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August 20, 2014
Hoke: Jabrill Peppers is still a nickel back
Michigan is making the transition from preseason camp to game week as it prepares for Appalachian State in the season opener Aug. 30. On Wednesday, head coach Brady Hoke addressed a number of personnel issues he's ready to make a call on.
"It's been a good camp," Hoke said. "We'll break on Saturday morning at 1pm, after we go to the stadium and have a good practice up there. Do a lot of game rehearsal things trying to put the players in situations that they will be in. Think that's important.
"We're all excited. Are we ready? Not yet. We have a lot of work ahead of us but at the same time, I like how we've gone about our business everyday."
While it appeared at times in Saturday's scrimmage that freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers might be one of the starting cornerbacks, Hoke said that nickel back remains the 6-1, 202-pound rookie's top priority.
"We're going to really try to make sure he's set at the nickel before we get too out there being a boundary corner," Hoke said, before acknowledging, "we played him at boundary corner some the other night with the first group.
"There are some things that are a little different when you're playing one-third [cornerback] than when you're playing the nickel position. So right now, he's playing some corner, but we're going to focus in on nickel with him in there."
The plan all along was to give Peppers one position to focus on, but that plan has been altered as the freshman has proven capable.
"The way he's engrossed himself into the playbook and from a fundamental and technique standpoint he's come a long way," Hoke said, when asked why Peppers is practicing at two spots. "I just think he's done a nice job overall."
Meanwhile, Hoke said that Michigan's starting safeties at this juncture of fall camp would be junior Jarrod Wilson and redshirt sophomore Jeremy Clark. Wilson started eight games last season while Clark would be making his first career start; the 6-4, 205-pounder has appeared in only one game defensively.
"Both of them have had good camps so far," Hoke said.
There were reports that senior Ray Taylor, perhaps the odd-man out at cornerback, has been working at safety, but Hoke said on Wednesday that's not the case.
Meanwhile offensively, sophomores Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith continue to lead the charge at tailback while redshirt junior Justice Hayes and redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson have excelled in third-down situations as possible receiving options out of the backfield.
Junior wide receiver Devin Funchess, who had the best catch of the scrimmage last weekend, snagging a 45-yard bomb with his fingertips as a defender held on for dear life, has improved his consistency according to Hoke, eliminating some of the drops that plagued the 6-5, 230-pounder last season.
"I can't remember when he hasn't done a good job catching the football this fall camp," Hoke said. "I know we chart drops and all that kind of stuff, but I don't remember any off hand right now."
True freshman Maurice Ways was also a top performer in the scrimmage, catching a nifty touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone, however, he has not moved up the depth chart yet and will likely play a bigger role on special teams than offensively.
"We're looking at where his fit will be this year," Hoke said of the 6-4, 195-pounder. "I don't think we've made a decision.
"He's gotten some snaps with the second group and third group. Hasn't gotten a lot of snaps with the first group, and it's still up in the air what we'll do with him."
Finally, fifth-year senior Devin Gardner has solidified his starting spot, showcasing the intangible skills a quarterback must possess.
"He's done a good job getting us in good plays, being a little more assertive at the line of scrimmage ... motivating guys," Hoke said. "His demeanor has been really positive when things aren't going well, which is good because body language, there is a lot to that."