Troy Woolfolk is coming for your. Photo via: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Sport
Just like last year, I had the chance to sit down and interview Michigan's three team representatives at Big Ten Media Days. I didn't have as much time with the players this year as I would've liked (generally around 15 minutes per table given my own time constraints), but they were all great young men and gave honest, funny answers to questions I'm sure they'd heard 1,000 times. I've already given you my general impressions. I'll give you the rundown of all three sit downs individually, and finish up the series with the wrap up of what I came away with from Coach Rodriguez. We've already covered Michigan Football's Starting Right Guard, Stephen Schilling, and Michigan's starting Fullback/Linebacker Mark Moundros. Today we're sitting down with Michigan's No. 1 Cornerback, Troy Woolfolk.
Troy Woolfolk is a confident guy. No matter what angle you look at him, he always seems to have a grin on his face. He answers questions directly, quickly, almost as if knows what you're going to ask before you finish your sentence. What made Troy stand out to me so much at Media Days was just how different he was from his teammates, and for that matter the majority of the athletes present at the event. Physically, Troy is not an imposing guy in comparison to Schilling or Moundros. But he doesn't have to be, he's a cornerback more concerned with running stride for stride with antelopes and making last second cuts than trying to lift a bus or compete in the worlds strongest man competition.
When you talk to Woolfolk you quickly pick up on what a sharp kid he is. He's very bright and possesses a keen sense of humor that inserts itself into the conversation naturally, without being forced. Another thing you pick up on is Woolfolk's desire and his intention to be the best cornerback in the Big Ten. He talks with a level of confidence that you would expect out of a 7th year pro, rather than a second year corner, irrespetive of his age and time in the program. Whether he's discussing the things that drive him to be better or how he wants to shape this team, his team, into a winner, Woolfolk is forthright and candid in his answers.
He's also funny. Woolfolk dropped plenty of good one liners and the guy is just fun to talk to. But be that as it may, he's also every bit as deadly serious about this season as Stephen Schillingand Mark Moundros. He tells you how much the loss to Michigan State eats at him, how bad he wants to win, and how hard he's willing to push his teammates to get there. Troy's a hell of a kid, and I really enjoyed sitting down with him.
On the Overall Defense This Year
If you ask Troy, he'll be the first to admit that last year the defense had it's problems with execution. Simply based on the number of new faces on Michigan's defense, Troy said that guys were thinking too much and not reacting enough to what was going on. As a result, players simply couldn't pay attention to the little details that eventually ended up costing Michigan games.
Troy thinks, to some extent, that some of those issues were related to the defense being too complicated for all the young guys on the field. And it seems that the coaching staff agrees with him. This season, the defense has been simplified further to allow players to react rather than over think.
Troy puts a lot of stock in defensive backs having a sense of calmness on the field to go along with their own sense of confidence. He said that over the last few years the Michigan defensive backs as a whole didn't seem to have that sense of calmness and confidence because they were so young. Last year in particular, there were a lot of young guys still trying to figure out their roles, and be players at this level.
In looking at the team this spring and during the off season, he believes the sense of calmness seems to be coming, but he was quick to point out that the confidence aspect will only come with winning.
On Michigan's Running Backs
Troy was legitimately excited when talking about the running back situation. While he pointed out that he hadn't seen a lot of Vincent Smith since his injury, it looked like towards the end of spring and over the summer that Smith was bouncing around and running at full speed. So that's a nice thing to hear. Troy was complimentary for Michael Shaw at tailback saying he "goes hard every play", but he seems to be really impressed with Michael Cox.
To Troy, Cox is one of those running backs who loves to "bring a punch" when he runs. Describing him as the toughest guy on the team to bring down (granted, after I asked him to name the hardest guy to bring down), Troy emphasized to us just how strong Cox' legs are. According to Woolfolk, Cox squats over 500 lbs. Just so we're clear, that's a medium sized Grizzly Bear or a little more than two of me. Jeebus.... Troy went on to tell us,
I've seen Mike Martin, who is one of the strongest guys on our team, I've seen Mike Martin on his back trying to get him down. And he just couldn't. And Mike [Cox] was running with him for an extra five yards. I can't wait to see defenders try to bring him down.
Count me as one of those people as well. /squeals/
On His Fellow Corner J.T. Floyd
"J.T. Floyd. reminds me of Morgan Trent in the way that he's so calm, when you're calm it allows the to game slow down for you."
Um. I hope the Morgan Trent comparisons stop at being calm, because if the extend to overrunning your pursuit angle, making awful breaks on the ball, and generally getting torched by anyone in a rascal on a one move deep pattern, this potentially scares the shit out of me. HOWEVA, thankfully Troy expanded further on this, saying that Floyd legitimately seems to "get" the offense, and that his understanding of the defense has allowed him to perfom at a high level. Troy repeated on numerous occasions that he is very confident in Floyd and thinks they can be one of the better Big Ten corner combos.
There is some support for that. Troy told us that Floyd has been making plays all spring and looks good in summer workouts.
On Free Safety Cameron Gordon
Troy told us that Cam Gordon is surprisingly very physical, which is weird for converted wideout. Usually when people make the switch they don't bring a physical presence. But Gordon has been making big hits and big plays ever since he switched over to defense. Troy was quick to point out that Gordon is still very young, but he also pointed out that Cam is starting to understand the grand scheme of the defense and could be something special.
When Donovan Warren left, there were a lot of people in the media and in the chat rooms lamenting that Michigan didn't have a No. 1 Corner heading into the year. Well, that hasn't bothered troy, because he's confident he'll be one of the better corners in the league this year. Troy told us that as the year went on, he obtained the sense of calmness and confidence that he needed to play at and maintain playing at a high level. Putting it succinctly,
I feel like I can shut down any receiver.
Troy went on to tell us that he feels the experience he gained playing both at safety and at corner allows him to be more of a leader on the defense. Now when he looks at his role, and everyone's role in the defense, he better understands what is going on because he knows the positions and what's required of them. In terms of being a leader, it means he can help out the young safeties and young corners with their assignments and make up for those times when the young guys miss something.
On a personal level, the experience means he now understand every play in the playbook a lot better. For those of you who think corner is just a simple "glue yourself to the receiver" type position, well... you're wrong. Troy pointed out that one of the most important aspects of playing corner is knowing where your help is. He went on to say that your help allows you to play with different kinds of leverage on the receiver, pushing him into positions where he's out of the play or forcing the QB throw the ball into heavy coverage.
In the past Woolfolk admitted he really didn't know where his help was and wasn't. He also admitted he wasn't that great early on at recognizing his help, and that allowed for a lot of easy completions. However, his time at safety really helped make him a better player. Troy said he really noticed the difference when he came back to corner from safety at the Iowa game, because he had a full understanding of the defense and where his coverages were.
Troy admitted that shuffling between corner and safety last season was also a hindrance to him when he played; from time to time he would get the concepts of the position a little mixed up and that led to mistakes that still irritate him today. He says now that he's back at corner, it allows him to focus on the singular responsibilities of the position rather than having to cover the whole field like he did at safety.
No personal goals for himself. If he's locking receivers down, then QBs won't throw his way. He set some vaguer, personal goals like not missing open field tackles and not getting beat deep, but his primary goal this season is to win football games. Troy also indicated that his preparation has changed considerably from last year. He said as a younger player, he naturally tended prepare more for rivalry games like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan state. Big Games where you're on TV. He said, "I feel bad about that because now I realize you have to prepare for each game like it's a rivalry game." This year he's taking them one game at a time and preaching that philosophy to the younger players.
In terms of preferences between the positions, Troy said he really didn't care where he played, so long as there was the opportunity to play somewhere consistently. Jokingly, he told us that it's a lot easier to tackle people at corner; receivers are a lot easier to tackle than playing safety and having to tackle against John Clay. But in the grand scheme of things he doesn't care where he plays, but prefers being at a single position. Part of that has to do with his mental preparation, but part of it also has to do with his training. Troy told us that at safety you have to train more towards strength and bulk to stand up to the pounding of the run game. Conversely, at corner you need to train for more speed and flexibility.
Summing up his personal goals I think can be best described by this quote:
This is our time to try to get back to the old Michigan. This is the year we return.
On New York Jets Cornerback Donovan Warren
Troy said he talks with Donovan a couple times a month. The two of them send funny texts between to one another ripping on each other's home towns and generally keeping things light. Troy told us that Donovan is doing well up in New York and wishes him all the best. When asked, Troy said it would have been nice if Donovan had returned, but he has all the faith in the world in J.T.
On Strong Safety Jordan Kovacs
I asked Troy if Kovacs was someone that everyone on the team knew about, or if he was as much a surprise to them as he was to us last year. Troy laughed a little and said Kovacs was a surprise to everybody, maybe even to himself. When he was on the squad, Troy said that everyone knew he was a solid safety but wasn't out there making all kinds of crazy plays. But in the Notre Dame game, when Mike Williams went down and Kovacs first went in, it was like something changed inside of him and he reached some kind of higher level. All of a sudden he was so calm and confident. And he started making plays all over the place. "/laughs/ I was like, who is this player?" Troy said that Kovacs is just one of those rare players that he just rises to the occasion and the challenge. he even pointed out that against Michigan State Kovacs had 17 tackles. Troy said Kovacs is an incredible asset to the run defense and is really good at getting off a blocker and getting to the ball.
On Spinner Michael Williams
Troy lit up like a Christmas tree when I asked him about Mike Williams. Troy told us that Mike is going to have a break out year in 2010. "He's got the physicality, the smartness and the speed to make an impact this year." Troy told us that Mike playing in Stevie Brown's safety/linebacker position was perfect for him, and allows him to take advantage of all his natural gifts. Apparently during the 7 on 7 games Williams was all over the place making plays. Thinks Williams is really going to surprise people.
/Yes, please. That would be bacon flavored awesome./
On New Comer Safety Marvin Robinson
I know I ask this question every year, of every person, but i'm always legitimately curious to know who on the team the players think is going to come out of nowhere to surprise us. When I asked Troy this he didn't hesitate: Marvin Robinson from New Orleans (pronounced in Texan as "Nu Or Leeeens"). Troy said he just has a natural ability for the game. Woolfolk said "I've seen him in the 7-on-7 and he just makes plays. Great ball awareness. Most importantly, he listens. When he makes a mistake, I coach him up and he listens. I think he's got the ability to blossom because he's got not only the ability to play at a high level, but the ability to listen and learn."
When asked where he sees Robinson playing Troy said, "If I was the coach, I'd put him at free safety." He described Robinson as very calm at the safety position with great ball awareness. A big thing to Tory was how Robinson starts every play. "He always starts a play with his first step back." Troy went on to tell us that is a huge thing for a free safety because it means he isn't getting greedy trying to stuff the run, and is covering his positional responsibility first.
Based on what Troy told us, I wouldn't be surprised if Robinson cracks the lineup within the first few weeks. Remember, we're talking about a slimmed down play book and not a lot of guys with safety experience. Robinson was an actual safety in high school and a very highly rated recruit playing in a tough league. If things go well he could challenge for the starting slot, and that can only make everyone better.
On the Fastest Man on the Field
The fastest guy on the team hasn't been decided yet. Troy told us since Vincent Smith has been injured it didn't make sense to run it without him. He said that the last day of camp, he'd get all the reporters and media around and run a 40 yard dash. Reporters were told they could run too, but it might not turn out well for them.
On the Football Alumni
Alumni have been great about working with the current players. A lot of talking about things to avoid at the next level. Troy told us that more and more Alumni are coming back to work out with Mike Barwis because of what they've heard from their fellow players in the league and from the current team members.
On the Run Defense
Troy said he thinks that Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and Greg Banks will be solid up the middle against the run and that senior linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Moutonwill have monster years against the run as well. Troy told us that there's been a definite change in Ezeh and Mouton over the summer. Not only have they gotten bigger and stronger, the've also gottn faster. They're running step for step with some of the receivers during drills. After watching them, Woolfolk thinks this could be the year everyone realizes how good they are. I asked if there'd been a change in their attitude since Greg Robinson took over their position, and Troy answered without a doubt "yes."
On Coach Greg Robinson
Again, I think this is one of those indicators that this team is completely behind its coaches. Troy told us that everyone on the defense was "All in" behind coach Robinson. They all know him, they all respect him. On a Personal level Troy told me, "I know him, I know he's coached and been successful in at the highest level. He was a great coach in the pros and he came back to work with "us little people" (said jokingly) in the college game." It was readily evident the mount of respect Robinson commands on this defense and how much Troy thought of him.
On His Dad
This actually surprised me. Growing up, Troy didn't really know about his Dad's football success. Troy was born the year his dad, Butch Woolfolk, hung up his cleats. As a kid, Troy wasn't really introduced to his dad's football world and his dad didn't really tell him too much about it or pressure him one way or another on the subject.It wasn't until Troy enrolled at Michigan that he started to see all the stuff on the walls about his dad and started hearing about his dad as a player. Personally, I think that's kind of cool that a father put his own ego in the dresser and allowed his son to develop as a player and a person. Especially when you consider the success that Butch had. And now that Troy's at Michigan, now it seems like the stories are coming out and the two have another cool thing to discuss.
As a final note on this Troy joked that his dad is a very cocky man, "thinks he can play corner right now better than I can." Good stuff.
Troy Woolfolk is a cool cat. He's cocky without being a schmuck. He's confident without being arrogant. He's funny without really having to try. Importantly, he's very candid. Where Moundros and Schilling are more the quiet imposing leaders of the team, Woolfolk has no problem telling you what's on his mind. From time to time, you need that in a leader. It can't just be one way, it must be adaptive, and I'm glad that Troy can provide that aspect to the senior class.
I'm also very excited to see Troy as our featured defensive back. We're all well aware of his abilities, now he'll have the opportunity to display them. This year he comes in calm and confident, and I think he's going to have a great year.