Brady Hoke is a fluent practitioner of coach speak. After a long career he can deflect uncomfortable questions with a deft array of cliches or the occasional funny quip.
He was in fine form during the team’s media day, whether making a crack about his girth or deflecting a question about whether his defense would be able to carry the offense until it got on track.
But after being pressed about whether he felt pressure heading into his fourth season and why his team lacked toughness, he made his expectations for the program crystal clear.
“I want it to be a football team that can run the ball and have a toughness at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” said Hoke. “The identity part of it is a toughness that this program has had for many years.”
Running the ball and toughness are things that used to be commonplace in Ann Arbor—when Hoke was an assistant coach.
Last season the only player who ran the ball hard and exhibited the toughness that Michigan was once known for was quarterback Devin Gardner—usually while running for his life.
During fall camp last year, Hoke declared the return of power football only to see his offense come unhinged behind an epically bad offensive line. The team seemingly rolled out a new scheme every game, introducing complexity while shuffling nine players through its five offensive line positions.
The lack of consistent offensive identity ultimately cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job.
His replacement, Doug Nussmeier, was hired with a clear mandate to reinvigorate the Michigan ground attack. He has a stable of 4- and 5-star talent at running back and a fifth-year senior quarterback at the helm of his offense.
During media day, Nussmeier declined to share specific goals for this offense other than: "We want to be physical, we want to be explosive."
But he faces the same basic problem that plagued Borges last season—uncertainty on the offensive line.
As bad as the offensive line was last year, it did send two players to the NFL. Michigan needs to fill those spots while dealing with the one-game suspension of Graham Glasgow, who will play guard or center. Another expected starter, Erik Magnuson, will play either guard or tackle.
During media day, Magnuson expressed no preference where he played: "If you can play one position you can play them all."
One wild card in the mix is freshman tackle Mason Cole, whom Hoke mentioned as a potential starter.
“Performance doesn’t have an age tied to it,” said Nussmeier. “He’s had an outstanding camp.”
Hoke will determine the top-five players for the offensive line next week. How quickly those players form a cohesive group will determine whether his mission to run the ball will succeed or fail.
“We don’t feel any pressure, we’re out here just competing,” said Magnuson. “We have a deep offensive line this year and everybody is playing well, and we’re playing fast.”
With just over two weeks until its first game, Michigan doesn't have time to tinker much longer.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
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