De'Veon Smith, Joe Bolden, Joe Kerridge and Blake Countess on coach Jim Harbaugh's energy and approach. Angelique Chengelis
Ann Arbor — With Jim Harbaugh's arrival at Michigan came four-hour spring practices, and the players said that while that initially caught them off guard, they are feeding off the energy their new coach brings every day.
Several players met the media on Thursday for the first time since practice began late last month and, really, for the first time since Harbaugh took over as head coach.
They described Harbaugh as high energy, intense, detail-oriented, all over the field working with every position group and completely hands on.
"There was this one practice where he literally laid on the ground and showed the center how to snap the ball," running back De'Veon Smith said, laughing. "He's a very hands-on person. He even shows the running backs our steps making sure we understand our footwork and making sure we have our pass blocking down."
Smith admits he wondered what exactly Harbaugh was doing with the centers.
"When I first saw it, I was kind of like, 'Why is he on the ground doing this?' As the day went on, he definitely helped the centers," Smith said. "I asked the centers did that help them, and all the centers said that really was the first time they had a hands-on experience, and it helped them out."
Linebacker Joe Bolden said the concept of the four-hour practice initially was stunning.
"If you told a football player at college, high school, middle school that they're going to have a four-hour practice, most guys look at you like you're crazy," Bolden said. "We probably looked at him the same way when we got the schedule.
"But at the same time, somehow from 2:45 to 6:45, every second, every millisecond, there's some type of energy somewhere in this building or outside on the practice field. He's definitely brought that to the table with his energy."
Bolden said the transition to the new coaching staff has been smoother than he expected. Perhaps it helped the players that while they didn't know Harbaugh personally, they knew of him.
After all, Harbaugh had been a standout quarterback at Michigan and most recently coached the San Francisco 49ers for the last four seasons. He also coached in a Super Bowl opposite his brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who happens to be in town and spoke to the team Thursday evening.
John Harbaugh, who will speak at Michigan's coaching clinic today, shared with the team several stories about his relationship with Jim, including a fairly recent story from a family beach trip.
"They were wrestling in the sand, and coach (Jim) Harbaugh dunked (John Harbaugh) and let him know I'm going to have the last word," defensive back Blake Countess said, recalling the story John Harbaugh told. "That was just crazy to me that they were fighting as grown men. It was great, though."
The players fully recognize Jim Harbaugh has arrived with a bit more of a rock-star pedigree. Last weekend, he was guest of the Oakland A's and coached first base, he has used Twitter to communicate his fandom with TV's Judge Judy, and he recently assisted two individuals after a car accident on I-94.
"It's like Superman, right?" Bolden said.
Bolden spoke of former coach Brady Hoke, who coached the last four seasons at Michigan, and then Harbaugh.
"It's definitely two different individuals," Bolden said. "Coach Hoke, you wouldn't see him out as much in public. He was in here, he was one of the hardest-working guys I've seen in my life.
"Coach Harbaugh, next thing you know he's out at the Oakland A's coaching first base living a lot of guys' dreams. He's everywhere, he's living life, and you can't blame him for it. If the opportunity is there, take it, and if you take it, make the best of it.
"(The I-94 incident), it's pretty amazing. It just goes to show how an individual's character is. He might be way up here, and you might think you see him on a pedestal, but at the same time something like that happens, and if you're humble enough, and he is, he stops and helps. It's all about having a good heart and having great character."
Sharing the reps
Smith said the running backs are divided into two groups and switching reps every play.
"Everyone goes rapid fire, play after play," he said.
Ty Isaac, the USC transfer who sat out last season, practiced with the team last fall but is eligible this fall.
"Ty's a great player," Smith said. "I definitely see him playing a lot this year. Only time will tell to see who the coaches are going to pick for their starting running back."
Running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley on Tuesday said he's in no rush to make that determination since there's still summer workouts and preseason camps.
Smith, who said he's at 222 pounds now, is in the running along with fellow junior Derrick Green and Isaac.
With the departure of Jack Miller, last year's starting center who has opted not to play his fifth year, Smith said Graham Glasgow, a former starter at center, has filled in. "Glasgow has stepped up tremendously and taken over that role," he said.
… Fullback Joe Kerridge likes the increased role of his position group, and he also spoke highly of Harbaugh's energy on the practice field. "He'll stop what we're doing in drills just to fix the most minute things," Kerridge said. "(During one) walkthrough, all of a sudden we just stopped to work on hand placement on the ball. He's just so detailed-oriented."
… Countess said Jabrill Peppers, who was awarded a medical redshirt after injuries knocked him out early last season, is a "high-motor" player who talks trash. "He gets everybody going," Countess said.
"He's one of those guys you want on the field and one of those guys who's going to pick everybody up. Putting him back there is going to be good for the defense."