"A long way to go." That's how Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison described his defense after just over a week of practice, pleased with the effort but wanting more results. Many are trying to play Michigan defense, but they aren't where they need to be.
Mattison admitted he's never had a camp in which a defense has met his standards over the years, and some will take that as a motivational ploy to get his group to play better. If they want to compete with the best, though - and the quest starts with the Sept. 1 opener against Alabama - he said they simply have to be better.
"We've got to get to the point where a player stacks up good play after good play and good practice after good practice," he said. "Right now we're not getting that. I can't say there is one player who comes out every practice and he's perfect technique, going as hard as he can and he's executing.
"You're going to expect that, but you can't accept it. We have to as a player, each guy, say, 'I'm going to get as many good plays as I can today, perfect with unbelievable effort and play Michigan defense.' We've got to do better with that."
That includes back-ups as well as starters, he added.
"Until we get a second unit that can do that same thing at a higher consistency, you won't be able to play in a schedule we play this year," he said. "You have got to have two deep of guys you feel really strongly about. That's what's on our guys' shoulders right now. That's what they have to do."
Mattison said the defensive line and secondary both had plenty of work to do.
"It really is every position," he said. "Everybody says the defensive line you lost Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger … that's over. That's done. Whoever steps up and is getting the repetition on the defensive line has got to do that.
"When you're a younger guy or a guy who hasn't had as much experience, your technique is even more important. Your effort is even more important, being physical. That becomes highlighted every time you look at one of those guys. They've got to step up, every guy. You don't know who it is yet, because you know how we are here. It's who does the best each day to decide who is going to play, and then who does it consistently. One day is not good enough.
"The line is not what I'm looking for with the consistency. Obviously, Craig Roh is a veteran, but when he's a veteran, I expect him to stack up those plays every time. Has he done that yet? Not every play, not as many plays as we want him to. Will Campbell is stacking up more plays this camp than he did last. Is it good enough yet? No. You go right down the line. Jake Ryan is the same way, Brennen Beyer."
The secondary might look talented, he added, but he won't know how good they are until they play in a game.
"You don't know how much better they look until they are in the Big House, the big deal," he said. "Are they trying? Are there signs? Yes. The communication is better. They are getting lined up perfectly more times. But I can't say this secondary is really, really good until we get under the lights."
The lack of consistency bothers Mattison, but several coordinators are probably in the same boat, he acknowledged.
"If you polled 124 defensive coordinators, they'd probably all say the same thing," he said. "But this is Michigan, and I don't expect that. I expect us to go out there and totally shut down the offense every time we go out there. If we don't believe we can and should do that, we're not going to get where we want to get to."
Playing against quarterback Denard Robinson every day makes their task harder, he admitted.
"It's Denard. That's a little bit bigger shoes," he said with a laugh.
"All I know is I would not want to play against Denard. I don't watch him. When he's out there a lot of times I'm yelling at somebody for not doing his job, but he probably got his ankles broken because Denard made a move. I love him. I'm so glad he is on our team, but I'm so busy trying to watch our guys. That's a full time job right now."
Mattison on a handful of players:
Cornerback Blake Countess: "He's very talented, a young man that had a lot of starting reps as a young guy. His effort, his attitude, that's fine. Being perfect technique, being perfect aggressiveness is not where it's got to be yet.
"He's just like every other guy. Is he working hard to do it? Yes. There are a lot of guys working hard to do it. That's the plus. A lot of guys that come out to practice every day and they know what we're looking for and they're trying to do it. Now they just have to put it together. That's what coaching is all about, making sure we get enough practice reps on technique, the individual drills. Every play is as technique drill. Every guy's got to look at it that way."
Safety Marvin Robinson: "Marvin Robinson is a guy that as I watch practice I say, 'yeah, there's a better play. There's one more play or one more thing he did better than a year ago. Then there's two and three. Does he do it all the time? Absolutely not. He will be an example of that."
Safety Josh Furman: "He's another guy that comes to work every day trying to get better. I can't put the number of consistent plays, but there's more winning plays out of him now than last year."
Linebacker Jake Ryan: "The sky is the limit for him. That means I believe he's very, very talented. He's gotten a lot stronger in the offseason, noticeably stronger. He's been in the same system for two years. Now Jake has to take it one play at a time and be a guy that I can always say is going to get it done. He hasn't done that yet. We're counting on him being that player. He's got a lot of work to do, but he's working really hard at it.
"One thing I will say I've been very, very pleased with, he does understand the defense very, very well right now. He has become a much smarter football player. Now he has to become a great technique player every play, a great physical player every play. As far as Jake knowing the defense, Jake's right on it this year. That's what's good."
Mattison hasn't seen enough of the freshmen to know who might contribute.
"A problem is a lot of the young guys, they've been in class," he said. "Our freshman class, the majority of them we haven't had for maybe three full days of practice - that's been frustrating."
Mattison on his quest for perfection: "Our guys know on defense when they walk into a meeting, coach is going to go after every one of these plays that isn't done right. We'll never let up on them. That's not the way we operate here. We believe you can get a defense to do that … I might be 90 before it's done, but we're going to do it, keep working to see if we can't be consistent play after play."
On standards: The way we will always coach, the Michigan standard will be that they can play to the level of anybody in the country. It doesn't matter who they are."