- Stephen J. Nesbitt/Daily
By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published July 29, 2011
CHICAGO — Mike Martin and the rest of the Michigan defensive line wanted to show their new coaches what they were capable of, and, what exactly two former defensive line coaches would have to start the heart of their defense with.
Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison had returned to Michigan, one having left to build Ball State and San Diego State into winning football programs, while the other molded successful defenses all over the country at the college and professional level.
Soon after they arrived, Martin and his defensive linemates were going through their first workout of their winter conditioning and the coaches watched, not saying much.
“We were all going hard, obviously,” Martin said. “(This) was our first impression on the coach.”
After the workout, Mattison pulled Martin aside and warned him: “That was terrible. That was completely terrible. You guys have to do much better.”
“I thought we did pretty good,” Martin thought to himself.
Ever since Hoke and Mattison took over, the expectations are higher around the Michigan football team, and that has carried over into summer workouts.
“I feel like that we didn’t know how a championship team really functioned,” Martin said. “That’s why coach Hoke and coach Mattison and the rest of the staff are so vital and a huge asset, because they know what it takes. They’ve been around teams that have won. They tell us. Before they came in, we thought we were working hard. We weren’t.
“They’ve put the bar way higher.”
The seniors have led "optional” workouts throughout the summer and 7-on-7 passing drills for skill-position players. They may be listed as “optional,” but with the help the new accountable attitude Hoke has instilled, there has been a 100-percent participation rate.
“All of them wanted to show up,” junior quarterback Denard Robinson said. “Everybody wanted to do better this year.”
Last year, Tate Forcier fell out of favor with his teammates for not showing up for summer workouts, while Robinson did. Now the unquestioned team leader, Robinson created a list of every players’ phone number and made calls to get players to come out to the 7-on-7 drills. The fifth-year seniors told Robinson they need to act as a “third coach” in leading the team.
Martin has gone to great lengths to get everyone to come. If guys aren’t there, seniors would drive to the absent player’s house, bang on his door, get him out of bed — “whatever it takes,” Martin said.
When the troops are finally at attention, senior tight end Kevin Koger said that they even take roll call, then that’s when the real fun begins.
“We have a saying that goes: 'To be successful, we have to do the things that we haven't done in the past,' " Martin said.
Hoke was happy with the progress the Wolverines made as far as learning the technique that Hoke and Mattison drilled into them. But he was clear of one thing on Friday at the Big Ten Media Days: they were not where he wanted them physically.
“Well, the workouts are executed in a way that there’s purpose,” Martin explained. “We attack our workouts. We attack — we’re not just going through the motions. But there’s a lot of enthusiasm. And we’re getting better and we’re pushing each other. The worst thing to do is practice the wrong things or be lackadaisical and go through the motions. So when you don’t do that, that’s something I would say is different.”
Aaron Wellman, a new strength and conditioning coach who came with Hoke, has instituted a new strength training system based around machines rather than Olympic free weights.
The important distinction is the balance the players have to maintain between adding the weight Hoke wants them to, and keeping that speed and flexibility Rich Rodriguez recruited. Martin explained that they’re not only accountable to each other by showing up, but by also giving it their all in the weight room.
“It’s really intense,” said Martin, who can bench more than 500 pounds and squat more than 700 pounds. “It’s a failure thing. So you’ll get to a point where you can’t lift your arms anymore, but you’ve got to somehow, someway, find a way to get that next rep to do it. You’ve got to do it.
“You don’t want to let your teammates down, that’s the consequence. Because you’ve got your guys around you, cheering you up and trying to get you hyped up. There’s just a lot of intensity and guys have gotten a lot stronger.”
All-Big Ten talents like Martin are leading the way with the dirty work to show the younger players that this is the price that they need to pay to win.
They’re also getting a full dose of a new outspoken leader — the usually reserved and quiet Robinson.
“I just approached it as (if) I’m going out and having fun with my teammates. And whatever it takes to win, that’s what I’ll do,” Robinson said.
“Just because (Robinson’s) a junior doesn’t mean he can’t tell a senior what to do, or where to go,” Koger added. “That’s leadership. Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’re uncomfortable doing.”
Working out at 6 a.m. may be as uncomfortable as it gets. With the right direction, Michigan’s seniors and Robinson have masterfully orchestrated a successful summer of sweat.
“If you don’t want me knocking on your door, make sure you’re there on time,” Martin said.