Sam Webb: What kind of progress did you see in your group from day one last spring all the way to the end?
Jay Hopson: "I thought around week three, you really began to see an intensity level change, where they were really beginning to fly around and play on the edge, and I got some great kids. Obi (Ezeh) and John (Thompson) have a little playing experience. We got some guys that this year will be there first year to play, but they are hard workers and they are good kids. On the whole, I am really excited about the unit."
Sam Webb: There were a couple of kids that got significant snaps that we didn't see last year like Austin Panter.
Jay Hopson: "Austin had a really good spring and I have told him and they all know this, the best three are going to play. They know. So it really doesn't matter if you are the back up MIKE, the back up WILL. We will work it out with the best three. Just because you are the back up WILL doesn't mean that if the starting WILL gets hurt that you get in. It is whatever the best three combination is. We got some older kids and they got to learn a couple of positions so that we can kind of mix and match them a little bit. Of course with only seven scholarships at linebacker (returning)… last year we signed four, this year we will sign some more… we will have to build our numbers up at that position to create more depth. That is one of the things why those are going to have to double learn, the top four or five backers."
Sam Webb: What did you see from Marell Evans?
Jay Hopson: "He was having a really good spring. He had that injury where he missed the last two weeks and that was tough on him because he is a kid that doesn't need to miss time, having not really played. He needed all the reps that he could get, so that was kind of disheartening that he missed the last two weeks. But I tell you what, he cares. He cares and I love him, because he is one of those kids that is going to give you everything they got. He is going to play as hard as he can and the game means something to Marell. With that recipe, he is going to be fine. We just got to grow him up quick. We don't need him to come out there and play like a first year player. We need him to play like juniors right now and seniors."
Sam Webb: I don't know if you got a guy more talented than Jonas Mouton. He is a tremendous talent out there, what did you see from him?
Jay Hopson: "Jonas is a kid that like you said, Jonas has got a lot of potential and a lot of talent, but that P (potential) is a scary word. Jonas, it is his time to make that step and not just be the guy that relies on everybody saying, hey yeah he can run and he is good size, it is time now to make that step into becoming a real good football player. Now Jonas I thought this spring showed flashes Sam, where you say alright. But like I talked to him about, now we got to get that at a consistent basis. The thing that Jonas, Marell, Austin and Obi and John, the fun thing they got is that they are competing against each other. That is the thing I told Marell, I told Jonas, I told them all that hey, Marell is not going to sit and let Jonas get on the field. Jonas is not going to sit around and let Marell get on the field and John is not going to sit and be content with being back up MIKE. That is kind of the fun game. John is going to push to say that I am one of the best three and if John pushes to say that I am one of the best three. So the fun thing is, is they are competing against each other. They are all good kids. They are all hard workers, but like me, you and everybody else who plays football, we want to be on the field on Saturday. So they got a fun little battle going right now and I think they are aware that just because I am backup MIKE or I am not necessarily competing with who the WILL be, I might be competing with who the MIKE is to see whether or not I get on the field."
Sam Webb: You mentioned Johnny Thompson. What is the key to him turning that corner that he hasn't turned yet?
Jay Hopson: "John and I have talked about that at length Sam. I think John possibly might have the best instincts of all of them. Just natural linebacker instincts, a nose for the ball. John's big thing that we have talked about off season, getting that body trim and slim and ready to go that is something that he is doing right now. I think that John won our most productive linebacker of the spring award. I know the game means something to John. I know John wants to start and he wants to play. The toughest battle, and again that is the beauty, is that the toughest thing for John is that John is probably more of a true inside backer. He's got Obi standing in front of him that kinds of stinks for him because Obi is a kid that also has great instincts and has a ton of athleticism. John's biggest thing and Obi is a kid that I look at and if John is one of the best three, I am not going to just sit there and waste John on the sideline. I think Obi has got enough athleticism to bounce to the SAM. Then it is a fun little game for me too, because then I look and say woo, Marell shows flashes, long and rangy. Then I look over at Austin and Austin had probably the first two weeks had a better spring as anybody. So you are sitting there counting in jockey mode and you want three to really step up and say, ‘coach, we are the three. "That is one luxury that we have with guys like John and Obi and even Austin, I think they are guys that really, they have some age with them and they can learn multiple positions. We have the flexibility hopefully to mix and match some different spots. But to go back, Jonas, like I said, I love them all to death and Jonas, he is working hard and doing a lot of good things. Jonas has got a lot of potential. The biggest transition for Jonas is going from DB to linebacker that is his biggest transition. He has got all the athlete talent. Now that stuff is right on you right now. That is where a guy like Marell has maybe a hair of advantage over Jonas is the fact that he has been playing linebacker. He hasn't been 12 yards back."
For more on Hopson and the LBs, be sure to check out the Big Ten/Defensive preview issue of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine.