With more than a full week of fall practices in the books, the Michigan Wolverines are beginning to show their true colors.
Of course, the full brilliance of the maize and blue probably won’t be clear for several weeks; but Team 135 is making strides each day, according to quarterback Shane Morris, cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Blake Countess and defensive lineman Matt Godin.
In essence, they all said similar things during media day festivities Sunday—their team is growing stronger with each passing second, and players genuinely care for each other and want nothing more than to restore the Wolverines' luster.
Continuity is at a high, said Lewis, who dazzled in the spring game. The defense, says coordinator Greg Mattison, is "without question" past the transition phase.
Only 17 more days to go. Go pull that Charles Woodson jersey out of the closet and get ready for Saturday.
Bulking Up on D
In 2013, Michigan’s defense allowed more than 40 points thrice, which certainly contributed to the Wolverines’ 7-6 record. However, and maybe surprisingly, it finished as the nation’s No. 13-ranked total defense.
Maintaining and improving a well-rounded defense is of top priority.
“We’re coming along, everyone’s working hard here at camp—definitely with pass rush, we’ve been putting more emphasis on that earlier in camp,” Godin said. “We’re going to improve this year.”
The 6’6”, 286-pound redshirt sophomore out of Detroit Catholic Central wasn’t the only one propping the defense’s efforts. He said that his linemates have reached another gear and that the 3-technique position is among the most competitive.
Of course, the defensive backs will have a say in the season’s outcome as well. Countess, who led Team 134 with six picks, has also noticed an upward trend among his counterparts.
But there is always room to grow.
“I just think that we have to get better,” said Countess, a 5’10”, 180-pound redshirt junior out of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Owings Mills, Maryland. “We [the DBs] have the ability to be a strength. We have to make sure of that. We have to keep getting better, we have to keep pushing—not only ‘us,’ a corner group, but ‘us’ as a secondary.
"Just keep pushing the whole defense [and say] ’Let’s take that next step.’”
Taking "that next step" could be easier with Countess, who is considered one of the best cover men in the Big Ten. When asked if being on watch lists has changed his approach, he quickly and appropriately replied:
"No, not all. At the end of the day, that's nice and that's fine. But you have to put that product on the field. If you don't put that product on the field, it means nothing. I'm just working with my teammates, trying to get better..."
Shane Morris is ‘100 Percent Ready’
Backups are always popular.
When the starter doesn’t get the job done, the No. 2 is often viewed as the savior—or at least a band-aid.
As a freshman, the former 5-star out of Warren De La Salle threw for 261 yards in three appearances. Two of them were quite brief, but his 196-yard effort during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State was noteworthy and should serve as a springboard for the 6’3", 204-pound sophomore.
When asked about his preparation for 2014, Morris said, without hesitation, “I’m 100 percent ready to play. If they need me to play the first game, then I will. Coach Hoke and Coach Nuss [offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier] are going to make the best decision for this team [in terms of personnel].
“But I’m 100 percent ready to play.”
Morris also noted that he’s “more engaged” and “understands the game more,” not to mention more mature and acclimated to college life. The training wheels have been removed. In terms of confidence and focus, there may not be a player on Michigan’s roster who wants to see the field more than Morris.
Run That Back?!
While giving an opening statement Sunday, Hoke said that sophomore running back De’Veon Smith and redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson are the top backs (as of now).
Of course, the obvious omission was Derrick Green, whose physical transformation and athletic development was recently praised by Nussmeier, per Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press.
So why no Green in the top two? Was Hoke trying to motivate the former blue-chip recruit by publicly placing him behind a guy coming off an ACL injury in Johnson and another who entered college with a fraction of the hype in Smith?
Either that or Green, a 5’11”, 230-pound bruiser out of Hermitage High in Richmond, Virginia, has simply fallen behind the pack.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer. Video shot and edited by Jared Janssen of JJ Sports Video (Monroe, Michigan).