With the sun shining and the skies blue, Michigan began spring practice Saturday. Head coach Rich Rodriguez spoke to the media before kicking off, revealing the position Greg Robinson will coach and more …
On how it feels to start spring practice: "I'm really excited. It's a great sunny day and our players have worked extremely hard over the last seven or eight weeks getting ready for spring practice. We have some young guys that are practicing for the first time today so I'm excited to watch them perform. More than anything else … the beginning of the semester really starts the new year but this starts our first step to the road back to where we want our program to be."
On which quarterback will take the first snap: "That'd be Nick Sheridan. I think Nick has done a great job of improving his knowledge of the offense. Those guys have put some time in with Coach [Rod] Smith learning some of the new things we're going to do. I told the team last night, there are not going to be any starters determined this week or even by the end of spring. We need to wait until the end of fall camp to determine who our starters are going to be. I just hope we can find a couple at each position we feel comfortable enough to win with."
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On his feelings about winter conditioning and Friday's 'Night of Champions': "Last night was a great time. We had a Junior Day in recruiting. Our players had a lot of fun doing a lot of different events. Bryant Nowicki kept his title as the egg-eating champion. He had a dozen eggs this year. We increased it over 10 and he knocked it out. I wouldn't want to be his roommate right now. They had a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun watching those guys compete. It was a blast.
"Our guys have put in an awful lot of work. I've been really pleased. Coach [Mike] Barwis is tickled to death. He said there were over 250 personal records that guys set in the weight room on different lifts and exercises so that tells me they have improved individually as well."
On what he wants to see out of freshman quarterback Tate Forcier today: "Tate has to learn the offense. You have to remember, not just Tate, but the other six guys that are here are supposed to be in high school. This is their first college practice and it's going to be a lot faster than they've ever seen before, and probably halfway through they will realize their not halfway done yet and still have a lot of work to do.
"They've done an awful lot of work in the last seven weeks. The nice part is I think they've really blended in to our program. They have not tried to be out front and brag about themselves. They know they have to earn respect and they've tried to do that. I'm tickled to death with the way they've worked so far."
On how much further along Michigan is today than 12 months ago: "I think we're a lot further ahead strength-wise, which is normal. For a young guy going to college, if he doesn't make strength and conditioning gains, particularly from the first year to second year, than you're not doing your job in the program. I think we're a lot stronger.
"Particularly the guys on offense should be a lot more familiar with what we're doing. I would expect our offense, not to be 100 percent execution today because it's the first day of practice in a long time, but I do expect us offensively to pick up where we left off from.
"And then Coach [Greg] Robinson and the defense, with their energy and some of the things they're doing, it will take a few days, but I expect them to be moving around pretty well."
On Robinson coaching a position group: "I don't want a walk-around boss and Coach Robinson doesn't want to do that anyway. Most coaches I know want to be involved with a particular position because it keeps them more in-tune with what the overall scheme is as well. Coach Robinson will work with the outside linebackers and some with the defensive ends, and he'll be heavily involved with the day to day teaching."
On the No. 1 goal coming out of spring practice: "One is to get our guys better fundamentally. That's a big part of spring that all coaches will tell you. We have to get better fundamentally at all the positions. And two is try to find or identify guys that we feel we're ready to win with, and who still has some work to do in that regards. If we can go by those two things and then stay relatively healthy, we've had a good spring."
On redshirt junior John Ferrara's position: "He will [stay at offensive line]. Our goal is to always find eight guys, but we maybe – with some of the young guys – be able to find 10 offensive linemen we feel comfortable with. John has put a lot of work in. And to be fair to him, he's been committed to that position since he moved over [from defensive line] and we want him to get a chance. He's smart enough that if we need, and for depth reasons, to move him back I think we can. But right now we're going to keep him there."
On practicing outside: "I don't remember. You might remember last year I don't think we got out until the 10th or 11th practice and we didn't have this wonderful turf field so it was always scheduling something at the local high school, which worked out okay but was not nearly as convenient as this is. And looking at the long-term forecast we may be able to get out the first three or four practices. It's a great day."
On whether it make a difference to practice outside: "I think it does. Obviously from a kicking standpoint we have a little more room out here. It's just better to be outdoors when we can. Fortunately for us, we have the indoor facility and we have that beautiful complex being built just in case we get one of those spring storms that happen here once in awhile. But this is a nice day to practice and I think our players like being outside. They've been inside for seven weeks lifting; I think they want to get outside and play some football."
On a player that stood out in winter conditioning: "There have been a lot of them. It's really hard to pin it down to just one. The upperclassmen that have been doing it for years – the Brandon Grahams and Stevie Browns, are doing a tremendous job, Steve Schilling. Our young guys, Michael Cox is a young freshman that did a terrific job in the offseason. Mike Martin has done a tremendous job.
"But I could list you 40-45 guys that if you asked Mike Barwis – you know he can talk – he would rant or rave about them for 30 minutes apiece. He's been really tickled. The attitude has been outstanding. I really feel that our guys feel that hunger to prove themselves. We want everyone in our program to have that feeling. This first practice will be a step in that right direction."
On the status of fifth-year senior defensive lineman Andre Criswell: "Andre, with his shoulder situation, he will remain on scholarship. He will help our staff, be a student-assistant coach, and also work in the community. Andre believes that's his calling and he's a great young man. Unfortunately he won't be able to play anymore but he will still be a big part of our program."
On dividing the snaps at quarterback: "We try to get everyone in spring a lot of reps to evaluate and teach. I think at quarterback we'll keep things pretty even with Tate and Nick and also David Cone giving him a fair amount of reps as well."
On paying attention to a specific area: "Really all of them. I think, as opposed to a year ago, we have a lot more experience on the offensive line and at receiver. On defense, we lost a lot of guys up front. We lost guys in the front seven and in the secondary so we'll pay close attention to that but we play close attention to all of them. I will probably do a lot more work in special teams. And because it's the second year and guys understand schemes, we'll have some practices that almost half of them will be devoted special teams.
On giving freshman quarterback Denard Robinson a playbook: "We don't give him a playbook but he's called us several times over the phone and we've talked to him about some of the things we do. You can tell he's been well coached and has a pretty good understanding of football. When he gets here in the summer, he'll dive right in with the other quarterbacks and learn the system. He'll be a little behind the other guys because he didn't go through spring ball but at the same time he's a sharp guy and I think he'll learn pretty quickly, and be right there in the mix."
Stay tuned for photos and video later today.