If Michigan had an award for the most improved player during the offseason it would undoubtedly go to Joe Bolden. The junior linebacker was regarded by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison as the spring’s top performer regardless of position. Now he is putting on the same type of show during fall camp and believes his teammates deserve a great deal of the credit.
“It’s going pretty good,” Bolden said regarding practice. “Honestly bonding together (is the difference). We bonded this offseason so much as a team and we’ve really become one and are really functioning, especially the linebacker corps as a unit. It is crazy how well the guys get along and it really helps when it comes to communicating and playing off one another.”
Bolden has been the biggest catalyst on the communication front also. As a matter of fact, he may have become the vocal leader for the entire defense.
“I’ll be honest with you, Joe Bolden has set the bar on how to communicate,” said Mattison. “I won’t say any names but I was with a guy one time coaching and when he was out there, every guy on that field knew where they were supposed to be. Joe Bolden is trying to do that. When he does that, now, everybody seems like they can play a little better.”
Others at the linebacker position are more lead by example types, so for Bolden it was simply a matter of seeing a need and filling it.
“In my opinion, if you communicate and even if you’re wrong, they say it all the time, if you’re wrong just be on the same page because if you’re on the same page, you’re all wrong, you’re all doing the same thing. If you can communicate…I think communicating is really the key to our defense. Being on the same page like I’ve been saying has really allowed us to really function as a whole, as a group and really play together as a team.”
That all spells a drastic improvement that was projected to be an impact player very early in his college career after starring at Cincinnati Colerain. The former Under Armour All American struggled initially due his need to get bigger and stronger, but even after he made those gains he just wasn’t showing the kind of aggression that he had shown as a prep. In the immediate aftermath of last year’s disappointing showing for the team he went home and found some help making a necessary change.
“It’s weird to say this, but my two little brothers who play the game too… I think they had the biggest impact on me,” Bolden admitted. “I went home and they were talking about how excited they were for football. They love the game and they’re having fun playing the game. I’m like, ‘why aren’t I playing the game like that… like when I played the game when I was five, six, seven years old.’ I played it. I went out on Saturday mornings at nine o’clock to run around and hit some people and have some fun running the ball. Their ultimate goal is the Super Bowl and just like our ultimate goal is the Big Ten. I’m just playing with a lot more enthusiasm for the game and more passion and everything, and seeing my little brothers do that, it has helped a ton.”
The improvements weren’t just mental though. He also worked hard to hone his technique. He went from being a player that was catching blocks to one that is now destroying them.
“I think we do sled work every day,” he said. “Two-a-days, we do it twice a day… really working on the sleds, coming out and hitting the sleds (and) really changinge your mindset. It’s, ‘alright, I’ve got to beat the block before I make the tackle. I can’t make the tackle before I beat the block.’ So ultimately, it’s the first point of contact, you’ve got to hit them, get off and then, you can make the play.”
And now he is making a ton of them.