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Football alumni weigh in on state of the program in Rodriguez's third season

Jake Fromm/Daily
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez addresses alumni and the media before last Saturday's spring game Buy this photo

BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 18, 2010

Fielding Yost’s pride still drips off of the Michigan football program as if he was coaching the team.

It’s that confidence that made Yost so legendary and the players who step foot in the Big House each and every year, especially the former ones, carry a least a little bit of the swagger that Yost had.

It’s no different now, despite the Wolverines' 8-16 record through coach Rich Rodriguez's first two years.

Former Michigan All-American defensive end LaMarr Woodley, who was in town for the spring game festivities, certainly has a little bit of Yost’s fire in his veins.

“Not to lose at all,” Woodley said of his expectations for next year. “That’s reasonable for me, not to lose at all. I hate to say, ‘Oh, yeah we’re going to lose, it’s going to be 11-1.’ No, go all the way. That’s always my thing, take one game at a time and you can do that.”

When Woodley was pursuing quarterbacks in the Big House from 2003-2006, Michigan was 37-13 in his four years.

Other former Michigan players have voiced their displeasure with Rodriguez recently, Dhani Jones spoke out and so did Amani Toomer.

To Woodley, the slow start was almost expected. But now, in Rodriguez’s third year, he’s leaving less room for excuses.

“I tell everybody, the year Jake Long left, we lost everybody on offense,” Woodley said. “I mean all the weapons, all the top guys, we lost everybody. So when he came in with his new offense, he didn’t really have anything. Now he has the opportunity to turn that around and he’s getting the guys he needs in the right spots and things will change up.”

The offense was a strong suit for the Wolverines last season, and Michigan would be forced into shootouts, trying to score as much as possible to stay in games.

“They know they have to get improved,” Desmond Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan and current ESPN college football analyst, said of the defense.

And from his point of view, as an analyst, Howard knows it’s all about the quarterbacks this spring.

“Everyone wants to know what the quarterback situation is going to be (like),” Howard said. “The competition makes all three better. Tate Forcier obviously had a good first half of the season, struggled in the second half of the season. Hopefully he learned from his mistakes last year, but he’s going to have another spring under his belt. Denard Robinson didn’t have a spring under his belt, he came in fresh in the fall and tried to participate when he could. And then you got Devin (Gardner), who’s talented, and everyone’s aware of his talent, and to see how he’s able to run the system too. So we’ll see if these three will push each other and get each other better. I think competition is good.”

In the spring game, Robinson played primarily with what could be considered the first-team offense against the second-team defense, while Forcier played with the second-team offense against the first-team defense. Robinson was the quarterback receiving the hype this spring, despite the fact that Forcier started every game in 2009.

Howard said he wasn’t one to make predictions on Michigan’s 2010 season in April — there are more than four months until Michigan’s first game against Connecticut.

Though wins and losses aren’t official until the fall, Rodriguez can build towards success by building on experience, like Saturday’s spring game.

The Wolverines are certainly working to improve all over the field, not just at the quarterback position. And Howard knows Rodriguez isn’t the only coach feeling the pressure to win this fall.

“Nick Saban’s trying to make progress, and he just won a national championship,” Howard said. “That’s just the nature of the sport, and I think that’s the honest answer. You can’t rest when you won, and you can’t rest when you haven’t won big yet. … Each coach wants to get better.”