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Michigan football physicality in practice helping continue winning culture

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In order for Michigan football to become what Michigan football had long been understood as, the culture had to change. The intensity in practice had to change. Everything had to change.

And in 2021, everything did.

The accolades attained during the Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr years had washed away. And even in the early Jim Harbaugh years, there were similarities to the Wolverines teams of old, but they still weren’t exactly on the same par.

That’s because there was one thing missing: games seeming to be easier than practice.

Such a sentiment was common for the maize and blue teams in the 1980s and 1990s, and started to wane in the latter yeas of the 2000s. It started to return when Harbaugh took over, but it didn’t result in championships. Now, with three Big Ten championships and a national championship under their belts, the Wolverines are finding games easier because they’re facing such fierce competition on a daily basis.

“In practice, no matter what group’s out there — ones, twos, threes — we expect no drop-off, so everything should look the same,” senior edge rusher TJ Guy said. “And (practicing) is probably harder than the games because a lot of the mental aspect that goes into practice, coming here every day, practicing every day. So building that callus mentally and physically — you can’t not get ready with that grind every day.”

The mentality shift came when the Wolverines decided the best course of action was to be player-led and become the toughest, most physical team they could be. The emergence of the ‘Beat Ohio’ drill coincided with the beginning of what ended up being a three-game winning streak against the Buckeyes.

Now there’s a ‘Quest for Atlanta’ drill — Atlanta being where the national championship game will be held this year — which expands the toughness drills from being 7-on-7 or 9-on-7 to 11-on-11.

The physicality that the maize and blue are playing with continues to ramp up, and that’s what continues to make Michigan better.

“Michigan’s always iron sharpens iron, good guys go against good guys,” senior fullback Max Bredeson said. “And we have the classic ‘Beat Ohio’ drill — that’s a staple of Michigan football. The ‘Quest for Atlanta’ drill — same thing.

“Just physical practices, ones-on-ones. When you’re practicing against guys who could be better than the guys who you play during the season, it just helps everyone get better. So I’d say it’s still as physical as it’s ever been.”

When it comes to the culture and health of the program, no one could give a better report than an outsider, someone who knows what it takes to play college football but who is seeing what is happening in Ann Arbor for the first time. Such is the case for Northwestern transfer Josh Priebe.

Priebe was a standout on an emerging Wildcats offensive line before he decided to make an intra-Big Ten move. And now that he’s a Wolverine, though he’s still months away from playing in a real game, he knows that he’s massively improved given the competition he’s faced in spring ball.

“First off going against guys like Mason Graham and K.G. — there’s no way that’s not going to make you better,” Priebe said. “And I have had a decent amount of experience playing in the conference, and I haven’t gone against guys with that level and that ability.

“Sometimes you play teams where there’s one guy who’s a really good player, but when you have both of those guys, you’re gonna be going against them every single time. I think that level of competition, it forces you to get better. And I think that’s what’s so been so great about Michigan so far is that you just develop it, guys develop at such a higher rate because of the level of competition and just the overall culture surrounding that.”

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire