At the annual University of Michigan Spring Game last week, the defense made an interception, didn’t allow a single pass downfield and stopped quarterback Denard Robinson in his only series.
And all head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison did was complain about it.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Mattison said. “We’ve got to become a lot more physical.”
Last year’s team was one of the most improved defenses in the country, with Hoke and Mattison at the center of the turnaround.
Hoke especially pointed to the lack of strength up the middle, saying his defense was too lateral in its playmaking and did not attack the football the way he likes.
But he also acknowledged that the unit was improved over last year’s team.
“I think we’re tougher as a team than we were this time last year,” Hoke said.
Mattison was pleased with the way his defensive line responded to some changes he has made this spring, pointing out the play of defensive end Craig Roh especially.
“I feel very comfortable with the moves. That might be one of the bright spots of the spring,” Mattison said. “I wanted to see how they’re going to play under the gun. I think this group wants to be really good.”
Despite the criticism of their coaches, the defense was the better of the two sides. A pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate, Robinson played the opening series before sitting for the rest of the day. With Robinson on the bench, backups Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy had a chance to showcase their skills.
Gardner clearly struggled during the game, throwing an interception and fumbling two exchanges from under center. His passes were often inaccurate, and the junior looked tentative during his time on the field.
The running game carried the load for the offense; both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls found their way to the end zone. Hoke has been impressed with Rawls throughout spring practice.
“I think Thomas has had a good spring. I really like his physical-ness, he’s hard to tackle. He’s a good football player,” Hoke said.
With four months left until the team and its coaches will be allowed to start working together, the coaching staff is confident that the players will improve on their own before the start of the next camp.
“Our staff and this program believe in working very hard at improvement in the summer,” Mattison said, “and not just lifting weights.”