With just three spring practices under his belt and only one in which he saw his new players in pads, Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked to estimate the gap between where the Michigan football team was, as of Wednesday, and where he wants it to be.
“That’s a huge gap, I don’t know,” Hoke said, pausing briefly.
“Grand Canyon-sized right now,” he continued. “That’s nothing that’s shocking right now to us. And they’re hungry, like I said, they want to be coached. They want to do it the right way.”
This spring, Hoke and his assistants are focusing on a combination of implanting new schemes and teaching the fundamentals Hoke wants his athletes to play with.
Transitioning to the 4-3 defense and the pro-style offense has been a process early on.
“When you’re installing an offense or defense, there’s always a little paralysis by analysis as far as some thinking going on,” Hoke said. “New terminology and all of those kind of things — plays being a little bit different, technique being a little bit different … We’re not playing as near as fast as we need to yet, but I wouldn’t expect it.”
No matter how much the growing pains hurt, Hoke expects everyone to play with toughness and effort — as those are the constants players can control at this point. As for the speed of their play, that paralysis is something that Hoke assured would work itself out. He said the team wasn’t playing nearly as quickly as he expects it to play.
One player who hasn’t slowed down is quarterback Denard Robinson. Hoke said that the signal caller and backup Devin Gardner were beginning to pick up the nuances of the new offense.
“I think they both have done a good job,” Hoke said. “And both are very capable of being tremendous quarterbacks in this offense.”
The transition has been pretty much a smooth one, if not for a few speed bumps along the way.
“There’s an issue with footwork at times, you try and rush yourself in a drop off of play-action or something like that,” Hoke added. “But both of those guys have handled it pretty well.”
The quarterbacks’ progression will be important to keep an eye on. And by the end of the 15 spring practices, Hoke probably still won’t be satisfied with his team’s progress as a whole.
“We’ll never be where I want us to be, period,” Hoke said. “I know me. I think it’s pretty typical of the last two places that we’ve started. At Ball State and San Diego State, there’s a point where you have to start and you’ve got a vision of where you want to finish. I think it always takes a little bit of time during the spring to move the dial.”
SEE YOU LATER, ‘PAL: Hoke announced that sophomore safety Ray Vinopal is officially no longer with the team.
“Ray decided to go back to Youngstown, (Ohio),” Hoke said. “That issue is more of a family issue.”
Vinopal was moved into the starting lineup when Michigan played Penn State last season after the Wolverines’ bye week — he started the final six games of the season, totaling 33 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception on the year.
HOP ON UP: Sophomore running back Stephen Hopkins — the biggest running back Michigan had last year at 6-foot, 227 pounds — has been playing “part-time” at fullback this spring.
“We don’t have a lot of fullbacks,” Hoke said. “We have one, really, with that type of body on the team in (John McColgan). Hop’s doing some of it, and some of the split back stuff that we do, a lot of the old 49ers’ stuff, it really works out well with that type of guy.”
Hopkins was used as a goal-line back under Rich Rodriguez and rushed for 151 yards on 37 carries, for an average of 4.1 yards per carry, with four rushing touchdowns in 2010.
Hoke wants his fullbacks to fit a certain mold.
“He’s got to be a guy who comes in 6-(foot)-3 and leaves the program about 6-(foot)-1,” Hoke said, referring to the physical grind it takes to play the position. “Every Wisconsin fullback I’ve seen, they get shorter as the years go on.”
SPRING FLING: This year’s spring game, set for April 16, may not look like a typical game, as Hoke warned on Wednesday.
“We wouldn’t play a (real) game,” Hoke said. “We have a lot of situational scrimmage stuff. And we’ve got (24) more days until that spring game date. Just in different experiences, I doubt we’ll play a game, game. (I’d) like to, but we don’t have enough depth.”
He added that he hopes to have 50 to 60 percent of the schemes installed by the end of spring, with the remainder coming in fall camp.
INJURY UPDATES: Running back Mike Shaw has been taking part in alternate conditioning, Hoke said. Shaw broke his hand before spring practice started and is expected to be able to do a little more, with a cast on, next week. … Center David Molk has been hampered by a hamstring injury, relegating Rocko Khoury to take the majority of the snaps at center — Molk is expected to be fine by next Tuesday. … Hoke also commented on the status of cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd. Woolfolk is doing some group work and certainly not everything yet. And Floyd is further behind than Woolfolk.