When the usually tight-lipped Brady Hoke specifically mentions a player’s name during a press conference, the player’s future bodes well. On Monday, Hoke name-dropped Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer — two young freshmen — as potential players to watch coming out of the bye week.
During the time off, Hoke sat down with his staff to evaluate their personnel and determine who could make an impact if given the opportunity.
“Who’s playing the way you’re expecting or the expectations that we have?” Hoke asked. “Who are the guys that maybe need some more opportunities?
“Maybe there’s more playing time for a guy.”
Clark is a former high school track star who fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen called “one of the fastest guys on the defense — all around — not just on the defensive line.”
Listed at 6-foot-2 and a shade under 230 pounds, Hoke said Clark would be a rush end, the position junior Craig Roh plays.
“You really don’t understand how fast (Clark) is until — he really does a good job of corralling Denard (Robinson) sometimes,” said senior tight end Kevin Koger. “So he can run a little bit for being about 230 pounds.”
If Clark can be an extra pass rusher for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Beyer serves as a long SAM linebacker with “good football instincts,” according to Van Bergen. Currently, Beyer’s listed third on the depth chart behind the still-learning Jake Ryan and the slow-recovering Cam Gordon.
“When they first got here for fall camp, they were two guys (Clark and Beyer) we thought had some really raw athleticism and potential,” Van Bergen said. He added that both were well coached in high school so picking up scheme has been easy for them.
As freshmen, they’ve had to work to the point of understanding the defense enough to be able to adjust on the fly.
“Coach Mattison’s always been a firm believer of the more guys you get in the game, the fresher you keep guys,” Van Bergen said. “He’s getting more confidence in them and you’ll see more of them as the season goes on.”
LEFT GUARD BATTLE ROYALE: Redshirt junior Ricky Barnum was expected to be the team’s starting left guard all season. Penciled in, his name had to be replaced with redshirt sophomore Michael Schofield in the season opener as Barnum was suspended.
Barnum returned and played the next three games before suffering an ankle injury and now he has missed the Wolverines past three games, with the 6-foot-7, 299 pound Schofield replacing him again.
After the bye week, Hoke said that Barnum is now healthy and the two will compete to start Saturday against Purdue.
“I guess we’re going to have to see in this week of practice — if Ricky’s all the way ready or if Schofield’s better,” said fifth-year senior center Dave Molk. “(We’ll) see how the whole thing plays out.”
Neither Barnum nor Schofield played exceptionally well in his stint at the position. And with Barnum’s return, the question for Molk and the rest of the offensive line is whether removing Schofield messes with their chemistry.
“I like consistency, that’s always a good thing especially with how offensive line play is,” Molk said. “We’re not individuals, we work together. … But if there’s one guy who can play better than the other guy, it’s better to make the switch.
“We’re improving greatly as the season goes along. Where we started at the beginning of the season, with Ricky being a first-year starter and that was a little shaky. Then when Ricky got hurt we had Schofield and that was a little shaky. Now, we’re evening out. Both have that game experience where they can come in and play.”
One intriguing option brought up by a reporter was whether Schofield and Barnum would compete with redshirt junior Patrick Omameh at the right guard position. Hoke wouldn’t commit to Omameh being a part of the other two’s open competition, but perhaps he should be put on notice.
“(Omameh’s) been playing decent,” Molk said. “You always have to worry about losing your spot. I know that’s a bad thing to say, but you always have to work to get better every week.”
RAWLS IS ROLLING: On Monday, Koger declared true freshman running back Thomas Rawls as one young offensive player who could emerge down the stretch.
Through seven games, most of the running back load has been delegated between redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint and junior Vincent Smith. Rawls, a 5-foot-10, 219-pound bruising back, carried the ball 10 times for 73 yards in a blowout win against Minnesota last month.
“Thomas Rawls, he’s getting a lot more snaps at running back,” Koger said. “Look for him to contribute a lot more.
“He’s another hard runner. He’s a bigger back, as you can see. He was running hard during camp, then he had that shoulder injury that set him back a little bit. But he’s coming back strong and he’s learning the offense. Once he learns more of the offense, you’ll see him more on the field.”
BYE, BYE BROWN: Freshman cornerback Greg Brown, the only true freshman to enroll early in the spring, has left the Michigan football team, according to a team spokesman.
Coaches spoke highly of Brown, a 5-foot-10, three-star recruit, during spring practice. They said the team’s strength and conditioning program was helping him develop physically. Everyone seemed optimistic Brown could make an impact.
But over the summer and in fall camp, Brown was buried on the depth chart by fellow freshmen Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, as well as the trio of veterans Michigan returned — Troy Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd and Courtney Avery.
Hoke declined to comment on Brown’s departure.
DENARD’S ON DAVEY’S LIST: Despite completing just 52 percent of his passes and throwing just 11 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions, junior quarterback Denard Robinson is one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award — given annually to the nation’s best collegiate quarterback.
Fan voting will whittle the list down to three finalists and the winner will be announced Dec. 8 during ESPN’s college football awards show.
To his credit, Robinson leads the Big Ten with 288 yards per game and his 108 rushing yards per game are 15th-most in the nation. He has also accounted for 20 touchdowns in seven games this season.
INJURY UPDATES: Each time a reporter asks Hoke how lucky he must feel to have all of his key contributors healthy, the coach knocks on the closest piece of wood.
But the Wolverines aren’t without a few “boo-boos,” as Hoke would say.
Starting left tackle Taylor Lewan, who was seen in a walking boot last week after he turned his ankle against Michigan State, didn’t practice last week but did a “few things” on Sunday. He also injured his wrist against the Spartans, but Hoke expected Lewan to play against Purdue.
Woolfolk, who has been playing through a myriad of injuries, including a broken hand and injured ankle, “looked pretty good” running on Sunday, according to Hoke.