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April 3, 2014

News and Views: Hoke talks spring game, more

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke admitted Thursday he wished he had 20 practices this spring like they did in the old days, but he's pleased with his team's progress, nonetheless. The speed with which they're playing, the physicality and knowledge of the playbook have all been positive in the last few days.

As a result, the improvement has been obvious, Hoke said. The Wolverines will try to display it Saturday in Michigan Stadium, a final spring practice that will include a 45- to 50-minute scrimmage. Here's Hoke on several topics in News and Views format.

News: The offensive line, as point of emphasis this spring, has shown improvement and was very solid in a Saturday scrimmage.

Hoke: "Across the board there's been improvement, but the key position we obviously all point to is development of the offensive line. We had a great scrimmage in here Saturday. The kids came back Tuesday and really did a nice job. You could see incremental improvements there with pad level, leverage, the line of scrimmage. It was much better. The competition was great with both sides of the ball getting after each other. It was awesome. It was physical.

"We're still meddling a little bit, putting the parts in. When you get Erik Magnuson back and Chris Fox, who hadn't practiced as much, and Logan Tuley-Tillman still playing with a big club on his hand, but you see his improvement - the competition is really, really good."

Views: Everyone is taking spring news with a grain of salt, and Hoke has been much more careful in his assessment of his team. That said, this is a positive development. Redshirt sophomore Ben Braden has made big progress at right tackle and gotten better each week, and true freshman Mason Cole "has really impressed," Hoke said.

The positions remain up for grabs, but there's some young talent here. They still need to get bigger and could benefit from another player (potential Alabama transfer and center Chad Lindsay), but this is a young group with players recruited by everyone in the country. It should jell and be very good and some point, and it's one of the keys to having a successful offense this fall.

News: The offense ripped off more big plays in Saturday's scrimmage than it had in a while.

Hoke: "As a defensive-minded head coach, you want to see a defense do well just because, but at the same time we had more explosive plays than we did the week before, and no turnovers in about a 129-play scrimmage. [Fifth-year senior quarterback] Devin [Gardner] has a little better command of the offense. As much as anything it is experience, and some of it is Devin putting in more time."

Views: The running backs, too, have benefited from better line play and sophomore Derrick Green's offseason dedication.

"Some of the difference is simply from Derrick and what he's done with himself from a physical standpoint," Hoke said. "He's running tracks better on the different plays, and there's more attention to detail there. The toughness those guys have been playing with - they have been better on protections. On Tuesday, Derrick really did a nice job in a blitz drill picking up [senior linebacker] Desmond [Morgan]."

Green is the clear No. 1, it seems, and is showing better balance, vision and quickness through and out of the holes. There seems to be less patience with the first group guys, though, so if someone makes a mistake, the next guy is in.

Redshirt junior Justice Hayes is still the No. 1 option as the third down back, and Drake Harris - the No. 2 back last year out of fall before suffering a season ending knee injury - is working his way back slowly. We wouldn't write him off, though he has yet to resume contact.

News: The linebacker moves have been as good as hoped. Several players have shown improvement, Hoke said.

Hoke: "It's been a great move for us. James Ross is on an edge a little more and in slot formations, being able to do things because of his athleticism. Royce Jenkins-Stone, who we moved out there, has had his best football period.

"Jake Ryan inside, that has been a real plus for him and for us. Desmond - Joe Bolden has had a great spring playing physical football. Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray have come on. Allen Gant at the SAM. The depth is so much better. A lot of it is young, but it's good, quality depth."

Views: The Ohio State game last year exposed this group and was one of the big reasons for the shift, in our opinion. Some had written Jenkins-Stone off, but he's proving they shouldn't, and guys seem to be at their best positions now.

The defense has some playmakers in the front seven, and they've reportedly been working well together. The ultimate test, of course, comes next fall.

News: The cornerbacks and safeties have made strides, with depth evident especially at the cornerback position.

Hoke: Roy [Manning] has done a really good job with the corners. The move to put two guys in the back end has been really positive. The individual work guys are getting at what are two ultimately very different positions …

"Jourdan Lewis, we thought he had a lot of ability, and he has really come on. From a competition standpoint, we really like what we see. We're seeing it every day, so guys can't have a bad day.

"Jarrod Wilson as much as anyone, the consistency he's had this spring has been really, really good. Delano Hill is learning, Jeremy Clark emerged a little more, which we were waiting on a little bit and he's been waiting on a bit. Dymonte Thomas - the four of them, they're really playing well back there. Competition is bringing the best out of guys."

Views: Lewis' name has been mentioned as often as anyone's this spring. He wins the Grady Brooks Award for high expectations (going back several years to when the former DE was always so hyped). Still, we believe there's plenty of reason to be excited about him.

The attention to detail on both positions can only help. The safety position has been a disappointment for too long now, so to hear that Wilson has stepped up is positive.


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