Several weeks ago, when asked who had emerged as a leader for the Michigan football team, Brady Hoke wouldn’t name names.
On Wednesday, he sang like a canary.
“I think Kevin Koger, being one,” Hoke said. “ I think Brandon Herron being one. I think Ryan Van Bergen has come to light a little bit more. I think with David (Molk) missing so much, it’s hard for him to assert himself. But some of those guys, some of those seniors, are doing a nice job.”
And it’s made an impact on the defensive side of the ball. Hoke said one of the more encouraging developments has been how everyone’s talking when they’re on the field — as simple as that sounds.
“There’s a better communication throughout the defense,” Hoke said. “When you have to change a front or check a coverage, to some point making sure everyone’s on the same page in general. It starts there to be honest with you. There’s a pride those guys are starting to feel as a defense and an expectation of how they want to play.”
Players like Van Bergen, Herron, Cam Gordon, J.B. Fitzgerald, Jordan Kovacs and even Carvin Johnson have been outspoken in lining up correctly.
One of those senior leaders is leading by example and taking younger players aside to teach. It’s the same leader Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon met with when the whole coaching change was taking place — Van Bergen.
“I think there are a bunch of guys jumping in and helping other guys out,” Hoke said. “Van Bergen is a guy who has played a lot of football here, and has understood maybe some of the differences that might be there in how they played in years past. But he’s a guy who’s always trying to coach up a younger guy, try and help him along. So that’s an important part of it.”
The 6-foot-6, 283-pound defensive end is comfortable playing in the defense he was recruited to play in at Michigan.
“I think Ryan’s done a really good job,” said Hoke, who then paused, gathering his thoughts.
“I think he gets it.”
RICKY’S ROLLING: When spring started, redshirt junior left guard Ricky Barnum was the only offensive player with big shoes to fill.
Four-year starter and captain Steve Schilling is gone. He is, really, the only main contributor lost on offense. Barnum has done everything he can to help ease the pain.
“Ricky’s a good football player,” Hoke said. “He’s a tough kid and he’s a smart kid and he plays with good technique. That’s why he’s a good football player. And he loves the game.”
Hoke added that Barnum has been as consistent as any offensive lineman this spring.
Barnum is also one of the players Hoke has moved around on the line, which is important if Hoke settles on a set group of linemen he can rely on.
“You’ll have seven guys, probably or eight guys that are going to be kinda the nucleus of the group,” Hoke said. “When you do that, they have to be multiple (positions) to some degree.”
For Barnum, that has meant playing offensive tackle at times this spring, while fifth-year senior Mark Huyge has played both tackle positions. And redshirt junior guard Patrick Omameh, who has received plenty of praise from Hoke, has played some right tackle.
Versatility is a priority for Hoke.
“I think that’s important,” Hoke said. “Some of them have adjusted well and they’ve done a good job with (it). Ricky’s adjusted the most from guard out to tackle, and then back into guard. He’s handled it well and done a good job. Patrick (Omameh) has been out a little bit at right tackle. He’s more — and I think the same can be said for Ricky — the more fitting positions are at the guards for them.”
LINING UP THE LINEBACKERS: The position that might benefit the most from Greg Mattison’s scheme change to the 4-3 front is the linebacker corps.
With four down linemen in front of them — each with good size, too, in Mike Martin, Will Campbell, Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen — the linebackers are free to be playmakers.
“The linebackers are having an easier time navigating and coming downhill to make plays,” Van Bergen explained during a conference call Tuesday. “They’re getting more comfortable with it.”
On Wednesday, Hoke ran through the gauntlet of linebackers who have stood out to him this spring — minus Kenny Demens, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Hoke said Marell Evans has done a good job, as has Brandon Herron, who Hoke said “has some natural instinct” at the middle linebacker spot. Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones are competing for positions at the weakside linebacker position.
Hoke also mentioned Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon — the latter, in particular, has caught Hoke’s eye as someone who’s improving.
“I think Cam will have a very good summer, which will help him more from a physical side of things,” Hoke said.
SPRING GAME DROPOUTS: Several players expected to be key contributors will miss Saturday’s spring game due to injury. Hoke said Demens, Troy Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd and Taylor Lewan will be out.
However, Mike Shaw and David Molk have been practicing and are expected to play in the game.
Hoke also gave an update on the recoveries of the two potential starting cornerbacks, Woolfolk and Floyd.
“The only thing (Woolfolk) has done is very little,” Hoke said. “He’s done a lot of alternate conditioning. He’s done a lot of working out. He’s done some individual drills … He maybe has taken a few snaps of one-on-one, a few snaps in seven-on-seven. But any live bullets? He hasn’t played.
“Floyd is behind in his recovery compared to where Woolfolk is.”