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2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 79 can develop both verbal and non-verbal communication. That's the No. 1 thing. The other part is eliminating lost-yardage plays. That has to happen. You cannot have that." The Wolverine: How are the blocking schemes different now, compared to what they were doing last season? Nussmeier: "I don't know if it will be tremendously different. There may be some philosophical differences in how much we do of what. We tried to simplify the schemes. "Obviously, if we can master this, then we're good at something. It's trying to create an identity of who we are by establishing a few runs and getting our guys very comfortable in running those runs and then growing off of that." The Wolverine: How does an offensive line get better after losing two senior tackles in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft? Nussmeier: "The thing about offensive line play, you can have a great lineman or two but not play well as a front. It's five people working together. It's not an individual thing. "If one guy gives up and loses, it doesn't matter if the other guys win. It's a combination of what the five do. One of our big emphases has been playing together and playing as a unit. "Those guys are developing a lot of pride in how they play. We're going to be young. The biggest thing is how they jell together. Communication is huge, because if you're turning guys loose because of a lack of communication — who is actually blocking that individual — we can't have that." The Wolverine: What are your crucial statistics when it comes to winning offensive football? Nussmeier: "Over the history of football, there is one telling statistic that always shows up. It's the turnover margin. Just look at the history of football. If you win the turnover margin, you've got a darned good chance to win football games. "That's the first thing we focus on. It's always going to be about the ball, our ability to possess the ball in every possession. "Second, we've got to become more explosive. We talk about explosive plays, creating run plays that are over 12 yards, or pass plays that are over 16 yards. If you don't turn the ball over and you create explosive plays, even if you're not able to put points on the board, you're forcing the other team's offense to play on the longer field. "College football is obviously a game where you need to score points. It's about scoring points. If we can hang onto the football and create explosive plays, we will score points." The Wolverine: What have you seen from fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner, and how does he need to improve between now and the start of the season? Nussmeier: "The biggest thing about Devin coming off the injury, I thought he did a really good job. He went through everything this spring, fighting through an injury. It was good just to have him out there. "He learned not only a new system in the meeting room, but he was also able to go out and execute it on the field. That's a big part of it. "Devin has such great natural leadership ability. His ability to bring our guys together, get everybody focused on a common goal … he's still a work in progress at the position. He's learning every day, getting better every day. "If he can continue to improve each and every day, he has a chance to be a really good quarterback." The Wolverine: Gardner says you want him to run fewer times but retain that threat in the eyes of the defense. Is that summing it up accurately? Nussmeier: "Yes. It's important for any quarterback to play within the structure of the offense. At times, the structure of the offense gets distorted, for whatever reason. Whether it's something we do that we're not supposed to do or something the defense does where they win. "That's when you want the natural playmaking ability. That's when you want a guy like Devin Gardner to change the game back into your favor. A big part of what we've done is try and develop structure with freedom." The Wolverine: How vital is the success of your running game to any quarterback's success? Nussmeier: "We want to be fast, we want to be physical and we want to be explosive. If you're fast and you're physical, you've got a pretty good chance to run the football well. Then it becomes about making sure we've got a hat on a hat, avoiding the lost-yardage plays. "We've got to make sure we properly identify and get a hat on a hat, and that the backs take the ball and go north and south with it." The Wolverine: Are you encouraged by what you've seen, that it can happen in the run game this year? Nussmeier: "It's an identity. It's an attitude. It's who we're going to be. We're going to run the football. It all starts with the way we approach practice, the amount of time we spend on our inside run drills and developing the communication with the linemen, securing the line of scrimmage and our backs understanding we're going to take the ball and go north and south. "We're not going to have lost-yardage runs. It's going to be who we are. We are going to be a team that establishes the running game." The Wolverine: What are your thoughts on Jake Butt's progress and the tight end position overall? N u s s m e i e r : " J a k e 's i n j u r y w a s disappointing. He's done a tremendous job on his rehabilitation. We'll get him back at some point in time, but we don't know when. He's done an outstanding job. "I can't say enough about A.J. Williams' dedication. He's lost some weight, and he's worked extremely hard to get his weight down to where he can be more of a receiving threat, as well as the blocking tight end he is. I thought he had a really, really good spring and is becoming a really good player. "Keith Heitzman moved over from defense. Keith gives us a nastiness on the edge and had a really good spring, for a guy that is new to a position. Khalid Hill is a young player with a lot of potential. He needs to get better each and every day in training camp this year." The Wolverine: What are your thoughts on the wide receivers group you've got this year? Nussmeier: "It's a deep group. We've got a lot of different guys who can do things. Obviously, we moved Devin [Funchess] from the tight end position out to wide receiver. Devin can be as good as he wants to be. I'd anticipate big things from him this fall. He's had a really good spring, and continued to work hard in the offseason. "I think the addition of Freddy Canteen is great. Freddy is going to surprise a lot of people this year with his natural playmaking ability — very quick, very explosive. "Jehu Chesson had a really good spring. He's been a guy who has become a jack- of-all-trades, doing a lot of different things for us. To get [Amara] Darboh back off his injury will be key to our success. Dennis Norfleet gives us that craftiness in the slot. He's a very quick guy. "We're trying to get our guys to understand the things that hindered us from being more successful last season, and the vision we want to create moving into the future." NUSSMEIER 78-80.Offense Q&A.indd 79 6/18/14 3:56 PM

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