Greg Mattison: “We got another couple two a days down. We got a few more two a days to go, but all-in-all, the defense I think is working very, very hard, like I said last time trying to get to the Michigan level. I said it last time and it is even more clear now, we’ve got a long ways to but that being said, I’m very, very excited about their want to. They come every night to the meetings trying to learn it. They come out every practice trying to get better and our practices are hard. Our practices are hard, but they have to be. That’s the only way we’re going to do things. You see a different guy every once in a while getting past that hump and that’s what we have to do. We’ve got to get the entire defense to when they get ready to break and they get ready to give in to go past it. You see more and more of the guys getting over that hump and that has been rewarding.”
Question: You talk about reaching the Michigan level is it something that you think you can realistic get to before the season, during the season or will it take a couple of years?
Greg Mattison: “I don’t know when it is going to happen. I don’t know when it is going to happen. I fully expect it to happen this year. That’s what we expect on defense. That’s the only thing we except on defense is to get to that level. You never know when it is going to happen. Again, I’ll say the guys are consciously trying to work to get there. Whether that work is good enough right now, I can’t say yes to that. I can tell you that they are trying to get there and it is our job as coaches to keep pushing them and keep teaching them and keep trying to get to that level.”
Question: How do you define the Michigan level to a player that maybe hasn’t been there?
Greg Mattison: “Playing with great technique, #1, playing with tremendous effort, #2 and #3 being very physical. Those are the three things that we have to play and we do those three things, now you’re playing Michigan defense, the way it has always been played here.”
Question: From the coach the other day we heard some names of guys who are not necessarily scholarship guys. We heard about (Nathan) Brink. We heard about Tony Anderson, are these guys even though they are not scholarship guys in the mix for playing time?
Greg Mattison: “Everybody is a scholarship football player to us. Everybody on that football field is a scholarship football player. The best 11, the best 12, the best 13, the best 17, those guys are going to play. Our philosophy on defense is that you must go as hard as you can go every snap and to be able to play that kind of defense, you’ve got to have backups. You’ve got to have guys that can come in. You’re going to see on our defense guys coming in, in the first quarter, guys coming in any time because they know their obligation is to play as hard as they can when they’re in there and if they do that that’ll be good enough and the next guy goes. Obviously some players are more talented than others, but if you play with great technique and you play as hard as you can, you can be successful. It doesn’t matter to me if a guy is a walk on or a fifth year player; they’re all Michigan football players and they all are supposed to play that way and they know that.”
Question: How close are you to maybe having all the defensive lineman look the same? I know that has been a big thing for you technique wise that they all kind of look the same, almost doesn’t matter who they are.
Greg Mattison: “Again, it is a gradual deal. I think we are what are we, eight practices if I’m not mistaken. If you had me that practice one, I would say, whoa, we got a long way to go. Then all of a sudden the second practice, you go, we got a couple more guys doing it. It is not so much that they all looking the same, it is them all looking the same all the time. Consistency is huge. We have to be a defense that you play with great technique on every play. Because unless you are a dominant player, unless you are so much better than the guy you’re across (from), you have to play with great technique and you have to play with great effort. It is just those guys, every guy so he is consistent. If we have five contact periods in practice, they got to get through all five of them, they got do all five that way.”
Question: What has Brink done to seemingly jump up the depth chart?
Greg Mattison: “Played like a Michigan football player. I hate to ever talk about a young man because I think every time I do that they go right down in the tubes, but I’m going to say this about this guy because this guy here has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to Coach Montgomery on every word and when he tells him to step a certain way, he tries to step a certain way and he is really, really physical. He is another one of those young guys you asked me last time. I think he was probably 250 and we said to get to 265 and when he was coming to report, I yelled over the railing and I said what do you weigh and he said 264 and I said drink some water. Sure enough, he went in there and started drinking water. Now I think he is 267 or 268. He’s a guy that if he keeps doing what he is doing, Michigan people are going to be very happy with him.”
Question: Did you know much about him in the spring?
Greg Mattison: “Yes. In fact, in the spring it was mentioned a number of times because his toughness showed up and he was only 250 at that time, but his want to and his toughness stuck out like crazy and that’s what we want, 11 guys who want to play with that kind of attitude. Up through eight practices, again I watched him and I always liked to look at the film before I made comments on something, but I know I watched him and I thought he had a good day again today.”
Question: You’ve been in full pads for a few practices now, have you been pleased with their tackling ability or is that something that is still needs work on?
Greg Mattison: “No it is always something we have to work on. We had a goal line scrimmage today, the ball on the one and a half yard line on fourth down and their was some really, really good things. If we had just wrapped, just clawed to get the guy down, we would have stopped them two more times and that’s what usually happens on the goal line and that will tell your tackling right there. Now, the thing that we’ve really, really emphasized and I mentioned also is big plays. Guys making sure they are cupping the football and I have seen improvement in that. I’ve seen a concerted effort of the safeties and the corners and them understanding that we cannot let that ball run through our secondary. We’ve got a long way to go on that. One big play is too much as far as I’m concerned. They’ve bought into that and they’re working at that.”
Question: Who do you have at that free safety position that you like that is starting to figure that out?
Greg Mattison: “There are a bunch of them. I can’t single one out. The one guy that comes to work every day that has been very, very consistent is Jordan Kovacs. He comes to work every single day and if he doesn’t do it right, if I’m a betting man, I’m betting he is going to do it right the next day. All the other guys that are at the safety position all show really bright spots and then lose concentration at times and that’s what we’ve got to get them through so they are going consistently through it.”
Question: In terms of Mike Martin, how is he adapting to the things that you are trying to do?
Greg Mattison: “I think he is working very hard. I think he is working hard and I would say this about every player on our team. They can work harder and they will work harder. We’re not close to how hard we’re going to work yet. I think he has bought in. I know he has bought in. I love him. Here he is and he has probably had three different coaches in maybe his career and the guy comes out and wants to get better and that speaks a lot for him.”
Question: Have you seen that elite talent level that we’ve seen flashes of in the past, have you seen that in practice with him?
Greg Mattison: “I never like to say elite talent level because I don’t know if it is elite talent level until it goes against an elite team. I’ll never say this guy has elite talent because I’ve got to say that in games. I’ve got to see a guy that game after game is dominating and playing way above his head and that’s elite talent. I don’t know if we have any and I don’t know if we don’t have any, but we’ll find out.”
Question: How has the safety position changed from the 3-3-5 to the 4-3?
Greg Mattison: “I don’t know anything about the 3-3-5 to be real honest with you. I know in our safety position that guy will play a number of different coverages but always has to keep the ball inside and front, always. I don’t know about the other, I haven’t really studied it. I know in our defense that safety has to keep the ball inside and in front.”
Question: What do you like about Courtney Avery so far?
Greg Mattison: “I think he is another guy who comes out every day and tries to get better. Is he good enough yet? No. He’ll tell you that, but you know what is good about him was when he makes a mistake and when something happen, it bothers him and he tries even harder the next time. Now he has got to get his technique so it is perfect. If a guy isn’t the fastest corner, if he is not the fastest guy on the field, boy he had better have great technique. He’d better know what is happening. I think these are the things that these guys are learning all the time.”
Question: Are you getting a better idea of which freshman might be able to contribute this year?
Greg Mattison: “Freshman are freshman, you know what I mean and we’ve got some pretty good freshman. Some of them have caught your eye. They also caught their eye and tell you they’re freshman. They’ll come and make a great play and the next play you’ll go where are you at, what did you do there. That’s why they are freshman. All 105, it doesn’t matter if they are a freshman or they are a senior, the best player is going to play. If a freshman shows consistent great talent, our job as coaches is to get them on the field as soon as possible. There is nothing about being a sophomore that you have to play or a junior, the best players play, you’re in college now. I think there are some freshman that have some pretty darn good talent out there. They have to prove to us is that they will be consistent because if you put one out there and he is not consistent, he hurts the other ten.”
Question: When you talk about rotating guys in and doing it early, do you have a magic number on the line at linebacker, in the secondary that you want to get game ready?
Greg Mattison: “I think that’s what we’ll do as coaches. In other words, we’ll kind of as we watch them through practices through this whole camp, find out who is in the best shape, who does not have quite as much stamina and I never like to say you’re going to go in for four and then the next guy is going to go in. With defensive lineman what I’ve always done is make them promise they’re going to play as hard as they are going to play, just absolutely as hard as they can play and then when they’re tired, somebody else will come in with you. Get your rest, you’re not demoted, go back in there again and play as hard as you can. If you do that, you got two waves of guys going at each other. Linebacker position, they are not in their tussling in there all the time. They’re pass dropping, they’re blitzing, they’re doing that kind of thing. Sometimes it doesn’t happen as much as with them. It might be a quarter and then give a guy a rest after the first quarter. D-lineman, you would love to have a number of plays and that just all depends on each guy. One thing you won’t see is you won’t see four new guys going in on the front. It is not that kind of thing, it is not a platoon thing. It is each guy has a different barometer that you’re going to say okay, this guy after five plays, I’m going to get you in for two, just give him a rest. Now the thing you have to do is have that second guy, vow to the team that he is going to play as hard as he can. That’s what his obligation is. If he goes in there and doesn’t go hard then this whole system doesn’t work.”
Question: Has the added weight for Will Heininger made a big difference do you think?
Greg Mattison: “I think he is much stronger. I think he is much stronger and he has shown some signs of being very physical and strong at times. Now we just have to keep, again with everybody, not Will only, consistency. Not just one play, two plays, three plays, four plays. Hopefully it is three plays and their out. That’s the reward for that.”
Question: You said last week there might be some tweaking in terms of position changes has that been the case?
Greg Mattison: “No not drastic. We’ve looked at like an outside linebacker who is kind of a hybrid to the rush backer and we may switch those guys at times that kind of thing. A five technique might play a there technique and see who fits in best right there. But there has not been a linebacker, okay you’re going to now and be a rush that kind of thing, nothing drastic. Again, we’re always going to try and to put the best 11 and that’s what our job as coaches is to do is keep your eyes on those films and make sure that the best 11 is out there. If that means making a change then you do that.”
Question: Your philosophy on substituting and rotating guys in, is that something you’ve always had or is that something that you’ve picked up from the NFL?
Greg Mattison: “No, I’ve always done it. In the NFL you don’t do that very much because the guys that are making big money and the owner doesn’t like seeing those guys not being in there. That’s something at Florida that we had a thing we had six starters in the defensive line. So in other words you are playing four but all six of you are starters. We used to always talk and we’re going to get that here too, is earn the right to be one of those starters. Give us seven starters. It is not like you are a second stringer. You are a starter it is just that you are going to play at this certain time of the game. Now give us everything you have and that could be wherever you need them.”
Question: Was that a tough adjustment for you when you went to the NFL not having that type of flexibility?
Greg Mattison: “I never thought of it because all I had to do was look at Ray (Lewis) and Ray would say this is how we do it. Okay Ray fine, no problem, let’s just go and win okay. It wasn’t a tough adjustment that is just the way it was. The other thing that happens in the NFL is that you know there are only 45 players. There are only 45 players and that guy who is making a lot of money that is all pro, he is a lot better than that guy who is a free agent. That owner who sits in that box, he doesn’t like to see that free agent in there in that big money guy standing next to you. That never came up, it never came up much.”
Question: How is the battle going at the WILL linebacker between Mike Jones and Brandin Hawthorne?
Greg Mattison: “Really good. That position and again I hate to ever say anything positive, I love how those guys are playing at times. At times, they are playing with such energy and such speed and such explosiveness. One day one of them, I’ll go wow that’s what we’re looking for and the next day he may have not as good a day and the other guy will step up. I think that one is a battle. That one is a battle right now and it is kind of a good battle to have.”
Question: Is your linebacker corps overall big enough, you’ve got (Kenny) Demens in the middle that is 250 pounds, but a lot of your SAMs and your WILLs are only 220, are they big enough for your defense?
Greg Mattison: “They’re plenty big enough for us, because they’re all we have. So they are big enough. There is no question that they are big enough.”
Question: The closer we get to the season the more I’m hearing about Frank Clark, everybody seems to have a lot of positive things to say about him. Does he have potential to be one of the best 11?
Greg Mattison: “Frank Clark is a very talented freshman. That’s all I’ll say. Very, very talented, but he is a freshman. Consistency, doing it right every play. A guy better make a lot of plays for him to be out on that field and cause ten other guys to not have the success they want. That’s always a decision that coach makes. Is that gamble worth or can you get him up to being really, really consistent. So that’s what we work through with all of our talented freshman.”
Question: We heard a lot about Cam Gordon the spring and where do you see him now and is he the outside linebacker still?
Greg Mattison: “Yes. He’s working very, very hard at the physical part of playing SAM backer. At the reactions that happen with that SAM linebacker. Cam is another guy that again I feel very strongly about that he is doing everything he can right now to be a Michigan football player. He is working extremely hard, bought in 100%. It is just a matter of reps and keeping getting reps and keep getting better.”