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April 6, 2010

Heininger lost with ACL, other notes

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez met the media for the first time in two weeks Tuesday to discuss spring practice happenings. Topping the list: a significant injury to defensive end Will Heininger, who figured to be in the two-deep heading into the fall.

"Unfortunately for us, Will Heininger tore his ACL in practice last week, so he will have surgery," Rodriguez announced. "His availability for this coming season will depend on rehab. He may be able to come back late September or October, we don't know yet. He was having a really good spring, so that's unfortunate."

The news was better on a few others. Receiver Martavious Odoms has been out, as has Junior Hemingway (since the beginning of spring), but both were expected to contribute more at Tuesday's practice and be full go by the end of the week. Receiver Je'Ron Stokes was expected back by the end of the week and was also expected to contribute Tuesday.

"Vladimir Emilien, Quinton Washington and Jared Van Slyke are still out," said Rodriguez. "We're hoping maybe we can get some work out of them next week. David Molk, Brandon Herron, Mike Martin, Vincent Smith, all those guys [out for the spring] are right on schedule with rehab, so we feel good about that part."

Rodriguez touched on a number of other topics. Here's the recap:

On the practice schedule and progress: "We practice four times this week - today, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We have our annual coaches' clinic that will begin Thursday afternoon. One of those two days will be in shorts … Saturday will be a big, full-scale scrimmage, probably one of the most important scrimmages we have. We have three in the spring, including the spring game, but this will be more important to the coaches than even the spring game. Hopefully we'll have good effort.

"Our guys have gotten better. We still have some areas of concern, but our guys are playing pretty fast, and some of the position moves are working out pretty well. We still have time to experiment with guys in different places. Overall I've been pretty pleased with it. The effort has been great, the attitude outstanding. That's where it all starts.

"As a coach you're looking for how the chemistry will develop and where the leadership will come from in our 15 practices, and again with a small senior class, just 12 guys, we think that's going to be an outstanding group. We've seen a few underclassmen too that may be first or second year players that have the leadership qualities that will help us."

On the quarterback battle: "It's an ongoing battle. Tate [Forcier] and Denard [Robinson] have gotten better; certainly Devin Gardner has gotten better. He's a true freshman learning for the first time. But I think that race is going to continue throughout spring, and probably throughout August camp, as well.

"They all bring something different to the table, but we're having them all do everything in the offense. We're not just having Denard do one set of things and Tate do another … right now is a good time to have them do all the offense. We're progressing, and Coach [Rod] Smith and I sometimes expect an awful lot of them, so we're kind of hard on them sometimes when they don't perform like we want that position to perform. But they have gotten better and it's going to be critical for them the next five or six practices to really get the grasp of not only what we do, but why we do it."

On whether he wants one guy to win the job: "It's a fair question, because some people believe you want to have one guy run the team. Clearly, if you have one guy that's above the others, that's okay, but it's also nice to have two or three guys we can win with. I've always said that … I'd like to have at least two quarterbacks we can win with and put in there, so we're not necessarily running one guy. We want constant improvement from all those guys."

On where Robinson is improving: "More than anything, he's understanding the offense, particularly in the passing game - where he should look with the ball and reading defenses. He understands our concepts pretty well, but this is his first spring practice. When you get there in August for the first time, you're just trying to get ready for a game plan. Once the game starts, you lose some of the fundamental stuff. You really work hard on fundamentals, and he still has a ways to go, but he's a talented, talented guy. He loves to play. He is very, very explosive, so you've got to have an opportunity to touch the ball - obviously, if you're a quarterback you're going to touch it every play.

"We're going to continue with him in that position. As we go forward, he'll be able to play the other skill positions offensively."

On Gardner's growth: "Devin's a very conscientious guy. He loves football. He's fun to be around, and he has a certain energy level every time he goes out there.

"He's learned very quickly. I think we've had eight practices, and he's progressed. The expectation for us as a true freshman, you have to be careful you don't expect too much, too soon. Guys his age are still in high school right now. But there's no question he has shown us the ability to learn and eagerness to learn. He's going to want to compete for the job. He's behind those other two because they've had some experience in the system, but he's working hard to try to catch up."

On the running backs: "They guys that have a little more experience have done pretty well. Mike Cox has been pretty solid. Mike Shaw has had a couple really good days, and a couple days we expected more out of him, but he's worked extremely hard. Those two, particularly Shaw, have enough experience that we can expect a lot of them.

"Mike Cox is a very talented guy that this is going to be a very critical spring for him. So far he's shown us good stuff.

"I also like some of our young guys. Stephen Hopkins is a big guy, and we needed a big back with Minor and Grady graduating. Even as a true freshman, him coming in early is going to help his chances to play some in that role. Austin White has been a little banged up, but I think he's got enough talent to help us there in the future once he learns what's going on.

"And some of our slots, at times, have played a little running back. Kelvin Grady, Terrence Robinson, those two in particular have played running back in certain sets, so I think we're going to have plenty of guys there."

On Fitzgerald Toussaint: "I'm sorry I missed him. He's had a really productive spring. I think he's gotten bigger and stronger, and his grasp of the offense gets a little better each practice. I should have mentioned Fitz with Shaw and Cox, because he's right there with them."

Part Two to come …


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