Steve Clinkscale wants to see more takeaways from Michigan's defensive backs

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan has three interceptions this season. That's not enough for defensive pass-game coordinator Steve Clinkscale.

He has had the defensive backs working on the JUGS machine the last few weeks and while the Wolverines were off last weekend to hone their skills heading into the second half of the regular season that begins Saturday against Northwestern. They have missed a few opportunities at potential picks and the drill helps them learn how to catch and hang onto the ball.

"I definitely want more takeaways from the defensive backs," Clinkscale said Wednesday. "We’ve had plenty of opportunities. When we get that opportunity, we want to capitalize on that."

Michigan is ranked No. 22 in pass defense, yielding an average of 190.7 yards a game. Dax Hill has two interceptions, collecting one at Wisconsin and then the following week at Nebraska.

“We need to make more plays out there, but we need to let the game come to us," Clinkscale said. “We’re doing a lot of different coverages so they’re not isolated as much as they have been, so teaching them the concepts, the formations has been the biggest learning curve.”

Defensive back Daxton Hill (30) is responsible for two of Michigan's three interceptions this season.

Clinkscale stressed the importance of the players’ eye discipline. Sometimes they lock in on the quarterback, he said, instead of the receiver.

"When I’m in that meeting room coaching them up, it’s eyes," he said. "I stand on the offensive side and watch their eyes all the time, because we got to make sure we’re looking at the right lane.

"And as it keeps going, we keep pressuring people and playing coverage and giving different looks, (opponents) are going to keep trying to do things to create easy, gimmick plays, like we saw at Nebraska. You could see our eye discipline isn’t what it needs to be."

Not ideal

After defending on an incomplete pass from Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez intended for Samori Toure on fourth down that effectively ended the game, Hill was then called for an unsportsmanlike penalty. It moved Michigan back 15 yards on the next and final series, which clearly was not an issue for the Wolverines. 

But it was an uncharacteristic response from the soft-spoken Hill.

“I kinda knew what I was doing.” Hill said Tuesday night, the corner of his mouth curling into a smile. “It was just how the game went. It was an exciting game. The crowd was all into it. We all, as players, being out there it's just the heat of the moment.”

He admitted to an anxious moment after seeing the flag.

"But got the first down for the offense, so it was good,” he said.

Clinkscale wasn’t thrilled.

“I don’t think I can really say what I was thinking or really saying,” he said, smiling. “That’s not how we want to play. I think in the heat of the battle, last play, who’s to say I wouldn’t have did it? But we don’t want to do that.”

Clinkscale said cornerback Gemon Green made a gesture toward the Nebraska sideline after making a tackle on that same drive.

“We have to eliminate those things,” Clinkscale said, later adding those types of penalties could swing a game. “We don’t want to put ourselves in a position because we’re taunting or we’re just excited and we look like we’re standing over a player.

“We don’t want to get penalized as a team and possibly lose the game or change the outcome because of that. I wasn’t happy with that at all. Dax is a pretty innocent guy, so I don’t think he really meant it as taunting, but he was excited. That was a receiver that we wanted to stop all game, and he had less than 40 yards receiving, so we focused on him throughout the week.”

Early morning workouts

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running back Donovan Edwards and receiver Andrel Anthony, all freshmen, along with several other young teammates have notably held short workouts on their own after the last two road games.

After returning from the night game at Nebraska nearly two weeks ago, the group worked out for about a half-hour, working on routes in the wee hours.

“It’s so impressive,” running backs coach Mike Hart, Michigan’s all-time leading rusher, said. “I just think about when I was 18, when I got home at 1, 2 a.m., I just wanted to go home and go to sleep. We got practice tomorrow, we did stuff on Sunday when I was here.

“It just shows you what kind of young men they are and the drive they have and where they want to be. They see their future, they know how they want to get there, and they just try to get better every chance they can. So, you hear about it and you’re like, ‘They did what at 2 o’clock in the morning?’ And it’s just really, really impressive to have a group of guys that are that good, that work that hard because they are a talented group of guys. They are gonna be really, really good one day. They know that’s the plan, that’s what you hope for. With their work ethic, they’re gonna be unstoppable.”

Up and over

Hassan Haskins had a 50-yard run at Nebraska that has made the highlight rounds because of his spectacular hurdle.

Hart was jokingly asked if he coaches the backs to hurdle.

“No, I can’t jump,” Hart said, laughing. “I actually do not coach the hurdle. I’ve never seen somebody land it, or they land it and get hit. So no, normally I don’t coach that, but it was a great run. I can’t believe he stayed on his feet.”

He also doesn’t tell his backs to avoid a hurdle if the opportunity is there.

“If it works, you can do what you want to do," Hart said. "As long as it works."

Haskins also gets a pass because of the distance he ran.

“It was a run over 5 yards, so he’s OK,” Hart said. “Get more than five (yards), it’s hard to yell at him. If they get less than five and then don’t do what they’re supposed to do, then I can coach them.”

The force

Tight end Joel Honigford is an engineering student and has a 3D printer for projects.

After practice Tuesday, he was asked the coolest thing he’s made.

“I’m a bit of a nerd and I really like 'Star Wars,' so I printed off a lightsaber,” Honigford said. “It’s pretty sweet.”

Twitter: @chengelis