Michigan coach Brady Hoke sat down with the media Wednesday evening. With the squad's first scrimmage coming up (Saturday), he is optimistic - bit anxious to see some real competition.
Here are the highlights from the press conference:
News: Freshman running back Derrick Green, the five-star prospect who arrived in Ann Arbor with heaps of hype, has returned to full practice after a slight injury held him out for a few days. Junior linebacker Brennen Beyer is working himself back into the rotation.
Hoke: "Derrick practiced full, and Beyer is practicing a lot of stuff. He is doing all the contact work in a supervised situation. We're not throwing him out there when we're going 11-on-11. But we're probably being a little more careful than anything. Yeah, I would think so.
"Derrick has done some things since he came back. He came back a little earlier than he should have, but he showed a couple flashes."
Views: It is difficult for a freshman to prove he's ready to see the field; in a very limited number of practices and reps, he has to prove to the coaches that he is not only capable, physically, of handling college football, but that he can make a positive contribution to the team.
It's even harder when a player sits out for some of those precious few fall camp sessions. Green's quick return is huge. He can enter right back into the competition, which will make him better, and those around him better as they fight to one-up each other on the field.
As for Green's weight - the latest roster has him 5-11, 240 - Hoke is still unconcerned. "All the freshmen, they will get leaner and faster and in better shape. They'll eat better," he said.
Green is still running with the same voracity you saw on high school highlight tapes. Now that he's healthy, it's only a matter of time before Michigan fans see his first carry in The Big House.
News: The Michigan defensive coaches are putting a lot of pressure on sophomore outside linebacker James Ross III - and he's responding very well.
Hoke: "James is a smart football player, and I think he has pretty good instincts. We have thought there was more we could get out of him, so we're putting a lot of challenge to him to do a better job of getting off blocks. There are times when you don't need to take on the block. Making sure the football itself the issue, and he's done a nice job with that."
Views: How many times have you heard Hoke or one of his assistant coaches utter the phrase, "The best [Insert Number Of Positional Players Here] players are going to play"?
They would not have moved junior linebacker Desmond Morgan to middle linebacker, had they not been fully comfortable with their other option at weakside outside linebacker.
Last year, Ross was a pleasant surprise, racking up 36 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in spot duty, despite his undersized stature.
He's bigger, he's stronger and he's more comfortable within the system now. So the coaches are going to push him, just like they once pushed Craig Roh and William Campbell after that.
I, for one, am very excited about Ross' capabilities. I think he's going to be an excellent complement to the linebacking corps, especially once injured strongside outside linebacker Jake Ryan is back in the fold. Ryan, Morgan and Ross together are going to be a force with which to be reckoned.
News: The defensive line continues to grow as a cohesive, four-person pass-rushing unit.
Hoke: "I think some of the game work that [defensive coordinator Greg] Mattison has done with them and some of the pass-rush stuff, he has does a great job with them. You see that coming along, in technique. There are some guys who have always had very good ability, but as a whole, there is a lot of improvement."
Views: If Hoke is praising the defensive line for something, you know it must be going very well.
Hoke, who has officially taken on defensive tackle positional coaching responsibilities this season (with the loss of defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery), is a notorious stickler when it comes to speaking highly of the defensive line.
He expects greatness from the unit, and that's what he's going to get. So the fact that he's confident enough in the line's progress as pass-rushers to say so at a press conference is a very good thing.
The Wolverines need it this year, especially in the early goings, when they won't have the reliable pass-rushing prowess of Ryan.
If Michigan can count on its four down linemen to produce a solid pass rush, it opens up huge opportunities for the rest of the defensive - it always makes those situations when Mattison does pull the trigger on a blitz that much more unexpected/effective.
News: Freshman quarterback Shane Morris and redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Cleary are continuing to battle it out for the role of backup quarterback.
Hoke: "We gave a lot of snaps to Shane today. We think he has made a lot of strides, and we really like what he's doing. But again, after we get him up to the stadium, scrimmaging a little bit, putting some pressure on him, I think we will know a little more."
Views: To redshirt or not redshirt? That is the question.
College coaches have to strike such a delicate balance between living in the present and building toward the future. With constantly changing rosters and players with four- or five-year shelf lives, coaches have to tiptoe around playing freshmen now or saving them for later.
If, after Saturday's scrimmage and the next week-plus of practices, Morris has proved himself to be the No. 2 option, the coaches cannot worry about down the road.
They have to get Morris some playing time - and early, once the box scores of sufficiently padded against Central Michigan and Akron. (Remember last season? If Morris is the No. 2 quarterback, his first playing experience can't be, heaven forbid, a mid-game toss-in when starter Devin Gardner goes down with an injury.)
If he's the guy, he has to be the guy, and he needs playing experience, ASAP.