- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football has the No. 1 rushing attack in the country through three weeks, and while the athleticism and vision of running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins obviously play a major part, so, too, does the offensive line and how they’ve played thus far.
While the line was thought to be among the team’s strengths, with a new position coach in Sherrone Moore, who moved over from tight ends, it was no sure thing that it would be among the Big Ten’s elite. Thus far, we might be witnessing the best in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, which is another big credit to the unit and its position coach.
On Wednesday, offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore met with the media inside Oosterbaan Fieldhouse to discuss the state of the O-line through three weeks and why they’ve been so good. Here is what he had to say.
Building a culture in the offensive line room
"Yeah, the first thing I think is a lot of those guys know me from coaching tight ends, so they have a good feel of who I am as a person -- I'm not gonna change. The first thing I told them is that for us to be successful as a team, it starts with us. We've gotta run the team in every aspect, every shape, and form. Every good team I've been around, it's the offensive line that's controlled the team. Really, that's the first thing that I said and then let them know I'm gonna coach you hard, but I'm gonna love you harder. I think that's been the message and what I've tried to implement and do since I've taken over the position. And really be myself and not being anything else. "I love to have fun with the game -- it's a fun game. But when it's time to work, it's time to work. But at the same time, we have to make sure -- they're kids, man! They're 18-22 year olds and they're thinking about all types of stuff. So you have to make sure you mold to them just as much as anything."
Has the O-line run the team thus far?
"We're on the right (path), right progression to be there. But we're only three games in -- we'll see by the end of the year where we're at."
How much has he seen the O-line's attitude change and the willingness to 'smash?'
"It's true! They've embraced it, man. It's been fun. It started in the spring. You could kinda see it building and then in camp you could really feel the attitude and the energy and the violence that they just implemented into their game. I tried to implement it as much as I could and they just embraced it. It's been fun to watch and it's been fun to be a part of. It's really the guys, it's all the hard work they've put in with Herb, the staff, and then just on the field, they've done an outstanding job. So really, kudos to them."
On Andrew Vastardis' run blocking and the effect on the offense
"Yeah, with V, he's had an amazing offseason, which really set him up for this year. Strength gains, flexibility and all the things. He's always had the intelligence piece of it, so he allows you to do the things in the run game that people might not be able to because he can get you pointed in the right direction 99% of the time. Can't say 100%, because sometimes he makes mistakes, too. But he's been amazing for us. He's been great as a leader in the room, he's one of the leaders on the team. He's been outstanding for us to do exactly what you're saying."
What has Zinter meant to the O-line and how does the club on his hand impact him?
"I think regardless of the club or not, he's one of the better football players on the team. He just brings an attitude, a strength, a violence that you just can't teach. He does have the club on his hand, but it really hasn't restricted him that much. He's still been able to do the things we need him to do to be successful, so he's been good for us to have back."
Has he been one of the best players?
"Oh yeah, for sure. Just the athletic ability for a man that size and ability. The physicality that he brings. And he's still learning the game, but his ceiling is so high. He's an extremely smart player, but he just brings the attitude and the violence you need at the position, for sure."
Does he know how long will he need the club?
"Not specifically. I stay away from all the stuff when it deals with the trainers and doctors. I'll let them handle that, so not really sure."
On Zinter's inability to grab with the club on
"We're always teaching that your feet block people. The faster his feet are, the better his feet are, the more able he is to block. So I think that's really helped him. He's really athletic, quick twitch, so that helps him a lot. There's always gonna be restriction when you have one hand or a club, but the things you can do to position yourself to put yourself in the right body position is what really overcomes all that."
Cade McNamara's role in the run and his ability to make adjustments
"Well, Cade's been outstanding. He's not a captain, but he is a leader as the quarterback for our team. He's done a really good job for us in the run game. There's a lot of things he can do. He's just been steady Eddie for us and he gets everything for us pointed in the right direction. He's been good for us. As far as directions, I won't let you know how far he adjust the run game or not. But he's been great for us in the run game as well."
How closely does he pay attention to Pro Football Focus?
"I don't really look at it. I know there's all types of rankings and those kinds of things, but they don't know what play is being run, so they can grade things totally different than we can see it. There's validity in some of it, but we don't base our grades based upon how they grade things, because they don't know if the right footwork was taken or (path) was taken or where the hands were supposed to be. I don't know what metrics of what they grade are, but I'm sure it's pretty accurate for what they're looking at. But it's a lot different than what we're looking at."
The synergy between the O-line and the tight ends in the run game
"It's extremely important. Those guys work together every single day in some way, shape or form working together. When I was coaching the tight ends, every single day, we did a period or so, just in individual, working together. Obviously, when we get into team periods, we're always working together. So it's extremely important that we're doing that. The tight ends have done an outstanding job. They don't get enough credit of how they've done blocking, too, in the run game, because they're just as important as the linemen in the run game and they've done a really good job. So yeah, it's extremely important for those guys to be on the same page. It's like a dance team, they've gotta be perfect."
Evaluating the pass protection thus far
"Yeah, it's been great. The guys have -- and the better you're running the ball, the better you're gonna be passing it, because one: those guys are gonna rush a little less and they're gonna be more beat up, too. We like to make sure those guys don't come off the ball just as hard. Those guys have done a good job in pass protection so far as we've gone through the games."
What he saw from the backups vs. NIU
"Yeah, they've done a really good job. It was cool to see that you put the second group in and you don't really miss a beat and you play just as hard and just as strong up front as they did. It was really awesome to see those guys and watch Crippen, watch Reece Atteberry, watch Trente Jones, watch Karsen Barnhart -- who's played a lot of football. Watch those guys, watch those guys play football. It was a lot of fun to watch them go and not be scared -- just roll. Crippen was like, 'It's just like practice!' Yeah, but it's not! It's a game. But it's fun to watch those guys go out there and play with confidence. It's really helped us and it's gonna help us down the road."
Are there still any position battles?
"We always say that the depth chart is a living organism so it's always moving, it's always shaking. I think the best part of having really good players behind you is that it makes the guys that are the ones to be even better, because if you're not, your spot can get taken. So I think it's always gonna be a battle to see who's gonna be the one that week. But the guys have done a really good job competing and the guys at the top want to stay at the top, so they're not letting anybody (replace them) right now."
Does he feel more at home coaching the offensive line?
"You know, it's crazy, because I've actually coached tight ends maybe as long as I played offensive line, because I only played offensive line since I was a junior in high school. Obviously in college (at Oklahoma). I've been coaching tight ends for a while. I do feel at home, maybe a little bit more than tight ends, but not too much more. There's something about the O-line that's special. The camaraderie between five guys on the field, there's just something special that you really love. It is a cool position to be in."
How the 3-0 start has impacted recruiting
"I think the more you win, the better players you always get. That's always going to be something for us that you have to do. The more you win, the more guys are gonna look at you, the more recruiting is gonna ramp up. It's always gonna have a positive effect, for sure."
How do you teach becoming a nastier player on the field?
"I don't know if there's really one way to say it or talk about it. It's a mindset of how you talk about how to approach the game when you cross the white lines. You either got it or you don't. You can scream until you're blue in the face, but if a guy can't flip the switch, then he's probably not playing offensive line. So, I think that's really the biggest thing, just coaching the mindset of how to do it."
Was it easy for him when he played?
"Yeah. I had a little anger problem. Nah, it was pretty easy. I used to play basketball and the reason I stopped playing basketball was because I fouled out a lot. Basketball ended up not being the sport. I thought I was gonna be a center in the NBA at 6-4. I was sadly mistaken."
Do run plays or pass plays result in more injuries?
"I don't know. I've never even thought of it like that. I never even heard of that study, so I'm gonna have to look into that. If you ask our guys, I don't think they care. They'd look at pass plays as they do as runs -- just another chance to smash somebody. "No, not really ever looked at it like that, no."
Does he detect a new swagger with this group?
"Really, with the team. I think it's really the culture that we've built and tried to implement. The guys, when they walk in the building, they've got life about them, they're high energy. And the practices are super fun and the guys are enjoying them. I think whenever kids are enjoying something and putting their all into it, you get a great result, which is what you're getting right now. I think the new staff has been awesome. Everybody's like brothers. It's a fun staff to be around and the players really feed off of that. I think they can see that and feel it. So that's all been great. I think the culture has really implemented that part of it."
What does culture mean?
"It's the building of what you have. It's not really something you can describe, it's something you feel, something you see. It's the identity of your team, the identity of everybody in the building. Everybody is rolling in one direction -- it's alignment. I think that's what we have. Alignment is really the key piece of it. "I read a study one time, it's called the 10-80-10 study about alignment of a business. There's 10% of people that really buy-in, there's 80% that are in the middle, and there's 10% that really don't care. And if you can get that 10% to drag the 80%, you create a 100, because the other 10% is out of it. And I think we're pretty close to that. I think we're there, which is why you're getting the result. "It's only game 3, so we'll get to next week and see what happens. I just keep working towards where we want to be."
How much does winning effect culture?
"It always does -- I think it's human nature. I think what you really find is when the chips are down, adversity happens, how you respond. You start to see a couple games, we were fortunate, we've been ahead in most of the games. I think everybody's got each other's back and I think that's the most important thing."
How does he get guys ready for adversity since they haven't faced it yet?
"Practice, man! You're going up against Aidan Hutchinson and Ojabo and all those guys every day. My guys are always dealing with adversity because if you don't set the right way, Aidan Hutchinson bull-rushes you or goes outside or Ojabo beats you around the edge or Chris Hinton's in the middle. The practice -- how we practice has really helped our team offensively, defensively, and special teams, to make sure we're ready for the games."
Does the line do anything different for the different backs?
"No, we just -- the thing you have to avoid is our guys looking at our backs after they hit the hole. Because we've got some special backs that are as good as anybody in the country. But no, we don't adjust anything different. The scheme is the scheme called and those guys just hit it as hard as they can."
Who are the freak athletes on the team?
"Probably Aidan and probably Blake Corum. Pretty close -- those guys are as elite athletically as you can think. When you watch them, when you watch them run, when you watch them do things on the field when you watch them on game day that kinda speaks for it."