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November 13, 2013

News & Views: Michigan isn't giving up

Brady Hoke opened his Wednesday press conference with some positive thoughts on his team and the way they remain competitive in practice despite a difficult two-game losing streak.

"The week itself has been good," Hoke said. "The way we've practiced, the way we came out. I think I've said that most weeks. That tells you a little bit about the older guys on the team, and their leadership, and how the younger guys have really started to understand that this is the way we're going to practice consistently. It's not one week, it's every week. It's not one day, it's every day. I was excited about that."

News: Quarterback Devin Gardner has received hate mail and the Wolverines were booed by their home crowd during Saturday's 17-13 loss to Nebraska.

Hoke: "I think the biggest thing is you have to have broad shoulders. Any time you're in competition, you're going to have critics out there. Ninety-nine percent of the critics don't know how hard these kids work, starting in January … their early workouts, the grind that Coach Wellman puts them through and we put them through.

"It's a growing process for everybody [adjusting to the criticism]. That's part of it, when you make a decision to play football. We always talk about that stuff in the beginning of the year and fall camp. We'll remind them about the critics that will be out there. That goes when it's good, because it goes both ways."

Views: Criticism is one thing, though we've never allowed personal attacks (especially directed at the players) on our message boards, nor would a respected member of the media ever stoop that low, which is why ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock was so out of line a week ago.

Go ahead and criticize play-calling, personnel decisions, the lack of execution, but don't go after the student-athletes. Especially what we know now, about how bullying can lead to psychological issues. Yes, these are not kids. They're 18-23 years old, and they're becoming full-fledged adults, but a parent of a current player wrote this week that the booing really affected some of the freshmen and sophomores this past weekend, as they felt the one place they could count on support was from the home fans.

Certainly there is frustration, and many will claim they were booing the coaches, but that's hogwash and people know it because the cascade of displeasure rains down upon everyone in the maize and blue. So think before you boo next time, and if you're going to send hate mail, at least be a man about it and put your name and return address on the envelope.

News: Over the last two games, senior SAM linebacker Cam Gordon has racked up 13 tackles, including a sack, and is playing the best football of his career.

Hoke: "It starts in there, in the weight room, and what he's done, how he attacked it, how he's led, how he's lifted, and how he's worked. It starts from an attitude standpoint. You have to give a lot of credit to Cam the way he's gone about his business.

"You see with a lot of seniors the realization that this is over, most of them aren't going to play anymore, so you see a lot of guys play their best football late in their careers."

Views: Kudos to Gordon. He certainly had every reason to be unhappy with his lot, bouncing from receiver to safety, safety to linebacker, losing his starting job to Jake Ryan in 2011 when a back injury sidelined him for the home opener, then playing in a limited reserve capacity in 2012. Finally, this season, with Ryan out the first four games, the job was supposed to be Gordon's but junior Brennen Beyer rose up and demanded minutes.

When Ryan returned, Gordon got squeezed out some, barely playing at Penn State in week five. However, with Beyer's move to strongside end, Gordon has played with regularity the past three games, and he's responded with three of his best performances. Some would even say he's outplayed Ryan.

Hoke talked about senior defensive tackle Jibreel Black and senior right tackle Michael Schofield too, and that's what you're looking for out of your veteran players - late in the season, they step up and lead.

"Mike's self-confidence, I think that's grown," Hoke said. "I'll go back to the weight room and how hard they work, it builds a lot of confidence. That's part of it, and Mike becoming a senior. The leadership that goes along with that, from how you play. That also has made him jump the level he's playing this year compared to a year ago."

News: While more and more freshmen and sophomores are seeing the field, Hoke said the Wolverines will not give up on goals for this season.

Hoke: "Like it or not, we have to move forward. That's part of it. But we want to finish strong for our seniors. That's first. We have an opportunity to win 10 games, and that's something special. It was when I was here before and I don't think that's changed. Our self-pride and personal pride in representing Michigan is a big part of it also."

Views: There is a delicate balance between playing for right now and building for the future when it's become apparent the Big Ten Championship is unrealistic. U-M is trying to walk that line presently, giving more snaps to its rookie defensive backs, redshirt freshman defensive linemen, and true freshman running backs.

But the Maize and Blue do owe it to the seniors to try to establish a legacy they can be proud of, and doing so is good for business because it teaches the younger players to play for something bigger than themselves while also ingraining in each recruiting class that even if it gets tough, the program will not abandon their ambitions if a similar occurrence took place down the road.

Players like tailback Derrick Green and defensive end Taco Charlton need to play more, but only because they've proven they can handle their responsibilities. If there is a young player that is still swimming in sensory overload he shouldn't get thrown out there until he's ready because that wouldn't be fair to him or the rest of the team.


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