Rich Rod's Roundtable (Part 1)

In part one of Rich Rodriguez's sit down with the media at the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon Michigan's headman discusses the impact of Greg Robinson, defensive improvements, the "spinner" position, and much much more.

Question:  I saw you shaking some hands. do you know some of the players here?  Did you recruit any of these players?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah Sean Lee especially.  I loved him out of high school.  I thought he was going to be a phenomenal player.  So obviously we visited him and I was just asking him, the last time we saw him, we challenged him to a game of horse at the high school when we went to contact him.  He is a great young player.  He's the type of guy you can build a defense around.  So everyone wants one of those."

Question:  Who won the game of horse?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I can't remember if he let me win (laughter).  I know in my mindset I was going to let him win, but he was so competitive, he wasn't going to let me win nothing.  I don't remember."

Question:  You mentioned Greg Robinson yesterday; can you just talk a little bit about what he brings to the defense?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well what I thought first off when we hired him was that he had the type of personality that could mold the chemistry and all the minds that we had on defense together.  He's had a pretty successful track record as a coordinator at all levels.  Everything I've seen so far has been that.  He's also had some head coaching experience at this level, it gives me another guy with some ideas and things I can bounce off of him."

Question:  He said you guys were friendly in the Big East.

Coach Rodriguez:  "Oh yeah.  You get to know your colleagues that you play against.  I don't know if it was four or five years together and his wife and my wife got to know each other.  I just had a lot of respect for him.  It didn't work out for him at Syracuse, but I think he is an outstanding coach and he was in a tough situation and I think he is going to be great for us."

Question:  What was it about his defenses at Syracuse that…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I don't know if they were always the most talented, but they always played hard no matter the situation.  Whether it was the beginning of the year, end of the year, first quarter, fourth quarter – they always played hard.  They always seemed fundamentally sound.  That was the one thing that stood out to us.  I watched the film.  They played Notre Dame last year.  They beat them at the end of the year.  Here it was, they were having a tough year and those kids were playing their tails off and they just looked like a sound, well coached football team on defense."

Question:  You have a mix of coaching styles too, is that intentional?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No not really.  That's a good question.  You hire guys that you hope can be successful teachers and I just tell them to coach their personalities.  Some guys are more vocal than others.  Some guys have different methods.  As long as they have success with their methods, I don't say anything.  I think that's best.  We got to let the guys be themselves.  I say that a bunch of times.  You got to be yourself.  If not, the kids will see that you are fake.  You got to make sure that you are not that."

Question:  That is not something that you intentionally look for in terms of meshing the guys?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No but it is important that our coordinators, particularly Calvin (Magee) and Greg have the ability to pull everybody's ideas together.  It is always a group thing.  Even though the coordinators re ultimately responsible for organizing that side of the ball, we have a lot of good coaches that have a lot of great ideas and it is up to them to pull it together with everybody feeling good about it."

Question:  They're not screamers either, those coordinators, it seems like?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well I don't know."

Question:  I don't mean screamers…

Coach Rodriguez:  "Some people say I am, but the only time I yell is when I'm mad (laughter).  Sometimes they will get fired up a little bit.  The players see the intensity in different ways with different coaches and they pick their moments.  We all probably do.  I just really like the balance that we have and the chemistry.  Now you've probably heard me say this before, chemistry is so important, not only on the staff but on the team.  It can't be something…you can try to manufacture but it is usually it is something that is there because of the people that you have.  I feel…I've been coaching, I don't know how many years, I feel as good about our chemistry on our staff now than any place I've coached."

Question:  Why are you guys going to be better on that side of the ball (defense)?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well I hope that we are going to be better.  That's sort of the expectation.  We are going to be less experienced.  Even though it is a different system defensively, a lot of the same methods and fundamentals that the position coaches have been teaching.  Now it has a second year to take hold and I think they are just bigger, stronger faster from being in the weight room with Mike Barwis for a year."

Question:  It is it going to look drastically different… more aggressive with some of the hybrids?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I really wouldn't say anything even if I knew for sure.  There is some differences in schemes.  We are probably more into a pro 3-4 than a 4-3, but there is a little bit of everything.  There is some 4-3 stuff in there.  There is obviously some 3-4.  You have your nickel and dime and third down and long packages that are three man fronts.  We are all over the place but just about every defense in the country does that."

Question:  Just flex somebody out?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah.  I wanted the ability to do more odd fronts because of all the spread offenses that we play.  Really our base won't look a whole lot different than last year."

Question:  What does an odd front against the spread offense, what does that allow you to do?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well you got to get faster guys on the field.  We've gotten exposed in the last couple of years against teams that have spread us out.  We got some great athletes and then the short passing game.  You can address that two ways, really have to address that two ways, with personnel and with schemes, so we're trying to do both."

Question:  Rich you mentioned that you are getting a lot younger… you've got a young kid named J.T. Turner.  I know you can't watch him, but have you figured out where you are going to play him yet?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We are going to try to start him some at corner, because have such a need there.  We have a need at safety too.  Normally if a guy, you would try to put him at corner and if it doesn't work there or you need help you can move him to safety.  So right now the plan with JT in camp is to work him at corner, knowing that we could probably move him to safety as well.  You know we moved Troy Woolfolk, which I thought was a good move and that is going to work out well but that took one more corner away from us.  The secondary is not nearly as deep as it needs to be and we are certainly going to address that in recruiting."

Question:  Rich when you do scheduling what do you look for when you try to schedule your nonconference opponents?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We talk with Bill Martin and our administrators about it.  Normally for us, we try to have at least seven homes game is critical because of being a self sufficient athletic department and pay the bills and all that.  We got Notre Dame for a long time so that is one home/home, so you go to find at least two more home games, maybe three.  You want to have one or two games that you come in and don't have to return.  That's a challenge nowadays, but with the Big Ten schedule that we have and Notre Dame every year, we're not…we already have one.  We only have to find three.  Our thing is to try and find something that is attractive to our fans but is financially able to benefit the department.  That is what everybody was all about 2010; they had all these ideas on who to open up with and a lot of good schools will do, but for us to do a home/home or immediate home/home is going to be tough to do, just try to find the right fit."

Question:  Is it tough with the Michigan environment that you have, is it tough to convince people to come in…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "When we are struggling, you would think you would find more people to do that, but I think it is just tough for anybody nowadays as far as BCS schools to find a nonconference home/home or particularly what were trying to do was find a one for none or at least a one now and return it a few years down the road and that's tough to do."

Question:  Do you have any home/homes that are already scheduled?  I mean you have the Notre Dame series.

Coach Rodriguez:  "That's it right now."

Question:  Is that something that you are actively looking for?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Always."

Question:  Always actively looking?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Always but that's not as critical for us because we'd rather have a one and none.  That's the biggest thing we try to look for or a one now and return it three to four years down the road."

Question:  So you are not big fan of having your 2010, 2011, 2012 schedules basically all set out already?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well you'd like to.  Eventually you would.  You would like to have that set.  Most of them are set four or five years down the road."

Question:  With scheduling, are you opposed to going out West?  I know in the past it was a little bit of opposition to scheduling an Oregon or a UCLA because it was out there?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, we don't really need to.  Again with the Notre Dame schedule, I don't see the need to try and get a home/home with a PAC10 school or anything like that."

Question:  Getting back to Greg Robinson, he brings in some different concepts, one of the things that he talks about is the spinner position, I know what it is by his description, but who do you have on your roster now that is going to sort of fit that role?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Stevie Brown.  It goes back to being able to have some flexibility to defend the different formations.  Like a team that goes from a three wide and four wide receiver sets to I formation.  So you need a guy that is a hybrid, a bigger defensive back that can be physical up in the box and can still cover some people.  So we thought Stevie was a natural fit for that.  We are moving some other safeties and trying to find some athletic linebackers to fit that.  I think for us, Stevie Brown fits the perfect mold as far as athletically what you are looking for their."

Question:  Who else are you trying at that position?

Coach Rodriguez:  "A couple of young guys, Mike Jones and Brandin Hawthorne, two young freshmen.  Mike was a safety in high school, a bigger safety.  Brandin was a linebacker, but a smaller linebacker, so we are seeing if they can fit that position."

Question:  Prototypically when you are recruiting what does one look like, is there a particular size, height, weight that you look for?

Coach Rodriguez:  "You want them all to be bigger.  Everybody says that you want smaller guys.  I'd like for them all to be big, but they got to be able to run.  Again, normally it is a guy that is going to be 215 pounds and whatever.  Height is not a big deal, you can be anywhere from 5'11" to 6'3"-6'4".  Again, a guy that is pretty athletic that if you put him on a tight end or even a slot receiver, he can hold his own a little bit, yet if a guard is pulling on a power play or something, he can go up and at least hold his ground."

Question:  You have two senior healthy backs hopefully in Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, I don't know if this is going to give away one of your trade secret, but any plan to try to get those two on the field at the same time?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Sure.  We have one of our formations that is a two tailback set at the same time.  In fact, we used it quite a bit last year and a couple years ago it was our top formation.  If those guys are versatile enough that they can block, pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield than we can use both of them at the same time quite a bit and that is in our plans.  Not only with those two but some of the other backs that we have got."

Question:  Was that with (Steve) Slaton and (Noel) Devine?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah we did it with Slaton and Devine and then we did it with Slaton and Owen Schmitt who was a bigger guy, but he also had some tailback skills so we did it before then.  We had KJ Harris, Quincy Wilson and Avon Cobourne.  So we have always been able to have two tailbacks and play them both at the same time."

Question:  Owen was your fullback?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, but he played some tailback as well.  He was just a bigger guy, but again you want them both of them to be able to be physical.  If you get a guy, Brandon Minor who is 215, 220 pounds that is also physical and can do that stuff.  We'll still use Mark Moundros and Kevin Grady, those guys will all play as well.  They have to have some tailback skills to be able to do that."

Question:  Rich one of the things that guys talked about in the spring, they said look, we're going to do more base or drive blocking.  Just adding some more into that, is that the case?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We do a little bit of that more, but our bread and butter is going to be what we do.  You know the zone blocking schemes and just hopefully get better at that. The base, drive blocking and all that, you can get it to more I-formation, but we got to make sure that we do well what our base offense is."

Question:  Why would you incorporate any more of that, even if just a little bit?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well as our kids get more familiar with what we are doing and they know all the answers to the problems of things that may come up, then you can add what's next.  I think you have a tendency, at least as coaches, we need this answered, we need to add this play and that play because they are doing this and you water down everything.  So we really had to limit ourselves at times last year because we  had to remind ourselves, listen these guys haven't played before.  Let's not overcomplicate things and let's just get good at something, so we really try to concentrate on that.  Our guys are pretty sharp, so now I think they are ready to expand a little bit and if we can, it is certainly going to help our offense."

Question:  How critical is (Mark) Ortmann to the line?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Not only is he critical for him, he was really, I don't know if he told you, but he was really banged up last year.  He played with a bad elbow almost the whole year.  He battled through it.  Now he's stronger.  He brings a great leadership up front.  He's a very athletic guy.  He has a sense of maturity that he would get in the middle of a flay sort of speak and he would able to calm things down."

Question:  You talk a lot about fishing, have you talked to him much about that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "About what?"

Question:  Fishing.  He competes in salmon tournaments and stuff.

Coach Rodriguez:  "I didn't know that.  Well he's in a great state for fishing that's for sure.  We got a lot of lakes; he should be able to catch something."

Question:  You said he was banged up,…was he playing at 60% last year? 

Coach Rodriguez:  "You know I don't know because he's not one that complaints much.  Mark just put that big old wrap on his arm and big old pad and just goes out and does it.  I'm sure from a strength standpoint, but he wasn't close to 70%.  For a guy up front that has to use his strength on every play that sure is tough on him.  He feels great now, I believe."

Question:  You saw throughout the season the kind of level of decline a little bit?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Not really.  Again, I thought they all got better for the most part, because I think they were getting more familiar with each other, but we never had a consistent level of performance anyway on offense last year.  It was never ever one guy, it was the whole unit.  I did think they made steps.  Certainly I think they took another step this spring."

Question:  With him (Mark Ortmann), was he at the end of the season last year one of those guys that didn't maybe practice all the time?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No he practiced every time.  For us, you got to practice to play, but he never missed practices either.  Again, he never complained, so you never really know how much he was hurting, but I know he wasn't 100%.  Hopefully, he'll be able to stay healthy this year."

Question:  Where else did you guys make strides last year, you said offensive line?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We made strides in our tempo of practice; how fast we wanted to practice at times.  We didn't do it games because we couldn't get first downs.  You got to get more first downs in order to control the tempo a little bit.  I thought they learned what we were trying to teaching them for the most part.  The spring was a whole other thing.  They took another whole step this spring and we'll see how they do in August."

Question:  You mentioned quarterback play yesterday as being crucial to everything really; How big was that part of why you guys struggled?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well, there was always going to put a lot of blame put at that position in any offense and sometimes it is a little unfair because it's not always that guys fault.  Our guys tried like crazy last year.  Sometimes they played pretty well but a lot of struggled.  It certainly wasn't always their fault.  The pieces around them should be better this year.  Whoever the quarterback is going to be.  If we just take care of the football, make good decision, take care of the football and just execute and play within themselves, they'll be better.  I think sometimes your quarterback when the offense is struggling, he may press the issue a little bit.  He may try to force things when it's not there.  I'm not saying that it happened all the time, but it happened sometimes.  Taking care of the football and just letting the game come to them is an example of that.  One of the few that we actually played defensively, the Minnesota game last year that is what Nick Sheridan did.  He played within himself.  He took care of the ball, controlled the game, let the things happen and it worked out okay.  We got to do that more often."

Question:  On defense, it is really as simple improve tackling; obviously Greg Robinson stressed that so much, just that will make a big difference?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Oh sure.  Well improved tackling is one aspect of that's glaring and obvious and the other one is not giving up the big plays."

Question:  Do those go together?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well some of the missed tackles were big plays but some of them were play action passes where we let the ball get over our head a little bit or did a poor job of breaking on the ball.  I had watched some of the games over again this summer.  There were some third and 20, third and obvious pass and we still let the ball get over our head and didn't make the play.  Those are things that are frustrating and should be easily corrected.  Now are guys, there are always times when they get beat, they can't be perfect.  If we can just limit those a little bit as well, we'll be alright."

Question:  Watching those games, would you get removed from it and say right there, like one play in each of the nine games, maybe not all the game…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, but every coach can probably say that."

Question:  Was it more glaring this year than other years?

Coach Rodriguez:  "For us yeah.  For me, heck yeah, when you got nine losses, you break it down pretty quick and it is really frustrating.  I think they are highlighted or featured more when you lose.  Not that they are overlooked when you win, but you don't watch them as much, but when you lose, you really kick yourself.  We had a lot of losses so there is a lot of plays."

Question:  There were a couple of games when it was just one or two plays, like Purdue…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "For a half or three quarters you're right there and then all of a sudden all heck breaks loose in the fourth quarter just based on a couple of plays, but those plays are plays; they made them and we didn't, so you can't take them out.  I know we played a game one time and coach, I don't know we scored a bunch of points, he said if it wasn't for those five or six plays, yeah but they count.  Good teams don't give up those kinds of plays at all."

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