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Notebook: Michigan coaching staff supports Chuck Pagano, tight ends get Wellmanized

Todd Needle/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 10, 2012

While Chuck Pagano lies in a hospital bed at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis in a battle for his life, the Michigan football coaching staff will offer every bit of support it can.

Pagano, the first-year head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and has been hospitalized since Sept. 26.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke and his staff purchased 40 #chuckstrong T-shirts and will wear them to Michigan Stadium for the Wolverines’ matchup against Illinois on Saturday.

Several members of the staff have ties with Pagano and his family. Pagano worked for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison when Mattison was with the Baltimore Ravens.

Hoke and the members of the staff that came from San Diego State knew Pagano’s brother, John, a defensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers, rather well.

“There’s a strong relationship,” Hoke said Wednesday. “He’s one of ours. He’s our kind of guy. So we want to pay a little tribute to him and also for the cause.”

Hoke said he made the decision to do the #chuckstrong tribute on Sunday night, which was the same evening Pagano’s Colts upset the Green Bay Packers, 30-27, in Indianapolis.

CHASE THE RABBIT: Nathan Scheelhaase is the kind of guy you have to keep an eye on.

The third-year Illinois starting quarterback is a dual threat in the backfield, with major speed to boot. As a result, Hoke has done something a little different to prepare the defense for Scheelhaase.

“I’ve always done it with defensive linemen — we do a little at the end of practice, some chase the rabbit, we call it,” Hoke said. “Drills where you instill a mindset, a mentality, I think.”

Chase the rabbit? How hard can it be?

“You ever try to catch a rabbit?” Hoke asked.

Not exactly. But Hoke admitted he hasn’t tried either.

“They’re hard to catch,” he continued. “You have to stay after them and take angles.”

Don’t worry, there aren’t live rabbits running around the practice field with 300-pound lineman chasing after them. It’s all just the name of a drill.

The defense faces senior quarterback Denard Robinson in practice every week, so it has had plenty of experience with fleet-footed quarterbacks.

“Obviously 16’s kind of hard to corral once in a while,” Hoke said. “I think that helps us as a team when you’re playing against a guy like Scheelhaase.”

WELLMANIZATION: For Michigan’s tight ends, it’s all about getting Wellmanized.

Getting adjusted and buying into coach Aaron Wellman’s strength and conditioning program, that is.

Since Hoke arrived, Michigan’s tight ends have come to the fore once again. The corps is expected to get bigger, stronger and tougher.

With redshirt senior tight end Brandon Moore sidelined with a knee injury, the Wolverines have relied heavily on two true freshmen — A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess — to adapt quickly to the college game and produce.

Funchess has stolen the spotlight in the air game, using his 6-foot-5 frame to leap above smaller defenders and force his way into tight spots. Funchess, who made a spectacular grab inside the five-yard line against Purdue on Saturday, has become one of Robinson’s favorite targets. He has nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns this fall.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges said he’s had only one other freshman tight end catch as well as Funchess. That was Gavin Escobar, now a junior tight end at San Diego State.

“He could catch like Devin can catch — 6-(foot)-7,” Borges said. “He was really good. Now he’s not as fast as Devin, but he had tremendous hands.”

There are still strides to be made, but with Moore returning to practice and redshirt senior tight end Mike Kwiatkowski playing well on blocking downs, the freshmen have time to focus on getting Wellmanized.

“You have two young guys playing big-boy football,” Hoke said. “They’re learning every week. I think we can be more physical there … which will lead to maybe a little more movement at the line of scrimmage.”