It has become abundantly clear in the early days of the Rodriguez era that aggression will be a common theme in whatever the Michigan Wolverines do on the football field. At no place is that approach more evident than in the defensive backfield.
"With the scheme of things, we are going to put some pressure on our corners and make them be able to step up and do some things," said Michigan defensive backs coach Tony Gibson. "They are going to be in a lot of one-on-one situations. Having two veterans that are experienced and know what to do because of all the playing experience they got last year was really good. I thought Doug Dutch and Troy Woolfolk each had a very good springs at corner too. I am confident in those two guys also."
"We are I guess a little less game experience at safety position, but you know Brandon Harrison has played a bunch," he continued. "I am excited about Brandon. Stevie Brown had a great spring. He was probably the most productive kid as far turnovers and things like that. So I think those kids had a good spring, and like I said, with Donovan and Morgan having so much experience and playing time and Brandon also in that same category, those were the kind of guys I was leaning on and just find out what everybody had. They were a great help. Those guys can develop."
With not much to go on by way of game film, didn't have an idea of what to expect from players like Doug Dutch, Troy Woolfolk, and Charles Stewart. Once he finally got the opportunity to see them in action, his expectation level increased.
"The first time when I really started watching them a lot was obviously when we were here for practice right after we got hired," Gibson recalled. Going into bowl practice, I thought Chuck Stewart, Stevie Brown and those guys were very productive on special teams. Then when I got the opportunity to work with those guys, I was kind of surprised that they weren't playing more. I don't know exactly what was here before. I didn't get to coach Jamar Adams, (Brandon) Englemon and those kids that played. But I was very impressed with Stevie Brown, Chuck Stewart and Troy and Doug. They worked really hard and thought they showed some good things."
Now that the Wolverines are half way through fall camp, and the opener is only fifteen days away, Gibson's weeding out process is well under way.
"I think I've got a total of 20 kids, and I am going to coach all 20 like they are going to start in that first game against Utah," he explained. "We are going to throw a lot at them and we are going to see what sticks and the best four kids, I guess the best five of them, counting our nickel guy, are going to be the five that you all see against Utah. I don't care where they are from, who their high school coach was, what they did here in the past. None of that matters to me right now. All that I am looking at is who my best four or five guys are going to be. Hopefully we will get seven, eight and nine guys so I can have a two deep and we can roll those kids in, but we are going to play the best kids. And if those freshmen can come in and beat a kid out, then shame on the guys that were here. We are going to play the best kids."
That philosophy has led to a much more competitive atmosphere, even among those players that are already established.
"Without a doubt, I feel like I am competing every day," Donovan Warren admitted. "We brought in some great freshmen that are willing to compete, but being that me and Morgan (Trent) have a little bit of experience, we're getting more comfortable in the schemes to the best of our abilities. I feel like we are doing real good and watching film and talking about certain schemes… how the offense is going to attack us, and stuff like that. It has been real good. But I feel like I have to compete every day. I don't take any days off, so it has been real good for us."
For more on Gibson and the defensive backs, be sure to check out the Big Ten/Defensive preview issue of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine.