ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Brady Hoke arrived in Ann Arbor in the winter of 2011 he walked into a locker room filled with veteran players.
What ended up happening that fall, in his first season with the Wolverines, was nothing short of spectacular. Michigan finished 11-2 capped off by a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, sending off several fourth and fifth-year seniors that had experienced many trials and tribulations throughout their careers.
Since that time, Hoke and Michigan have compiled an underwhelming 15-11 record, actually finishing with a worse record in 2013 (7-6) than they had in 2012 (8-5).
As spring football is set to come to an end with just two more opportunities for the coaches to have their hands on the players in a full go practice situation until fall camp in August, Hoke is aware the time for everyone to step-up is now.
“I think you always feel that, always from seniors,” Hoke said. “But I think you feel it more throughout the program and what’s going on in the training room and whatever.
“I think there’s more of that that yeah we learned, we’ve learned some hard lessons; all of us have. And, the only thing we can do is go forward.”
Forced to play plenty of youth and inexperienced players in his three seasons so far in Ann Arbor, Hoke sees a difference with the Wolverines this spring.
Still without nine freshmen set to arrive on campus in June, including the No. 3 overall player in the country in the class of 2014 in defensive back Jabrill Peppers, who should challenge for a starting job from day one, Michigan’s depth chart is beginning to fill out with experienced talent, and no longer just with little used freshmen.
Hoke said Thursday this Saturday’s spring game will be just like in practice with the ones going up against the ones, twos versus twos, threes versus threes, with several positions still open.
Fans hoping to see more of a game type atmosphere Saturday at Michigan Stadium, with some sort of a split squad setup, might be disappointed. Either way, Hoke said the Wolverines will spend 45 or 50 minutes running through a scrimmage, also adding the offense and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t show too much.
“You’ll see some base things Saturday,” Hoke said. “Different? You won’t see a lot of differences on Saturday.”
Joking that he wished Michigan could be granted 20 spring practices, which is what the allotted hours used to be before the switch to 15 practices, Hoke says the Wolverines have a long way to go before fall arrives.
“We’re doing a lot of good things but we’re not nearly good enough as a team to win games in the fourth quarter, which we didn’t do, play on the road,” Hoke said. “We’re a long way from being any good.
“Have I liked the work ethic, have we liked the work ethic? We have. But there’s so many things when you have 38 sophomores and 39 freshmen, there’s a lot of work going on.”
Injury update, Butt progressing
Asked if any other injuries could cause some regulars to miss Saturday’s spring game Hoke said he couldn’t think of, or at least wouldn’t divulge, any new ones.
What Saturday can provide though, is an opportunity for injured running back Drake Johnson and left tackle Erik Magnusson to get on the field and get some reps in controlled scenarios.
“I think it’s the guys who have been out (who will miss the game),” Hoke said. “The great thing about how we’re doing it, Drake Johnson, he’ll be able to do half of practice and Magnusson will be able to do some pass sets. So, it’s great that we’re doing it cause they’re getting better reps.”
Sophomore tight end Jake Butt continues to work his way back from a torn ACL he suffered this winter, Hoke adding he’s still on track to return by the time Big Ten season rolls around.
Regardless, as things stand on April 3, Butt is already making progress.
“I see him out here and I see him pulling a rope and I see him doing stuff,” Hoke said. “From that standpoint, I couldn’t tell you.
“But, I think the move of Keith Heitzman has been really good for our football team.”