Coach Rodriguez: “To start off, I thought it was an okay first day. I was expecting the worst and it wasn’t all that bad. I prepped myself, took a couple extra Tylenol before practice and figured we would be out there a little longer than everybody wanted to. But they got through it. I think they got a little bit better and I would expect that the next practice would run a lot of smoother and by the end of spring we should have the routine down. The first one is always the toughest, because not only are they learning new schemes and new terminology, but also new drills and it is the first time that coaches have been able to run actual football stuff with them. We got through it. We will try to get better. We got a lot a work to do and thankfully we won't have a game for a long time. They got a pretty good attitude so far.
Question: What were you expecting to see, what kinds of things were you looking for and can you give us a sense of some of the positives and maybe things that they have a long way to go with?
Coach Rodriguez: “Like I told the team, there is three real objectives that we want to get out of spring practice. One is obviously teach fundamentals, which should always be an emphasis in spring practice. Two, teach new schemes in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. The third thing from a coaches standpoint is to try and find out who the guys that we think will be in the two deep or guys that we think we can win with in the fall. Normally it is just the two objectives, you don’t have to teach a new scheme. But we got all three objectives that we have to have by the end of spring and part of each practice is to try to get something done in those categories. We saw that it is hard to tell in shorts who will be guys making plays, but I saw a few guys seemed like they were running around making plays and did some good things today. I will be able to tell you better after I watch the film this afternoon and with the next time that we meet.”
Question: How do you feel like they did with winter conditioning and were there any guys that especially stood out through that?
Coach Rodriguez: “I think they did pretty well. I think they worked hard, but I think they also found and if you asked them, they got in better shape than they were at the beginning but they are still certainly not in game shape or the type of shape that they have to be in for our practice. The intensity level and learning and all that combined in a practice, you can't mirror that in a winter conditioning program. You can try to simulate and I think our strength and conditioning staff probably does as good job as any in getting them ready, but it is still different when you practice, just from the intensity level and the focus and all the coaches on you all the time. They handled it pretty well for a first time.”
Question: Can you talk about the player reactions to that new strength and conditioning program some time?
Coach Rodriguez: “I really haven’t asked their opinion and don’t care (laughing). Like I was saying, they’ll work hard. They don’t have much choice. I think they are getting more confident in themselves. I think what happens, the kids know, the young men know when they feel better, they are stronger, they’re quicker or what have you. But there are a lot of ways to get it. We have a certain method that we do, but there are a lot of other ways that you can get into great shape. I think our guys have bought into some of the new things that we have done in the weight room and I think they feel good about themselves. I think they will feel better and better as the months go long. I think when we start our first practice in August, we will be in a whole lot better shape. We better be better than we are right now.”
Question: Did any of the quarterbacks that you had on the roster, did they run any kind of option in high school that you know of?
Coach Rodriguez: “I didn’t know and didn’t ask. I almost had like a blank canvas for all the guys. We watched a little bit of film from last year and so we know about some of the guys that played but none of the quarterbacks played, so it is wide open there. I know they are eager and they are learning pretty well. For a first day, they made some mistakes but they will be able to quickly rectify those, at least I hope and Coach Smith our quarterback coach will get with them and watch the film with them on Monday and start that process. It is a focal point and obviously it is a concern for us, simply because they have never played period. That on top of running a different kind of system, we will see what they can do, but I like their attitude.”
Question: You put this system in various schools before, how big of a challenge does it feel like every time you do this and what are the biggest challenges for you to put that in?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah, it has been seven years and sometimes you forget how ugly it is. I think I am getting more patient than I used to with the first spring practice. It will get better, but it won't get a whole lot better. I am sure that there will be scrimmages and team periods where the offense won't even get a first down. Not that our offense coaches will want to hear that or our offense players won't, but it is different and it is a process that you have to go through. I have learned that you have to teach your system. Traditionally when you are putting in a new system, you go real slow. That goes against some of the principles of our program and how we like to play, so we would rather be ugly early. There is no spring game that we are worried about. We are going to win 100% of spring games that we play, I promise you that. I think we will be alright. Our goal is to be ready by August 30th.”
Question: Coach what advice did you give them and what challenge did you set? Did you say like, I want to see this out of you?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah, I wanted to see them compete first and foremost, see which guys wanted to compete and that is an easy part to get. I think if they play in college football they are competitors anyways. So I wanted to see that and I saw some good signs of that today and then I wanted to see who was coachable and who was the guy who corrected their mistakes, because they are all going to make mistakes and who didn’t make the same mistake twice. Then who also could learn off of somebody else’s mistake. That is the thing that I have got to see over spring practice. Some of those young guys, I think are hesitant to go in and take a rep for fear of screwing up. I would rather they go in there and screw up and see if they can get coached up then hide in the background.”
Question: Do you learn something much different about them now when it is on the field and it is live?
Coach Rodriguez: “Oh sure, when you are actually coaching them and footballs out there and football equipment that you are using and running plays. Some guys may not be as good in the strength and conditioning part but they go out there and they are just good football players and there are a couple of guys on our team that is like that. Again, I will reserve judgment until we put the pads on them. Everybody looks good in shorts. I don’t know if I look really good in shorts, but I could go out there and do some things, but when you pads on that is another whole deal.”
Question: Coach, the walk-ons that you selected in the open tryout, how do you feel about the way they performed today?
Coach Rodriguez: “I think most of them were hiding. Not because they were scared to go in there, because they have no idea of probably what we are doing at this point. They didn’t go a whole lot of reps but everybody on the team is eventually going to get reps throughout the spring and I think a lot of them are just trying to learn, soak it all in. They all get individual work. We do the individual part, teach fundamentals that is everybody. When we get to the team aspect, we are only running two groups, a first and a second group. Now there is not a first and second team. There will not be a first and second team until the week before the first game. So any depth chart ya’ll got, is just paper. We have an idea of guys that are going to take reps, but the starters will not be determined until the week of the first game and then after that it is daily. We won't have enough, we don’t have enough people to run three full groups, eventually we will.”
Question: Coach have you ever inherited a team or had one of your existing teams be missing as many offense players from the year before as what you have here?
Coach Rodriguez: “I am going to think back. I don’t think so. It has been a while since we have lost… I guess coming into a situation where we lost so many key players, particularly offensively. Not just five or six of your top guys but five or six probably NFL players, guys that are amongst the best in college football at their position. I guess you talk about Jake (Long), Chad (Henne), and Mike (Hart), and Adrian (Arrington), and Mario (Manningham) and Adam (Kraus); there is a whole lot of production, multiyear production, not just one or two year guys. Hell, I am having a hard enough time sleeping now at night, you want me to think about that? (Laughing) But that is also an opportunity for other guys to take place and the guys that haven’t had a chance to maybe show what they can do then that what this spring is about.”
Question: Rich are there people that are not available this spring either for academic reasons or injury?
Coach Rodriguez: “There are a few that are coming off injuries. Steve Watson won't be able to practice this spring. There are a handful of other guys that were out today with some hamstrings… (Zion) Babb, and (Avery) Horn and Will Johnson is limited this spring a little bit. I am trying to think of who else.”
Question: What is Will’s limitation?
Coach Rodriguez: “I don’t know if it is a disk problem or a hamstring problem or something in his lower back, but I think by mid spring maybe he will be back. He is a little bit more of a proven commodity. I don’t get too concerned with that as I do with the young guys, particularly guys on offense that have a chance to play and see how quickly they come back. The trainers and the doctors tell them when they can practice and we work with them accordingly.”
Question: Is Mike Massey going to be able to play?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah, Mike is another guy. I mean Mike is kind of a proven guy for us, but he is in a new system and he will be limited all spring. He will probably be some things in pads, but he won't do everything in pads.”
Question: No one out for the whole spring as of now?
Coach Rodriguez: “Watson is. I know today we had a few guys out with hamstrings that were a little bit tight, but they should be back within a week.”
Question: Coach just to follow-up on the offense, how big of a concern is it losing it all that firepower?
Coach Rodriguez: “Well it is a concern because of the experience that you are losing. There are a lot of things that you can coach and teach but when a guy has got experience, like a Jake Long or a Mike Hart, has been through the fires sort of speak or a Chad Henne, they know how to handle themselves in those adverse situations. Not that the young guys can't, but you won't know until you put them in it, so that makes you a little bit nervous there. Two, when you are a learning a new system and teaching fundamentals, see the young guys don’t have a good base of fundamentals. The staff here, Coach Carr’s staff did a great job. The upperclassman here have some fundamentals but the true freshman and the redshirt freshman, they don’t have a big base of fundamentals so you have got to teach those things as well. It is a concern but we are not going to forfeit. We are going to try to coach them up and get them ready to go.”
Question: You mentioned a blank canvas, in a sense is that a good thing for you to come in, maybe you want more experience, but…
Coach Rodriguez: “It is maybe a good thing for them, not necessarily for us. I would rather have 22 starters back and try not to screw them up. At the same time, some of the young guys have some talent. We are going to have to probably rely on more freshman than normal, simply because of a change in system. Some of the guys of the guys on offense, we didn’t have a lot of guys that are slot receivers or guys that can play tailback and the slot receiver. So there are going to be more young guys probably play this year than maybe 3 years from now, but that is yet to be seen.”
Question: Besides for (Steven) Threet and (David) Cone, who else took snaps at quarterback today?
Coach Rodriguez: “Nick Sheridan. Yeah Nick Sheridan and he was the number three guy last year, I believe. He did a nice job. So those three guys will row in and I think Nick and Steve were taking most of the reps with the first group, David will go in there too. They will all get a shot. We will have a pretty good…one thing about the quarterbacks, you can see pretty quickly if they are picking it up. Sometimes you have to study the film intensely to find the lineman mistakes, but quarterbacks you can see it pretty regularly, as probably a 110,000 fans will tell you.”
Question: Anybody else going to get a look, Carlos Brown?
Coach Rodriguez: “We hadn’t got to that and if we did, it would be a secret, I wouldn’t tell you.(Laughing)”
Question: A tight end didn’t have a reception for you guys last year, but you have some athletes with this Michigan team, how will you use those guys?
Coach Rodriguez: “For what is that, the tight end?”
Question: Yeah, they didn’t have a reception last year.
Coach Rodriguez: “For who?”
Question: For West Virginia.
Coach Rodriguez: “Oh no, he did. Owen Schmitt had some. He played tight end. But what was the question?”
Question: How will you use those guys like Carson Butler and Martell Webb?
Coach Rodriguez: “If they can get open, we will throw it to them, if they don’t we won't (laughing). You know, the same old deal. We are going to use the tight end a lot more in our formations because of that, we have a lot of them. They will be a big part of our offense if they can get open. If they are covered, they won't go the ball thrown to them, if they do. Believe it or not, we have used the tight end in the formations, but they got to get open.”
Question: Anything about how today’s practice went surprise you?
Coach Rodriguez: “Naw. Ugly at times. I was encouraged at times. It was the typical first practice. Like I said, I am not surprised by it. It probably went a little longer than I wanted it to. They determine that. They determine the length of practice. We kind of have a script we follow and if we don’t have to repeat a lot of things, then the script goes faster, if we do, it kind of drags on a little bit.”
Question: What is your regularly schedule going to be for this spring?
Coach Rodriguez: “Normally it is Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday; there are a couple of Friday in it that we will practice. Once we get into pads, we will do our scrimmage type of situations on Saturday. We probably won't have as many full scale scrimmages that you normally would in the spring because there is so much teaching to be done. But there are still some times this spring where we are just going to go let them play and the coaches will get the heck out of the way, so we can see what they can do without us telling them what to do. So there will be at least three times this spring where we do that. We call the play, get out of the way and kind of treat it like a game from that perspective.”
Question: Do you know what you are going to do for your last spring game?
Coach Rodriguez: “No I don’t. We are still working on that. The stadium is out, the Big House is out for construction. We couldn’t go down to Ford Field. So we are researching the possibility of maybe going to a local high school and having a spring scrimmage. You know the spring games are sometimes fun for the fans and I think they are fun for the players if they have a little bit of a crowd there, as coaches, you debate is that just a wasted day for you. I think it is also sometimes good to have a little bit of an atmosphere and see what they do. So we are looking at still doing that on April 12th.”
Question: Are you essentially limited to practicing at Oosterbaan?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah, unless we go again on a Saturday to a local high school. I want to get outside and I am hoping that this snow is over with. If we can get outside on a Saturday too, we will do that, if not we will be inside.”
Question: There is place on campus that you can really…?
Coach Rodriguez: “No, no there is nothing else. It may be a while before it all falls out on the fields.”
Question: Has it been easier to install your new system since a lot of the coaches are already familiar with it?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah easier offensively, no question. I mean 4 of the 5 coaches on offense have been in the system before, so it would be a lot tougher without that. That has certainly made the transition easier, but still the first practice is still different. I mean for the managers they are all running around like crazy and everybody else. We got through it and hopefully the next one will be a little bit better.”
Question: Did you consider coming to the University of Toledo for your spring game?
Coach Rodriguez: “No. What state is that in (laughing)?”
Question: Can you describe what your defensive philosophy is going to be this year and if that is a little different than what you have done in the past?
Coach Rodriguez: “Defensive philosophy? What I told Coach Shaf (Scott Shafer), stop them and get the ball back. He is going to run his schemes. I am excited about it. Because one, he is going to do some of the things that he has done and then also add some of the things that our guys that came over from West Virginia had done new, some of the odd stuff. As the defense progresses throughout the spring, we will probably get a little bit of both packages in there and see what our guys can handle.”
Question: You haven’t worked with somebody before like Coach Shafer, did you guys put aside some time to talk about how you are going to come together and do you watch him for a little extra out there?
Coach Rodriguez: “The defense. I will watch them. When you are watching each other go against each other, you are going to see both sides of the ball and we will meet a little bit throughout the spring and then the defense staff and I will meet a little bit during the spring, but I don’t get too heavily involved in the defense. I am a little bit more involved in the offense and special teams, but the defense, I trust those guys, I try not to micromanage too much, but at the same time I got to know what is going on. I will know what they are doing scheme wise. I will meet on occasion with the coaches and then adjust accordingly.”
Question: How do you think the running backs performed today?
Coach Rodriguez: “They did okay. I think Carlos (Brown) and Brandon (Minor) are the two guys that were out front and taking a lot of reps and they are learning pretty quickly. I have been impressed by their knowledge for a first day. Again, you can maybe evaluate your quarterbacks, DBs and receivers a little bit in shorts but everybody else is, wait until the pads come on.”
Question: How much was Kevin Grady able to do?
Coach Rodriguez: “He didn’t do anything. He has got a hamstring. Hopefully he will be back next week.”
Question: Now that the dates have been set, are you looking forward to having your day in court next month?
Coach Rodriguez: “I am not going to be there. That is for the lawyers. I got spring practice. I am focused on Michigan.””
Question: Can you talk about the ongoing recruiting process this year, do you think that will be over by the end of the month?
Coach Rodriguez: “We recruit every day. My staff will tell you, there is something that we do in recruiting every day. For this year’s class, next year’s class and the class after that. At this level in college athletes, you have to do something in recruiting every day.”
Question: Rich you know that you will not have a lineup set until the week before the first game, by the end of spring, do you think you will have formulated in your mind, not that you would talk, but guys in key positions?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah, we will have an idea. I am not so much a first team or a second team, or two deep, but who are guys that we think are going to be good enough to win with. I tell the players the same thing. If there are two guys at one position that are both good enough to win with, they both play. If there is one guy at the position that is good enough to win with, then he is the only one who plays. If there are three at a different position, if we got three tight ends that are good enough to win with, then all three will play. I won't know for sure, but I will have a pretty good idea after spring who are the guys that we think will be ready or could be close to be able to win with by the end of spring and I will tell them accordingly. If they are not ready, then I will tell them what they have to do over the summer to get ready for us to have confidence in them and we will find out.”
Question: Lack of confidence is sometimes it is easier to see with the quarterback position, would you anticipate that that may be something that furthers itself along earlier than that?
Coach Rodriguez: “I don’t know. I hope by the end of the spring they get some confidence in them, but again because they have never taken a snap or a meaningful snap in a game that thing will carry on. But we try to put pressure on our guys in practice, as much as you can from a coaching standpoint, so that the games are easy for them, but it will be a competition. That is not just because it is the first year, I mean our whole policy is, you may earn a starting position on Saturday, but not have it on Sunday. You may have it on Monday, but not on Tuesday. They have got to earn it every day. There is no, ‘Okay I am the star, I am the guy, I don’t have to worry about somebody beating me out.’ I like winning too much not to play the best people, but every coach will tell you the same thing. I am no different than every other coach in America in that regard.”
Question: How has it been for you to get adjusted to Ann Arbor?
Coach Rodriguez: “It has been great. The people
have been super. You know, I haven't had too many of these (press conferences),
so that has been all good. The first month I was on the road in January recruiting,
in February I was just going from the hotel, back to the office and then back
and forth a little bit. The last couple of weeks I got my family moved in last
weekend, so it has all been good. I think the transition has been made easier
for two reasons, one are the people here, like Lloyd (Carr) and Bill Martin
and all them have been very, very supportive. Two because the familiarity that
I have with some of the staff. I brought a lot of guys with me and that has
helped in the transition from a coaching standpoint, a strength and conditioning
standpoint and that has really helped. I have been pleased with all that, but
we haven't hit a bump in the road yet and we will. I am confident that the people
that I have with me every day.”