Michigan head coach Brady Hoke seems to have a knack for suggesting there is a battle for a starting job at positions that likely already have the starters figured out. After trying to suggest there is a competition at quarterback this offseason, Hoke is also setting the tone for the defensive backs despite having a pair of players that combined for 10 interceptions last season. The message is clear though; there is room for improvement across the board in Ann Arbor.
Fall camps in college football should always be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of a clean slate across the roster, but Michigan has senior cornerbacks Raymon Taylor and junior Blake Countess the likely starters for the upcoming season, whether Hoke confirms that or not. Hoke sees these two players as leaders but goes on the record of saying “they’ve got to play every day.”
“I think Blake and Ray, they’re both older guys, who have played a lot,” Hoke said Friday, according to MLive.com. “Then you’ve got (sophomores) [Jourdan Lewis] and [Channing Stribling], guys who have done a nice job (developing). The leadership from Blake is going to be important, and from Raymon. But there’s also great competition. They’ve got to play every day. … They all know, they’d better have a day, every day.”
Why would Hoke shy away from just leaning on his upper classmen, including one earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall (Countess)? Simple. Michigan’s pass defense needs to improve and cut down on big plays by opposing offenses. Everybody on defense needs to step things up this season in order for Michigan to improve in the win total and Big Ten standings. If Michigan State has a no-fly zone in effect, all air traffic appears to be seeing clearer skies in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines ranked seventh in the Big Ten in pass defense in 2013, the lowest conference ranking since Hoke was named head coach following the Rich Rodriguez era, which ended with Michigan ranked 11th (out of 11 teams at the time) in the Big Ten’s passing defense ranking. The 231 passing yards per game allowed last season by Michigan was the second highest total allowed dating back to 2007.
As for the quarterback situation, Hoke previously has said he plans to have a starter figured out early in camp. Spoiler alert: It will (most likely) be Devin Gardner.
Earlier this week, Brad Lambert added a longtime Power Five assistant to his Charlotte coaching staff. Not long after, he has added another.
The 49ers announced in a release that Keith Henry has been hired by Lambert as his running backs coach. The 49ers’ coach at that position last season, Damien Gary, will shift to wide receivers.
Henry and Lambert (pictured, left) were on the same staff at Wake Forest, so they have a previous working relationship.
“Keith brings a lot of experience to our program,” said Lambert in a statement. “Having coached on both sides of the ball, he brings an added dimension of a defensive perspective to our offense. We’re really glad he’s coming on board with us. He’s a North Carolina native who’s played in North Carolina and has recruited for many, many years in North and South Carolina. That will be a huge benefit to our program with the relationships he’s built over the years.
“He’s been very successful and been a part of winning football at Ohio, Wake Forest and Catawba.”
Henry spent 11 seasons with the Demon Deacons (2001-11). He coached on the defensive side of the ball for the first 10 years before spending his final season with the ACC school as special teams coordinator. His last job on the offensive side of the ball came as wide receivers coach at Ohio in 1996.
An off-field incident involving alcohol has unofficially cost an assistant coach a job.
It had been reported that Gerad Parker, who served as Purdue’s interim head coach last season, decided to leave his new job at Cincinnati to take another at East Carolina. That reported move was complicated after reports surfaced that, following a going-away party in West Lafayette early Tuesday morning, the coach was pulled over and charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
Parker had been expected to take over the wide receivers coach job at ECU; Wednesday, multiple reports indicated that the Pirates are moving on from the coach in light of the recent development.
In a tweet that has since been deleted from his Twitter account, Parker apologized. “I’m sorry to all my friends and family,” the coach wrote. “Thanks to all that have reached out and shown support.”
Parker would’ve replaced Phil McGeoghan, who left ECU in late January for a job with the Buffalo Bills. ECU’s search for a replacement will continue.
After making some changes to the coaching staff this offseason, Kentucky is locking in offensive coordinator Eddie Gran for the next few seasons. Kentucky has signed Gran to a contract extension good through the 2019 season, according to The Courier-Journal.
According to the reported contract extension, Gran will be paid $825,000 in the 2017 season and will be given a $25,000 raise each of the next two seasons. A buyout cost of $150,000 per years is also added to the contract should he leave for another job during that span. Gran was originally under contract through the 2018 season, so his new deal tacks on an extra year in Lexington. The extended contract also bumps Gran’s pay by $175,000 compared to his previous contract.
Kentucky may have finished the 2017 season ranked 9th in the SEC in total scoring, but the Wildcats bumped up their average points per game by roughly six points in 2016 compared to the 2015 season. Kentucky also had the SEC’s third-most productive rushing attack with an average of 234.15 rushing yards per game and 30 rushing touchdowns. Only Auburn and Alabama had better averages and touchdown totals (and Alabama had two more games to pad the stats).
Kentucky has room to improve in the passing game after finishing the 2016 season ranked 13th in passing offense in the 14-team SEC. Kentucky also had an SEC-high 28 turnovers lost in 2016, with 16 fumbles and 12 interceptions thrown.
Gran joined the Kentucky program last year after a three-year stint at Cincinnati as offensive coordinator. Gran has previously been an assistant at Florida State, Tennessee, Auburn, and Ole Miss as well.
Nebraska wide receivers coach Keith Williams pled no contest to charges from a DUI incident last August. On Wednesday, he received his sentence from a county judge and learned he would be sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation.
According to The Lincoln Journal-Star, Williams was also fined $1,000 for his latest DUI charge. Williams has until March 3 to apply for house arrest, although prosecutors made a push for Williams to serve his time behind bars after not being locked up for two prior DUI charges.
Nebraska opens spring football practices on March 4. If he is ruled eligible for house arrest, that would allow Williams to continue coaching in the spring. Otherwise, he could have to miss at least some of Nebraska’s spring practices depending on when his jail sentence would begin.
Williams was pulled over for driving under the influence last August with a BAC above .15. Further complicating things was the fact Williams also had two previous convictions for DUI. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley suspended Williams without pay through the end of August and was prohibited from coaching in Nebraska’s first four games of the 2016 season.