ANN ARBOR—Michigan coach Brady Hoke is already noticing a difference in his Wolverines following their flirt with defeat in a tight win over Akron.
“Good practice yesterday,” Hoke said Wednesday. “I thought we came out and competed which you would expect everyday but I thought we, physically, were getting after each other and we’ll do the same thing today.”
With several players, and even Hoke himself, admitting the early part of practice in the week leading up to Akron wasn’t at the level expected, but there was a marked difference Tuesday.
“On a Tuesday (practice), probably a little bit (better than last week),” Hoke said.
Taking a closer look at the offensive line, Hoke says the interior will continue to be evaluated on a practice-to-practice basis heading into Connecticut Saturday, and beyond.
“I think we’re in a unique situation a little bit because of the bye week and when that comes,” Hoke said. “I think that you get the ability to put some guys in there maybe that haven’t played as much but you think are competing hard during the week, this is a great week to see where they’re at and maybe a little more high pressure.
“0bviously, the best five guys are going to play and the guys who deserve it on a daily basis are the ones who are going to play, but this would be a week to do that because then you’ve got another week to keep working.”
On Wednesday, Hoke wouldn’t commit to the same starting five on the offensive line for Saturday’s game.
“I don’t know yet, to be honest,” Hoke said. “We’ve got another practice, still compete, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Now with more depth along the offensive line than at any time in his three years in Ann Arbor, the options and competition are abundant, with a few familiar names sticking out with the opportunity to emerge over the next few weeks.
“Chris Bryant is a guy that we’ve been very excited about,” Hoke said. “He’s been banged up a year ago and had a little bit early in fall camp and probably right in the middle he got banged up again but he’s back and playing awfully hard.
“Ben Braden is another guy that we like what he’s doing and (Erik) Magnuson. I think all of those guys are doing a nice job and I think they’re all improving.”
Unable to find consistency in the run game, the offensive line has had a fair share of missed assignments, lack of cohesion in playing in concert with one another, and even new looks to deal with from three different defenses geared to stop the run.
But Hoke believes his group has been tough, particularly at the guard spots.
“I think they’ve been pretty physical,” Hoke said. “When they’re targeting guys and they’re getting on the right guys, I know there’s some technique issues here and there that don’t make a guy as physical -- his hips get high and the angles you want to play with.
“But Kyle (Kalis) is pretty physical and Graham, those two guards are physical guys and we go against them everyday. I think sometimes guys are a little hesitant to let it go like they do in practice and that’s a learning stuff for young football players.
“We’ve got Ondre (Pipkins) and Willie (Henry) on our side (defense) of it and when they let it just go and go play, it’s amazing. So, you don’t want them thinking too much and you want them to know they’re going to make a mistake but if you play hard enough you’ll play through it.”
Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan walked into his press conference Monday afternoon in a black walking boot on his right foot, something he referred to as a “fashion statement.”
Tuesday, Hoke updated Lewan’s status heading into UConn.
“He didn’t do anything yesterday,” Hoke said. “He did some alternate conditioning stuff but he’ll practice today. He’s fine.”
Sophomore tight end A.J. Williams and senior captain Courtney Avery will both be ready to play Saturday and are practicing according to Hoke, while senior linebacker Cameron Gordon continues to work his way back.
“We limited Cam a little bit yesterday,” Hoke said. “He practiced but limited some snaps and reps but he’ll be back.”
Sophomore defensive end Mario Ojemudia remains banged up but Hoke did leave open the possibility No. 53 will be on the field Saturday night.
“Mario, he might be the only guy that will be playing a little more hurt than others.”
Wile evaluating, improving
Michigan junior punter Matt Wile struggled against Akron Saturday, averaging just 33-yards per punt including 22-yarder.
“With Matt, I would say because he struggled the most really, he did a good job yesterday of really, and he did it throughout the weekend, figuring out where he’s at and why,” Hoke said.
“All of these guys have a guru who they talk to or work with during the summer so I know he got in touch with his and talked to him about some things and they evaluate the tape.”
To watch video of Hoke from Wednesday, press play below.