watch them on film. What challenges do they present, certainly upfront, and then overall defensively?
Darrell Funk: “I think the first thing that jumps out at me is their interior starters. Their inside tackle positions and their inside backers are both – have all four played a lot of football, and that’s where we’re young, so to me, that jumps out. I’ve read different things, they have a bunch of other guys, all of a sudden they have some depth. They have some more defensive linemen but those two tackles and the two inside backers, to me, cause me the most concern because that’s where we’re inexperienced and young. Schematically they’re very sound. They do a great job pursuing to the football. They play with a lot of confidence. They definitely have tendencies like all people do, like all defenses. They probably know the strengths and weaknesses of their defenses as well as anybody, but I’m impressed with how they play, but like I said, the interior of their defense, the two tackles and the two inside backers, are real productive for them, and we have to do a great job there.”
Sam Webb: As we said, if the opportunity presents itself, some of the younger guys are going to get in. Does anything change for you guys upfront with Shane Morris as a left-handed quarterback in the lineup?
Darrell Funk: “Well, with a lefty, and it’s been a while since I had a left I’ve been involved with trying to protect, but as far as the run game, no. We go both ways, and we do a lot of things. I’m sure there are some things hidden in the pass game, some that a line coach might not even know that much about, or really care that much about; I have my own problems, but there are certain things that probably righties do a little bit better throwing as opposed to lefties. But as far as our game plan and different things, it doesn’t change for us upfront. Our job is still to run the football, and run the football, and when we’re called on to protect any quarterback in there, that’s the goal, and that’s what we’re going to do.”