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September 10, 2012

Hoke looking for more from the defensive line

Michigan's line play hasn't been up to snuff through two games, on either side of the ball. It took a few games last year before the team jelled - especially the defensive line - but Hoke would love to see similar results.

"If I knew that, I'd feel a lot better," he said of predicting drastic improvement. "But I think we've got a long way to go."

Senior Will Campbell continues to have his ups and downs. He was chopped a number of times against Air Force, having trouble maintaining his balance against the low blocks.

"He did some good things, but the consistency from a leverage and pad level standpoint at times - he needs to play a little better," Hoke said. "William has come to work every day. I love his work ethic, how he's come in to lead, and I expect he'll keep improving.

"The only way to correct it is doing it every day, those good habits you try and create. With Will, playing defensive line maybe didn't come natural at first to him."

Campbell was flagged twice Saturday for holding, but Hoke wasn't overly critical.

"I'm a defensive line coach, so I have a little problem with the rule," he said. "I don't make rules, so that doesn't help any. He did a nice job of flattening the center. When you're flattening the center, the guard is going to cut him from the back side. Sometimes you're holding on to the center as you move your feet so you can stay upright."


  • Hoke has been pleased with freshman Dennis Norfleet's kick return ability, though he'd have liked to see better communication on one in which Norfleet took the ball away from junior Drew Dileo.

    "That could have been disastrous. He's a freshman, young, loves to compete, so we've got to get that squared away," Hoke said. "All his decisions were pretty good besides maybe that decision.

    Hoke isn't sure if and when Norfleet will play at running back.

    "There's a lot to being a running back. There are a lot of things he's still going through a process of learning," Hoke said. "If we felt he was our best running back, he'd probably be playing."

  • Junior Devin Gardner continues to look more like a receiver. He caught a touchdown for the second consecutive game and looked a bit crisper off the line.

    "He is getting more comfortable running the routes, doing these things within the offense," Hoke said. "I think it's still a learning curve, especially when it comes to runs and do you have the support - what guy do you have? That can change.

    "I never thought how much he'd advance, like we have this marker or goal. Like all of us, if we have a chance at all to win the Big Ten championship, we have to improve - coaches, players, everybody. But he's a guy who number one is an athlete, No. 2 he understands football at a pretty good rate."

  • Sophomore defensive end Frank Clark showed off his athleticism with a few key plays down the stretch.

    "Frank gives you, No. 1, a little experience from a year ago. He's pretty athletic and physical," Hoke said. "Whether Brennen Beyer was hurt or not hurt, it was good to have Frank back.

    "Depth is always an important part, the development to our depth. We've been able to do that a little, something we've got to keep the competition very healthy and lively in practice. At the same time we've got to be able to stay confident in the guys going on the field."

  • Former Michigan running back Michael Cox notched 15 carries for 36 yards for UMass in a blowout loss to Indiana. He'll likely get his share of carries Saturday against his former team.

    "I'm happy for Mike that he's getting to finish out his eligibility, getting to play," Cox said. "I'm going to root for Mike every week but Saturday."

  • Hoke liked facing Air Force despite the fact that his defense gave up 290 yards rushing in the game.

    "There were all kinds of reasons," he said. "Was the player taking the quarterback, was the pitch guy blocked or unblocked, were they arcing, loading, loading the fullback? They did a lot of different things. It's hard to do that during that week."

    Freshman linebacker Joe Bolden "saw things pretty well" in playing much of the second half, he added.

  • Hoke said it was too early to be concerned with the offensive line, but plenty - including freshmen - are still getting looks.

    "I don't care if they do or don't [redshirt], we want the best players on the field," he said. "I think they are all making progress. That's probably as hard a position in D-I football to play as a freshman because of schemes, protections, defenses you face. There's a variety of zone blitzes, all those things. That's probably the toughest position to play as a freshman. If they progress and we feel they're better, they'll play."

  • Freshman Ondre Pipkins was playing several snaps Saturday, and he's likely to see more time.

    "He's a long way from being the nose tackle that he will be," Hoke said. "He has pretty good quickness for a big guy, more explosion. The technique and fundamentals, if he keeps working - he's got to be better with his hands and eyes, but he's making progress."

  • Hoke said not wearing a headset wasn't an issue at the end of the first half, when U-M had just over a minute to go with the ball.

    "We started on the 20. The first part of it we wanted to see what we did on the first play, how we'd react if we got a good chunk," he said. "We didn't want to give the ball back to them. I think we did okay."

  • Michigan ran only 56 plays against Air Force, not enough for Hoke.

    "I'd rather have 80. I'd rather have the defense watching the offense," he said. "But what are you going to do, take away a 90-yard touchdown run or something like that?"

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