After spending much of last season turning around the Michigan Wolverines’ secondary, co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale has started this year’s camp with a new task, focusing on expanding and refining those foundational lessons.
“A lot of these guys have been in the system already,” Clinkscale told the media Thursday. “It was something that was kind of new to them last summer even though we had a little bit of a spring. Most of the menu we have, a lot of the players have already experienced it. The understanding of the game is a lot better.”
For Clinkscale, a primary objective is turning that understanding of the game plan into better communication and a more aggressive mentality in the secondary — echoing a larger theme among the defensive players and coaches this week.
“That’s like the number one thing,” Clinkscale said “If you can’t get lined up, can’t make the checks, you can’t execute the assignment. The coach has something in his mind that he wants and the players that understand what we’re communicating to them, they go out and do their job.
“The other thing I’ve been seeing a bit more is just that personality — kinda vibing off of me, you know. I tell people, by nature where I’m from, you have to have an aggressiveness, a mentality that you’re gonna take it to them and not get hit in the mouth.”
While Clinkscale’s comments apply largely to the veterans on the team, the secondary is adding multiple high profile freshman to its ranks. Four — Will Johnson, Kody Jones, Keon Sabb and Myles Pollard — have been on campus since spring ball, while Damani Dent and Zeke Berry joined the team this summer.
Clinkscale praised all six players, but was candid about the advantage those who enrolled early have in understanding the playbook.
“I think the young men that were here in the spring have a slight advantage as far as understanding the system,” Clinkscale said. “The two other gentlemen who got here in the summer, they’re in class so adding that to their plate with football, still in school right now, it’s a little challenging for them. They’re performing, Zeke is especially performing to a level where you can see his instincts. You can see why we recruited him and what he’s gonna be able to do.
“But as far as Will, Myles and Kody, you definitely see they’re a little further ahead than the freshmen were last year. Those guys will develop right to where we need them to. We’re going to ask all of them to help us at some point. The capacity is really going to be up to them, what they know, what they understand, how they can execute.”
When asked specifically about Sabb’s progress, Clinkscale was complimentary, saying he was doing a “great job” despite the challenges of learning both safety positions.
“Yesterday, he had a really good practice and he keeps getting better every week and every day,” Clinkscale said. “He’s really evolving and he’s really got the biggest load. Playing corner, the biggest responsibility is not getting beat deep. Nickel, you’ve gotta understand the nuances. But safety, he’s gotta know what everybody’s doing, make all the checks. And for him being a freshman, I think he’s doing a great job.”
With multiple moving parts, as can be expected of the initial days of fall camp, Clinkscale’s ultimate goal is preparing his unit for every situation. So far, it seems the building blocks are there to make that a reality.