The trash talk between Denard Robinson and Greg Mattison started before spring ball did.
“I am on him so bad, ‘You are the worst I’ve ever seen,’ teasing him,” Michigan defensive coordinator Mattison said last week. “And he gives it right back. I love him. I love him.”
Mattison used similar tactics against Tim Tebow, when Mattison held the same position there — he had also recruited Tebow to come to the school.
Robinson told Mattison that this is going to be his worst spring in a lot of years. And Mattison jabbed back, “You better get two red jerseys on — not one.”
The competition is already heating up for the Michigan football team — which is just the type of atmosphere that Michigan coach Brady Hoke is trying to foster in his first practices as coach.
“You do that by rewarding guys who play well, and guys who don’t play so well, maybe you don’t get as many snaps — you get moved down the depth chart,” Hoke said. “Its always fluid and it always will be. And we do a lot of competitions in different situations. We’ll do red zone tomorrow. We did 2nd-and-8, play-it-out, yesterday. And there’s consequences for losing — but that’s what the game is.”
What kind of consequences?
“Oh, they’re good, they’re good — they’re fun,” Hoke said.
Before the Wolverines even put pads on, running back Stephen Hopkins commented on how physical Hoke’s practices were. Michigan was hitting and calling inside runs for him, when guys were in shorts and t-shirts.
And wide receiver Darryl Stonum had three words to describe the practices: fast, competitive and intense.
“I like the competitiveness,” Stonum said through the Athletic Department. “Everyone competes. It’s like really intense. Everyone’s talking trash. It reminds me of one of those Under Armour commercials — where everybody’s live and intense. It’s a lot of fun.”
As the players adapt to Hoke’s offensive and defensive philosophies there will be plenty of chances this spring for players to stick out. Michigan does, however, return nine starters on offense and nine starters on defense — not including Ray Vinopal, who, Hoke announced, was no longer with the team on Wednesday.
As for a depth chart: not so fast. Hoke’s more focused on observing how his players react to the challenge this spring presents.
“Nothing’s given,” Hoke said. “You’re going to have to earn it. You’re going to have to earn it if you came out as a starter during the spring, from what you do all summer. (It’s) how you work and all of that stuff — how you prepare. And it’ll be the same thing in fall camp. Again, creating competition and having competition. And if we all compete like heck with each other, we’ll all be okay.”
It’s the offense versus defense rivalry, position battles and all else, maybe even a few friendly jabs between coaches and players, all of which build the competitive atmosphere. The deepest positions on the team with the most competition are wide receiver and safety, according to Hoke.
And through three spring practices, teammates are already starting to embrace the environment.
After Tuesday’s practice — Michigan’s first in full pads — defensive end Ryan Van Bergen bragged during a video interview with MGoBlue.com that he sacked Robinson in each of their first three practices.
“Three-for-three — all three practices I got a sack,” Van Bergen said with Robinson within earshot.
“You did not get me yesterday,” Robinson chimed in. “Today you got me, because I made Mike Martin miss and you got me.”
“Trying to step up in a pocket that wasn’t there,” Van Bergen responded.
“No, I shook Mike Martin and you came and got me,” Robinson said, eyes widening in disbelief.
“No — false,” Van Bergen quipped to the camera. “Three-for-three (on) Denard Robinson. Oh-for-three for him. Three-for-three is not as impressive as oh-for-three for him.”
“Where’s Mike? Where’s Mike,” Robinson said, smiling, as he walked away.
At least Mattison’s defense has won at least a few battles against Robinson this spring.