At times the last two seasons have seemed like a blur to Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez … at others it seems like a lifetime. But there's no one more excited to start the 2010 season than Rodriguez, U-M's head man said Monday from Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.
Through all the experiences and "drama" in the offseason, the team has stayed focused and positive. More than anything, Rodriguez said, they're hungry and ready to prove Michigan is back after two rough years. But Rodriguez acknowledged there would still be question marks heading into the year.
"We have questions on both sides of the ball, and the defense needs to be better," he said. "But we should be a little deeper. The numbers were down on defense last year, and that hurt us … we didn't play as many as we would have liked.
"Offensively we should be better, deeper on the offensive line. Last year we had two freshman quarterbacks, and they produced at times. At times they didn't, and that's to be expected. Those guys should be better, and overall we'll be a little more experienced. The key is to execute better and play better defensively, though we'll have questions on special teams, defense and offense."
The first question, as expected, was about the quarterback competition. Rodriguez maintained the competition would be wide open between Denard Robinson (who emerged from spring as a slight favorite) and fellow sophomore Tate Forcier.
"Both got a lot of valuable experience as freshmen … they're getting a challenge from freshman Devin Gardner," said Rodriguez. "I'll be able to tell the first couple weeks who retained what, how they progressed. Denard has gotten better learning what we do offensively … competition will be healthy."
• Rodiriguez said he was excited about defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's role in coaching linebackers this year, noting he probably preferred it given his background with the position at both the NFL and collegiate levels.
"We should have more competition there," Rodriguez said, adding more would likely play this year. "One of the keys is to try to develop depth … we haven't had enough on either side. At linebacker we will. Jonas Mouton is a senior, primed to have a great year. Craig Roh is now 240 or 250 pounds, more experienced, Obi Ezeh adds more experience there. Kevin Leach has played there."
Rodriguez said he was initially opposed to fullback Mark Moundros making the move, but he came around quickly.
"I told him I didn't think it made sense, but he said, 'I think I can bring something there' … and he has. It's not only learning the defense and the physical presence, but his leadership. He's going to compete and will be right in the mix based on spring."
Kenny Demens and J.B. Fitzgerald will also be in the mix of "five or six" guys Rodriguez hopes will play.
• By all accounts, Cam Gordon had an outstanding summer to complement an excellent spring.
"I don't know much about what's going on in summer," Rodriguez said with a grin. "But talking to the guys … we have a small senior class and they were over at the house … they feel really excited about what went on in the summer. Guys prepared themselves well.
"Nobody likes what's going on the last couple years, particularly wins and losses, but as strange as it sounds, it's brought us closer, both the staff and the players."
Rodriguez called Gordon one of the better performers on the team in spring practice regardless of class.
• Fan support has been overwhelming, Rodriguez acknowledged, despite his rough start.
"We have great fans, and we hope to reward them with more wins and better football," said Rodriguez. "That's coming."
• Rodriguez, like Illinois head coach Ron Zook and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema before him, said he was in favor of the inevitable Big Ten championship game. He expects the Big Ten office to respect rivalry games like Michigan - Ohio State when taking that into consideration in 2011 with Nebraska's addition.
"Most [coaches] I think like the idea of a championship game," he said. "There are pros and cons … our league is still so strong right now, and it gets better with the addition of Nebraska. I have no preference about how they split divisions, but I do know we want to keep rivalry games. The Big Ten I'm sure will make sure that happens."
• Two consecutive losses to Ohio State in his first two seasons hasn't added any pressure to beat the Buckeyes, according to Rodriguez.
"There's pressure every day to get better in practice … pressure to play better," he said. "There's no more pressure because we lost the last two. We go in every season saying we need to win that game. We will always feel that. For myself and my staff, now we have to get better … we need to compete.
"That rivalry may be the greatest rivalry in sports. Everybody in the Big Ten understands rivalries. Everybody that follows our program and Ohio State's wants and expects to keep that rivalry going. When it's played is not as important as that you play every year."
• Veterans Troy Woolfolk and Jordan Kovacs should be solid in the secondary, while Rodriguez singled out cornerback J.T. Floyd (again) as a player to watch. Rodriguez reiterated that freshmen would likely help out in the secondary.
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