Michigan junior Jibreel Black admitted he was a little "slow" in his development at the defensive tackle position earlier this season.
Black, who played defensive end his first two years in Ann Arbor, has started three games at defensive tackle this season. He has 12 tackles and has appeared in every game thus far, and says his hard work in the trenches is starting to pay off.
"Earlier on in the year, I thought my production, as far as myself, I thought it was kind of slow," Black told GoBlueWolverine.com. "But I feel like I am starting to get the hang of it, get the feel of it. I feel like it is going up."
The reason for the slow progress? "Just kind of getting used to a new position. Kind of anything when you're starting something new, you got to kind of get your feel for it and make sure it fits you. I think that's what I was going through earlier in the season."
At 6-foot-2, 275-pounds, Black is an undersized defensive tackle, a position that generally is suited for players 300-pounds and up. While Black doesn't fit the mold, he says he has focused on using his speed to make plays on the inside.
"The coaches are doing a good job letting me know to play to my benefits and what helps me out, which is my speed and my quickness off the ball," Black said.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke has seen the improved play in Black in practice. He said Black is starting to use his strengths as a player.
"I think he's improved," said Hoke. "I judge a lot by practice. I work with him and grade him every night. I think he is really playing a little more vertical. He is using his strengths, which are his fundamentals and techniques, and his quickness that he has. You know he's got some quick twitch to him. And I think you got to really express that to him and verbalize it, ‘look, use your strengths that you have'."
Black said he has benefitted from the defensive line expertise of Hoke and the extra time he spends with the front four.
"I don't know a lot of student athletes across the country who play football with their head coach," Black said. "To coach them, as far as ever day—to have that in my corner is great."
With Hoke spending so much time with the defensive front, Black says at times he forgets the role of his head coach.
"It's never weird," Black explained. "I mean sometimes you forget he is the head coach. (It's) like coach with him, but it's like, ‘Oh Yeah that's the head man'."
As the season winds down, Black says the early season critics on the defensive line play have been answered. However, he says there is still work to be done.
"I feel like we answered a few of those questions. I mean we still have work. We've got a whole of work to do. We've got four more games. But I feel like those questions have been answered a little bit."
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