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August 8, 2014

News & Views: RB Ty Isaac getting ready just in case

Head coach Brady Hoke met with the media on Friday following practice. Sophomore running back transfer Ty Isaac is acclimating well to his new surroundings, but there was a bit of injury news to report.

News: Redshirt junior cornerback Blake Countess, junior defensive end Mario Ojemudia and freshman receiver Drake Harris have all been banged up. Harris' injury is the most significant of the three, and he is expected to miss the most time.

Hoke: "Blake has a little bit of a groin so we held him out today. Mario has a bit of an ankle and is in a boot. But talking to him, he says he feels better every day. And I think he'll be OK.

"Blake and Mario they should be ready to go by Monday. So we're excited about that.

"Drake Harris has a little bit of hamstring issue so he's a guy that has taken some limited reps. He hurt it early in the week."

Views: Both Countess and Ojemudia play at positions with increased competition this fall, and they cannot afford to miss more than a few days because teammates will quickly pass them on the depth chart. The good news is they should be back early next week, and they have not yet missed a scrimmage or the real physical practices that start to reveal to coaches who can play and who needs more time.

The Harris' news is more disconcerting because the freshman missed all of his senior year at Grand Rapids Christian because of hamstring injuries and then was forced to sit out the end of spring ball with another hamstring problem. That he spent a summer working intensely with Michigan's medical, training, and strength and conditioning staffs to improve his hamstring and yet again finds himself sidelined is a bad sign.

It's becoming very likely that Harris will be forced to redshirt as the staff re-evaluates its options to provide Harris the best possible care so that the hamstring is only a minor hindrance in an otherwise successful career.

"I'm not a doctor so it's hard for me to really analyze that, but it's something that we're very weary about," Hoke said. "Coach [Aaron] Wellman and the strength and conditioning guys, Paul Schmidt and the trainers have handled it all really well.

"Is it a nagging thing? Maybe some people have those things. We've got to think a little bit what we can do to help besides just rest."

News: Southern Cal transfer Ty Isaac is still awaiting word to see if he will be granted a hardship waiver to play right away this fall (transfers are usually required to sit one season) but for now, he is taking his fair share of reps in case he is cleared to play.

Hoke: "The one thing we've done is we're getting a ton of reps for everyone because of how we practice. A week from now when you start really game planning ... he needs to take some reps to learn what the offense is. Luckily, he has played at a Division I university and there are a lot of similarities."

Views: It would be easy to read into Hoke's comments about needing to get Isaac game-planning reps and jump to the conclusion that Michigan feels good about the 6-3 225-pounder playing this season, but the truth is, no one really knows at this point, and reading into Hoke's words would only be guessing.

Still, Michigan understands that if Isaac is cleared to play, he needs to be ready to play because he is a very real option to beat out classmates Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith for the starting job.

U-M still has another week, even two, to split the reps evenly between those three and redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson before it must commit to one or two ball carriers. The coaches are hopeful by then they will know on Isaac one way or the other, and can proceed appropriately.

News: Hoke expects fifth-year senior Devin Gardner to start the season opener at quarterback.

Hoke: "He's had a really good fall camp so far. It's five days. He's right now the guy taking most of the reps with the ones but we're splitting them up a little bit. If he's not playing well, [sophomore] Shane Morris - [offensive coordinator] Doug Nussmeier is not hesitant in practice to make that change.

"They're both taking reps with the ones, but Devin is getting the majority of them."

Hoke added that there is no set plan in place for using Morris if he is the backup

"We haven't really talked about what kind of contingency plan or plan to get him if he isn't the starter to get him reps in that first game, second game, third game, fourth game, whatever it might be."

Views: This shouldn't come as a surprise. Gardner has the experience, has the physical tools, and as a year older, more mature, and a better leader, is the best option to direct this offense in 2014. Morris' day will come, but Gardner gives U-M the best chance for success this fall.

News: Michigan will host an open practice/scrimmage Aug. 16 from 8-10 p.m. at Michigan Stadium. Hoke was asked if the scrimmage would be vanilla as to not give anything away to potential opposing coaches in the crowd. He doesn't look at it like that.

Hoke: "We're going to play football.

"It was my decision [to open the scrimmage]. I think it's good. The more you look at pro football, and for a team that has some youth but some experience, it's good for them to be in front of people. Just like crowd noise today. I want as many distractions as we can get. And I also think it's great for the fans."

Views: Brady answered definitively that the idea was his, implying strongly that the notion that the scrimmage was engineered by Athletics Director David Brandon as a marketing ploy is incorrect.

Hoke has good reason for wanting to open up practice, giving his team a sense of what it will be like when the Maize and Blue go on the road Sept. 6 to play at Notre Dame under the lights. He was asked about an open scrimmage away from Ann Arbor too, as an even better preparation tool, but noted logistically it's difficult.

"We did that when we were going to play Alabama in Texas [in 2012]," he said. "I think that was really good for us. It would have been better if we could have opened it up and had people in Ford Field. That would have been pretty cool but that is hard to negotiate."

The ND game is must-win for the Wolverines to establish an early-season identity, to earn U-M some much-needed road confidence, and to re-energize the fan base. Hoke gets that, and he's prepared to do everything in his power to give his team every advantage heading into the second week of the season. The open scrimmage is a step in that direction.

News: In one bit of no-surprise news, Hoke said his top five receivers are junior Devin Funchess, redshirt sophomores Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, junior Dennis Norfleet and freshman Freddy Canteen.

In a bit of a surprise, he also said today's first-team offensive line was freshman left tackle Mason Cole, redshirt sophomore left guard Erik Magnuson, redshirt junior center Jack Miller, redshirt junior right guard Graham Glasgow (or redshirt freshman David Dawson) and redshirt sophomore right tackle Ben Braden.

Hoke: "The competition on the offensive line has been really good for us."

Views: The assumption along the line has been Magnuson at left tackle, Glasgow at center, Braden at right tackle, with sophomore Kyle Bosch at left guard and redshirt sophomore Kyle Kalis at right guard.

While this was only one day, and nothing is definitive for three more weeks, the lineup revealed plenty. Largely that Cole and Miller must be playing so well that the coaches are confident enough to move two key pieces - Magnuson and Glasgow - to different positions to get the best five on the field at the same time.

That approach is always how coaches want to go, and luckily for Michigan, these linemen have a lot of versatility.

Fans may be leery of starting a true freshman at left tackle but if Cole and Magnuson on the left side are a better combo than Magnuson and Bosch, then that's good news not bad.

Likewise, many have given up on Miller at center after he was benched four games into his starting career in 2013, but there are always redemption stories in sports, and if the redshirt junior has added the strength necessary to play that spot ... well, he was always considered bright enough and technically-sound enough to be a good center.

We're still a long way from the opener Aug. 30, but the best five are going to play, and no one is entitled to any position just because they finished in the starting lineup a year ago.








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