Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said his team has grown this spring in terms of understanding the offense and embracing new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense.
In a wide-ranging interview Thursday morning with host Sam Webb on “The Michigan Insider” program on WTKA-1050 AM, Harbaugh discussed specifics about the leadership on this team as the Wolverines prepare to conclude spring practice with a game Friday night at Michigan Stadium beginning at 6 p.m.
Harbaugh also discussed NCAA rule makers who will vote in April on satellite-camp proposals from the SEC and ACC, which don’t allow their coaches to work camps outside a 50-mile radius. Harbaugh, who has lined up camps this summer, referenced the possibility the NCAA could make “another dumb rule.”
“The camps, in terms of allies, we’re doing camps again, very collegial gestures working together in a spirit of coaching football again with South Florida, with Baylor this year, with Iowa State,” Harbaugh said on WTKA. “We do have allies and we’ll continue that effort.
“Don’t see that would change, but there’s a lot of rules that have been made that aren’t the best rules. You can’t say that you could put that past rule makers to make another dumb rule.”
He also doesn’t understand how the NCAA could take away the possibility of a football program going on the road for spring practice as Michigan did this spring, holding four practices at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“At its essence, it would be hard for me to envision that people, rule makers would deprive football players only of going on trips when you don’t take that away from the golf team or the swim team or the wrestling team or the track team, softball, baseball, name a sport, basketball, those student-athletes have the ability to do that,” Harbaugh said. “It would be hard to imagine they would single out football. I just don’t see how you can deprive the football players only.”
Here are the highlights of Harbaugh’s interview on WTKA, including a fairly detailed evaluation of many of the Wolverines’ players:
■ One area where the team has grown most: “Our awareness, how much guys really understand how much retention they had from what we did last year. How quickly they picked up the new defense system. That would be No. 1. Our guys are really understanding and studying what we’re doing.”
■ On how he trains a quarterback: “You advise, you coach, you teach, try to give them things they can get better at. Anybody can point out you did this right or you did this wrong, but what can you give them that’s going to make them a better player. The most important thing is what quarterback moves the team and gets the team into the end zone, takes care of the football, doesn’t make the mistakes that lose your ballgames, a guy who’s not the big man on campus, a normal guy. Gotta be tough. Can’t be in and out of the lineup. And then the list from there is long that you look for. I’m excited to see a real football game, not practice, not seven-on-seven, but how does a quarterback manage a game and lead his team and who’s going to get them in the end zone the most. We’re going to hit the quarterback, sack the quarterback, just like a regular football game. They haven’t played in games a lot. Excited to see that. Nothing speeds up a quarterback in the pocket like live bullets.”
■ Getting QBs to ignore criticism: “It’s irrelevant. The only relationship that matters with the quarterback is myself and the quarterback and what our relationship is. Everything else is white noise and irrelevant. All I really want them to know that’s the most important relationship and they’re going to get our very best as coaches. It’s never going to be with kid gloves, but they know they have the trust of myself and the coaches and the team and they’re trustworthy to be leading the football team, hand on the wheel at all times, and we gain that trust. That’s the only trust or approval or opinion that they have to live up to. All that other stuff, put it aside, it’s irrelevant. It means nothing whether they’ve been maligned or built up by public opinion. It’s inconsequential and irrelevant. It’s just the team.”
■ On leaders who have emerged this spring: “A lot of guys, so many guys. Leadership is by example. You work hard, then other guys are going to work hard. They see you being lazy, then they’re going to be lazy. If you get it to where the best players are the hardest working guys, the do-right guys, then you’re in a pear tree.
“I would point right off the bat to so many guys, right at the top of the list, Jourdan Lewis. Here’s a guy who is an All-American but he has not missed a day of spring practice, not a period, not a minute, and he’s gotten much better as a football player. Jake Butt, same thing, All-American, fully engaged, always one of the hardest workers in the classroom, in the meetings and on the football field. Amara Darboh has really elevated his game. I would have said, and I’ll say this to Jehu (Chesson) as well, I thought Jehu was a little better receiver than Amara Darboh was last season. Close, really close. But now, Amara has surged a bit ahead of Jehu, and he’s done that by working this spring like he hasn’t played a down of football at Michigan or hadn’t had a one-handed catch. He’s been a fantastic worker the entire spring.
“The same guys you’d expect to be hearing, our best players, Taco (Charlton), (Chris) Wormley, Mason Cole, I don’t think he’s missed a practice since he’s been at Michigan, he’s surged ahead. (Kyle) Kalis. It’s a long list. Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill have been those types of players all spring. They’ve got nobody really pushing them at safety, we don’t have a lot of safeties on our roster right now, but they’ve been working, improving, playing like they’ve got somebody right on their heels. That’s been outstanding.
“Channing Stribling. He’s a starter. It’s cold. It’s in stone. Him and Jourdan Lewis are starting corners but they haven’t been practicing that way, they haven’t been playing that way, they’ve been improving their game which has been outstanding.
“(Linebacker) Ben Gedeon has been a rock-solid stud. A guy that doesn’t say a whole lot. Nobody’s taken more reps this spring than Ben Gedeon. We count every competitive rep that every guy takes, and he’s at the top of the list. Grant Perry has been a much improving player.
“Ty Isaac really encouraging. Missed most of spring last year, missed some game time last year but hasn’t missed a minute of practice this spring. And De’Veon Smith is the clear-cut starting tailback, but he’s the first one in there no matter what drill we’re doing, if it’s a live drill he doesn’t shy away. The fullbacks are competing hard, Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi. (Tight end) Ian Bunting has really surged, excited about that. (Linebacker) Mike McCray is the guy who hasn’t played much (because of injuries) at Michigan, fingers crossed he’s on a great roll right now, an improving, ascending player all the way.
“Jabrill Peppers has been Jabrill Peppers. Whatever position you put him, he’s doing it at one of the highest levels on the team. (Kicker) Kenny Allen has had a great spring. A lot of guys. I know I’m missing a few.”
■ On Ty Isaac’s growth this spring: “I would say a harder, rougher guy. He just does. There’s never an excuse. Just harder. You watch guys get rougher ... right before your eyes. I’m really pleased the way he’s doing that now. Just more focused and being about it. He was never a talker or a complainer or anything. There’s nothing but a steely eyed look at what he’s doing, and he’s doing it.”
■ Grant Newsome is new piece on the offensive line. His progress? “Same way I kind of described Ty. ... He’s a tough guy, doesn’t take nothing off anybody. Really kind of adopting the mentality of a guy like Kyle Kalis. He’s that way, kind of got the personality of a (Erik) Magnuson. They’re good guys, they’re real gentlemen, Ben Braden is the same way, Mason Cole, but there’s a switch that gets flipped when they go onto the football field. They become like Kyle Kalis all the time (laughter). You talk about Kyle, it’s always on. The other four guys, you get them off the field, they are real gentleman and polite and everything.”
■ Like Bryan Mone? “He’s always been that way. He was one of our top players last year. We ranked the team going into training camp from 1 to 125 and Mone was three. Unfortunately had the injury (broken ankle/leg) early in camp, but he’s always been that kind of guy. Perfect gentleman, nicest guy you’d want to be around off the field and gets on the field and has the ability to flip the switch.”
■ On the early enrollees: “Not one of them has been a disappointment. They’ve all jumped in and swimming. Jump in the pool and see who can swim to the other side fastest. They’re all doing a good job and improving. Each guy, Carlo Kemp and Kareem (Walker) and Devin (Bush) and Sean (McKeon) and Kingston (Davis). Every single one of them. Ahmir (Mitchell). They’ve all shown real glimpses of being really good football players and their mistakes reduce each practice. They’ve been really solid already. That’s exciting. It’s also exciting to know there are 25, 30, 35 more freshmen coming in later this summer. There are a lot of good players coming as well. It’s encouraging the seven that are here are already fitting the bill. It’s very encouraging and bodes very well for us.”