Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison summed up the feelings of everybody associated with the football program.
“Seven left, guys. Seven left.”
The Wolverines are a week’s worth of practices away from their season opener. It’s good news for the players. They’ve been the ones practicing in full pads every single day for the past two weeks.
“Our practices are not for the faint of heart,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges.
It gets especially heated on the line. Fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen and redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, who have a series going with each other in the one-on-one drills — it’s tied after Thursday’s practice — experience it firsthand.
“We bang every day,” fifth-year senior Ryan Van Bergen said. “You just develop a mentality where, ‘I don’t care what happens in practice. I’m going to go hard and then tomorrow I’m going to bring the same attitude and I’m going to go hard again.’ Otherwise, you’re going to get your face beat in so you might as well come out with a good attitude.”
The closer it gets to game time, the more the physical play in practice will taper off. But the coaches still have to find improvement. Most importantly from junior quarterback Denard Robinson.
“He’s picked it up,” Borges said. “What we’re trying to do is wean him a little bit. From a passing game perspective we’re trying not to give him so much he’s overwhelmed. It’s more of what I would call kind of a ‘starter set.’ … As he feels better about it, gets more comfortable, we’ll feed him a little bit more offense, particularly pass offense.”
Borges added that he hasn’t opened up his full offense, saying that Robinson is working with 65 to 70 percent of the offense Borges finished with at San Diego State. He added the caveat that the schemes were a little different and this offense was going to be unlike any other he had coached.
Critical to the mysterious offense is the featured running back. Michigan still doesn’t have one.
This late in camp, the concern is building.
“If we’re three weeks into fall camp and no one has kind of put themselves out there then I would be a little more concerned,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said at Big Ten Media Days.
The Wolverines will finish their third week of camp with a scrimmage Friday. There does appear to be a leader though. Borges reiterated Hoke’s comment from Tuesday that senior Mike Shaw would be the starter if the season started tomorrow, but there are no guarantees.
“It’s still an open book there now, so we’ll see how that shakes out” Borges said. “But Mike’s had a heck of a camp as has (redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald) Toussiant). Fitz has had a good camp and (sophomore) Stephen Hopkins and (junior) Vince (Smith).”
Borges mentioned that Smith had been doing more situational stuff and that two freshman running backs, Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls had weren’t ready. He called Hayes “developmental” and Rawls had been sidelined for two weeks with an injury.
Friday’s scrimmage may change things. It may not. Either way, the Wolverines will be down to six.