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Published: Wednesday, 8/31/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Hoke uses Navy SEALs as inspiration to improve Wolverines' teamwork

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
University of Michigan football head coach Brady Hoke gave his players trident pitchforks like pins given to Navy SEALs. University of Michigan football head coach Brady Hoke gave his players trident pitchforks like pins given to Navy SEALs.
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ANN ARBOR -- When Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder steps to the line of scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Michigan Stadium, he will be dodging bullets and shielding himself from tridents soaring through the air.

An explanation is needed.

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison vowed Tuesday to give his players "enough bullets" to be successful in Saturday's season opener, meaning the Wolverines will be diverse in their schemes, have the flexibility to make adjustments on the fly, and make substitutions freely to stay fresh.

"He means he's never going to put us in a position where we can't defend something or we don't have an answer for something," defensive end Will Heininger said.

Tridents, unlike the symbolic bullets, are actually real. Head coach Brady Hoke recently issued each one of his players a large trident pitchfork with his name on it. The tridents now hang from the ceiling in the meeting room at Schembechler Hall. It was a move inspired by the Navy SEALs, which awards its graduates a trident pin.

"We've been studying [the SEALs] a lot," Heininger said. "It's just a reminder every day that we can't do it without each other."

Carder won't show up Saturday unarmed. The junior from Shawnee, Kan., threw for 3,334 yards in 2010, completing 63 percent of his passes for the 6-6 Broncos. He totaled 30 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions and did not miss a start. Carder's primary target will be sixth-year senior Jordan White, who caught 94 passes and 10 touchdowns last year.

Hoke said this week Carder is "great, and I do mean that." On Tuesday, Mattison went even further.

"You'll find out when you ask me about players who we're going to play against, I'm going to always be honest," Mattison said. "I think this guy is special. I think you're going to see this guy playing on Sundays some day."

Mattison believes in two starting lineups, which is to say the second-stringers should be prepared to play. Mattison would rather play a lesser-skilled player who is fresh than a starter who is gassing. That's a departure from the recent past, when poor depth up front often inhibited linemen from leaving the field for a breather.

Heininger, who is expected to start Saturday, likes that Mattison is willing to use as many as nine linemen to ensure everyone is able to perform at his maximum level. At some positions, the starter will be on the field for six plays and then sit for two or three. In other cases, the starter and his backup might split plays evenly.

"It's a great feeling knowing that you have someone who you can trust, who you're confident in, to come in for you so you can go 100 percent all of the time," Heininger said.

GAME-TIME DECISION: A starting running back likely will not be named until close to kick off, offensive coordinator Al Borges said. Sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint began Tuesday's practice with the first-team offense, breaking a long run on the first play. Senior Michael Shaw, who is listed as a co-starter with Toussaint on the depth chart, joined the No. 1 offense on the ensuing play.

THE VICTORS: Hoke recently started playing the school's fight song, "The Victors," in his office for an hour every afternoon. Heininger said the music is "blaring."

"We love it," he said. "We have the best band in the country, so why not hear it?"

Mattison says he bounces around his office during that hour.

"I kind of smiled and said, wow, this guy really has it," Mattison said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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