Michigan must pass eye test as it prepares for Penn State

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone sacks Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley in the fourth quarter in a game this month at Michigan Stadium.

Ann Arbor — There are so many layers to being a productive football player, but Michigan linebackers coach Anthony Campanile always comes back to the eyes.

Eye discipline, to be exact.

While discussing the emergence of Cam McGrone, the redshirt sophomore linebacker who has stepped up his game since filling in for injured Josh Ross, Campanile stressed eye discipline as a reason why McGrone has been able to accelerate his level of play. He said it all starts there and can dictate just how fast — or slow — a player can be.

“Your eyes control the function of your body,” he said Wednesday. “They tell your feet what to do. When guys’ feet start playing fast, you got a pretty good idea as a coach that this guy is taking a step and he’s entering another level of play.”

There’s all sorts of discipline the Wolverines must have when the play at Penn State in a "whiteout" primetime game Saturday at Beaver Stadium. But everything starts with seeing and then processing — the defense needs to see what the offense is doing to get set properly and vice versa. But eye discipline is about maintaining focus.

“Everybody has to be on the same page whether you’re playing man schemes, zones schemes,” Campanile said. “Whatever you’re doing, it forces everybody to be totally locked in. That’s how you play great defense. It’s probably redundant, but your eyes, your feet, your hands, finish. If your eyes are right, your feet are going to play fast. Your hands are gonna buy you time and you can violently finish, win the rep. Always important, but certainly important this week.”

Eye discipline certainly isn’t a new concept. It is something defensive coordinator Don Brown stresses.

“He coaches eye discipline, toughness, accountability better than everybody,” Campanile said.

How does it help a player? Campanile used a linebacker to explain.

“On your reads, what are you keying?” Campanile said. “Are you keying the front or are you keying the backs? Whatever it may be, whatever you’re coaching in your scheme: are you getting the guys to do that? Because that’s what’s gonna make them play faster. That’s what makes a guy that is a 4.7 40 player look like he’s running a 4.4 40 out there. And vice versa. You can take fast players and slow them up if they don’t have great eye discipline. That’s obviously always a big part of what we do here.

“I think it’s essential to any defensive player to become a really good player.”

Brothers Campanile sticking to business

While Campanile is busy coaching linebackers in his first season at Michigan, his brother, Nunzio, has a bigger task as interim head coach at Rutgers.

Following Rutgers’ 52-0 loss at Michigan, head coach Chris Ash was fired and Nunzio Campanile elevated to interim. Anthony Campanile, a Scarlet Knights alum, said he talks with his brother, but there’s no time for idle chit-chat.

“We’re both kind of putting our head down and going to work every day, so we don’t get to talk a ton,” Campanile said. “But I think he’s just chipping away and trying to get better every day, like we all here. All the same business here. You’ve got to be totally, internally focused. I’m sure he’s doing that.”


Twitter: @chengelis