Week 9 Game Day Intel: Jeff Hecklinski

This week we sit down for a one-on-one session with Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski. The Wolverine assistant reflects upon the week of practice in the aftermath of the MSU loss, the development of Devin Funchess at receiver, the challenges Nebraska presents defensively, and more.

Sam Webb: Let's just start off with something very general. What was the week of practice like for the team?

Jeff Hecklinski: "Very energetic. I think the kids are disappointed with how we played overall as a team, and I think they want to get out there and show that that's not them, and that's not us, and that's not who we are. A lot of hitting; a lot of good hitting. You could hear football out there, which it's not that you couldn't the other days, I think it was just accelerated a little bit, and I think the kids are anxious to get back out and show exactly who we are as a time."

Sam Webb: It's in times of adversity I think that leadership really manifests itself; the time where you really can't have any finger pointing and that sort of thing. Talk about the leadership displayed by your guys, Devin for instance, during this week.

Jeff Hecklinski: "Devin I think has grown as a leader throughout the course of the whole year. I mean, we're talking about Devin Gardner. I think from the standpoint of being a quarterback, and getting guys in place, and getting them ready to go, and throughout practice keeping the tempo and keeping things going, and not allowing guys just to meander around – you know, that's typical flow of practice, but he's one that's really taken charge out there. Taylor obviously is a good leader, and does a good job of that, and from our standpoint on the perimeter, guys like Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, Joe Reynolds, Jeremy Jackson, you know, those guys play hard every day on the perimeter, and they kind of take care of each other and take care of themselves out there; and I think the addition of Devin Funchess out there has helped a lot, too, in helping to bring the energy throughout practice, so I think the leadership has stepped up. I think the guys are, like I said, disappointed and anxious to prove and show that ‘you know what, we're different than the way we played last Saturday, and we need to start executing to go along with the effort that we're putting on the field'."

Sam Webb: I know it's a total team loss, but one of the bright spots, offensively, seemed to be that your guys found openings in the secondary. They were able to get a number of plays where they were running free. There wasn't always an opportunity to get the ball to them. Just assess the performance of your group in particular in that game.

Jeff Hecklinski: "I think in football you're always a product of everybody who's out there on the field, and if we're open, our job when the ball is in the air is to go catch the ball. We didn't do that a couple times, and it put us in a bad situation, and I think that's what we need to focus on. I think you have to give all the credit to Michigan State. A rivalry game, you can't look back and say – you know, you have to give credit to the opponent, and they did some things where we need to – you know, we have some young kids upfront, and they exposed it, and they played hard, and our kids played hard. I think both teams played hard. I think upfront, and from the standpoint of protection purposes, I think we all know that we have to improve on that, and we've spent all week doing that, and I think our young kids are going to grow because of that. I mean, they were part of a game that they hadn't been a part of before, guys like Kyle Bosch, Graham Glasgow, and Erik Magnuson, so I think you look for the rise in performance from that game to this game, and the learning curve to accelerate now, and they have all week, and we're excited to get back out there, and our guys are excited, because you know what, it could go the other way. I've seen it where the quarterback has all day, and he can't find anyone open, so you can't look at it from that standpoint. You look at it from the whole, and we look for our guys to grow throughout the course of the week, and to improve, and that goal every week, to improve. Every day we go out there and improve, and we're looking for a big jump in the learning curve this week now."

Sam Webb: You talk about improving every week, getting better every week. Jehu Chesson, I think that describes him very well. He was one of the – again, we talk about bright spots in the game, he made a big play in that contest.

Jeff Hecklinski: "He did, and he has that ability, and you know, you're looking at a young kid who is, every week, being put in a position to be able to make some plays. I think from the standpoint of Jeremy Gallon, and Devin Funchess, that third, Drew Dileo, Jehu, where ok, if they're going to focus their attention on those two, they're going to leave somebody else one on one, so we knew we could get Jehu matched up a couple of times, and we did, and to Jehu's credit, he went up and made the play, but for our perspective, the great play here is expected. Those plays are expected here, and everybody's heard us say that before, that those plays are expected. What we need Jehu to do is finish that play and score the touchdown, and not leave us short, and so that's what we're working on now, and those are the expectations for a Michigan receiver."

Sam Webb: Now you have Devin Funchess, who we just talked about in passing, playing most of his snaps at receiver. He did put his hand in the dirt a couple of times. Talk about his progression, and the things that you're asking for him that are different at that position. Brady was talking about it, and there are some nuances to the position, at receiver, that he doesn't have to be concerned with at tight end, so just talk about the differences for him and his progression thus far.

Jeff Hecklinski: "He's done a good job of learning, and willingness, and wanting to learn, and little things that go with all that. The thing that I'm probably most proud of with him is his willingness to go in there, and stick his nose in there, and block. He had some blocks early on in that game where he was matched up on the outside linebacker, and he put him on his back, and those are things that we're looking for from him, because we all know he's an incredible talent. He has an incredible skill set to be a tight end, receiver…whatever you want to call him. He's a mismatch. But now are you going to do the little things that help you end up getting open in the end? Because the more you're willing to block, the more they have to commit to the run. The more they commit to the run, the more free runs you get, so it all works hand in hand, and he did that on Saturday, and he's grown in those aspects, and understanding angles, understanding playing in wide open spaces, and I think he's getting better, he's improving. He's obviously very good to begin with, and now what we need to do is the little things, so between him, Jeremy, Jehu, and Drew, you have four guys out there for the next four, five, six games, that really can at any point take over a game."

Sam Webb: How's Drew? I get a lot of questions about Dennis Norfleet as well. How's he doing thus far?

Jeff Hecklinski: "Good, Drew's fine. He's improving every day and getting healthier every day. How much he does this week I think is left to be seen. Dennis is doing well. Dennis is doing well in his role. Again, you talk about the transition from moving positions where Devin Funchess at least had run routes before, at least had been in space and been in the perimeter. Dennis took the jump from being a running back to being a receiver, and as a running back, you only listen to certain words, and as a receiver, you have to listen to all the words, because you have to know everything, so the transition for Dennis has been good, it has been smooth, you know, he's one of our best special teams players. He's a kick returner, you know, I think alleviating the punt return a little bit and taken some pressure off there has helped him. I think Dennis' role will expand. How much will it expand this year? I think he's doing what the team needs him to do to win right now, and I think his role will expand as he gets more comfortable on the perimeter."

Sam Webb: Let's talk about today's opponent, coach; Nebraska. They come in high off a shot they took at the end of the game that they actually connected on. They're a talented team. They've had some issues defensively here and there, but they seem to have been getting better recently, so just talk to me about what you've seen from their defense on film.

Jeff Hecklinski: "Very talented, you know, I think they have a very good pass rusher, number 44. I'd rate him as one of the best in the Big Ten, a kid who can run, get up the field, and create a lot of havoc. They're young in the linebacker core, and I think that's where you've seen them grow. I think that's where you've seen that improvement. The secondary, they always play aggressive, I mean, they're always aggressive, and that's one of the things that we have to be ready for this week, is the aggression that they play with from the corner and safety spot. I've been on both ends of those, and for one side, your heart just sinks to your feet, and to the other side, you can't get any higher, so for them, I'm sure they're coming off saying ‘we're right in the thick of this, and we're right in the hunt', and from our perspective, we are too. We just have to handle our business, and our fate being out of our hands a little bit, but that doesn't control how we come to play, and how we prepare. Like I said, I thought we had a good week. I think it'll be a good, aggressive, fun football game, and hopefully in the end we're able to attack their defense vertically like we always do."

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