What do you expect from the players in these leadership roles?"It's sort of like a student council in high school or college, Tom. You have the captains. When I really have a problem, the easiest people for me to go to is the captains because they are the guys that were overwhelmingly supported by the entire team as the people they perceived to be the voice of the team. But the problem is, because sometimes there are three guys, there are position players that don't feel they have somebody they can vent to or have a voice. By having this group of guys, it gives them a mechanism. For example, the offensive line - obviously, the offensive line usually wallows away in anonymity, as we know. But now that they have somebody that they want to voice something pro or con, they don't have to go to David Grimes who is a wide receiver, they can go to Sam Young who could go to David Grimes who then could go to me. So at least it gives a mechanism so that everyone on the team could have a voice without feeling that they are not being heard. Because sometimes kids are afraid to voice their opinions because if they feel it doesn't go along with the party line, there are going to be repercussions. I don't think that's the right way of doing it. Not that we are going to agree with them all the time, but that's not the point. The point is they should at least have a venue to air feelings that they have right there. That's really how it is set up."
How do you balance the installation and adding new wrinkles without overloading the younger players?"It's a little easier for us because we had such little turnover personnel-wise to have very objectively clarified where the obvious problems were and given the possible solutions based off of X's and O's and outright performance. Defensively we have added some wrinkles as everyone knows as to whether it means bringing more pressure and the like. What we have done is cut back on the volume of things, just doing fewer things more often. I think anytime you do fewer things more often, usually mentally you put players in a position where, ‘Okay, I know what to do; now I just have to go out and do it.' You always try to do that, it's not something unique, but if you are going to change your thought methodology on the volume of pressures you are going to put, you can only practice so many things in a practice. I think you have to pick your poison as far as what you want to get done."
How important is it, not only in installation but in game-planning, to keep things simple?"We spent the whole month of June game-planning our initial opponents. We spent an extensive amount of time from the beginning of June to the beginning of July not only on scouting reports but game-plans on people early in the year and it evolves once the season comes around. For example, San Diego State will already have one game under their belt before we play them. So as we watch tape on San Diego State, we'll still be able to get more up-to-date personnel as you plug in the new cast of characters they have because they will have already played a game. In Michigan's case, they will already have played two games so it will give you an opportunity to kind of verify that the game-plan issues that you worked on in June are somewhat substantiated before you go to play them."
Does the amount of installation have anything to do with the depth at the positions?"It really depends upon the side of the ball that you are talking about. Sully (John Sullivan) didn't play the last couple games and you are losing (John) Carlson. We were cut back to bare bones last year; because where we are now, we are actually growing. It's not like it was a couple years ago yet, but it's on the up-tick right now. Defensively once again, there's not a large volume turnover of players. It's just a volume of the percentage of what you are doing that changes. I think that's why you have to make sure you don't overwhelm them defensively by trying to do too many things early on."
What have you seen from Ethan Johnson early on?"I wouldn't say he has been a pleasant surprise, but he has definitely put himself in the mix in a very short amount of time. You look at him, Eric, and he is 275 and he looks like he weighs 250, so you can see just looking on the hoof, his growth potential body-wise is big. But right now, he has very good quickness and very good instincts and he has pass rush-ability. Anytime you have a defensive lineman who has pass rush-ability, they usually can find a way to get on the field before it is all said and done."
What other freshmen would you put in this category? Would Kyle Rudolph be one of these?"Why don't you ask me particulars, Tim? Don't ask me that question (laughing). I'm very, very, very high on Kyle Rudolph. What he lacks a little bit in explosion at the line of scrimmage, in comparison to a more veteran player - the kid is 255 but he has just grown into 255, he still looks skinny at 255 because he's so big - his straight-line speed, he gets down the field in a hurry and he has great ball skills. So anytime you have a tight-end who can run, that is at least an adequate blocker where he can sort of hold the point and not get his butt kicked at the line of scrimmage, and that can vertically threaten all three levels of the field, you know you've got something."
Is Robert Blanton in that group?"What are you doing, going alphabetically now (laughing)? He has shown very good cover skills and a cockiness that a corner needs to be able to get on the field. He's not afraid of anyone and he's not afraid to tell anybody in the whole free world that is willing to listen. He's a chirper."
Is Luke Schmidt working exclusively with tight-ends?"I'll already give you this one. When I put out the F position, it will say (Asaph) Schwapp or Schmidt. They are really playing the F but from different locations. One guy is in the backfield; one guy is more of a move tight-end. We have practiced Luke on the line of scrimmage and we have practiced him in the backfield, but he is more of a move tight-end."
How is Steve Paskorz coming at this position?"He's more of an Asaph backup. That's where Steve is. Once again, I wouldn't say we are surprised, but we are very pleased with his progress because he has shown to be a very physical, willing blocker. I think that's the first attribute you need to be able to play that position."
Does Steve Filer have all the tools but isn't sure what to do with them yet?"Let's not say the word enigma, Brian. Let's say he has so much athleticism that even if he's not in the two-deep at this point, before it's all said and done, you are hoping that he is. So here is a guy with his athleticism that we are pushing on teams; we are pushing on defense to try to get himself in the hunt. He knows he has some work to do but there are few guys that are that athletic that before it is all said and done, you'd like to see them sooner than later find their way to the field."
Coach Polian is recognized nationally as a recruiter. How has he grown and what strengths does he have as a recruiter?"Well, the one thing that Brian has done besides being sort of in northeast Ohio, where we have dabbed in a little bit in that area, his primary area has really been California and he has created a nice little recruiting niche/relationships with people in that area in California where we walk in the door, they are happy to see us. We understand that is a tough area to go into because you have all those schools on the west coast that you are competing against, but what we have been able to do and Brian does a great job of grinding it and doing the groundwork. We have been able to get in the hunt on people and then just try to offer them an option. If they are going to leave the west coast, this would be a good place to go and we're getting some good production out of that area."
Is there a specific reason he is assigned to that area?"Because he is the youngest guy and this way we give him the furthest distance away (laughing). He's the one who has taken the redeye to Hawaii; then he's back on the mainland about 12 hours later. At this point, it would be detrimental to take him out of that area because he has established very good rapport with several high schools in that area."
Would you comment on John Goodman's progress?"I'm going to kind of group John and Deion (Walker) the same because Michael (Floyd) has gotten significantly more reps than those two guys. But both John and Deion know that they are in a position where they could find themselves on the field because they have done enough to show that they can play. They have a bunch of guys they have to get past to be able to get themselves on the field this year. So I think the two of those guys, not to separate them, but I have been very pleased with John. He's a very smooth route runner and he's got deceptive speed because everyone looks at him and doesn't think he can run, but he can, and he's got very good hands. There are growing pains at wide-receiver position because all of a sudden you have sights, you've got hot adjustments, you've got route adjustments based off of coverage. Getting back to the question we were talking about before, it's a little different with a freshman with someone that has been doing it for a while and gets, ‘Oh, it's cover two, I'm going to fade that rather than go ahead and run my route.' So sometimes a younger guy like that, it takes a little more time to figure it out. Once they have been through it about a year, usually it becomes second nature for some of those little things that you take for granted with a freshman walking in."
He played quarterback in high school last year. Do you think this helped or hindered him?"He understands the pass game pretty well to tell you the truth. I think that actually might be a benefit rather than a detriment. The fact that he was a quarterback, I think he has a clearer understanding where guys are supposed to be. Even though they had to move him to quarterback last year – and he wasn't too bad by the way – not a bad idea. But I think sometimes quarterbacks that are put in a wide-receiver position are ones that can pick it up rather quickly because they understand how you attack a coverage."
Is Paul Duncan banged up a little bit?"There are a lot of them banged up. Because a couple guys were whining the other day about being banged up, I asked everyone who was banged up to raise their hand and I think about 95 percent of them raised their hand. By the way, it was about 100 percent of the coaches when I asked them next and the players got a big kick out of getting after the coaches for complaining about them being banged up. Yes, he's been banged up. He's a little sore; his legs are sore. He's missed some reps because of it. Fortunately, knock on wood, other than bumps and bruises at this stage we're in pretty good shape."
How about Anthony McDonald?"He's had a hammy and had it for awhile. Just like Robby had a hammy and Robby's starting to get back now. He had a hammy that is just a little higher up than Robby's was so it's taking a little more time to get back."
How can you accurately gauge the improvement of sophomores before the first game?"The jury is still out, as we all know, because it is still based on what happens. I'm going to give you a subjective answer based on what I think is going to end up happening. I think being a sophomore is only a major issue if they really didn't play significant time the year before. I think if you played the year before, you are now a second-year player because there are a lot of guys that are seniors that are second-year players; and juniors that are second-year players. I think it's not a question of what year you are but how much experience you have playing. So the one benefit of which last year was a detriment, it turns into a benefit is that now all those guys are second-year players. They are not coming out there for the first time. Harrison Smith is all over the field for us, right? But he has never played a meaningful down yet. So what's going to happen when the lights go on? So you are still going to have to wait and see even though our expectations are very, very high. Brian Smith, last year half the year he was playing down on the scout team, and now all of a sudden he's your starting middle linebacker and my expectations for him are very high. So I think it's how much they played, not what year they are in school."
Where are you with your special team personnel?"Brian (Polian) told me I have to give him stuff by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. He's on me already about giving him stuff. I haven't given him the stuff either. I think we're well on our way from being three-deep to being 1 and 1A's and 2 and 2A's, so to speak, the 1's and the first substitutions and the 2's and the next substitutions. But most importantly, I think if there are any surprises, it's that some of the younger guys are pushing to be at least in the two-deep and I think that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are a couple young guys that are even pressing higher than that."
What does it say about Jimmy Clausen being a younger player and being voted on the leadership committee by his teammates?"It's encouraging because he has the ball in his hands on every play. He's the guy that the one thing you do know, whether good or bad, he's going to be involved in the mix. I'm very happy with the whole composition of the leadership committee and the captains. I think anytime the players look at the quarterback as one of the guys that they want to have a voice for them, you are moving in the right direction."