We’re living in strange times and all trying to adjust accordingly, the Michigan football program included. Their spring practices were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now they’re playing catch up in hopes of being prepared enough to hit the ground running when the team can all get together again in person.
Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis discussed these challenges and how the team is dealing with them this week on Jon Jansen’s “In the Trenches” podcast.
“We’re creating cut-ups and installs the same way that we would in the building. We’re doing unit meetings on Google Hangouts. We’re pushing out installs to their iPad,” Gattis said. “So you’re really able to do everything that you would be doing if you were in the building except being able to shake a hand, pat a guy on the back from that standpoint. You’re just missing the practice reps. But our kids have done a really good job. We have unit meetings every week. They’ve done a really good job of taking notes, studying the film. And we keep it at a point where it’s always engaged in the meetings. It’s not just me presenting or me just talking in front of the unit. I’m asking those guys questions.”
While technology has helped bring the team together even though they’re physically apart, there’s no substitute for live reps. “You’re missing the speed of the game. The speed of the game, the competitive nature, that’s what you’re missing, first and foremost,” Gattis said. “Every kid is able to learn, but some kids learn differently. Some kids need to learn from correction, some kids need to learn from the fast reps. The game of football is played fast. The ability to process information on the go, the ability to see things change. I think that’s one really key component that we’re missing through all of this.”
Along with missing those practice reps comes the fact Michigan has position battles that need to be sorted out. “That’s actually gonna be a challenge that we’re gonna have on our hands. I think first and foremost the biggest thing that we need to address when we get back is getting our guys caught up with competitive reps,” Gattis said. “Good on good. Get the speed of the game down. We’ve missed those 15 practices in the spring so we’re gonna have to really speed up the process of preparing our players to be ready for the first game, whenever that first game is.”
There are a handful of competitions that are unresolved, such as the quarterback competition between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton, among others. “This may be a case where competitions aren’t quite solved leading up to the games. You don’t know what the process may be. What you do hope is that every player is out to prepare themselves from a mental standpoint where they come in and execute at a high level when the time comes,” Gattis said. “But another thing that you’ve gotta make sure that everyone’s in the right shape and I think that’s something that’s come up over this break is making sure that when we get back out there that our guys are in tip top shape.”
Making sure players are in tip top shape will be very important in terms of Michigan maximizing their time together once they’re allowed to resume normal team activities. But how long will the team need to be adequately prepared for their regular season? “I think it’s been floated around six weeks. I think that’s very fair. I think it’s kind of patterns the NFL model. Most NFL training camps get started probably about 5-6 weeks ahead of Week One,” Gattis said. “The difference between the NFL and college is they’re allowed to have mini-scrimmages from preseason games to really kind of help to speed up that process to get guys game reps. Unfortunately in college, we don’t have that.
“So we have to be very unique about how we go about practices. I think we’re gonna have to have to get some real, live scrimmage situations in there. Because you’ve just got to make sure you’re preparing those guys for the time that they’ve been missing in March. I would lean on the fence and say six weeks. I think our guys are doing a really good job and we’ve stressed to them that. They’ve got to take advantage so we don’t have any setbacks when we get started in July or August that we can all start off on a good foot and have a good background as far as conditioning and our health and rehab that we have nothing lingering.”
In the midst of all the irregularities there may be a positive, Michigan’s not rushing installs on offense. Without spring practices there hasn’t been the same rush, Gattis said they’re covering one install per week. “We’ve really been able to dive into the details, dive into the whats, the whys,” Gattis said. “And really make sure that the kids don’t just know what their job and their responsibility is, but they also know what the other peoples’ jobs around them, so they can have a better understanding conceptually of what we’re asking everyone to do.”
Michigan’s doing all they can to get ready for the 2020 season, but the sooner they’re able to all be together in the flesh the better, because that means things might be trending back to normal in America. As it stands now, Michigan is set to venture to the Pacific Northwest to take on Washington to start their season on September 5.