ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It was a bittersweet Monday for Michigan football as the team celebrates a win over Western Michigan and starts preparing for 0-1 Washington on Saturday night, but it does so knowing that Ronnie Bell will be unavailable for the rest of the season.
Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media for his weekly press conference and confirmed right out of the gates that Bell will have season-ending surgery in the near future.
Harbaugh also talked about what he saw this past week, what he expects from Washington, who were his standout players and who he anticipates will fill in for Ronnie Bell, both at wide receiver and on punt returns.
Here is everything that Harbaugh had to say.
Any update on Ronnie Bell?
"Yes, unfortunately Ronnie will be out for the season. He has a knee injury. It's a shame. "Ronnie won our player of the game. He had a phenomenal game. Along with Blake, making the big plays, carrying our offense early in the game. Got the big play on the long pass. Great contested catch and then finishing the run. And then, one of the best catches I've ever seen in my life, the one-handed catch. He was able to stay in-bounds. Very clean and tremendous catch. Punt return in which he got injured, unfortunately, he was just having a great game."
On players who stepped up in Bell's absence
"Yeah, a lot of people there. Mike Sainristil had a tremendous game, blocking and on special teams. Roman Wilson aided on the touchdown block along with Hassan Haskins. Blocking 40-50 yards downfield on AJ Henning's catch-and-run. "Yeah, there's no doubt. Talking to Ronnie, he's gonna continue to lead from the sideline and be a big part of our team. Fortunately, everything is surgically repairable. Ronnie really appreciates everybody's thoughts and prayers, as do we."
How Ronnie Bell can stay involved
"No question about it. We talked about it. Ronnie's drive is so high that it would be a tough, gruly rehab, as all injuries are. But if anybody can do it, Ronnie will. "From my own personal experience, having a season-ending injury, the best way not to be left out is to help out. Leading from the sideline, being a captain. Also, what he can contribute intellectually -- because he's a smart guy. I remember Lloyd Carr pulling me into his office and asking me to chart secondary coverages for the defense and learn coverages and watch tape. It was one of the best things that ever happened in my career. Ronnie definitely is driven, cares about the team and will continue to be a big part of it, I'm sure."
Process for offensive staff finding Bell's replacement
"It's gonna be very difficult to replace Ronnie Bell. Really tough, really tough. Seasoned, experienced, tremendous blocker. Such a competitor, such a gamer -- as some guys are. He just wants it really bad. So that's -- those are the good players. The good players are the ones who want it the most and now somebody's task to try to fill those shows. Maybe one guy, maybe take two, two types of players to fill those shoes."
Early thoughts on his replacements
"The guys that were already getting the opportunity. Cornelius Johnson, already playing, starting. Mike Sainristil, Roman Wilson was immediately out there and he was already in the rotation. AJ Henning, Daylen Baldwin, Andrel Anthony -- though he's young, I see a bright future for him and Cristian Dixon. Those are the immediate guys. Most of them have gotten game experience and are ready to go."
When is his surgery and how long will rehab take?
"We don't have a date set for that right now."
Residual impact of the transfer portal with Bell out and Giles Jackson gone
"I'm not equating those or conflating those types of -- Ronnie's -- you got great players that can return punts. And Ronnie's a great player. Much like guys we've had in the past. Jabrill Peppers, Giles, go back to Steve Breaston, Desmond Howard, Charles Woods. Those are, those great players impact the game from that position."
Who stood out on defense?
"Defensively, Aidan Hutchinson, Dax Hill. Those two played great. There was some real examples of really good play all across the board on our team, but there were some group examples of guys playing just how you want them to play. Dax, Aidan, Josh Ross. Offensively Ronnie Bell, Blake Corum, Cade McNamara, the tight ends. Andrew Vastardis had a tremendous game, so did Stueber. Caden Kolesar on special teams was our player of the game on special teams. Played the most, played 23 plays. Mike Sainristil was right there, next best on special teams. Guys just setting the example of how to play in a game. Especially for a lot of players who were just playing for the first time, playing in their first game. Tremendous to have on tape -- teaching tool.
Will Caden Kolesar continue to return punts?
"Possibly. He's also our best rusher on punts. He's also our best hold-up guy. Ultimately AJ Henning -- when he gets, if he could get really comfortable back there catching the ball, that's an ideal position for him, as well as receiver. Right now, Caden is the most sure-handed guy, next-best from Ronnie. Problem is if he returns the punts, he's not rushing, blocking and holding up. So many other places he could play on the punt return. We'll figure that out as we go."
Pros and cons of playing a starter-type on special teams
"The best players play positions. That's the way it works."
Teams in the NFL don't allow valuable guys to return kicks and punts
"Antonio Brown. Quite a few. He did it at Central, he did it in the NFL."
What has he seen on tape from Washington?
"So, watching this game, going back to the previous season as well. Very good football team. Digging through them right now and have been -- we've dedicated some practices in training camp to them -- camp to them as well. Fine football team."
Reaction to Washington losing to Montana
"I don't think it's relevant. You always think the first game is the second-hardest to prepare for, but the second game is even harder. Because both games will go back and work on -- they know where they're at, they go back and work on the things that they need to improve and they will. It's a race to make those improvements in one week. Got a good idea that Washington has been preparing for us for a long time. It's an important game for both teams so I think that makes that first game irrelevant. As it most always is, but as they say, especially in this second game scenario."
What players at Washington does he respect?
"We're gonna respect a lot of their players! Defensively, their two corners are elite. 48 is a tackling machine. Quarterback is really, really good, really efficient. Really good backs. It's a solid team all the way around. Front seven and the secondary is really good."
Was there a process to getting J.J. McCarthy in the game?
"Was really fortunate and good that that was able to occur. Not just at quarterback but at a lot of positions."
Was there a plan to get J.J. in the game?
"It just played out."
How Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton held up on the interior
"Yeah, I thought they held up pretty good. We got into where we were playing some coverage, playing some two-deep coverages. The box was five, six at times. I thought they did well. The run game, we got that pretty controlled. They did bleed out some yards here and there, but for the most part, I felt like we did a pretty good job against the run and pushing the pocket, getting pressure on the quarterback showed up as well."
Was Mike Macdonald as cool, demeanor-wise, as he thought he'd be?
"Yeah. Yeah. He was good. He was real good."
How did the offensive line grade out?
"Offensive line graded out good, consistently good. Vastardis was lights out, he was tremendous. Stueber was really good, and Hayes. Guards were good and consistent, too. As far as what the lineup would be this week, we'll address that and see what it looks like in practice. "Also, Zinter did a nice job in his role as the sixth offensive lineman in the game, as well."
Younger players playing in the game
"It was good. I think the first time, really getting some consistent playing time, Nikhai had some really good, physical plays. He'd been practicing at such a high level. And then Junior, I thought he played really well as well. Ojabo, Mike Morris -- there's a lot of guys that haven't played a ton that we're out there. We kind of think of them as steady regular guys. Kinda forget that they haven't played too much in games. Factoring all that in, acquitted themselves pretty darn good."
Balancing the talents of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins
"I think you have a pretty good example from the first game. Both standout players. We've been saying they're both the starting running back. Said we were gonna lean on them and ride them, that's the plan. Been pretty transparent about that."
Will we see Donovan Edwards get a more prominent role?
"Yeah, yeah. I think, no doubt. He just had the feel that the way he was running the ball, breaking tackles, driving through -- he was doing a really good job of going north and south. That's been a big coaching emphasis. Been used to just trying to run everything around everybody all the time. That's been a steady process. It's all nothing but north and south out of Donovan. It's gonna be a matter of time before he breaks one. Just have that feeling on the sideline. Same thing after watching the tape. He just wants it so bad, he's one of those types of players. Yeah, we'll be seeing more of Donovan Edwards."
Did he play as many players as he did by design?
"Pretty much go into every game wanting that, but yeah, as it played out, we wanted to play guys, play them early, get them that game experience once the game presented itself to have that opportunity. 73 guys played. There will be times where, especially some of the freshmen won't be traveling a week, or have the opportunity to play. The opportunity to get a game, get that experience. We'll be mindful of four games that they can play in and still be a redshirt. Keep a close eye on that. Felt like first opportunity, would like to see them get that experience and applying talent."
What did Daxton Hill do so well?
"Just the thing that stood out live -- he was all over the field. He was in tight coverage, he was tackling, he was getting off blocks, always in the right spot. Did a good job with communication on the back-end. Him and B-Hawk both did that. There was no hesitancy. He was just reacting -- anticipating and reacting. It's gonna be a great example for RJ Moten. It could be similar. Take some of the things that you're visually seeing Dax Hill do and the way he responds, reacts and anticipates. It'll be a process getting RJ there, but can't have a better example of a guy right at your own position."
Will Dax and RJ continue in their positions as they did on Saturday?
"Yeah, when we go to the nickel, Dax is, he's that guy, he's that nickel player, that top nickel player. Then two safeties become B-Hawk and RJ."