Michigan head coach Brady Hoke continued his Big Ten Media Day tour at the roundtables Tuesday in Chicago, and he shed some light on several position battles while giving updates on conditioning, etc.
The defensive line figures to be bigger and deeper this year, which he hopes will make his defense much tougher to run on. Junior Ondre Pipkins will be in the mix after returning from knee surgery and figures to be one of the stopgaps in the middle of the defense.
"He's done a nice job, made a lot of progress," Hoke said. "He passed the conditioning test and all those things. We'll probably be smart with him as we move forward, especially during two-a-days when we look at reps and those things, but he's cleared and ready to go."
Redshirt sophomore Willie Henry made strides in the classroom and with conditioning, while freshman Bryan Mone could make an early impact. The 6-4, 315-pounder was powerful in the spring and has only gotten better this summer.
"First of all, he's such a great kid," Hoke said. "But he's strong. He's got the big butt, which is a good thing for a defensive tackle."
End Frank Clark, meanwhile, knows it's time to produce. He notched five sacks a year ago but has the potential for much more.
"Coach Hoke talks to me all the time," he said. "He's always talking about he can come off the ball harder than me, that he's faster than me," Clark said. "Everyone knows Coach Hoke isn't faster than me.
"He tells me just five sacks are so easy to get. They weren't easy to get in the season, but my goal isn't to get five, 10 or 15. It's to play every game as hard as I can, rush the passer as hard as I can, every game, and things will fall into place. But the coaches say, 'how come you don't just come off the ball and go around a guy?' I might just try that this year."
Hoke said veteran Blake Countess was a cornerback first, essentially shooting down any talk he'd play safety.
"Blake and Ray Taylor are both older guys who have played a lot, and young guys like Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling are guys who have done a nice job coming along," he said.
Stribling improved on making plays on the ball, he added, after showing ability to get there last year but coming up short when it came time to make plays.
At safety, junior Dymonte Thomas has made strides in the last few months in conditioning and in informal 7-on-7s.
"Dymonte had a very good spring and had a really good summer," Hoke said. "As we go into fall camp, the rotation through there will be something we look at and evaluate who will be with the first group."
Battles will continue on the offensive line during the fall, but there will be a place for redshirt sophomore Erik Magnuson. He'll likely be the starting left tackle, event though he missed a good portion of spring due to injury.
"He started eight or seven games and played a lot of football, and he has got a lot on tape," Hoke said. "He got to do some footwork and technique stuff. As we got further along in spring, he could do some things with his upper body and hands.
"He played guard, but he's played tackle so much. He's athletic, so I think we as coaches are smart enough to know where he's at right now. I do see him at tackle."
They'll replace two tackles in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, but Hoke believes the line will be better.
"The one thing you've got to look at is the guys inside and how many reps they've had and playing together a little more," he said. "The two tackles will be new, but at the same time [redshirt sophomore right tackle] Ben Braden and his progress he's made and Magnuson - Mason Cole had a really, really good spring. He's a young guy, very mature. You wouldn't see him as a freshman. That's how he goes about his business."
Junior linebacker Joe Bolden continues to impress after a great spring.
"He's done a nice job being a quarterback out there on the defense," Hoke said. "We all were very excited about how he instinctively played, how he grew from that standpoint, got stronger, which is one thing he needed to get - strength gains a little bit. We're all excited but again, there's great competition."