Rich Rod's Roundtable (Part 2)

In part two of Rich Rodriguez's sit down with the media at the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon Michigan's headman discusses Tate Forcier's progress, the battle at quarterback, criticisms of the spread, and much much more.

Question:  Percentage wise, have you been able to throw more at Tate (Forcier) than maybe you anticipated?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I did in the spring.  Because we thought he was handling it.  We'll see how much retention he has in August.  We were able to do more this spring with him than we thought and in particular when Nick (Sheridan) got hurt.  When Nick was there at the beginning of the spring, Tate could kind of eased his way up there.  So when Nick got hurt, he had to be thrown into it.  So we figured we were going to have to scale back but we didn't and so it was good."

Question: Last year with you coming in especially, it seemed like the big buzz word was the spread offense and all that and now it is almost like, trending backwards a little bit with a couple of teams looking like they are going to do a little more power running and stuff; are you surprised to see that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No.  What everybody else does that is their own personal taste.  I've said many times, the x's and o's is sometimes overrated.  I think as a coaching staff, you got to do what you know and what you believe in.  We believe in our system.  We're not stubborn enough to make some adjustments or tweaks.  The offense we're running now isn't the same offense that we ran 20 years ago.  It's not the same offense that we ran five or six years ago.  There is going to be different variations of in the next four or five years.  I think you constantly evolve and try to see what you do with it.  Everybody says…you see teams and say we are a pro style offense and then 60% of the time, they are in a three wide, four wide."

Question:  Can you see bringing in some I-formation stuff…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Maybe.  We did some last year.  It was just you couldn't tell much because we were so bad at it, everybody asked why didn't you run the spread.  We are going to run our base.  As our players understand the base of the offense then we'll expand.  I think you have to be careful and let's not give them too much and confuse everything."

Question:  Being a spread team, it seems like there was a time when there was advantage because teams weren't used to seeing it, but maybe that is diminished a little bit now?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Oh no there is no question that it was easier to run it seven, eight, 10, 12 years ago, but really the last four or five years everybody's seen it.  It wasn't like all of a sudden last year everybody was running the spread.  I mean it has been going on for a few years.  So everybody has made adjustments.  People say, they are catching up to it.  I don't know what that means; what's that mean they're catching up to it.  You can either execute it or not.  Still having success the style is, just look at who is playing in the national championship games and winning them – Florida, Oklahoma; they all running some version of the spread.  All I worry about is that we can execute whatever we are doing and I feel good that we are getting better at that."

Question:  Is there a fine line when the running quarterback is big part of your offense, is there a fine line of how much you can run him?

Coach Rodriguez:  "If he can run because what it does to the offensive package.  If the guy is not a big guy, you worry about him getting banged up if he is getting tackled inside.  If he is a fast guy getting tackled by DBs I don't worry about it too much.  But if he is getting tackled by lineman or linebackers, then you start to think that I can't run him 15 times a game.  Inevitable, even when we were playing with Pat White, he would run maybe run 10 or 12 times a game but normally he is getting tackled by the guys down the field that is the same size as him.  He was fast enough to outrun the other ones."

Question:  I covered Ohio State in the spring and one of their coaches kind or raised some eyebrows because he said that defenses had caught up with the shotgun run of the quarterback and I don't know if a lot of people kind of felt that way, they were kind of surprised that he said that; as kind of the guru of that what do you think?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I could care less what he says.  I'm just being offense.  They can say that.  Give me another couple of coaches or two.  Everybody's opinion is their opinion.  We study everything and our ultimate goal is to win.  We set out as a staff, as coaches, what can we do that we feel gives us the best chance to score points and win ball games.  For us it goes back to running the system that we know, pretty simple."

Question:  When you look at the success of this defense, talk about Stevie Brown's move and how important it is to what you are trying to do?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well Stevie Brown, he's here because I only got two seniors and Brandon Graham is in class, but Stevie, his role as a leader may be one of the most important things that happened to our defense this year.  We have to have Stevie Brown to have not a good year, but a great year defensively.  From a standpoint of the position that he is at, both defending the run and defending the pass, the leadership he's got to bring.  It is time now for Stevie to have that big year.  I'm sure he's hungry too.  Stevie has gotten some criticism and people pointing the finger at him and sometimes it's like a quarterback on offense, it's not all justified, but I think he is hungry to prove himself.  I think he'll have a big year."

Question:  You are looking at safety moving forward; Obi (Ezeh) says he has dropped some weight.  Are you looking for a quicker, faster group?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah we got to get faster everywhere.  We've tried to make it a point of emphasis in recruiting.  Let's get some fast guys.  If you can't catch them, you can't tackle them.  Sometimes people get confused that we want a bunch of little guys running now.  Now we can have some smaller guys or something at certain positions, but I'd like to get big fast guys is what we'd like to have.  Michigan has had a lot of them in the past, so hopefully we can get a few of them."

Question:  Coach what are some names that have stepped up in the off season?

Coach Rodriguez:  "From a leadership standpoint, again I haven't been around them much, because we're not allowed.  Talking to Coach Barwis, it starts with the senior class; we have a small senior class.  But too a man Coach Barwis has said they've been outstanding.  You know the three guys that are here have done an outstanding job.  Then you've got young guys that have kind of taken charge.  Nick Sheridan has done a great job.  You look at David Molk on the offensive line, David Moosman, Steve Schilling.  Our defense, Brandon Graham is obviously a senior; him and Stevie, but even some of the other guys like Obi Ezeh has done an outstanding job.  Mike Martin, who I thought did an outstanding job as a true freshman has come on.  Ryan Van Bergen.  I don't want to say there is a different attitude, because I think that gives a disservice to the guys last year who really tried hard.  The attitude now is one that we know what we have to do, as opposed to last year they did it because we were telling them to.  Now they really I think are hungry to prove themselves and I think they come over to the building with a smile on their face and say, man let's get to work.  It is fun to be around that."

Question:  There are a lot of new names on the roster now as far as walk-ons.  How are you coming along in terms of wanting to build that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I'm glad you brought that up.  One of the other things we tried when we first got here was let see what we can do to enhance our walk-on program.  It has always been pretty good here and we wanted to take it to another level.  Again that's a process, it doesn't happen overnight just like anything else, it's going to take a few years.  I think we started off getting some really quality guys that can have success, not only athletically but academically at Michigan and they are going to create some competition in practice.  I would suspect out of the new walk-on group, there will be three or four on scholarship and there will be one or two that may play as soon as this year and I'm really excited about that."

Question:  Those guys whose name appears on the roster now; are they on the team or do they still have to…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "If they are on the roster now, they are on the team, as long as they do everything else that you're supposed to.  Now again, they haven't gone through practices yet, the freshman.  They haven't gone through some of that tough grind. Some of those guys that got enrolled in summer school have already started working out in the weight room.  Some of them have already gotten a little accustomed to our program.  I will find out a little bit more.  Some of them will be there when camp starts and a handful more will be there when schools starts.  We will see how they compete when practices is going."

Question:  I was wondering for the defensive back you have Donovan Warren coming back and he should be a lock for one spot, the other spots not as much experience and you start out with Western (Michigan); how do you look at that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Obviously we start out with Western is not ideal because of the skill players they have and their quarterback (Tim Hiller) is I think one of the best in the country, but Donovan has some experience and Boubacar Cissoko has a lot of experience as well.  At safety is where maybe you are a little bit more nervous because they haven't played.  Again, moving Troy Woolfolk to safety, I think was a positive move and I think he'll be okay there.  Mike Williams has played quite a bit.  He is going to be in a bigger role now.  We'll see what shakes in camp.  To us as coaches, you would rather have experience, but if you are ready, you're ready.  We got to see if we can get some more guys ready, because again, we have a lot of question marks in a lot of places.  The secondary we don't have much experience, but the only way to get it is to play them."

Question:  You mentioned going good on good in the fall; how much will you have to hit to get guys ready?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well when the games start, we don't like to do a lot of good on good, a lot of heavy hitting during the season, because you don't want to beat your own guys up, but you got to do it a little bit.  Our guys are pretty smart about it.  You be pretty careful, but particularly with our situation now with not being real deep.  We got to be able to balance it; say we got to get 15-20 minutes of good on good, bang around a little bit, get that speed going and then go against the scout team."

Question:  Forcier has had since January and now you have Denard Robinson who has been able to get in lately; what can he do over the next month to really put himself in position to contribute?

Coach Rodriguez:  "The biggest thing is just to learn.  He's got to be like a sponge in the meetings and on practice, soak everything up.  He is a very conscience guy, so I think that he will do that.  He is going to be behind the other guys that have been here for obvious reasons.  I think he's a pretty quick learner but when he gets to camp, he's going to make mistakes, but he has got to be one that is able to overcome that and relax.  Sometimes a freshman, particularly early, this happened with Tate back in spring ball; they are okay for the first couple of days and then it hits them and they get overwhelmed mentally and then you got to slow back down again.  So we'll start all over at the beginning of August in practice, start from the base and see how much he picks up and then if we need to slow down for him or for the other guys, we will."

Question:  With his speed and physical skills, would you be tempted to do anything besides quarterback with him?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No.  He'll be doing nothing but playing quarterback.  Again, if you move him to another position, then they are going to cause more confusion.  If you learn quarterback, you can learn the other ones.  He is going to get a lot of reps.  Obviously we are going to rep Nick and we are going to rep Tate a lot and see who wins the job."

Question:  Coach can you talk about the decision to bring in a big name (for the 2010 opener)?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well the thought about home and home, is that we want one at home and not have to return the other one for several years.  So right now, the talks or the schools and it is hard to find a school that had an opening and one that we didn't have to return the game right away.  Our ideal thing was to find one that we didn't have to return at all.  For right now, if we can find one that we think we may have that returns it later on, several years down the road, it gives us the time to find the other homes games that we need to fill."

Question:  You said you didn't want to return the game; so what kind of team do you feel like you could have gotten as far as your reputation and exposure is concerned?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I don't know.  It's not as easy to schedule as people think, because we have got one spot filled already with Notre Dame, so to fill the other one is pretty much a challenge, in particular for us in one date.  We have to find…more than likely it had to be two or three dates to pick from it had to be that opening for 2010.  We shouldn't have as many problems in the future scheduling our nonconference games."

Question:  Last year, you took some criticism because a lot of people said he shouldn't have instilled his system.

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah that was funny."

Question:  My opinion was, hey get the guys a year of experience, you're not going to the BCS Championship game in the first.  I thought it was a wise move.  Talk about doing that if you would.

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, I've heard a little bit about that.  I don't pay much attention to it.  It's comical because it didn't matter what system we ran, they didn't have experience in.  So whether he was running a West Coast, pro style or even what they were running before, it was going to be new because Steve Schilling was the only returning starter.  So if you are going to run, you might as well teach them what you are going to learn in the future.  A lot is made of it.  Maybe we could have executed better and it wouldn't have been as much.  You can quiet all the critics just by playing better, executing better and winning games.  I feel glad and I said this last year and Sam was around quite a bit.  There was some work being done even though it was painful and we were losing that will help us in years to come and I still believe that.  We are not going to be a finished product as far as what I envision the program being this year, but we will be a lot further along then we were a year ago."

Question:  Last year at the end of the year I felt bad for you a couple of times, it was a tough year.  Are you rejuvenated, refreshed, ready to go, you seemed yesterday as happy as I have seen you in quite a while?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah because we are still undefeated.  Every head coach gets excited and optimistic at this time, but yeah it was tough last year.  Any coach that goes through a season like that, players go through a season like that, they are going to be frustrated.  If you're not frustrated when you're losing, gosh, you shouldn't be playing out there.  I hope not to go through it again, but I've been through it before and hopefully that's the last time we go through that type of season."

Question:  What's the biggest thing you learned last year about Michigan?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I just learned about our players.  Learning what we got, what are strength and weaknesses are, what we need to work on in the future.  I said that before the season.  I won't really know what we have until we start playing games.  By the end of the season, I had a pretty good feeling of what we had and now we got to fix it."

Question:  How is Michigan different than you imagined?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Probably not much different than I imagined.  The atmosphere is great.  The support was unparalleled.  Probably more of a lesson than I thought it was.  No matter where you go the formula is the same.  Get quality student athletes and develop them.  Whether you are Michigan or anywhere, you still got to do that.  You don't just show up at a place line them up and win games.  It doesn't happen that way.  You have to have the right people doing the right things."

Question:  Is it comforting to know that you've had tough starts before and they've always turned out the way you wanted it?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah.  That gives you a little more confidence that you are going to be okay.  We draw back on that a little bit.  We say hey we've been there before.  Again, I'd rather not do that; I'd rather start off a lot better.  It didn't seem like we've ever taken the easy route, we always take the more difficult route.  We try to do the right things each and every year and I think it will show up."

Question:  How tough is it for a coach when you come in and inherit another group of players, you have to get their people, their system, their philosophy accepted?

Coach Rodriguez:  "It is probably difficult nowadays because change is hard on anybody.  They have to get used to it whether you're an athlete, just a person in business, you have got to used to it and accustomed to changes.  Everybody says that when they get their players in or whatever; they are my players the day I took over the team.  I think it was more a matter of getting all the players accustomed to the way we are doing things, working the way we want them to work and making a commitment to being a top notch student athlete.  Every school wants the best out of their athletes, but Michigan is not a place for somebody to go to be average, whether you are a student of an athlete and you had better get used to that if you are going to school there."

Question:  What gives you the most confidence in this team that you are going in the right direction?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Just the way they work.  I thought we were going in the right direction last year in ways that we never showed up.  I think it was reaffirmed to us in the spring that we are going to be okay.  Again, this is a work in progress.  You are not going to see a finished product this year, even though I think you will see a lot better than hopefully than last year.  But just the way the guys are working, being around them, not even on the field but off the field.  You can see it in their mindset that they are hungry.  They don't feel entitled to anything and they are ready to prove themselves."

Question:  Michigan obviously is a football university, you said it is a work in progress, do you get a sense that the fans understand that it is going to take a while a while to get things going or has their been impatience?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I hope.  I think so.  The reception I've gotten, going around talking to alumni and everybody, they understand what we are going through.  Again, everybody wants to have success and Michigan is accustomed to it.  That's a good thing, that's not a bad thing.  I'm glad we got high expectations.  I think our fans are pretty educated; they're pretty smart.  I think they understand the process that we are going through and will patient as we go through it."

Question:  Do you like that, the bright lights and the whole scene there?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah.  I joke about it a little bit, but if you are in division I anywhere, particularly in a BCS school, you are in the bright lights.  Those lights shone pretty bright at West Virginia too.  They paid the electric bill.  There is a few more people.  We have a bigger fan following because of the bigger stadium and the alumni across the world and across the country, but that's a good thing.  As I said, it is a university where they are used to having excellence on and off the field.  That's a positive.  That's something as coaches, I take great pride in trying to uphold that."

Question:  What about when you're in Chicago and you're facing Northwestern; what were your thoughts on them?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well we played them at our place; it was at home and it was miserable weather and we didn't play very well, but those guys do a great job.  I think Pat (Fitzgerald) is an outstanding coach.  I've had great respect for them even back when Coach Barnett was there and my old good friend Randy Walker who I had great respect for and that staff.  I think they are in a neat place.  I think this school is a lot like ours, academically it is challenging, but when you get a degree it means something.  Just like I think when you get a degree from Michigan, it's second to none."

Question:  I talked to Daryl Stonum during the spring and he said it was up and down for him, a little bit of a struggle; what kind of progress did you see from him during the spring and what do you expect from him this fall?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think he got mature.  Daryl still has got some work to do.  He's gotten challenged academically.  He's gotten challenged football wise.  At the same time he would step out of line or something and he was just a freshman.  He enrolled early, but he was still just a true freshman; maybe we shouldn't expect too much.  I think Daryl has seen the light sort of speak as far as what he needs to do as far as having success at Michigan, both on and off the field.  We got to wait and see yet.  We will wait and see what happens at the end of summer school and fall camp."

Question:  Last year there was a lot of talk, he doesn't really value this state in terms of recruiting.  A year into it have you been able to see differently on the recruiting trail with the coaches in state and how they receive you? 

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah that's comical.  The coaches have been really good.  We had a bunch of them come to our clinic.  We would go out and speak at a couple of clinics every year and the reception that we've got is really good.  I think they understand that you have to recruit by needs and wants and I tried to explain to them as have the assistant coaches that our base will be in the Midwest first and foremost and then we'll expand to Florida and some other areas to fill our roster out.  We've gotten two recruiting…it was hard the first year, but we got some outstanding instate guys the first year, we got some last year and we are going to get some this year."

Question:  Is that perception more a function of winning; if you win, people don't talk as much about that sort of thing?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah and I think that is typical if you lose some of the things that people want to jump on will be highlighted and featured more.  If you win, they don't say as much about that.  Yeah that's part of the profession, I don't get hung up on that."

Question:  Coach can you talk a little bit about Kevin Koger, kind of where he fits this year and how he has developed?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Kevin to play as a true freshman, it is hard to play as a true freshman with a position like tight end where you're involved so heavily in the run game and the pass game and protections and all that.  It was quite remarkable.  I think he has taken another step going through spring practice.  Talking to our strength coach, he looks terrific and I think he is going to be a big weapon for us, but I think he could develop into one of the best tight ends in our league.  Just really, really excited about Kevin Koger."


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