Week 11 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 Iowa loss, Devin Funchess mindset after the toughest game of his young career, Jeremy Gallon's career, the improvements that the players in his position group must make, the match-up with Ohio State, and more

Sam Webb:  You’re coming off of a game out at Iowa where talking to the players afterward they were talking about execution issues, talking about some drop passes and what not.  When you look back at the film what did you see as a coach when you evaluated the performance out there.

Jeff Hecklinski:  “I think this was the first game from our position, our perspective we did not catch the ball very well.  It was pretty obvious, I don’t think I am stating anything that is not.  That in turn, the ball in Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess’ hand, that takes away from the yards after catch and it takes away from threats when they are in the open field.  We put a big focus on just focusing on the ball.  I think between those two, I think trying to do too much is something that you have to be careful of right now because we are struggling.  In those regards, you take your focus off the ball and trying to do too much after the catch instead of worrying about the catch and letting everything happen naturally.  They are plenty talented, plenty skilled in terms of running with the ball and we’ve just got to go back to fundamentals and basics this week.”

Sam Webb:  When you’re in a situation when you are struggling like your guys are, what is the way out?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “I think first thing is that you go back to individual fundamentals and techniques, worrying about yourself and your position and doing what each individual play asks you to do.  I think more so than confidence.  I think more so of trying to do too much, someone is trying to make that great play to bring you out instead of making the routine play.  We’ve got to get back to just making the routine plays, whether it is just a simple combination block on the offensive line and getting to the linebacker.  Whether it is the running back making the right cut and getting the shoulder pads downhill and taking on somebody.  To a wide out, just making the simple catch and the quarterback making the simple throw.  The routine plays are the plays that happen 90% of the time and then you find the great plays happen and I think right now we’re pressing because everybody is trying to make that play instead of making the routine plays and that’s been the focus all week.”

Sam Webb:  Every player is going to have a rough game or rough outing, a time where they did not perform up to their abilities.  What was Devin Funchess like mentally coming off that game?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “They’re fine.  When you play receiver it is like hitting a baseball.  There is going to be a day when you’re going to be oh for four.  What you got to make sure is that you don’t lose focus, you get back to doing the little things and the next week you come out and you have that four for four day.  Fortunately in baseball you have 162 games, we only have 12 guaranteed.  It stings more, but when that happens the other people around you have to pick it up and pick you up and that’s one thing we didn’t do.  Devin had a rough game, he dropped three balls – there is no question about that.  Jeremy Gallon had a chance to pick him up, our running game had a chance to pick him up and there are some things in there that the other ten players are around.  It is a team game and that’s why you rely on a team, why you can’t rely on one guy.  We’ve talked about it before.  When Devin moved out, what happened to Jeremy Gallon, things opened up.  If you rely on one guy, there is going to come a point and time when defenses take him away or he has an off day and the ball can’t find him.  So now where do you go and that’s where the other ten players have to step up and say, hey we got you, don’t worry about it, relax.  That happened, that happened afterwards.  You have got to learn to deal with failure sort of speak more so than you do success and this is really probably the first time where things did not come natural to him and I’m proud of the way he handled it and I’m proud of the way he is working in practice and I’m proud of the week he had.”

Sam Webb:  We can talk a little bit about Jeremy Gallon in that game, but I want to talk about him more overall.  You are coming to the end of his regular season career at Michigan.  He is a guy that has gotten better every single season at Michigan and he is poised to go down as one of the top statistical pass catchers in the history of the program.  Just talk to us about him and his growth during the time here at Michigan.

Jeff Hecklinski:  “You’re going to bring a tear to my eye talking about him.  He’s definitely one of the special kids that day in and day out comes with a passion and energy to play the game.  He is will graduate here in December with a degree from the University of Michigan and that’s probably the thing that you’re most proud of.  But then the work ethic he has, the toughness he has, the intensity that he has – he has earned everything he has gotten.  You look at his statistics from when we first got here when we weren’t throwing the ball much to when Denard (Robinson) got hurt and we started to throw the ball a little bit more and now to this year and really he has done everything in about a year and a half of work.  He has made himself that way.  He has made himself a great catcher.  He has made himself a tenacious route runner.  I think he has a lot of respect and I think the most important thing is the respect of your opponents.  Last week, when you watch Iowa, they kept a safety and corner over him the whole game.  When him and Devin were on the same side, they kept three guys over the top of him.  That’s respect.  They value as a playmaker and they are not going to allow you to make plays.  That is the biggest form of respect in this game is when defenses game plan to scheme you.  He deserves everything that he gets.  You can’t be more proud and you can’t ask for a better representative of Michigan football than Jeremy Gallon.”

Sam Webb:  He throughout the season has been a big play guy for you.  That’s what warrants all that attention.  Opposite him, we talked about Devin Funchess and the threat that he is.  What about elsewhere.  How has Jehu Chesson progressed this year?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “I think he has had a wonderful redshirt freshman season.  I think the one thing coming into the offseason and going into the bowl game, we’ve got to develop a number three and number four receiver, whether it be a receiver, Jake Butt at tight end, whether it be a running back out of the backfield.  When you’re throwing the ball well, there are three or four people involved and that’s one of the things that I think we have to do as coaches place an emphasis on.  We know what Jeremy Gallon is going to do throughout the course of a game or throughout the course of a day.  There are going to be hiccups obviously.  You know what Devin Funchess is going to bring to the table.  Bar a play or two, you know what you are going to get.  Now you have to find a number three and number four so as defenses begin to expand, now you have the underneath throws, you have the tight end involved in the game, you’ve got the running backs.  You’ve got Jehu Chesson when coverages roll and he’s left one on one.  That’s the progress we’ve got to make and the progression that we have to make.  That’s got to be a strong emphasis and I know that it will as we go through with this and we continue on in the development of this offense.”

Sam Webb:  Outside of just improving on fundamentals and technique… when you look at your guys, your position group, what are the things where you say ‘I want to get us better at that.’  Is it defeating press coverage? Is recognizing blitzes and running hot routes?  Is there anything that you point where you say ‘this is what I really think we need to get better at?’

Jeff Hecklinski:  “I think there are certain things that are a quarterback’s best friend.  I think there are some things that we’ve got to put an emphasis on.  First off, throwing the fade route versus press.  Where the quarterback can just put the ball up and we will go get it.  When we had Junior (Hemingway) you saw a little bit of that.  I think with Jeremy Gallon there has been a little bit of that.  I don’t think we’ve been as efficient throughout the course of the year because it allows him to get rid of the ball before anything can get to him.  It allows him to put it up without having to be perfect throw right on time with the throw.  So I think there are things like that we can get better at.  I think Jehu and the development of some of the younger wide receivers in terms of the offense and route running are things we have got to put a stronger emphasis on.  I think with Devin, I think getting better in and out of breaks.  For a big guy, he’s good, but I think if he wants to get to where he wants to go and our dependence upon him with being a big play receiver, we’ve got to take that to the next step.  When you look at all the great offenses in the NFL, they all have that guy and we need Devin now to step up and be that guy, that Calvin Johnson and for Tom Brady it is (Rob) Gronkowski.  They all have that comfort zone and Devin Funchess has to be that comfort zone now for the quarterback as Jeremy Gallon moves on with what he is going to do and then again developing the wide outs around him so there are options, *** to where the ball can go when they do cover and roll coverages over the top.”

Sam Webb:  How is Amara Darboh doing?  Where is he at his rehab point?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “Really good.  From my understanding and all the reports that I have, he is working hard in the weight room.  He is on the JUGS every day.  He is working beyond.  He is doing all the little things and all the extra stuff.  The healing of the foot, that’s just time.  Getting the screws out is the next phase of it.  I think that is happening here sometime in December.  So from there, the progress can really accelerate.  Until he gets the screws out and until they see that those bones and ligaments are completely healed, there is really not a whole lot that they can do in terms of running and getting him on the foot and all that stuff.  Outside of that, he is doing everything above and beyond.  He looks good I know that.  Every day that I see him, I tell him, you just need to get them going, suit up and we’ll make it work.  Getting him back is going to be an important piece.  Just think of him and Drake Johnson, who were two important young kids that were progressing that we’re going to see significant time.  We lost them early and I like what we’ve done and obviously Jehu has stepped up and doing a really nice job.  Obviously Devin Funchess moving out, I think the repercussions of that helped solidify us and has helped make us strong.  Now we’ve got to get him back into the fold and into the mix.  I think in terms of where we are heading at the receiver corp, I think there is a lot of excitement, we’re going to be very young.  I lose the four seniors and then truth be told, they are all sophomore and younger kids.  There is a lot of excitement in coaching young kids and I’m really excited after the bowl game to really get a chance to work with all the young kids that we have.”

Sam Webb:  Has it been determined whether Darboh is going to be available for the spring?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “I can’t answer that question and that’s not up to us.  That’s the healing process, the medical staff and the doctors.  We’re on that time schedule and we’re on his healing time schedule.  Like with Jake Ryan, sometimes things just happen faster than others.  The one thing we don’t want to do is rush him back into a situation where he is going to get rehurt, especially with the injury that he had.  It is a fragile injury and we want to make sure that he is 100% when he is ready.”

Sam Webb:  Let us get into this week’s game, ‘The Game’ against the Buckeyes.  This is one of those were we’ve heard just throw out the records.  Everyone outside of here is not giving you guys a chance.  Internally, I know the story is much different.  Just take me through the week of practice and what you’ve seen from your kids as you guys prepare for the Buckeyes.

Jeff Hecklinski:  “A lot of energy, a lot of excitement, a lot of anxious want to get out there.  You can’t blame people outside here for what they’re saying.  The reality is that they see how we’re playing.  I think defensively we’re playing about as strong and good as you want to be playing at this time of the year.  Offensively, we’re struggling.  I think they are using that as motivation.  I can tell you this, they’re not struggling because they are not trying.  Our struggles are happening and they want to get out of it and they are working to try and get out of it.  The coaches are working to try and get out of it.  We’re all trying to figure this thing out and take pressure off our defense.  I think the energy, the effort, some of the execution stuff I think throughout the course of the week has been better.  Not that it was bad before, we’ve had good practices.  Even with the players, coach we’re practicing well, we’re practicing fast, why can’t we just seem to put it all together.  I think this week, hopefully is the week where it does come together for everybody as a team.  From special teams, defense and offense, it all clicks.  That’s one of the things we haven’t done over the past four games.  I think we thought between the overtime at Northwestern and the first half of Iowa, man things are starting to turn.  You have four touchdowns in there plus a defensive touchdown.  The defense obviously played great against Northwestern and was playing really, really strong the entire time versus Iowa.  You’re thinking man it is just starting to come and all of a sudden it just went away.  That’s what we’ve got to solve as coaches.  As players, they’ve got to stay focused on just the individual plays and that’s what you’ve seen during practice is just taking one play at a time.  They’re playing hard and their individual techniques.”

Sam Webb:  When you look at the Buckeyes on film and you look at that defense what do you see?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “Very confident, very fast.  I think as a whole team they play very confident.  That’s something that is very evident as you watch game after game and cut up after cut up.  They’re good.  You’re not going to take anything away from them.  There is a reason they’ve done what they’ve done to this point.  We’re going to have to come out and match their effort and match their intensity and match their confidence.  The one thing I think you see is they make the routine play.  They make the tackles, they make the open field tackles on defense.  I know from the offensive perspective, they make the easy pitch and catch.  They’re running downhill.  Those are things that we’ve got to get back to from an offensive perspective.  We’ve got to get back to running downhill, squaring our shoulders, make the routine catch, make the routine throw and making the routine blocks.  I think if we do that for 60 minutes, we’ll be in a good position at the end of the game.”

Sam Webb:  I know you can’t share game plan with us, but keys to the game for you guys.  When you look at that defense, we’ve seen that they’ve been an undefeated team, but at times teams have some success I think to the Wisconsin game and Jared Abbrederis went for over 200 yards through the air, Northwestern and Iowa had players who had big games receiving, what are the keys to the game for you against the Buckeyes?

Jeff Hecklinski:  “Four yards is a good play.  I think that’s something that we’ve got to get back to.  At times, we feel like we’ve got to get 400 yards on one play as opposed to taking four yards, a four yard run, a four yard pitch and catch.  Just keep four yards as a good play, get four yards on first down, four yards on second down, four yards on third down and just keep the chains moving, keep the ball moving, stay in positive yardage plays.  You hear a lot of people talking about staying on track, not getting off track with tackles for a loss, not getting into third and 12 or third and 13.  Those are going to be important things as we progress through this game and staying patient and realizing, you know what you get two or three first downs, punt the ball, pin them down, that’s a good possession.  Scoring on four or five possessions out of the 12 or 13 that you have is a positive game.  I think we really have tried to place an emphasis of getting back to it, four yards a play and just staying patient and positive.”

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