It's not in Brady Hoke's nature to heap praise on his football team in the preseason, but he made an exception at Wednesday's Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. Hoke acknowledged his team was young and had to replace some key components - quarterback Denard Robinson, for one - but didn't hold back in speaking about his expectations.
Nor did he mince words on what he felt about his group.
"I like our football team," he said. "I usually don't say that. I said it after the spring. I will continue to say it because I like how they've handled themselves on the field and off the field so far this summer. I like their work ethic, and I like how they've represented Michigan in a lot of ways."
That said, he added, it doesn't guarantee anything in terms of wins and losses.
"We're young, but with that youth comes a lot of competition, and that competition is always good," he said. "The expectations, though, never change, and that's to win Big Ten championships. A year ago we were 8-5, and that's unacceptable. It's unacceptable at Michigan. It's unacceptable for us."
It's been ingrained so much that fifth-year senior offensive tackle said, "All I know at Michigan is failure." He came back for a number of reasons - No. 1, though, to win the Big Ten.
Much has been made of Devin Gardner's maturity, but it starts with No. 77, Hoke said. Gardner has followed his example to become one of the offseason leaders, having put in the work to create an example of his own.
"I think Taylor Lewan and the decision that he made in January spoke volumes about the University of Michigan, Michigan football," he said. "But I think Devin, his maturity and understanding, what it is to be the quarterback at Michigan, I think he's absorbed that, understands the decisions that we have to make as a football team and the decisions that he makes as a quarterback. They're going to be very important.
"He was always going to go back to quarterback - but that really showed a lot of unselfishness by moving to wide receiver, and it really became part of his DNA and what he wanted to do to help the football team. With Denard getting hurt, the opportunity for Devin to get experience and move back to quarterback meant a lot - he learned from those things, good and bad, in spring ball."
And made strides toward being the championship quarterback Hoke expects him to be.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges will still employ some spread principles, but the Wolverines will be primarily pro style going forward.
"We all have our own quirks and beliefs. But I think the physical-ness that the game of football needs to be played with - I'm of the feeling that playing physical football, some pro style - and then there will be multiple enough personnel groups that will be big.
"The physical-ness, that will help your defense when you run some downhill schemes, the combination blocks. I'm an old defensive line coach, still am, and I think teaching that every day and going through that every day is something that's important."
Protecting the ball was a point of emphasis in the spring and will remain so in the fall.
"In our five losses we had 18 turnovers, so it tells you a little something that we need to be a little more diligent in taking care of the football," Hoke said. "We need to be a little more diligent in making better decisions, and those are things that we've talked about and we've had through spring ball. We had a good spring."
The battles between the much deeper offensive and defensive lines continued informally in the summer. Lewan said they included rock, paper scissors matches away from the field.
The competition has improved both sides of the ball.
"When we came in a couple of years ago we had eight or nine offensive linemen on scholarship, and I think we've improved those numbers," Hoke said. "I think we're at 15 right now, maybe 16.
"I would say the same thing a little bit with the inside people on the defensive side of the ball. Style of defense had a lot to do with that, but I think our numbers are up. Our competition throughout spring, in how they did things through summer, has improved both positions, particularly the interior of the offensive line and the interior of the defensive line."
Gardner is more suited for the pro style offense than Robinson, Hoke noted.
"I think typically when people talk about pro style quarterbacks, a lot of times they talk about the heights, and the running quarterbacks - how they've performed in the gun, read zone, counter, whatever it might be.
"But I think Devin has a nice dual threat capability because he probably spins the ball a little tighter. I think his height helps him over the line of scrimmage."
They looked to junior colleges and transfers before deciding the back-up would come from within the program.
"We just didn't feel comfortable enough," Hoke said. "In 32 years or 33 years of coaching, I try and think how many times you've gotten to your second quarterback on the teams that you've coached. It hasn't been very many.
"Brian Cleary and obviously Shane Morris are two guys we feel very good about, so it would either be one of those two guys if anything would happen."
Jake Ryan remains on track for an October return, Hoke said, following a torn ACL this spring.
"We're very excited about his progress, so I don't think anything's really changed besides he's done a great job of being very committed, very disciplined to getting himself back through the rehab and everything he's doing," Hoke said. "We'll find out a little more as we keep going and getting closer, but I think sometime in October would still be a likely date for him."