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September 2, 2013Michigan head coach Brady Hoke met with the media on Labor Day, with work on his mind. He insisted the Wolverines have plenty of labor to accomplish before Notre Dame rolls into town.
Here's a look at some of the news items upon which he touched, his comments, and a TheWolverine.com reaction.
News: Michigan flooded the field with players against the Chippewas, getting a host of younger performers time on the field. Hoke underscored the importance of getting that done.
Hoke: "We got to play a lot of guys. There were 11 true freshmen who played, and 14 redshirt freshmen who played in the football game. That was good, because they need the experience."
John Borton's Views: This year, they especially need the experience. If Devin Gardner goes down for one series against Notre Dame, Shane Morris isn't suddenly taking his first snaps as a college performer (maybe with the game on the line) against one of the toughest defensive fronts in college football.
There's always a debate about scheduling in college football, but starting with Central Michigan this season represented just what the doctor (not Dr. Lou) ordered. Gardner worked the rust out in a game that Michigan was not going to lose, the interior offensive line had a chance to get established a little, and a host of potential contributors saw the field in meaningful ways.
All of that doesn't guarantee anything against Notre Dame, but it puts Hoke's team in a far better position than if the Wolverines were playing far fewer in an opening-game cliffhanger.
News: True freshman tailback Derrick Green showed up second on the Michigan depth chart for Notre Dame, behind fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint. Green actually leads the team in rushing, pounding out 58 yards (on 11 carries) to Toussaint's 57 against CMU.
Hoke: "He ran the ball well. Don't put all that stock into the depth charts all the time. There are going to be a lot of guys who we hand the football. I thought, Fred [Jackson] thought, and Al [Borges] thought that he did a nice job on the carries he had. He missed a read in there one time that we'd like to have a little better."
Borton's Views: Green also looked a half-step slow to the edge on one stretch play, but this was by far the best he's looked all fall to this point. An early camp injury, a few extra pounds and a couple of untimely fumbles in practices leading up to the opener weighed against him, but he was always going to get a good look.
When he got it, Green showed some of what he can do. When he got rolling on a 30-yard run, it was easy to see why defensive backs will have their hands full dragging down the 240-pounder. He looked strong between the tackles and game snaps at college speed will only make him better.
Given Drake Johnson's season-ending knee injury, it's imperative that Green continues making a move. Hoke mentioned a number of backs that will get opportunity behind Toussaint, and the depth is solid, but the Wolverines need difference makers and Green has that potential.
News: Michigan's interior offensive line made its debut against Central Michigan. Left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis held their own, but the challenge increases substantially against Notre Dame's defensive line.
Hoke: "They did a pretty good job. They're a pretty stout group, especially the two guards. For their first time out there with live bullets, I think they did a good job."
Borton's Views: Note the qualifier: "For their first time out there with live bullets "
The problem is, the Irish come in with bazookas and flame-throwers, defensive line-wise. Louis Nix devoured about half a dozen Temple Owls for an appetizer, and he'd like to follow it up with a plateful of Wolverine.
Hoke quoted Bo Schembechler as saying he liked the Notre Dame game early as a gauge regarding what Michigan really has in any given season. As a microcosm, Hoke is going to find out a whole lot about what he features in the middle of his front wall on offense.
They will lose some battles along the way. But with considerable help from their friends, they'll win the war, in the big picture.
News: On the positive side of the injuries ledger, senior Courtney Avery is close to being ready to play, according to Hoke. Meanwhile, veteran receiver Joe Reynolds did not sustain a serious injury against CMU, although it looked like he was in considerable pain at one point.
Hoke: "Courtney is close. I can't tell you if he will [play] or not. Joe should be fine. He feels pretty good. Each day it gets a little better.
Borton's Views: The latter represents huge news for the Wolverines, who simply can't afford to lose many more wideouts. Reynolds proved his worth in the opener, scooping up a blocked punt and scoring to start the game, then later hauling in a 45-yard bomb from Gardner.
The fact that he won't be lost for any significant time means plenty, and if there's any chance he can go on Saturday, he'll be on the field against the Irish. Same goes for Avery, who had nailed down a starting spot at safety prior to his injury.
Although Michigan's safeties weren't exposed against CMU, and Jarrod Wilson in fact looked very strong, a Thomas Gordon/Avery combo, with a heavy dose of Wilson, could put the Wolverines ahead of the game against the Irish.
News: The SAM linebacker position is as deep as hoped/expected, with three guys (Cam Gordon, Brennen Beyer and - soon - Jake Ryan) capable of starting.
Brady Hoke: "There's always a role for good football players, and those two guys [Gordon and Beyer] are good football players."
Chris Balas' Views: But Ryan is a special player, and his job will be waiting for him when he returns sooner than expected from a torn ACL suffered in the spring. Beyer spent the first game playing on the defensive line (where he played last season), but it's good to know that Gordon - who played arguably the best game of his Michigan career - is there when needed. He'll get plenty of snaps this year and has earned them with an outstanding offseason and fall.
News: Offensive line depth is starting to show, only two years after the Wolverines had only eight scholarship linemen on the roster. It especially showed when the Wolverines lined fifth-year seniors Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield up on the left side in short yardage situations.
Hoke: "It's having some depth, No. 1. The experience of those two guys, Mike and Taylor, the number of snaps and what they've done it's part of the offense, which is a really good part of the offense because you can do more out of it. That can give people when they start a line defensively - how much you can leverage a defense, it can cause some problems.
Balas' views: This speaks to the improvement of redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson at right tackle, too, Hoke said. Hoke talked about Magunsson's added strength, and it was obvious.
"He's always been athletic, which is why we recruited him," he said. "We knew the strength would come. He's worked hard to get to that point, no question."
As expected, though, redshirt frosh right guard Kyle Kalis was the most impressive of the young linemen Saturday.
"I thought he played well, did a nice job," Hoke said. "There were a couple backside cutoffs he could have been a little better, but I thought he was physical."
News: The interior line faces a much bigger challenge this week against a stout Notre Dame defensive line.
Hoke: Jack [Miller], Kyle [Kalis] and Graham [Glasgow], it gets a little tougher this week who they play. That's no disrespect to anybody. Notre Dame has three guys up front who are big, strong, active guys who have played a lot of snaps and have experience. The odd front will be a little different that they like to work in and out of. Having a bigger guy on the center is a little different when they're head up on you."
Balas' Views: This will be one of the key match-ups Saturday. Miller isn't a big guy at center, and Hoke wasn't entirely pleased with the tempo Saturday. Of the three interior linemen, it seems Miller still has the most to prove (though Hoke would never say as much).
"I think it's all of us. Coaches, guys getting in the huddle," he said. "Jack Miller calls a huddle, get your butt in the huddle. Part of that is so we can get up to the line of scrimmage where Devin has a chance to maybe get us in a right play.
"The play clock going on, on the check plays out there or the protection scheme, whatever it might be, leave enough time so we can get into the right play. We want to have a tempo in how we play."
News: The Wolverines didn't miss as many tackles Saturday as Hoke initially thought.
Hoke: "Maybe I was just being mad. I don't know. There were a few in there that get you a little more mad, that you don't leverage it well enough. Cupping the ball, keeping inside and in front. For the most part, we did an okay job, a good job, but we've got to do an elite job.
"I thought the three linebackers who played the significant reps, Desmond Morgan, James Ross and Joe Bolden, were very active in what they did."
Balas' Views: Especially Morgan, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Not bad for a kid many didn't expect to play meaningful minutes when he was recruited.
The defense was very good against CMU and figures to get better throughout the year. There are plenty of playmakers on the field now and young talent - the makings of a great defense are there.
News: Gardner's first interception, a poor decision in the flat, was an anomaly.
Hoke: "The safety, the nickel showed blitz, so he thought he was blitzing. He needed to take one more count when he lifted his leg pointed to the ground to see if the guy was coming. You have to bait them, also, and change your mechanics from a gun."
Balas' Views: But again, it was an anomaly. Gardner is extremely intelligent and studies it, Hoke said, and he knew his mistake immediately. Everyone points to the two interceptions Saturday as an indication that he's going to struggle with turnovers this year.
Don't bet on it.
News: Wide receiver blocking was outstanding Saturday.
Hoke: "Drew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon and Jehu Chesson all did a terrific job, and so did Joe [Reynolds] when he was in there. But those three guys and Jeremy Jackson, who is part of that group, I thought they did a really nice job down the field in blocking."
Balas' Views: You'd expect that of a group comprised of many veterans, but hearing it about Chesson is a nice surprise. There will be plenty of opponents on the schedule against whom the offensive line will get the backs to the next level. The home runs, though, will only be there if the receivers do their part, and they're capable.
Few probably thought Reynolds would be such a key contributor this year, but they need him back healthy, as soon as possible.