[Ed. A—Thanks to Orion Sang and The Michigan Daily crew for passing along audio]
“Yeah, great. Lot of good work in. It’s been a good spring, productive. Seen good improvement so very good and very positive.”
Your first year with safeties. What do you like about those guys?
“Yeah, it’s Awesome. I like—for me personally, it’s a different perspective. You know, looking at spacing, route combinations. Got a really good group. Guys that are hungry, that are competing. There’s eight guys that are all working back there, so really excited about all of ‘em.”
Was it a big adjustment for you in moving back and coaching the safeties?
“No, not really. You know, I didn’t know what it was going to be like the first day on the field, obviously, because you’re looking—when you’re coaching linebackers it’s all protections and run game to start. When you’re coaching safeties it’s all route combinations to start, so different perspective but no, I think it’s been smooth.
“I got coach Devin Bush with me, so it’s easy to lean on him if I need to, so he’s awesome and been great with it too. He’s played at the highest level at the position, so that always helps. But no, it’s been good. I think the transition’s been really good. I enjoy it.”
Josh Metellus took a lot of heat last year but sounds like he’s had a really good spring. He’s even played some corner at times in the scrimmages?
“He did for a day, yeah. We had to move him out there for a day. He did a hell of a job. I don’t know about the heat he took, but he’s had a really good spring for us. I really appreciate him. He comes to work every day. He’s an athlete that can play at a high level, and that’s what we expect out of him, and that’s—I talked to them moving forward, got to get him playing at a high, high level, and I expect that this year.”
What specific areas of improvement have you seen the safeties make over spring practices?
“It’s funny because I come from linebackers but one of the ways I wanted to really improve those guys was in physicality. We do a lot of things to improve their physicality in terms of getting off blocks and not allowing receivers to block us and things and that’s been a vast improvement I think.
“It’s easy for me because linebackers, that’s what you do, so that’s been really good. I wanted to really get detailed with their footwork. You know, every break means something, the way you break on a route. Every step means something. The angles you take—we’ve really honed down on the basics of that stuff.
“In the winter we really went to speed School, essentially. When we’re breaking on a route or breaking on the ball, it’s all about your directional step, gaining ground, and pointing in the right direction with your first two steps. I think they’ve gotten faster in that stuff throughout the winter and the spring, which is good as well.”
[Hit THE JUMP to learn why you should never, ever Flintstone]
When you say speed school, is that something you worked with Ben Herbert in saying come up with something that’s going to develop [them]?
“He does his own thing. But when we get them, it’s different. I’m not talking about their straight-line speed. That’s Ben and the agility and all that. I’m talkin’ about the ball’s thrown out there, point in your directional foot, gaining ground in your other foot so you break better. We call it ‘don’t Flintstone.’ Some people teach you just go up and down with your feet before you break. We want to gain ground immediately, so that’s what I’m talking about.”
“Yeah, Flintstones. Because you know like how they run? Yeah, the way Fred runs? We don’t like that, so that’s what I’m talking—more football related. They’re awesome, too. They’ve done an incredible job. Overall strength and speed of the team’s been awesome, too.”
You’ve been here pretty much since Jim first got here. What’s it like now to have those guys, the first wave who came in, as the leaders and the guys who kind of set the tone?
“In terms of the players?”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s really good to see these guys develop we’ve recruited from the beginning and see where they’re at and how they’ve matured and grown. It’s really—our first real class was the guys that are going into their third year and those are the leaders of the team right now and it’s an awesome class.
“They’re hungry to win. They came here to win a championship and now it’s getting to that pinnacle where it’s like put up or shut up. So, the way they’ve been working, they’re planning on putting up. We’re excited about that.”
We haven’t heard a ton about J’Marick [Woods]. Who are your third and fourth guys right now behind Tyree [Kinnel] and Josh?
“I mean, I really have a bunch of guys working. I’m not really categorizing one, two, three, four. They’re all working together. I feel like Tyree, Josh, J’Marick, Brad Hawkins, Jaylen Kelly-Powell…you know, Lou Grodman has had a hell of a spring. I’m excited about what he’s been able to do. He started last Saturday with the ones. Josh moved to corner, well here comes Lou Grodman, you know, #32. He looks like Jordan Kovacs out there.
“So those guys are all really working and I’m not saying, ‘Hey, this is the one, this is the two.’ We’re trying just to get them to work together and be a whole group together and we’ll let that sort out the week before the first game.”
What have the wide receivers done to kind of challenge the safeties and help them grow?
“We’re playing against the real deal out there. Those guys are really good football players. The biggest thing is every single time you line up you better be ready to go because you’ll get burned. So it’s really good. I think those guys are running around and playing so fast, and they’re all a year older.
“Those four freshmen that came in last year, it’s a whole different ballgame with them because just a year of growth for those guys. It’s a challenge every day in practice, which is what you want.”
That speed school thing, going back to that, is that something you picked up from other coaches, studying what they do with their players?
“You know, I don’t know. Yeah, I guess, right? I pick everything up from other coaches or else you wouldn’t know. Looking into safety play and getting guys at the highest level, we look at a lot of NFL stuff. Those guys play at the highest level, the schemes are elite, so looking at how those guys play and how they break on the ball so fast and quarterbacks that are throwing lasers, it’s like, well why are they any different? What do we need to do to get like those guys and be able to break on routes and understand?
“They don’t have any false steps. They don’t run in place before they break. Every step is optimal. So that’s one thing is I was like, hey, I gotta coach safeties now, I’m gonna go talk to and see and look at as much stuff as I could. That was one of the things I wanted to focus on was getting every step optimal for those guys.”
Who did you talk to?
“A lot of people. I mean, it’s easy here with coach Harbaugh to get connections in the NFL. I mean, that’s easy. I talked to as many people as I can.
“I also have this thing where I like talking to small school coaches, especially on special teams and even at the safeties because those guys, they might not get the talent and they also on the other side of things need to make sure they coach guys that are maybe a little slower than the receivers they’re playing. So I try to stay talking and communicating with people.”
DII? DIII? What’s a small school?
“You know, we had Bethune Cookman in here. We had Columbia. Trying to think…last year had Toledo in. I went out to West Point for a couple days. Just schools like that.”
This winter? Did you go out there this winter?
“Yeah, I did. Yes.”
And it’s because they’re developing guys who aren’t as maybe talented as the guys you’re getting here.
“Yeah, you just like what they’re doing. You see it on film, you watch them, and you just like what they’re doing so you just try to get with them, call them up, say, ‘Hey, you wanna clinic? You wanna talk some football and stuff?’ So it’s just, all those, they caught my eye. The connections you make, they catch your eye and you wanna go talk to them.”
You’re seeing more consistency from your punters and how are they doing?
“Um, well, they’re a year older, so right away, yes. You know, it’s funny because everyone’s like ‘Punt the ball! Just kick it!’ You know, we’re a pro-style directional team. Some of the NFL guys have trouble with that, so what we put on these guys is not easy. So when they come in and they’re young, it’s a lot.
“It’s a whirlwind of stuff because it’s not like you’re just catching and punting the ball. Snaps are faster, the rush is faster, we’re asking them to put it on a spot, so just that year has been really good for those guys and they’ve matured, both of them. I really, really like both of those guys and the way they’ve attacked the spring.”
Chris, you had an interesting offseason personally. You flirted with Alabama. It got serious. How serious was that and why did you come back?
“I mean, I kind of put that to rest, but I’ll answer. I guess the biggest thing is this is the place I wanted to be. I came back for the players. I came back because to me it’s like we can do everything we want to do here: we can win a national championship.
“I love the school. I think the environment, the people I work with—it’s like, well, hey, I can go and move on and coach for another great coach but I just felt like I didn’t need to make this whole thing a rat race and jump to the next job. I see that all over the place in college football and I wanted to just be different and there was really no reason.
“It was easy for me to decide to stay. It would have been harder to leave, no matter what the job was. And the guys that I recruited that I have a really good relationship with, just felt like it was better for me to see it out and see if we can do what we’ve come together to want to do.
“And I appreciate Jim. I’ve got to be loyal to him. He gave me a shot and not a lot of people would have gave a high school coach a shot, so walked into Jim’s office. ‘Coach, you want me to stay?’ ‘Absolutely.’ ‘Well, okay, I’m gonna be loyal to you.’ So that’s a big part of it, too.”
How flattering was it that Alabama came—
“I mean, yeah, that’s awesome. You’re talking about a team that just won the national championship so obviously it’s like…it’s a shock and first and it would have been the ability to work with another great coach and see a different perspective but at the same time I kind of love what’s going on here. Yeah, but it was flattering for sure.”
Is Donovan [Peoples-Jones] still taking punts?
“Yeah, he is, of course. And he looks like way more comfortable there. It’s funny, going into last year, I had three different people tell me, Do not start a freshman punt returner. Don’t do it. But he was the best we had and we wanted to live with it.
“We were so young across the board, you know. We had a first-year snapper, first-year punter, first-year kicker, so it was essentially like you know, what’s one more first-year guy? So we’re going to live through it. He had some highs and lows but I think he got better through the—I actually just told him in a meeting today he’s catching the ball better than he was at any time last year.
“He’s just more comfortable. That’s a hard thing to do, and for a freshman it’s like you’re reading the nose of the ball, the wind’s factoring in. There’s a lot of things that go into that [and] he’s now getting comfortable in that.
“We’re pretty dynamic back there. We’re moving toward instead of having one Jabrill and oh my god, what happens if Jabrill gets hurt, and then Donovan and all right, we have Grant and Grant went down and oh no, what are we gonna do, now we have a little stable of guys that are comfortable back there.”
Who else is in the stable?
“I like what Oliver Martin’s been doing. I like what David Long’s been doing. Grant’s back. Grant Perry’s back and healthy and he’s back there. I like what Chris Evans is doing back there. So it’s a nice group back there. Pretty dynamic”
You’ve got some new assistant coaches in. How quickly do you have to adjust to them and get to learn [about] them on the recruiting trail, because you guys were right in the middle of all that—
“Of course. Well, let me just say something: the coaches that are in here right now, you talk about—those are five-star coaches. These guys are unbelievable to work with. Just their energy, the way they approach everything, the way they coach, just the all-encompassing understanding the whole game.
“These are guys that like, for instance, Al [Washington] or Sherrone [Moore], special teams-wise, it’s like ‘Alright, well, we want to do a circuit today.’ ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ ‘Well, you’re just going to do the class drill,’ for instance Well, they can just do it. It’s not like I’ve got to sit down and show everything and take a lot of time. These guys are ball coaches, so I’m really excited for those. They’re awesome and they’ve gotten us better. So much better.
“Especially just—and I’m talking mostly special teams, because that’s where I really work with them. Al obviously is coaching on the defensive side, but the other guys, coach Mac [McElwain] coaching the returners. It’s like, holy cow, I don’t have to tell that guy anything! It’s like, Coach, you’ve got the returners. Go do it, do your thing. And those guys look great. That’s just—it takes a lot of the pressure off, for sure. Those guys are great, and on the recruiting trail they work, they get it, they take pride in it, they love it, so it’s been awesome. It really has.”
You’ve talked in the past how important the relationships and mentoring kids whether they come here or not is to you. They’ve kind of fit into that philosophy as well?
“Oh yeah. For sure, for sure. You constantly hear these guys on the phone and talking to kids and, you know, it’s easy. You’re recruiting a position and when they can say, Hey, I’m recruiting a guy. ‘Oh, coach Moore’s awesome, I talked to him last night.’ It’s like, phew, because t’s so hard to recruit.
“One coach cannot recruit one guy anymore. You need multiple coaches on each kid. That relationship needs to be fostered, so it’s way easier when those guys, I mean, you know those other people are talking to them and recruiting them and things like that. Those guys have been incredible.”
You targeting anybody in Paris?
[laughs] “No one in Paris, but I’m excited. That trip’s going to be great. Really excited for that.”