With signing day officially in the rearview the attention of the Michigan coaching staff has turned largely towards preparation for spring football. The hours are even longer than normal for the offensive coaches as Doug Nussmeier begins building the unit in his image. There will be some key philosophical differences from last year’s approach, and along with them will come some procedural changes as well. One such shift could involve how Nussmeier interacts with his signal caller on game day.
When a coordinator doubles as the quarterbacks coach like Nussmeier does (and Al Borges did before him) the question of whether to be on the field or in the box becomes more complex. If he’s on the field he is able to interact with his signal caller and give constant direction while also helping manage his protégé’s emotional state. Some of that may be lost in the box, but a better vantage point on what defenses are doing is gained. Over the last few years Borges worked from the box.
“(When Devin Gardner came to the sideline) it was basically first always getting on the phone, then I would spend some time with him,” Brady Hoke explained. “If we were playing well (it was about) staying in the moment and staying in the game. If things weren’t going so well (it was about) just knowing that we are behind him.”
The spring will go a long way toward determining which way Nussmeier will go. Whatever the decision, Hoke believes his new hire will find the best way to nurture his quarterback and run the offense without compromising his ability to do either.
“One (advantageous) thing is he’s done both,” Hoke said. “I think it depends a little bit maturity of your offense and I think the maturity of your quarterback. There are guys who can handle being on the field, making the calls and staying in that zone you have to be in. At the same time, giving him the opportunity to look eye to eye into quarterback in between series I think there is merit to that. I think as we get through spring we will have a better indication of where he will feel most comfortable.”
One change that could lead to greater comfort for the offense overall is more of a zone based running game.
“I think there will be a little bit of a shift,” revealed Hoke. “I think there is no question. The inside zone play, the outside zone play, but then the power game still. Believe me, we have all watched Alabama enough to know that manufacturing two backs in the backfield either with a fullback or the motions with the U back or H back, whatever you want to call it, I think those are still going to be within the system. I think the different formations to try and run the inside zone and the outside zone and to leverage defenses are things that we are going to do a lot of.”
And that won’t be all that changes. Tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno has served dual roles during his tenure in Ann Arbor, doubling as the special teams coordinator. Some of that burden will likely be taken off of his shoulders this season.
“The one thing that we may do is give four different guys specialties, which I have done before,” Hoke stated. “That way Dan can have a little more time really involved with the offense and with the tight ends. I think getting some other guys involved in the special teams will also help.”
One thing that won’t change, however, is Hoke’s approach to wearing a headset. Despite the rampant fan angst about the topic, Michigan’s headman sees no reason to alter his game day process.
“When I put one on I usually have something to say,” said Hoke in a tone reflecting the topic’s monotony. “When I put one on it is usually during those times in a game where we need to communicate a little bit. I have a guy standing behind me at every game who knows every call that is going in, especially defensively. I’m on the field with Greg (Mattison), so Greg and I get plenty of time to talk. The offensive coordinator and the defensive coordinator, because of their jobs have a great amount of time to watch a lot more film than I get to watch, and really break down an opponent. We talk about game planning. Doug and I will talk about it a couple of times a week. What are your openers? What are your third down calls? What do you like? All those things are part of it. The same thing with Coach Mattison. We’ll talk about what you like, what you don’t like, and how you want to attack an offense and leverage yourself. What does your third down package going to look like? What does your first down package going to look like? That being said, we’ve done that during the week. It also gives me a little freedom to coach a football team. Whether it is the punt team that is on the mat getting ready to go out the down before, if I need to say something or do something (I can). Whether it is me going over to the offense when the defense is on the field and talking to those lineman and talking to the receivers, encouraging or giving coaching points in one way or another. So it gives you a little more freedom to move around on the field and to touch more kids than you would if you were just sitting there on a headset. It is just personal preference.”
“There are a lot of guys who haven’t wore them who have been very successful. I think I’m on it when I need to be on it.”
Stay tuned for part two during which Hoke sheds additional light on the philosophical change on offense, his displeasure with the progress of the running game, and the necessary improvements on defense.