Rodriguez Sees Team Making Strides

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez met with the media today before practice to update his team's progress to this point. The Wolverines headman discuss the strides Tate Forcier is making, the impressive showing thus far by freshman RB Vincent Smith his impressions from the first scrimmage, Steve Brown's position switch, and more.

Question:  Talk about Tate's (Forcier) progress?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, he's…obviously most guys his age are still in high school at this time.  So he's made a lot of progress considering this is his first college semester and it is a lot academically and a lot athletically, but I think he's handled it pretty well.  He's going to make mistakes and he has had, but he's also had whatever we had eight practices in, he's really progressed probably as fast we could have hoped."

Question:  Tate mentioned that he's been talking with Nick (Sheridan) a lot.  Have you seen a lot of that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah I would hope.  I would hope all of our guys talk to all of our guys.  They're around each other a great deal in particular during practice time and workouts and meetings.  Nick has been terrific, I know not just with him, with all the young guys that are coming in.  That is one thing you really want to have on your team, you want to have some leadership from the upper classman guys that have been around, even though Nick has only been around…we've been around for a year.  I see him taking shape of that.  More than anything else in the summer time when the coaches aren't around is really when we need Nick and some of those upper classman to take charge and I think they will."

Question:  What are your impressions of the scrimmage last Saturday? 

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think it was okay.  I think it was a typically first scrimmage.  They didn't play as aggressively at times because they were thinking too much and part of that is coaching.  We put a lot on them and see what they can handle.  I thought there were some good and some bad on both sides.  I don't think the offense executed as well at times as they could have, but I think at the same time they did some good things.  I would expect our next scrimmage this Saturday to be a whole lot better and that's usually what the case is."

Question:  How are you guys doing with the negative plays?  Have you been pleased?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah that has been a point of emphasis.  It's been a lot better, particularly in some of the run game and the snaps, quarterback-center exchanges and all that has been pretty good.  There is a few bad snaps here and there, but that's been a huge point of emphasis for us – eliminate the negative plays and get us out of those second and third and really longs, because those are tough for anybody to overcome."

Question:  More guys this year bought into what you guys do.  Can you sense that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well yeah, and I don't want to give a perception that guys last year weren't.  There is just different levels of buying in I think and not only athletically but academically and the weight program and all that.  I thought the guys worked extremely hard last year.  They all did.  I thought the senior class was terrific, but this year I think they are more comfortable with what we are doing, practice, organization wise, work out wise, individual drills.  The guys that are veterans that have been here have been with us and know and move around a little bit quicker.  I think the freshmen coming in that is the only way they know.  In that regard, things can move a little bit faster.  We are getting through practices quicker now if that is any indication.  I'm sure the players are happy about that."

Question:  A lot of guys were talking about Vincent Smith today.  Has he been a nice little surprise?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah Vincent has.  A lot of guys…obviously when we recruited them we thought they would be able to some of those things.  Vincent is still learning and sometimes he may go the wrong way, but he's got a lot of talent and a lot of ability and you never know how much a freshman can contribute early.  Still, Vince has got a long way to go.  But just judging on a few practices, he has the talent to help us early in particular this year, so we'll see if he can do it."

Question:  Tate compared himself at this time with where Nick was last spring.  Is that a fair comparison?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Probably so.  He's probably a little bit further ahead and probably the reason being is that he has got Nick and some of those guys around him that know what to do.  Last year, they were all trying to figure out the new system, so it was a little bit tougher on the quarterbacks.  But Tate's got some guys…so he's probably further ahead, which he should be because of the help around him.  Again, he's got a long way to go.  With Nick being out, the learning curve is accelerated as far as Tate being with the first group.  That's not a bad thing but at the same time, still whether he's with the first group or second group, you are going to run the same number of plays and you still got to learn them."

Question:  How do you describe the role that Stevie Brown is going to play this year?

Coach Rodriguez:  "He's going to be a multipositional player for us. Obviously, he's playing a lot of nickel back, in kind of a nickel back situation.  It's kind of a hybrid of an outside linebacker/strong safety position, which I think he's perfectly suited for.  He's had an outstanding spring.  He's still learning some things with the new defense that we're doing, but I would be very disappointed if Stevie doesn't have a great senior year, because he's put the work in.  He's got a great attitude.  He's got to be one of the leaders because we don't have a lot of veterans on that side of the ball this fall."

Question:  You said that Tate has this learning curve working with the first team.  How have you seen him improve just by taking snaps with those guys?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well I think things probably happen…we particularly in the first two-thirds of spring, we go the first team against the first team.  There is not a definitive first team, but you're against Brandon Graham's and you're going against Stevie Brown's and you're going against guys that have played a little bit (like) Obi Ezeh.  So things probably move a little bit quicker and it probably forces you to learn a little bit faster, whereas going against a younger player, you won't see as many mistakes defensively.  I think in that regard it is probably a good thing, but like I said, irregardless, there is going to be so much competition at that position in the fall that is going to be kind of exciting to watch.  But Tate is certainly making the most of his opportunity now."

Question:  How is Brandon Smith coming along in terms of the learning curve?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Okay.  Again, he's not played.   He's a redshirt freshman, but he's got a lot of ability.  He's still got to get into shape to be able to play on the back end like our safeties have to do sometimes… you've got to be able to run a lot – whole lot.  They're still adjusting to that, but he's going to be able to help us in a lot of spots this year."

Question:  Coach I'm doing a story on guys that take over iconic programs and sort of off the court/field stuff they have to deal with…

Coach Rodriguez:  "That's no different here than at West Virginia and probably the top 40 or 50 division 1A programs.  You have a lot on your plate, not just the head coach but assistant coaches and I think its part of the job.  Some places you have to do more fundraisers than others and some places you have to do more obligations off the field than others, but there is always some depending on where you're at or what level you go to.  Here it is a nice balance.  You have to do some and I enjoy it.  I want to go out and meet with people and go out to see the people that support our program.  Obviously you've got media obligations, it's not all bad.  I don't think any coach that goes into it, expects not to do that.  So it's part of the job.  As a coach you have to balance and make sure that you're able to put your time in with your team when your coaches and I've always been able to do that.  I've been fortunate to see it as an assistant coach and start as a head coach very young and kind of learned on the jobs."

Question:  How do you think the defensive players are adjusting to what Coach Robinson is having them do?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think pretty well.  Again some of it is similar, scheme wise.  It's still just 11 guys and some of the coverage concepts are the same.  Obviously the terminology and all of that is going to be new.  I think because some of them haven't played a whole lot before, it is not as difficult as somebody that was in the same system for three to four years.  I'm most proud of our junior and seniors with how quickly they've adjusted.  We've had some mental busts and missed assignments, but nearly as much as you would think with a new scheme.  I've been pretty excited.  I just want everybody to play a little faster and play a little more physical.  I'm hoping that I'll see that by the end of spring." 

Question:  In the same light, how are the defensive coaches adjusting to one another?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think great.  I think it was part of the idea when I hired Greg and we put all the coaches together… that their needs to be great chemistry amongst the staff, and then the players will see that… and I think there is.  I think I got a lot of good defensive coaches, not just the full time coaches, but the graduate assistants.  We've got a nice mix of guys with a lot of good ideas and they'll come up with a nice package for us."

Question:  Is there a particular body type that you're looking for an offensive lineman and did you have to…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, did you see Jake Long (laughter).  I will take a bunch of Jake's."

Question:  The non super human types; is there…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "For us, everybody says that they want size and speed and athleticism.  We want all our lineman to be 295-300 pounds and 6'4", 6'5" and 6'6" and can move… but everybody wants that.  So Jake would have been…he's the perfect player.  You can get by I think sometimes with a guy that is maybe 6'2" or 6'3" instead of 6'5" and maybe he is 290 or 285 instead of 305 or 310.  But when they do that they still got to have the explosiveness and some power.  So you still got to be able to run the ball."

Question:  Did Coach Barwis need to transform a few of these guys?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well we had to get a lot of these younger guys that were athletic but a little bit light to get a little bit more muscle weight on them.  We want to build them up the right way.  We don't want big sloppy guys.  If they are going to weigh 310 pounds or 305, they need to be right 305 and if you see our guys, they look pretty good.  They've gotten stronger and we've gained a little bit of weight, but we still got to continue to progress in that regard.  Some of our freshmen are 285 right now and we want to get them up to 295, but still being able to run and that's the balance that Coach Barwis and his staff are working on."

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