Opening statement Coach Rodriguez: "I think everybody has got the announcement on the spring game and our partnership with Mott Children Hospital, which I'm very excited about. We've talked about this really for past nine to ten months and with the help of the athletic department and the people at Mott. Hope we'll have a great crowd the spring game, hope the weather cooperates but it is a win-win situation for us to have an atmosphere similar to what we did last year, which was tremendous, especially for our young players and a chance to be able to help the hospital, which is very dear to many of us in the community. It should be a great day. Also, I'd like to thank the Beam Family for their tremendous donation of matching the donations that that we ask for from people in at the gates of The Big House. I think it is going to be a fun day and certainly a great cause.
Now on to football just to give you an update on injuries since the last time we spoke. Saturday was the first day in pads and after Thursday we had a few minor injuries, Saturday we had a few more. Nothing that required surgery, but Vladimir Emilien had a knee sprain, so he'll be out for a few weeks. Jared Van Slyke had a knee sprain, so he'll be out for a few weeks. We had two safeties that kind of went down in the last practice, which is unfortunate because they needed the reps. But we have some other guys that will take their place. A couple of other guys, Je'Ron Stokes sprained an ankle; he may be out another week. Anthony LaLota had a situation with his elbow and he hopefully will be back within a week. The rest of the guys you obviously know that are out for surgeries for this spring."
Question: Is Vlad done for the spring?
Coach Rodriguez: "Do not know. There is a chance that he could be back in the last week. It really depends how he responds to treatment the next few weeks."
Question: You mention that those guys need the reps back there; what does that do in terms of competing for the starting job and what have you seen from the back end so far?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah it is a position of concern for us, certainly in experience. We've moved some guys around a little bit. Certainly for Vlad, it was good to be a big spring for him, him Jared both. They had great winters and they're in good shape. If they do not return this spring then certainly evaluations for them to be able to help us will wait until August."
Question: Is Cam Gordon the guy there and who is behind him?
Coach Rodriguez: "Cam is getting a lot of reps there. I'm glad we moved him there. I think he is certainly going to be able to help us. It really is too early in the spring. We've had one day in pads and we haven't really had any scrimmages situations live yet. So we'll wait and see. That is a position going into the spring that we were hoping to get more confidence in that we had enough guys on the team that we could do without relying on some freshman, and I'm not sure that is going to be the case. I think the guys that we have there have done pretty well in the three practices but that being said, I think there is probably going to be a handful of freshman that come in and compete as well there. It makes you a little nervous, especially in the secondary. "
Question: Is there somebody else beside Gordon right now?
Coach Rodriguez: "Because of that injury we moved Brandin Hawthorne, who was kind of an outside linebacker. We are going to play him at both the safety position and hybrid position. He's a guy that has looked pretty good the first couple of days, so we're going to try him back there. Jordan Kovacs is our swing guy and he can play numerous positions. We're going to have more bodies as I said in the fall especially compared to last year, our numbers were so thin at defensive back. Hopefully we do not want get anybody else hurt the rest of the spring, but we've got to practice. Both of those knee sprains were kind of a freak thing that happens on occasion."
Question: Are you almost resigned to the fact that you can't have a real scrimmage game in April?
Coach Rodriguez: "I do not know if we were going to be able to have one…what we would like to do, I'm sure the player and fans would like to do is have a full two teams that go after each other and keep score and all that. I do not think we were going to be able to do that anyway just because of a lack of numbers at certain positions. I do think we would like to do that in the future. We only have 12 seniors on this year's team, so we'll have a lot more bodies next season. We'll probably have to do more of an offense-defense type of scrimmage, but we have enough people to do that for sure."
Question: Can you get a read on how Will Campbell is coming along in terms of technique?
Coach Rodriguez: "With Mike Martin being out, he's getting a lot of reps and I think he has gotten better each day. We still got to get Will to play a little lower at times. He's using his hands a lot better. He's had a pretty productive first three days and I think he's going to continue to get better."
Question: How about the running backs in the first two to three practices?
Coach Rodriguez: "The veteran guys, I say veteran, they are younger….Mike Shaw is a guy that has played quite a bit and I think he is continuing to get more comfortable. The guy we're really looking at closely this spring is Mike Cox. He's been in the program for two years now and now is kind of his time and I think he feels real comfortable now and he is certainly a guy that we feel that will hopefully be ready to contribute a lot more coming this fall."
Question: Among your early enrollee freshman has anybody stood out to you so far?
Coach Rodriguez: "No it's been a little early. All those guys, their heads are spinning a little bit even though we are really trying to keep our installation simple and slow it down so everybody can concentrate on their fundamentals and technique. I like the seven guys that are in. I think they are competing very well, but it is too early to tell how many of those guys can help us for this fall."
Question: Talking about needing to get bigger, have you noticed the size and maturity difference on the defensive line particularly?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah a little bit. Defensively, Will Campbell is a guy that came here with the size, but he needed some strength and he has certainly gotten stronger. I was really excited to see Anthony LaLota. He's missed the last couple of practices with his elbow, but he's a guy who has done a great job in the weight room, so I'm anxious to see when he comes back what he can do. That's another position that we're not quite as deep at experience wise as we want to be, but we've got a handful of guys coming in that will give us the reps. One of the things that about it they are getting a lot of reps this spring because of our lack of numbers."
Question: You said last week when we met with you that there will be some tweaking both offensively and defensively among coaches, specifically as you can defensively what are some of the things that you guys are doing definitely?
Coach Rodriguez: "It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense for me to say significantly what we are going to do scheme wise. Why give any future opponent any heads up on. What we're really trying to do is tweak a few of packages to fit different types of schemes that we'll be facing offensively. In other words, I think it is pretty common knowledge that everybody in every league uses a wide variety of offenses. You go against kind of a powerbase or West Coast team to a spread team and it changes from week to week. Even in the Big Ten, there is a lot more variety than what people assume or know that's out there. We have to have enough in our package that is simply enough for our guys to understand yet we have enough schemes to be in the right type of defense to face those kinds of offenses. So Coach Robinson and the defensive staff kind of have a plan for that this spring to practice a couple of things whether it is against a spread or against West Coast type of team or a power football type of team. As we go through 15 practices, we're going to look at a few of those things without making it overly complicated for the players.
Offensively, the biggest thing we obviously have to do is with our execution. We were pretty good offense at times last year, but when we had turnovers or we did not execute, we were not nearly as productive as we can be. So the big I guess buzz word for us offensively is to get a little bit more physical and certainly execute better."
Question: Talk about the battle at offensive tackle and how the veterans are dealing with the younger guys pushing them?
Coach Rodriguez: "As I mentioned with 12 seniors, we do not have a big senior class, but I think that is going to be a great group of leaders out of that senior class and I also think some of our juniors and even some of the sophomore that have been in the program for a couple of years are taking ownership in the program I guess from the standpoint that they are taking charge of the position groups a little bit more. I've not challenged them other than the seniors to do that as much as I will as spring ball starts to wind down. It is so important for us to have that camaraderie and I think the chemistry on the team is very, very good, but I think it is important for our players over the summer and in August and during the season to make sure that it continues on the right path which it is going right now."
Question: What about offensive tackle specifically?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah offensive tackle, we lost a veteran guy and leader in Mark Ortmann. That position, Perry Dorrestein is a veteran guy and Mark Huyge is a veteran, but we have a couple of young guys in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield that are going to push them. They are talented guys who have gotten bigger. I think this spring is going to be important for them to show that we can count on them. Certainly we think the potential for those two playing this year is going to be there. Whether Perry and Mark and some of those other guys let them take their position, I do not know. I do not want our guys more or less, even though I know they are competing and all that, but as I told them I hope they all get to the point where they are just competing to prove that we can win with them. If there are two or three guys at a certain position that we can win with, we'll play both of them or all three of them and that is kind of our goal, as opposed to just picking one guy at every position. We want to have two or three at every position that we feel that we can win with."
Question: You mentioned challenging the inside linebackers coming into spring; how have those guys responded, those guys that started last year?
Coach Rodriguez: "The three that stand out, the two in particular are Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh, two veteran guys that have played a lot of football, started for us and this is going to be their senior year and we're expecting a lot out of them. I've really been pleased with what they've done the last seven weeks in the weight program, the three practices we had, they've done a great job. Then the third guy that is a senior that is over there but is also on the other side is Mark Moundros. It's kind of an experiment at Mark's request to play a little bit of linebacker because we do not use a fullback 30, 40 snaps a game a lot of times. I think he is going to be able to help us there. At the same time, I told Mark that he is also going to be playing fullback. Now it gives us three veteran guys or at least three experienced guys in the linebacker position."
Question: What happened with the linebackers last year; what were the breakdowns?
Coach Rodriguez: "I do not know if it was one particular position or one particular guy. I think it was a combination of things defensively that we did not play as well as we would like. We certainly did not have the depth, did not have experience that we wanted or needed to have. I've probably mentioned to you all before, it would seem like we would play good for two to three plays in a row and then give up a big one. Or play good for a quarter and then let a team go up and down the field on us. I think the defensive staff has got a good plan. I think we've made a few moves as I mentioned to try and help us and frankly we just got to be better technique wise. I think we have got to play better fundamentally and play more physical and get more guys to the football and I think we'll do that."
Question: Specifically when it comes to Jonas and Obi, what do you see out of them; what ways are they better?
Coach Rodriguez: "I think Jonas had a pretty good year. I think he just got banged up as the year went on, but I thought he was pretty productive. Obi did not probably as well at the end of the year as he was in the beginning. Obi is a very, very conscience guy. It is important to him. I think he's probably had, at least since we've been here, his best offseason workout. He's stronger and he feels good. As I mentioned, I think it is important for him and Jonas to have great springs and to lead our team in the summer and in August. I think when you become a senior, as a coach, you want all of your guys to have their best years as seniors, both leading the team and certainly on the field. I would be very shocked. I'd be disappointed if those two do not and I think they will have great years."
Question: What is David Molk able to do in practice; is he able to do much?
Coach Rodriguez: "He can run, jog. He's going to keep out of all contact. So he is not doing anything with contact. So that's going to a little bit; you want to be a football player. He can snap. He is snapping during our ____ periods and he is doing some individual where he does not have to put a lot of weight on it or weight bearing drills. He'll be fine. David would love to do more and more, but you got to be very, very cautious. He, I think all of our guys that have had surgery are certainly on schedule and probably ahead of schedule as far as their rehab."
Question: How are the quarterbacks progressing and are you working Denard Robinson at other positions?
Coach Rodriguez: "No we haven't. I actually met with Denard the other day and talked to him quite a bit about, listen we want to you learn quarterback and learn it very well because once you learn quarterback you can play any position offensively. I think he understands that. I think that is the biggest thing with Denard is just understand all the whys and wheres and hows of the quarterback position in this offense. As I mentioned to him, if he is not the starting quarterback or he is not playing extensively quarterback, it does not make a lot of sense if he is one of our best skill guys to be standing next to me for 75% of the game. I think he is going to get better. He's gotten better in three practices, as have Tate (Forcier) and Devin (Gardner). I think Denard will be able to play a lot of different roles for our offense, but we're going to have him compete for a starting job. Tate is going to continue to progress in that way and I think Devin has done a good job in three days learning. He's behind those two and I suspect that he will behind those two because they've got a little time on him."
Question: Has there be any separation yet – Tate hasn't separated himself?
Coach Rodriguez: "We probably have not done enough to really evaluate who has separated because we haven't been in a scrimmage situation and we're kind of standing behind them and telling the play and a lot of it is scripted and all that. But I think when we get into a live situation and I'll have those guys be live for a lot of the spring. I get a little nervous when you have your quarterbacks live, but I think our guys are smart enough when they got a free shot on him not to lay him out or do something like that. At the same time, we had some turnover issues, as you note at the quarterback position last year and they've got to learn to be able to run and take care of the football and the only way to do that is to practice it and get hit once in a while. There are going to be some scrimmage situations where we go live and they'll be running the ball or getting pressure in passes and things like that. I think they've gotten stronger and Coach Smith is working hard on the fundamentals. I'll be shocked if all three of those, but particularly Denard and Tate do not get tremendously better in their fundamentals this spring because that is a lot of what we're trying to do."
Question: Can you expand a little bit on Gardner, just what you've seen so far?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. He's a big strong guy and I've used this word several times, consciences about wanting to learn and knowing not just the how, but the whys of what you're doing. He's a talented guy. Coach Carter and his staff at Inkster did a great job of working on his fundamentals. Because I can remember when we had him a few years back at camp; he was a talented guy, but he had some work to do on his throwing motion. He did a lot of work and his coaching staff did a great job with him getting him to improve his fundamentals and his throwing motions. He still obviously has to learn all the offense and the techniques that we do in our system, but he's gotten better in three days. But those other guys aren't backing up. Tate and Denard aren't backing up. So it is going to give us a comfortable feeling if we can have three guys that can help us in certain situations."
Question: Aside from Troy Woolfolk are there cornerbacks that you are gaining confidence with?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah JT Floyd had a good day Saturday. I think he's a guy that we are really going to push this spring and see if he can take the next step. He's been in the program for two years now and he's a talented guy and I think he's a guy that he knows that this is his spring to prove it. I thought he had a good spring. Justin Turner is getting a lot of reps. He's a talented guy that we hope that can help. JT Floyd is one in particular that we are kind of putting the pressure on and so far he has responded."
Full Transcript: Coach Rodriguez at the Mic
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