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Insider's perspective: A Michigan beat writer on the Wolverines

By George Thomas Published: September 13, 2013

In the coming weeks, we’ll turn over some of this space to a writer who covers the Akron Zips opponent each given week.  This week, we pick the brains of Mark Snyder, Michigan Wolverines beat writer for the Detroit Free Press:

Have U-M football fans accepted Brady Hoke fully as their coach?  Even during Rich Rodriguez’s first year, there seemed to be a lot of grumbling that he wasn’t the guy.  Is any of that heard around Hoke?

A: Certainly, and a lot of it was because of Rich Rodriguez. Michigan fans spent 40 years basking in success, without a losing season, then suddenly went 3-9, then 5-7. They appreciated everything  Hoke did, especially going 11-2 with a Sugar Bowl win his first season. That goodwill should last awhile.

Was it difficult for him to change the culture there after Rodriguez’s departure and is the job complete?

A: The players embraced him and the staff quickly, because they all had strong coaching reputations. They didn't ask much about the past and just coached how they had before. Offensive coordinator Al Borges won over many of the offensive players by adapting his offense to their skill set, especially quarterback Denard Robinson. As far as culture, Hoke immediately stressed the program traditions and embraced the alums. Few of the players ever discuss Rodriguez or his staff.

How different are quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner and what are the expectations for Gardner this season?

A: They're very different quarterbacks, even though both could win a footrace with nearly every defender they'd face. Gardner is five inches taller, has a bigger arm and a more accurate arm. Gardner has the ability to run the read option, but can operate just fine as a drop-back, pro-style quarterback and is actually more dangerous doing that because when he rolls, he can take off as easily as toss a 40-yarder. His expectations are to be one of the country's best quarterbacks and, two games into the season, he looks like it.

Michigan is giving up close to 20 points per game.  Is there a particular weakness on that side of the ball or have those points been scored in garbage time?

A: Central Michigan didn't score a touchdown, hitting only three field goals. Notre Dame scored 30 points but had only two offensive touchdowns. U-M's defense has been outstanding in the red zone.

How would you describe Michigan’s style of offensive play?

A: Their offense is intended to be a pro style, downhill power running attack but only the pro style passing game has emerged, They've run a number of plays out of a pistol set and Gardner has looked very comfortable throwing short and long. The tailbacks have not produced as much as the coaches would like but that's somewhat a function of three first-year starters on the interior of the offensive line. They'll look to establish the run if possible.

How would you describe Michigan’s style of defensive play?

A: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is know for mixing his defenses, using pressure and bringing it from different angles, but is primarily a 4-3 guy. There's a strong focus on the defensive line and its potential impact and the attention is shown as Mattison personally coaches the ends and Hoke the tackles. The issue with this defense -- aside from not getting enough pass rush with the front four -- is the unit's youth. There are only three defensive seniors who started the Notre Dame game.

How has Akron native Jarrod Wilson looked at free safety and is there any chance he holds on to that job once Courtney Avery returns?

A: Wilson has played well being a sophomore but that's not Michigan's barometer. He's been aggressive and was a playmaker in the opener, covering a lot of ground with his long strides and was helpful. But he had the chance to save a touchdown by making a tackle last week and got run over. He has more of the tall, long body the U-M coaches want but Avery's knowledge of the defenses and positioning will ensure he at least splits time initially. Wilson has the potential to be an impact player but needs more game experience in different situations.

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