U-M coach Rodriguez likes how defense looks
by Jeff Arnold | The Ann Arbor News
Thursday August 07, 2008, 3:51 AM
The bulk of Rich Rodriguez's attention thus far may well be devoted to finding a way to move the football.
But that doesn't mean the University of Michigan coach, who referred to his question-mark laden offense's performance in practice Wednesday as average, isn't keenly aware of what's taking place on the other side of the ball.
Three days into preparations for the season-opener against Utah on Aug. 30, Rodriguez praised an experienced defense that has shown plenty early in training camp.
Granted, Rodriguez won't get a complete look at Scott Shafer's unit until Friday, when Michigan moves into full pads for the first time.
And more than once Wednesday, Rodriguez admitted he's not sure whether the defense is that good or if the offense is that lacking.
But so far, he's impressed by a defense that realizes it has to provide some stability while the offense materializes.
And Rodriguez doesn't plan on standing in the way of aggressive development.
"It's always easier to say 'whoa' than 'sic 'em,' and so we're saying 'sic 'em,' " Rodriguez said. "And if we have to say whoa later, we'll say whoa later."
With Tim Jamison, Will Johnson and a significantly slimmed down Terrance Taylor anchoring the defensive line, Rodriguez realizes the talent that sets the tone for the unit along with senior cornerback Morgan Trent and safety Brandon Harrison.
Freshman safety Boubacar Cissoko and sophomore cornerback Troy Woolfolk have also been impressive early, Rodriguez said.
"We have a lot of pride, and we always want to do great things on defense," Johnson said Monday.
While the foundation is there, Rodriguez insists the Wolverines will need at least seven - if not eight - starters ready to go on the defensive line, leaving the door open for freshman like tackle Mike Martin to contribute this season.
"I hope we have more than four starters on the defensive line," Rodriguez said. "If not, we're in for a long year."
Just for kicks
With four kickers in camp, Rodriguez plans to leave the special teams competition wide open.
Although kicker K.C. Lopata has "picked up where he left off" and punter Zoltan Mesko has had a solid early camp, Rodriguez will also consider the abilities of Bryan Wright, Jason Gingell and Jason Olesnavage.
"Our goal right now isn't necessarily to find who the starter is and who the back-up is, but to find guys at each position that we can win with," Rodriguez said of the on-going competition at several spots.
Making the grade
Linebacker Marcus Witherspoon is not in camp while he takes classes back home in New Jersey to solve NCAA Clearinghouse issues. Witherspoon will not be practicing "in the foreseeable future" this month, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez called his tight ends group the most consistent so far in camp as Carson Butler and Mike Massey have shown solid starts.
The Wolverines won't begin schematic preparations for Utah for another two weeks, Rodriguez said Wednesday. During the summer, time is split focusing on Big Ten opponents and rivalry games and a bit on the opener. Rodriguez said they'll game plan for the Utes once 21⁄2 week of camp has passed.
Michigan starter or not, Sheridan will be ready
Posted by Jim Carty | The Ann Arbor News August 08, 2008 02:45AM
Categories: Wolverines Football
Eliyahu Gurfinkel, The Ann Arbor News
For four minutes Monday, Nick Sheridan sat at a table surrounded by almost all of the two-dozen reporters and photographers covering the first news conference of this University of Michigan football practice.
Then Steven Threet walked in.
The entire media pack moved almost as one to the newcomer, ringing Threet two- and three-deep and leaving Sheridan alone with a single reporter.
"Honestly? I wasn't even paying attention," Sheridan said when the situation was pointed out, but the twinkle in his eye told a different story.
Michigan needs a new quarterback.
Sheridan and Threet are fighting for the job.
Under normal circumstances, this would lead to local media buzz and Internet speculation on par with a coaching search or something of similar import like, say, the presidential election.
But nobody seems to give Sheridan much of a chance.
It's almost as if we're all just waiting for new coach Rich Rodriguez to admit the inevitable and give Threet the job.
There are some good reasons for that, but as the New England Patriots and Hillary Clinton found out, even the most overwhelming of favorites have to actually prove they can win. That's not a prediction that Sheridan will surprise everyone and capture the job, more a reminder that even the best laid plans and expected results sometimes go awry. That's a bit part of why we watch, sports isn't scripted.
And, along those lines, Rodriguez has made it clear that neither has come close to taking control of the job. Both were up and down in the spring - totally understandable given the new system - and both struggled in practice Wednesday, so much so that the coach chuckled when asked what the highlight play of practice was.
"The best play? Well, it's going to be somebody on defense, I can promise you. We had one or two interceptions, I'm trying to think of one where we didn't just throw it right to them," Rodriguez said.
OK, well, back to Threet and those good reasons.
The redshirt freshman had dozens of scholarship offers in high school thanks in part to size (6 feet 6 inches, 230-pounds) and arm (strong, not Chad Henne strong, but good) that major college coaches drool over. He can make all the throws and looks the part on and off the field.
Sheridan barely breaks 6 feet and came to Michigan from Saline High School as a walk-on.
There's a reason, though, that every time Rodriguez analyzes his quarterbacks, the coach talks about them pretty much equally, insisting that there really is a competition.
Even if Threet pulls together his considerable physical tools and wins the job, Sheridan is going to be one hit away from playing all year, because there's really no one else capable of being Michigan's backup.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Cone has never been mentioned by Rodriguez as a contender for playing time.
And the first look at Justin Feagin on Monday confirmed reports that the true freshman, while a gifted athlete, is a very green passer. That's not a knock on Feagin - he has a bright future - but anyone watching Feagin and Sheridan could see the difference and come to an obvious conclusion.
One hit, and on comes the former walk-on.
Nobody knows that better than Sheridan - the son of former Michigan assistant coach Bill Sheridan - and it shows in his demeanor, approach, and the way he doesn't really seem to mind that Threet's getting almost all the attention.
"Obviously, I want to win this job very, very badly," Sheridan said Monday. "I'll let the coaches decide that. The media can decide who they think is the favorite or the underdog. I don't pay attention to that. I just go out there and compete, and whether I'm the starter or the backup, or even the third-stringer, you always prepare as if you're the starter.
"You're one snap away, and God forbid you go in as a backup and you're not prepared to play. I'm working my butt off to be the starter, as is Steve, and we'll let the coaches decide."
There was that twinkle in his eye again.
Starter or not, Nick Sheridan looks and sounds like a kid who expects to play. Like a kid who has been around the game long enough to know he could, against almost all odds, get his chance, and who expects to be ready if he does.
Whether it happens or not, that's good news for Michigan.
Michigan: Close QB race has value As Sheridan pushes Threet for job, U-M improves