The usually offensive-minded Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez got defensive Saturday, when the godfather of the spread-option offense had to respond to attacks from junior left guard Justin Boren.

After leaving the team last Monday, Boren released a statement saying the program’s “family values have eroded.” Rodriguez seemed irritated to be discussing the issue, calling that sentiment “ridiculous.”

“Family is pretty important to all of us, and every coach would tell you that,” Rodriguez said. “But just ask anybody that’s played for me for the last 15 years. Don’t ask somebody that’s left with a different agenda.”

Rodriguez said, after a practice attended by some of the players’ parents. The members of his program are as much of a family as at any other program. He said his mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live seven hours away, have attended the last three practices.

When a reporter told Rodriguez he would change the subject and asked about the incoming freshmen, the coach said “Thank you.”

Rodriguez said he didn’t spend much time talking to his team about the issue.

“They just want us to win,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Nick Sheridan said of early-morning workouts. “They’re not doing anything to punish us, even though at first it may seem that way. They obviously are under a tremendous amount of pressure to win, and they’re just doing what they can that’s best for us.”

Quarterback competition: Rodriguez said redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet and Sheridan are ahead of redshirt sophomore David Cone in the battle for starting quarterback.

“That’s what you compete for,” said Threet, who transferred from Georgia Tech last year. “You want to be the guy taking the snaps out there in front of 110,000. But that comes in time. Right now it’s spring practice – learning the offense and things like that.”

Threet ran a spread offense in high school before nearly winning Georgia Tech’s starting job last year.

“I never really doubted my ability to compete for the quarterback job, especially at a place like Michigan,” Threet said.

Sheridan, a walk-on, broke his tailbone his senior year at Saline High School and didn’t receive any scholarship offers.

“I understand football,” said Sheridan, whose father, Bill, coached the defensive line and linebackers at Michigan (2002-04). “I understand what helps you win and what makes you lose.”

Rodriguez praised the offense for turning the ball over just once in 100 plays in a scrimmage Saturday. He also said the offense completed enough long passes that he was discouraged with the defense.

Defensive standouts: Rodriguez listed fifth-year senior John Thompson, redshirt sophomore Obi Ezeh and junior Stevie Brown as the defensive players who have stood out in the spring.

Thompson is trying to take the starting middle linebacker job from Ezeh, who was a Freshman All-American last year. Redshirt sophomore Jonas Mouton and sophomore Marell Evans appear to be leading the way at the outside spots. Rodriguez said the linebacker corps was one of the deepest units on the team.

Stevie Brown, who was cited by Mike Hart as a potential breakout player, started at free safety in last year’s opener against Appalachian State before being replaced by then-fifth-year senior Brandent Englemon.

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