Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez had to take extra Tylenol before Saturday’s practice, the first of the spring. And before he addressed the media afterward, a media relations official asked him if he wanted any juice. He declined, asking instead for water and more Tylenol.
Rodriguez, in his first official practice in Ann Arbor, began the slow and often painful process of teaching the spread option to players who were recruited to run a pro-style offense.
The practice in Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, during which players donned shorts and helmets but no pads, went longer than Rodriguez would’ve liked because the team had to repeat drills until they were done properly.
“It was ugly at times,” Rodriguez said. “I was encouraged at times. It was a typical first practice.”
Losing seven offensive starters won’t make installing the new system any easier. Quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart, wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, left tackle Jake Long and left guard Adam Kraus were all multiple-year starters. Their replacements are short on experience.
“I’m having a hard enough time sleeping now at night,” Rodriguez said. “You want me to think about that?”
Scheming about defense: When Rodriguez was hired, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Will Johnson assumed Michigan’s base defense would be the same 3-3-5 system West Virginia ran.
But new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer is bringing his 4-3 base from Stanford. Rodriguez said the Wolverines would also incorporate some of the odd sets he used with the Mountaineers.
“I don’t know how good the 3-3-5 would’ve been in the Big Ten because it’s a big run-dominated conference,” said Johnson, who was a bit relieved he wouldn’t have to move to defensive end.
Rodriguez primarily works with the offense. So fifth-year senior cornerback Morgan Trent wasn’t ready to admit the defense, which returns seven starters, had as ugly a first day as his coach described the team had.
“Defensively, I was proud,” Trent said. “I was happy with what we did. Of course we’ve got to get better, but I’m happy for the first day.”
Searching for a quarterback: Nick Sheridan, Steve Threet, David Cone and Ryan Sheridan took snaps at quarterback. Rodriguez was asked whether junior running back Carlos Brown, who played quarterback his senior year of high school, would be in the mix at that spot.
“We haven’t got to that,” Rodriguez said. “If we did, it would be a secret. I wouldn’t tell you.”
Justin Feagin, a dual-threat quarterback whose style seems to fit the scheme Rodriguez employed at West Virginia, will enroll as a freshman in the fall. He is also expected to compete for the job.
Spring game: Rodriguez hopes to hold a spring game Apr. 12. Michigan Stadium is unavailable because of construction, and playing at Ford Field couldn’t be arranged. The game may be played at a local high school.
A reporter from The Toledo Blade asked Rodriguez whether Toledo’s Glass Bowl was a possible location for the game.
“No,” Rodriguez said. “What state’s that in?”
Court date: Rodriguez has an Apr. 3 hearing in Monongalia County Circuit Court over his buyout from West Virginia, but he won’t be there.
“That’s for the lawyers,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve got spring practice. I’m focused on Michigan.”
Notes: Offensive lineman Grant DeBenedictis and defensive tackle Brett Galimore were both eligible to return for a fifth year, but neither was on the 2008 roster. Neither was fullback Quintin Patilla, who would’ve been a redshirt junior. . Redshirt freshman tight end Steve Watson won’t practice this spring. Sophomore wide receiver Zion Babb, redshirt junior running back Kevin Grady, fifth-year senior Mike Massey, redshirt freshman running back Avery Horn and Johnson are also working through injuries.