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April 6, 2010

Notebook: Kicking game a concern

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is pleased with much of the progress his team has made this season, but there are a few exceptions. The kicking game, for one, hasn't emerged as he'd hoped.

Rodriguez went from meeting with the media immediately to the field, in fact, to search for some answers.

"That kind of tells you where we're at," he said. "Some days we've kicked really well; some days we've not kicked well. There's some talent there, but certainly not a comfortable situation where we're at punting or placekicking right now. Guys have worked hard, but [punter] Will Hagerup is coming up … he'll compete probably with Seth Broekhuizen, a walk-on, for that job.

"The kicking game is a concern simply because we've been inconsistent in practice. I couldn't tell you who our starting kicker is. It changes in 15 minutes. I don't know if that's going to be resolved until the fall. Brendan Gibbons has a strong leg, but he's been back and forth. Other special teams, we've got athletes, but the kicking and punting is not at the point where we feel comfortable."

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

On whether Denard Robinson has a serious shot at the job: "Yes. They're in a battle. There's no question, they are in a battle for it. I think our guys understand the way we set up our program - you have competition at every position, and it's going to elevate everybody. Tate [Forcier] knows that, and Denard knows that. They've probably split equal reps with the first group, not that we have a first team, but with the first group out there. We'll continue to do that throughout the spring and see if somebody separates themselves or if they both continue to get better."

On how Forcier is handling the competition: "I haven't asked him that, really. I did talk to him a little abut how we were going to challenge him - not just football wise, but academically, what our expectations are for him as a student-athlete here at the University of Michigan, just like we do with everybody else on our team.

"I've had a couple conversations with Tate, particularly because he plays that high profile quarterback position, and how we expect him - even though he had some success as a freshman - to progress and get better each and every year. Tate's a very, very competitive guy, a guy who likes challenges. The last couple practices he's responded with that.

"We're going to keep the pressure on him, because we have to play better at that position, and Tate and Denard and Devin all have the talent to do it. They just have to continue to understand what we expect from that position all the way around."

On quarterbacks and their ball security: "Normally at this stage in the spring your top couple quarterbacks you'd put them in a different color jersey and have them hand off. We have not done that yet. I have brought the shirts out but not put it on them yet because we want to make sure that the ball security was clearly understood. It was a major issue for us last year, all year, particularly at that position.

"I don't want them to get beat up in practice or anything like that, but we've got to make sure they know how to take care of the football in traffic, that they can have proper ball security. The only way to do that is to get tackled. If the only time they get tackled is in a game, do they truly grasp it? So I told them as they get better - and they have gotten better; they'd done a lot better job with ball security - we'll start to maybe ease off on the few hits.

"Our guys aren't taking free shots at the quarterback or anything like that, but when they're running down the field in our live situations, we've allowed them to be tackled. We'll continue to do that maybe another couple of days until we're sure of that."

On whether Gardner's ball security is better because he's bigger and stronger: "He carries the ball out there like he's running on the sandlot. He wasn't coached to do that - I know his high school coach very well, and he'd be on him, too. But sometimes when you're a young guy and in the open field, you feel the freedom to carry the ball out there. When you get to this level, the guy is chasing you a little faster.

"Most fumbles occur from a hit that's not seen. He's done a good job in practice, but he's still got to learn ball security, as all of our guys do. We can't beat ourselves. We'll have a better football team, but we're not going to have a good enough team to beat ourselves with turnovers and negative yardage plays.

"That's been a huge emphasis for us this spring - eliminating turnovers and as many negative yardage plays as possible."

On Kelvin Grady being affected by basketball: "I think he missed a few workouts, so he probably didn't progress strength wise. He can make that up, but he wanted to try to help out. We have a great relationship with the other sports programs. He enjoyed it, but he's clearly enjoyed the spring, too, especially with us using him both at the slot position and at the tailback position.

"I think his true love is probably tailback. We're doing a little bit of both. I would doubt [if he'll play much basketball]. He was there, but wasn't playing - just on the practice team, I guess. As long as they can handle it academically … two, if they're contributing. If they are at the end of the bench and not contributing in a game, or a meet, then they ought to focus on the sport they are contributing in.

"If they are contributing and doing playing and helping, scoring points, track or basketball, that's all fine."

On whether he sees a difference between this spring and the previous springs: "Certainly from two springs ago. I think it's easy to compare your first spring … guys are still getting accustomed to how practice is run, going from drill to drill, what's expected out of each drill, what's expected out of certain techniques and things like that. There are a lot of similarities to last spring, when we were able to practice a lot faster.

"The differences - there are some players practicing for the first time. I think it's comparable to last spring in the respect of how practices are moving. Certainly it's night and day from two years ago."

On the competition at safety: "Ongoing. Cam Gordon has had a really good spring. I think that move, there's no question has been one of the better moves we've made. He's a natural there and has had an outstanding spring. Vlad [Emilien] being hurt has hurt depth a little bit. Jordan Kovacs is a guy we could play at any position, both the free and the strong, and be solid there.

"We have concerns at the safety position. Some of them are injured and some may be coming in the fall, but it's not a position we feel solid at the two deep. Hopefully the next six practices will settle some of that."

On Demar Dorsey's situation of signing an LOI with a junior college: "Anything with the signees, if anything changes I'll let you know."

On the 3-3-5 defense: "I don't know what's been written, but more has been said about the changes than what's actually happening. Spring is a time for us to look at several things, from what we do in 3-4 and 4-3, some 3-3 stuff last year to adding some packages. To say we're going to do exactly what we did in the past at West Virginia, that's not true. Coach [Greg] Robinson has a wealth of experience, and he looks at everything as our defensive staff does and tries to fit it to our personnel.

"Right now he's looking at a wide variety of fronts and coverages, things that are simple enough to understand but gives us the multiplicity that we felt we needed last year."


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