Sam Webb: I always start off the same way, trying to figure out if you’re hearing football. You guys had the big scrimmage over there Saturday night. You always say you’re looking to hear football. Did you hear it there Saturday night?
Brady Hoke: “Yeah, you know, I think we all as a staff felt our guys really did a nice job preparing for game day, and tried to make that day as much as the night game would be at Notre Dame, with a couple walk throughs during the course of the day; one here at Schembechler; one at the hotel, out at the Sheraton; and just how we fed them, pre-game meal. You know, we have 61 of these guys who are either first or second year players, and a lot of them are going to be playing a lot of significant snaps for us, so trying to get them acclimated to how we prepare the day before a game, and game day, is something that we really tried to work on. "
Sam Webb: Guys take to Twitter from time to time and Tweet a few things. One of your freshman said ‘we went to war tonight’. Taco said that, and he had a cut above his eye, and it was clear that it was very physical in the trenches. What about that?
Brady Hoke: “I think that on both sides of the ball, there was a lot of physical play, and you always ask if I could hear football, and there’s no question that we set up the scrimmage that way so there would be a lot of physical play, a lot of the run game. We’ve got a number of back that we want to make sure are getting the looks they need for our evaluation, and also for how they see things when you’re running the football, and I think on both sides of the ball it was physical. The receivers, and how they went down the field, and the crack blocks and all that kind of stuff, I thought we got a lot done that way."
Sam Webb: We certainly always try to get an injury update from you. I know there were some guys that were held out of the scrimmage. Where are you injury-wise at this point?
Brady Hoke: “Well, you know, there were some guys we needed to hold out. Chris Bryant was one of them, Shane we held out a little bit, just rest him a little bit. Chris, his knee was – they had to drain it, but he’s done a tremendous job through fall camp, and he’s really had a good fall camp, but very other little guys did we have to hold out of it, but we thought it was in the best interests for our team to do that."
Sam Webb: You mentioned Chris Bryant, and in talking to (James Ross), I asked him ‘who’s the guy you don’t want to see?’ He said ‘I’ll see anyone, but the guy I have to prepare for, Chris Bryant. He really is bringing it this fall.’ It sounds like you’ve seen that too.
Brady Hoke: “I think we have, and I think the competition that we have there… believe me, it broke his heart that we kind of told him he wasn’t going to play, because he’s made so many great strides. But he’s a physical guy; he’s a big guy that when he hits you, there’s a thud to it, so he’s had a really good summer and a really good fall camp.”
Sam Webb: You mentioned DeVeon Smith as the forgotten man, but I feel like there are some guys that I’ve heard your players talk about that might just be forgotten guys that have been around for a little while, and one of the players that your linebackers talked about was Drake Johnson. Fans skip automatically over the guys that are returning, but your guys are saying ‘hey, don’t forget about Drake’.
Brady Hoke: “In bowl practice, and really all year on the scout team, he always came to work, you know, and that’s kind of a tough job, being the running back on your look team, your scout team, came a gave a great look every day. He did a tremendous job through the summer in how he worked, had a good spring, and this fall he’s continued that progress that we’re really happy to see. “
Sam Webb: Ira and I got a chance to talk to Coach Mattison earlier this morning, and he talked about on the defensive side of the football some things moving around; playing Courtney Avery more at safety, so kind of take me into the process behind that. Why play Courtney more at safety?
Brady Hoke: “I think in some ways it’s a pretty good fit for Courtney. I think in a lot of ways, it’s a great fit for us, and for us to have a guy to have that experience, to have him and Thomas on the field at the same time, you always want to play your best eleven, and we felt moving Courtney in there – he’s a smart, highly intelligent guy – to move him in there was the best for our football team; and if it’s the best for our team, it’s going to be the best for Courtney.”
Sam Webb: And at the same time, that doesn’t mean your young guys still aren’t going to play a lot. Jarrod Wilson played some football last year. Another guy that Coach Mattison mentioned on Friday and talked about again this morning, he said this young fellow Delano Hill has been turning some heads in practice.
Brady Hoke: “Well, he has. We missed some valuable time with those guys because of the academics, and so you’re really starting to get a good look at some of the freshman in those scrimmage type, competitive type situations, and Delano is a guy who is a big safety. He can run, and instincts are at a higher level, so we like his progress so far.”
Sam Webb: Something that I hear you stress all the time, because you’re a defensive guy by nature, getting off blocks. Coach Mattison talked about it, and when we talked to the players and they said it’s been a huge point of emphasis. Have you seen some strides in that department?
Brady Hoke: “I think we have. You look at a guy like Desmond Morgan, who’s played significant snaps here, and I thought the other night was probably his best night of getting off blocks and not running to be blocked. We talk about how you fit a defense, and everybody has to be in the right place, but there’s different ways to get in the right place, and I thought throughout our defense – and Greg and the staff have done a great job of emphasizing block destruction or getting off blocks… and I think the kids have done a nice job with it."
Sam Webb: You talk about a position group at (inside) linebacker where, Coach, there are no seniors. There are no seniors there, so you talk about some young guys not only getting off blocks and doing that better, but leadership coming from guys who aren’t necessarily in the senior position, so that’s a very unique position for them to be in.
Brady Hoke: “Well, it is, and we’ve also – we’re going to play for our seniors, we’re going to coach for our seniors, but at the same time, there are some young guys who aren’t seniors who have played some significant amounts of football here at Michigan, and when you have that experience, there’s an expectation for you to lead also, and I think Desmond and some of those guys in that position have done a really good job.”
Sam Webb: Again, as we move to the outside, you do have an elder statesman there in Cam Gordon. What a luxury it must be. You were without Jake for a period of time, certainly Brennan you mentioned earlier in camp got hurt a little bit, and yet you have a guy like Cam Gordon, who Coach Manning said is playing his best football right now.
Brady Hoke: “Well, he is, and Cam, you can see this coming from what he did in the winter, what he did in the spring, had a really great summer and fall camp. His attitude toward how he wants to play every day, and his leadership, has been really what we needed when you look at the defensive side of the ball.”
Sam Webb: Let’s get an idea of when you’re going to start narrowing down on the rotation, because you can’t give every guy reps for the entirety of fall camp, so from a running back perspective, when are you going to start clamping down there? From the center perspective, how close are you to kind of determining a hierarchy there?
Brady Hoke: “Really I think Thursday will be a day. We’re going to do some scrimmaging, and I think after we get done with that practice I think you always have an idea of where things may shake out, but at the same time, the competition that we have going on at a number of positions has really been a blessing to us, so we’ve increased our competition level; we’ve increased our competitiveness; we’ve increased the daily grind that guys go through in a real positive manner. “
Sam Webb: You guys have stressed being a front that can get pressure without having to blitz. Talk about that. And then last, but certainly not least, some of your guys that have mended from injury, like Blake ountess, Chris Wormley; I talked to both of those guys, and they distinguished between the physical part of recovery, which they both said they’re back 100%, and the mental part where they both said ‘you know what? There’s still a little hesitancy at times’, and you ask ‘hey, is it really back?’ How are they as far as progress in that regard?
Brady Hoke: “To answer that question, I think both of them are back. I think when we went at is Saturday night up at the stadium, you didn’t see any hesitation. Blake really made some good football plays that were aggressive football plays. Chris, the same way. Like most red shirt freshmen, though, they’re kind of learning how fast they can play the game. Fitz ran the ball awfully awfully well, and really looked like the Fitz of old.”
Sam Webb: I can only imagine that you want to use the next twelve days to get as much as possible done, but at the same time you wish there weren’t twelve days before you could get out on the football field.
Brady Hoke: “Well, I think we all know that there are twelve days, so there’s a sense of urgency to – as a coach, have we covered our bases? Have we done everything we need to do? And if not, what do we need to finish on situationally so we can react the right way as a football team. The other part of it is that still, we’re fortunate to have a little more depth. We have some improvement that we can make when you look at fundamentals and techniques, and then the competition part of it.”