Michigan Football: Hoke Talks Bama
COACH HOKE: It’s going to be a big game week. It’s been a long camp. I think it’s been productive in a lot of ways. I think we’ve found out a little bit more about ourselves. I think we finished and ended camp at the end of the week, and really yesterday we had a good practice with being physical with each other, having a good mentality and a toughness.
I think we improved. I think they came in and competed every day which is a big part of it. The other thing we talked about is coming in a little out of energy when we come in the building. I thought for the most part. We voted captains last night, and I’m really proud of both of the guys who were selected to be captains by their peers. Both of them deserve that, and they’ve been tremendous when you look at the leadership and what they’ve done for us as a football team to this point.
We have a group of seniors who have done a really good job. So with that being said, I’m really proud of these two guys leading this football team. We’ve got a big week ahead of us. We practiced last night. Today we’ll meet and have some meetings. Tuesday will be a normal workday. Wednesday will be a little lighter, not a whole lot. Then Thursday will be our normal Thursday. We’ll get on the plane and go. We’re excited about it. We’re excited about the opportunity.
Obviously, the defending National Champions and the job that Nick’s done is one that we’ll respect, and it will be a lot of fun for us to go down there and compete, compete for Michigan and compete for the Big Ten Conference.
Q. You have Fitzgerald Toussaint listed as your top running back on the depth chart. Is he playing on Saturday? Where do you stand with him?
COACH HOKE: We haven’t made a decision yet.
Q. At what point do you make a decision?
COACH HOKE: Soon.
Q. I know Al said that you guys have at least talked about it. When can you‑‑ how late in the week can you go?
COACH HOKE: We’ve had a lot of reps by a lot of guys. So we feel comfortable in whatever we’re going to do.
Q. What about Frank Clark?
COACH HOKE: Same.
Q. According to this, your defensive line looks a little reconfigured with Quinton Washington at nose tackle. Has he won that job and what has he done to come along?
COACH HOKE: Well, he’s won it, I think, with the ability. We wanted a little bigger guy at the three, and we’re moving William Campbell, and he’s played a lot of three the last two seasons or 18 months. So we wanted a little bigger body, and there are some things that they do that we think it’s important to have a little more physicalness.
Jibreel can play three in certain situations, and Aaron can play the rush end, so I think it just gives us a little stronger, stouter front.
Q. Can you talk about the job and the camp that Brennen Beyer had?
COACH HOKE: I thought Brennen had a good camp. I think Brandon is a guy who did a nice job in the off‑season when you look at some strength gains, some weight gains. He’s had a good camp. He’s a guy that we’ll count on, especially I know during the course of the season you’re always going to need that added depth. You’re always going to need guys in certain defensive looks that you may play. He can be a little stouter at the line of scrimmage. He’s multiple where he can play the Sam if we needed to play more or the rush. So I think he’s a smart guy. That always helps. I think he’s got very good talent.
Q. You’re talking about the defensive line and what those guys can bring. How much of it is about the match‑up this week? You talked about the line consistently and just getting more size out there to combat that group?
COACH HOKE: Well, I think there was a point to that, a more physical front or a big front. We feel that the best players are always going to play, but the best players in those positions are a big part of it. That’s part of it. There is no doubt about it. You start getting yourself nickels and dime packages and that front changes anyway.
Q. You’ve talked about how this being a big game for the program and for the conference. Do you see this as a step that Michigan needs to take to reestablish itself as a top program?
COACH HOKE: Well, again, reestablish? I don’t buy into that and never have. But I do think it’s a great marker for where we’re at as a program and what we can be. I think every first game every year though you learn a lot about yourselves, you go into it because every team is different.
I went back and thought about last year at this time. I didn’t know if we were going to win two games let alone 11, because you don’t know until you get in the real deal as far as playing games.
Honestly, we’ll find out. We’ll find out about ourselves.
Q. What is (Indiscernible) status?
COACH HOKE: Yeah, he’s good. He practiced yesterday. He ran with the first group. I don’t think we’ll have one problem with Royce.
Q. How comfortable are you with Thomas Rawls? Are you comfortable enough that you’re taking enough of the reps and the carries? If he’s later as a starter to alleviate the pressure of Denard Robinson?
COACH HOKE: I think Smith and Justice Hayes in his development, I think all three of those guys. They’re all a little bit different. But all three of those guys have really had a good camp. Like with Justice, him picking up a little bit more on the offense totally, the passing game, the protection part of it and all that and being able to stick your nose on a guy. I feel pretty good about that. You know, Hopkins is a valuable guy at fullback, Number one because of what he gives us. But he’s also a guy who still takes a carrier to it at the tailback position.
Q. You mentioned at this stage you don’t really know for sure what you have. It’s a good marker for your team. How dangerous does it make it playing such a good opponent as Alabama where it won’t define your season, but people could overreact one way or the other to what happened?
COACH HOKE: I don’t know if there’s any danger to it. It’s what you expect when you coach here and play here. To play in those kind of games.
I like the majority process for our team. Believe me. I think our guys have known since spring who they open up for, so honestly, it doesn’t matter.
Q. I count an even dozen true freshmen on this depth chart. What’s it say about the efforts of this class coming in in fall camp and of your needs?
COACH HOKE: Yeah, I think there are some talented guys who probably are going to get better as the season progresses. I think it speaks to itself to some degree about depth and where we feel we are and where we need to be. I think they have all done a pretty good job.
The one thing about freshmen is when they come over, the young guys get over, and one bad thing is they’re freshmen. So we’ll stub a toe here and there on the way.
Q. Why and how does a non‑conference schedule such as this, how will it prepare you for your goal of winning the Big Ten?
COACH HOKE: I think like anything else, the better competition you play, the more it pushes you as a player. The mindset, we want to get better throughout the season, because if you don’t, if you go backwards, you really struggle. So I think it helps us in a lot of different areas. From the environment we’re going to play in and being able to be focused in the preparation. I mean, the mental part of it, because come Saturday, it’s all mental. It really becomes all mental. I mean, the physical abilities these guys have, but it becomes mental and how you determine how you’re going to play and react. So I think it helps us.
Q. Have you determined how much Devin’s going to split time? How much receiver, how much quarterback?
COACH HOKE: You’ll see him at receiver a little bit. He’s done some of that during camp. He’s been good on both ends of it. He’s taken some snaps at quarterback. So I don’t know and I surely won’t tell you this is the amount of plays he’ll do either, but I expect to see him on the field.
Q. So what is the rationale that you use in determining whether or not Fitz and Clark will play?
COACH HOKE: Every day. How they come in every day, how they perform every day, how they are true teammates every day. They’re not done paying consequences on our level yet.
Q. Does a coach find himself in a tough spot where he’s caught between how can I best give my team the best chance at winning as opposed to, you know what, I have to make sure that these players understand this type of conduct will not be tolerated? That it’s making the team suffer.
COACH HOKE: I think whenever you’re in this position, you’ve got to make decisions that are best for the program. That doesn’t mean for one specific team. That means for the program. That means for the identity and the character of the program that you represent.
Are they easy decisions? No. Are they decisions you want to make because you love the kids? No. But you have to make them.
Q. It seems you’re in a very uncomfortable spot though.
COACH HOKE: I’m comfortable with what I want to do, very comfortable with that. Talking to all of you guys about it, no, that’s not comfortable, because it’s talking about two kids who are sons to us and made bad decisions.
Q. Do you know what you’re going to do?
COACH HOKE: Oh, I probably have an idea.
COACH HOKE: Probably.
Q. The punting thing, are you specific as well?
COACH HOKE: The punting thing, I tried to give Angelique a head’s up on the way in. Hagerup will do the punting, and she thought it was breaking news.
No, but Will has done a good job. They’ve both, in seriousness, they’ve both done a really good job, and I’m excited about how they competed. I didn’t think we started the summer off as well as we’d like or the fall camp, but I really like how they’ve competed. Right now, Will will do the punting, Matt will do the kickoffs and Matt will do some of the pooch punting, if we got into those situations.
Q. Last year you had mentioned at one point the longer field goals might be done by maybe a split. Is that a consideration?
COACH HOKE: You know, I still think the way Brendan’s been kicking the ball, I think we’re in good shape with him. If it got outlandish, long, then we’d probably say, all right, Matt, go ahead.
Q. What’s outlandish long?
COACH HOKE: 54, 55 yards. I think that’s outlandish.
Q. Have you ever even tried one from 54, 55?
COACH HOKE: Yeah. I’ll try about anything.
Q. No matter what happens with Fitzgerald Toussaint in the first game, do you feel you have enough running backs to have a running game right out of the box or if he doesn’t play, is that a major blow?
COACH HOKE: No, I think we’ve got guys that have worked awfully hard. We’ve got guys that have gotten a lot of reps through the course of spring football and fall camp. I think the two new kids, the young kids have gotten some valuable time from a special teams standpoint and a running back standpoint.
So I feel very comfortable with whoever is going to dot that I or be in the gun next to Denard. Vince Smith’s played a lot of football here, lot of football. Carry‑wise probably not close, but Thomas Rawls, he fits. Justice is a guy who I’ve seen grow as a back.
Q. Will you make your decision on Fitz public or will you keep it under your hat until game time?
COACH HOKE: I’m sure I’ll say something when the time’s right.
Q. Would that be 7:00 p.m.?
COACH HOKE: When the time’s right.
Q. Right before kickoff?
COACH HOKE: I don’t know. I haven’t figured all of that out. I’ve got an idea.
Q. Fitz is in court on Tuesday. What happens there, does that affect his status?
COACH HOKE: No, nope.
Q. How ready is Denard for Saturday?
COACH HOKE: Denard, in my opinion is always ready. Sometimes you’ve got to bring him back a little bit because of the excitement and his love for the game of football, love for his teammates and love for Michigan. At times you have to reign him in and make sure he’s not‑‑ I don’t want him to go out there and we don’t want him to go out there and think that he has to do it all on his own. Because that’s not what he needs to do.
He’ll be a big part of what we do offensively, as he always is, but I’d rather reign in a bucking bronco than try to get an old mule moving. So I like it when he’s excited.
Q. He said that affected him last year. That was Western Michigan. How does that change when playing against Alabama?
COACH HOKE: Well, a year older, a year wiser. I think all of those things are part of it.
Q. Have you guys found ways?
COACH HOKE: I think you just talk about it. You can be amateur psychologist all you want, but it still comes down to that guy understanding where he needs to be. I think at times when you think he has when he thinks he has to do more than what he needs to do. So we’ve just got to make sure.
He’s been great. He’s been great in fall. He’s gotten when we have game day and any time we go up to the stadium is our game day, he gets himself exactly where he needs to be. I can tell when I walk into the meeting with him.
Q. How did Schofield perform in fall camp?
COACH HOKE: I think he played well. I think he’s improved. I remember a year ago when we had to count on him with Ricky Barnum being out I think he grew up a lot. We’re excited about Mike. We’re glad he’s at Michigan. And I think he did do a nice job of changing himself a little bit from maybe a mentality of how you prepare and how you get ready, and also from a physical standpoint.
Q. You guys had more success last year when you balanced out the offense. It wasn’t just Denard running the ball.
COACH HOKE: Correct.
Q. How important is it for you to have the marquis back, the one guy or two guy?
COACH HOKE: I think it’s very important to our offense. I think if you asked Al, he’d tell you the same thing. We need to, number one, the balance that that can give you keeps a defense a little bit more on edge or they’ve got to plan for it more. The other part of it, we’d like to keep Denard healthy and that’s a big part of it. When you’ve got somebody who can carry the other part of the load like Fitz ended up doing, I think that’s huge to have the balance.
Q. Are you worried about numbers on your offensive line last year. How do you feel about that now, especially losing Brian last week?
COACH HOKE: You know, we probably, Angelique are a little better off when you look at numbers. It still is a very young‑‑ Elliott Mealer and I don’t know how many total snaps he’s played in his career here. He’s an older guy with not a ton of game experience but I think his confidence level and how he’s really done a tremendous job. He, by far in my opinion has had one of the best fall camps that I’ve seen an offensive lineman have.
I think there is enough in there with the different combinations of guys. We played Mueller at center. We’ve done a lot of different combination that have been good for us.
Q. In that forward practice, was that for Ricky and Denard?
COACH HOKE: It was for the whole team. To be honest with you, it was for the whole team to see how we handle, number one. We wanted as many distractions as we could get. Part of that is noise, part of that is what was on the big screen, you know I heard John Belushi up there and Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction. You kind of look to see who looked up, and I looked up at Belushi once. He won an Oscar. I can’t understand why.
To be honest with you, it was good for the defense, because they’ve got to be talking and communicating, checking formations, whatever it might be, and it was really good for the offense.
I think we all thought we had a very tempo, not‑many‑mistakes practice. It’s kind of getting them out of their same routine too.
Q. Is getting the ball to the other team on the 25 worth taking away the risk of the long running backs?
COACH HOKE: I think it is. That’s the simple answer, yeah. I really do. I think it is.
Q. Brady (No microphone).
COACH HOKE: He’s a little stouter at the point of attack. Of if you’ve ever seen Jibreel’s brother who plays at Indiana, Jibreel can get bigger and put it that way. His brother’s a big man. But I think it’s helped him. The initial punch and the extension, all of the things from the first step, I think point of attack is much better.
Q. When did you settle on this look? This defensive combo with Washington in the lineup?
COACH HOKE: Probably a week ago at the most, maybe four days ago.
Q. Alabama’s offensive line, is that the best you’ve ever seen?
COACH HOKE: From what I’ve seen of them, yes. Compare them to some of those Iowa lines when I was here before and being as good as anybody.
Q. The perception is Alabama is a big, physical team, can beat up teams. Do you have maybe some issues in the trenches, defensive line and stuff? Are you concerned at all about holding up physically against a team like this?
COACH HOKE: No, I don’t think so. Because it doesn’t always mean how big and tall and heavy you are. There’s a lot to be said with playing with fundamentals, technique and an unbelievable motor. It’s probably as big as anything.
There are times when you can get blocked. But if you were playing from snap to whistle, good things can happen.
Q. You guys are a huge underdog in this game. Do you feel like it?
COACH HOKE: No.
Q. Is it something you saw on film or what you’ve seen from your team?
COACH HOKE: I like Michigan.
Q. Do you buy the argument that some people are saying about this game that whereas Alabama is defending a championship, U of M is defending its honor?
COACH HOKE: Defending its honor. I don’t know. I don’t know if defending its honor‑‑ I don’t know that we’ve ever had to defend our honor. But I know one thing, it’s competition. You go to win competitions.
You prepare to go play your best and represent 133 years of Michigan football. Represent a great institution, and represent ourselves and our families.
Q. You talk about representing the conference as well. With all the hits the Big Ten has taken with Ohio State and Penn State, two separate issues, but does it put even more pressure on Michigan to step up and really have a big game on the national stage?
COACH HOKE: Yeah, I think for some people it would probably look at it that way. To be honest with you, our first and foremost is to represent the University of Michigan and this team. This team 133, representing the Big Ten is part of it. I don’t see pressure. I see guys going to play their best football and preparing to play their best football.
Q. You settled the punting question?
COACH HOKE: Yes.
Q. Norfleet’s on here pretty prominently. Should we expect to see him returning?
COACH HOKE: Yeah, I would think so.
Q. What did he show you?
COACH HOKE: He’s young, and he’s difficult to defend sometimes. He’s got the ability, he’s got good vision. He’s quick he can accelerate. He’s not the biggest guy in the world. But he has a knack and a skill level for kickoffs and punts.
Q. Your captains are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Last year where were they leading when they got here, and what kind of growth have you seen from them?
COACH HOKE: Are you talking about those two individuals? I think they both have always had a voice again, since we’ve been here, 19, 20, I don’t know how long we’ve been here, but they’ve always had a voice. I think they’ve always represented themselves, number one, in a first class manner at the same time they’ve done a good job within the framework of the team.
I think Jordan and Denard both from their actions speak so much more loudly than their words. I think the comfort level though of being a senior probably has allowed them to speak more prominently.