Two different Troy Woolfolks showed up against Western Michigan last Saturday.
In one instance, the fifth-year senior cornerback sprung off the ground, striking a pose, after delivering a big hit on a wide receiver.
In the next, Woolfolk was down at midfield, writhing in pain.
Ultimately, it was called a sprained ankle, but the Michigan football team’s top cornerback suffered the injury covering a kickoff, begging the question: Is it a wise move to play Woolfolk on special teams, already having missed all of last season due to injury?
Michigan coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison didn’t directly answer that question, but they didn’t underestimate the importance of special teams.
“It’s one-third of the football game, and I think we’re crazy if we don’t have in a segment of the game the guys who can perform what they’re asked to do at the highest level not out there on the field,” Hoke said.
Added Mattison: “Special teams play a huge, huge part in our defense. If you saw where we started on defense after a number of kickoffs — there’s three equal parts in this thing. I’ve seen too many coaches that say, ‘I’ve got have that guy.’ OK, fine, then put another guy that doesn’t do as well and see how fast that ball comes back.”
Western Michigan kick returner Dervon Wallace averaged more than 31 yards per return, with a long of 38 yards, so there is reason for concern.
Michigan practices covering kicks twice a week “full-go,” and having seen his guys go through it once, Hoke said it was “good” this week. Hoke also said he’s looking at different personnel to improve the unit.
As for Woolfolk, he practiced Tuesday and Hoke was encouraged with his progress.
“I would expect Troy to be healthy,” Hoke said. “He did more this week really than I thought he would. And the thing I liked about it was, Troy wanted to do more.
“Some guys who’ve played football and are older, that they may be a little bit more delicate about when they get back in there. He jumped right back in.”
ROBINSON SETTLES IN: Michigan only had 39 offensive plays to show off its new scheme, but Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges thought junior quarterback Denard Robinson ran it well.
“He managed the offense pretty well first time out,” Borges said. “He had very few errors. A few deals. Nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. As long as somebody does, we’ll be fine.
Robinson completed one 37-yard pass to fifth-year senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway. Other than that his day might not have been exciting, unless you’re Borges.
“For the first time — you know, his under center play was really good,” Borges said. “His shotgun play was his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use it. A couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part, pretty reliable.”
Borges remembered one instance he thought Robinson might have shrugged off a receiver too early and took off running, but, as Borges recalled, Robinson got the first down.
“You’ve got to understand with him, you want him to give the pass a chance,” Borges said. “But you don’t want to be so obsessed with always wanting to check the ball down, because he’s the best checkdown you can have.
“What may be perceived as impatient sometimes, may be a little bit more by design than you might think. With most quarterbacks you’d say, ‘Oh, he’s too quick to run.’ With him, I’m not sure that’s the way you coach Denard Robinson.”
Borges always tells Robinson: “Create without doing something stupid.”
“He’s lived by the law pretty good so far,” Borges said. “Knock on wood.”
RUH, ROH: Mattison didn’t wait too long to ponder whether junior defensive end Craig Roh needed to play better.
“He has to play better,” Mattison said of Roh, who didn’t make a single tackle against Western Michigan. “One of the things we addressed — we had too many players in that defense that did not get production.
“Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve got to get more out of him, and I think he knows that. He understands. He saw the film himself. He understands that he’s a better football player than that.”
HOP ON UP: After he missed the Wolverines’ season opener due to a team matter, you might assume sophomore running back Stephen Hopkins was a long shot to start against Notre Dame.
Apparently, you’d be wrong.
Borges said Hopkins would be worked into the mix against the Fighting Irish, and neither Borges nor Hoke ruled out the possibility of him starting.
“He was in the fold big time before he didn’t play (against the Broncos),” Borges said. “Now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. And he brings something to the table: he’s that big back.”
Hoke did say that, as of Wednesday afternoon, redshirt sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint would start Saturday’s game.
INJURY POLICY: Hoke unofficially announced his policy regarding injured players: if they aren’t practicing by Tuesday or Wednesday, they won’t play.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Cam Gordon may be the first victim.
“He’s still up in the air,” Hoke said. “He did a couple of things yesterday, but not nearly as much as we’d like.
“I need to see him go out there and run around and play football today. Because if not, you’ve pretty much have to do some things on Wednesday, at a full-tilt level, or Saturday you’re not going to be effective anyway.”
LEFT GUARD BATTLE: Starting left guard Ricky Barnum was another player suspended for a team issue last weekend, and redshirt sophomore Michael Schofield made the most of his opportunity. Now it’s a position battle.
“Oh, they’ll compete,” Borges said. “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. Now this week, we’ll see how things go. But it’s nice to know (Schofield) can.”