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September 27, 2011

Hoke: Defense, depth concerns heading into Big Ten play

Michigan ranks fourth in Big Ten scoring defense (12.8) through four games but eighth in total defense. Turnover margin has been the Wolverines' saving grace, but head coach Brady Hoke said Tuesday his team needed to improve quickly heading into conference play.

Michigan was better - especially up front - against San Diego State, but Hoke needs to see more to be impressed.

"We don't play with any consistency, and when you look at runs and big plays and those kinds of things, we give up way too many of those things," he said. "We haven't been great at the point of attack.

"We were better last week, but you don't judge a season by one week, so we've got a lot of physical-ness we need to bring to the table as a defense. What's helped us out to some degree is the ability to get some turnovers at critical times."

That's no accident, though. The defense has tackled better, gotten hats to the ball and been in position to make plays when needed. Whether it's enough to contend in the Big Ten Legends division is another issue, but they're probably a few years away with the opener against Minnesota on tap.

"Depth through the course of a year … it's a big part of it, as is having the ability to be lucky enough to stay healthy," Hoke said.

"We're thin, especially in the areas that count, up front - offensively and defensively. We have eight scholarship offensive linemen, and we're just thin in those areas. Young kids are working every day to get better, but the reality is we're just thin there."

Notebook

• Hoke handed out what's called "Victors Manual" to his team during fall camp.

"It's just a lot of different things with traditions and leadership, educating them about the university and the great university we represent," he said.

• Hoke's like many of his team's fans: antsy about the passing game and the chemistry between Denard Robinsona and his receivers.

"I'm not real confident right now. I don't think we are as a team," he said. "I think they have a tremendous relationship, but we have to make sure our route running is crisp, and the timing in the passing game. We didn't do that very well last week, and that's a problem. That's one part of our game that needs to improve drastically."

• Minnesota quarterback Marqueis Gray has struggled this year, splitting time with Max Shortell. Hoke is wary of both, having recruited Shortell for a short time when Hoke got to Michigan.

"[Gray] is one of those guys that is a big athlete and he's a good sized guy, throws the ball extremely well," he said. "I know his percentage isn't what he wants it to be at this point. He's got great quickness and does a good job of managing the offense. He's definitely a big time threat for us.

"When we got here, we knew we needed to find a quarterback in the class. [Shortell] was on a real short list for us as a guy we made contact with and had interest in. When you watch him on tape as a true freshmen, the things he shows, it shows why we had that interest."

Hoke insisted Minnesota's offensive personnel is "very skilled" with three or four returning starters on the line. The group played USC tough on the road, losing by two, before disappointing in its next two, including a home loss to North Dakota State.




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