April 12, 2012

Hoke: Depth limits spring game

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has established the parameters for the spring game at The Big House on Saturday. They'll come as no surprise to those attending recent spring wrap-ups.

Hoke noted the Wolverines simply aren't deep enough on either offensive or defensive line, or at receiver, to draft a pair of teams and play a full-fledged scrimmage. What those who show up at Michigan Stadium for the noon contest will witness is essentially the 15th practice of spring football.

"We'll probably go 60-some plays," Hoke said. "You always have depth problems in the spring. We'll do ones on ones, twos on twos, and compete … we'll pretty much do what we've been doing."

Hoke did acknowledge there will be a competitive scoring system.

"There will be a blue team and a white team," he noted. "I'm going to move the ball all over. It's not going to be a true drive. We'll do some punting before it, to work that part of the game. We'll do some PAT/field goal stuff, to work that in the stadium.

"The kids have been over there doing some of that. But it's just to do in it in the stadium."

With respect to other special teams, Hoke made certain to clarify that his disaffection with the return game last season doesn't center on the returners, but the groups as a whole.

"I think Jeremy Gallon is really a good punt returner," Hoke said. He's got great confidence in catching the ball. His vision is pretty good, and he'll take it, burst-wise, when you look at the punting game."

Hoke added that sophomore Blake Countess is presently the backup punt returner.

"He's very confident in what he does back there," Hoke said. "Countess is also a guy we've looked in kick return some."

Hoke is first looking to sophomore Thomas Rawls and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes in the kick return game. Hoke also can go to the more experienced Gallon and senior Vincent Smith in the kick return portion, if the former duo isn't performing as expected.

Hoke indicated he hasn't seen that much out of senior quarterback Denard Robinson in terms of pulling the ball down and running as a check-down option this spring. That is in large part because of the veteran's focus on the passing game, the head coach noted.

"It's probably a place where he's got to improve that a little bit," Hoke said. "He's really concentrating on going through different reads. He wants to make sure he's letting the play, play out. He probably hasn't taken the ball down and run, maybe like he will in the fall.

"It's a balancing act. When you've got a guy who has that capability … at the same time, if he'd let the dig route come a little further in, it may be a 15-yard gain. But him tucking the ball down and going could be a 15-yard gain, too."

Meanwhile, Hoke likes what he's seen from his limited roster of receivers this spring. He first mentioned senior Roy Roundtree and redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon as experiencing standout spring practices, and likes the fact that Michigan's wideouts are willing to do the dirty work.

"One thing I like about our receivers is what I liked about them last year," Hoke pointed out. "They're not afraid to block. They're going to get up in a safety's face or a corner's face, and they are going to block. That's pretty good."

Hoke also revealed that Michigan has come through the spring in good shape physically, other than the occasional "boo-boo." Fifth-year senior Kenny Demens missed last Saturday and this Tuesday after getting dinged in the head.

"He was held back for about two days, because of a mild concussion deal," Hoke said. "Kenny will tell you, 'I probably could have gone,' but we try and be, like we should, very cautious with those things."

Meanwhile, redshirt junior defensive lineman Nathan Brink won't compete in the spring game, but he's the only one Hoke listed as out. Brink broke his leg in bowl practices, but has been able to work out in a limited fashion this spring.

"Brink has done all the individual drills," Hoke said. "He hasn't done any full-contact with 11 bodies out there, but we knew that going in."

Also, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jerald Robinson experienced an injury this spring, but managed to play through it, Hoke indicated.

"Jerald has really made some good strides," Hoke noted. "He's been a little bit beat up. He's had a little bit of an AC separation, but he's played through it and done a nice job. I'm excited about him."

•••NOTEBOOK•••

• Hoke made it clear he thinks plenty of fifth-year senior defensive back Jordan Kovacs, even while delivering the "it's not good enough" message.

"The expectations are high, especially for a guy who is a senior," Hoke said. "That bar is set pretty high. The great thing about it is, Kovacs sets that bar, every day, for himself. He's one of those guys who is a self-starter, and very detailed about how he plays, very critical of how he plays, a very intelligent, smart football player.

"He does a great job in the back end, and he's a physical guy. If you would ask him, he'd tell you the same thing - he hasn't met the expectations yet."

• The head coach is obviously excited about the battle at rush end, between sophomores Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark.

"It's pretty good," Hoke said. "You're talking about two wonderful, young kids. As they continue through the weight room and everything else, both of those guys are going to be good football players. I think they're pretty good now, but they both have a really good future.

"It's daily. Frank is here one day, Beyer's here one day. They compete and they're really friends. It's fun."

• Hoke noted he's never heard any talk about bounties in college football. He did acknowledge that doesn't mean they've never existed.

"I have coached a number of years, and I've never heard a coach ever talk about that," he said. "Coaches talk about, 'We've got to stop this back,' or hold him to this many yards, but that's playing team defense. I have never heard a coach say, 'Dive at his knees,' or whatever. I think there probably has been guys say it, but none I've ever been around."

• The Michigan head coach is a former high school teammate of Jeff Long, athletic director at the University of Arkansas. Hoke acknowledged contacting Long after the former U-M athletic department staffer had to release head football coach Bobby Petrino.

"I texted him," Hoke said of Long. "I just said, 'I'm glad I wasn't you.' That's a hard deal, for anybody."


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