ANN ARBOR -- Before Brady Hoke concluded his media availability Tuesday at Schembechler Hall, he mentioned that the Michigan football team prepared to practice today at Ford Field in Detroit.
But the second-year coach of the Wolverines and his staff have already begun preparing to face Alabama in its season opener Sept. 1 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. For football players used to finding a certain comfort zone on the field, Cowboys Stadium could be an environment rife with distractions.
The home stadium of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys has a minimum football capacity of 80,000 spectators and up to 100,000 if it's expanded to include standing-room only sections, and the facility has state-of-the-art technology, including a 600-ton high-definition video board hung above the playing field. But place all of that underneath a retractable roof and it creates a type of controlled chaos.
The Michigan coaching staff aims to replicate that chaos in the days leading up to the season opener.
"We're going there [to Ford Field] because I think it's going to help us, to prepare us," said Ricky Barnum, a redshirt senior center. "Just to get a feel for playing in a dome."
Michigan's returning players have previous experience in a dome: They won the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
But, cornerback Blake Countess said, the Wolverines didn't have a full practice inside of the New Orleans Saints' home facility.
"I think that's going to help us a tremendous amount," Countess said. "Being in that atmosphere, being in an indoor facility, that's going to help us."
The Wolverines staff has also brought another factor into play.
"We've been doing some crowd noise and music, I think AC/DC was on [Tuesday] when we did some first-down stuff," Hoke said. "So, yeah, we're going to do that."
To an outsider, the strains of a classic rock and roll band could be a distraction to a group of football players. But the Wolverines don't think of 1980s heavy metal, or any other kind of noise pumped in during a practice, as a distraction.
As the players have lined up, the cacophony has forced them to collectively get creative in how they work with each other on the field.
"They blast the music," Barnum said. "It's helping us to communicate with each other better and to hear the calls, because you know it's going to be loud in Texas."
What kind of music?
"Clean-cut music," Barnum said.
Whatever it is and wherever it is -- even inside of a domed stadium -- it most likely sounds like it's all noise to the Wolverines. Loud noise.
"It's crowd noise," Countess said. "It's cranking the music up really loud so that you can't really hear each other. You've got to rely on signals and things like that."
PROJECTION FOR MEALER: Hoke said that if Michigan's season began today, Wauseon graduate Elliott Mealer would get the nod to start at left guard.
"His work ethic, his leadership and the maturation process, I'm really excited for Elliott, as much as anything else," Hoke said.
Mealer, a a 6-foot-5, 309-pound redshirt senior, appeared in all 13 games last season, playing seven on offensive line and appearing in all 13 games on special teams.
Hoke pointed out that Mealer has brought more speed to his game and is playing at left guard with a better technique and is finishing stronger.
"It's more of confidence," Hoke said. "He's got his confidence level at a high level."
TOUSSAINT, CLARK UPDATE: Hoke said tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark continue to practice with the Wolverines, but he has not made a decision on their availability for the opener against Alabama.
Toussaint has a hearing Tuesday on a drunken-driving charge from last month. Clark is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 11 on a second-degree home invasion charge. Hoke said Toussaint's legal situation will not play into his decision. The same goes for Clark.
"He's in the same boat right now," Hoke said of Clark. "They've both got an oar."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.
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