Why Chase Winovich is Bolstered By Offseason Changes in 2018

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Why Chase Winovich is Bolstered By Offseason Changes in 2018

Football

Why Chase Winovich is Bolstered By Offseason Changes in 2018

CHICAGO — Michigan notoriously lost a large number of players from the 2016 squad that was about an inch from a College Football Playoff berth and the 2017 team — noted among the youngest and most inexperienced in the nation.

Yet, expectations for the Wolverines didn’t come anywhere close to falling off. Not by a wide swath of sports punditry, nor in the locker room.

But, perhaps that swag was a little premature.

It didn’t help fanbase or media expectations when Michigan, with ten new starters on defense and eight on offense, essentially trounced reigning SEC East division champ Florida in Week One a year ago. Led by defensive speed, it seemed apparent that, despite vast personnel changes, the Wolverines were — finally, and once again — in a reload-type scenario.

However, that’s not how things went down, of course. The offense sputtered, especially after suffering injuries at two significant positions — namely quarterback, but also at wide receiver. But, the offense wasn’t exactly humming before Wilton Speight’s Week Four injury, either. The offensive line struggled to pass protect all season long. And while it did improve, albeit somewhat marginally, as the season progressed, inconsistency across the board remained, especially with an ever-changing personnel, due to injuries.

Now this team is a year older, wiser and more mature as it heads into 2018. Something that fifth-year defensive end Chase Winovich sees as a big benefit heading into the season.

After going 8-5 in 2017, this team has no fallacies that it will be elite based off previous performances. As Winovich notes, no matter how well the first game goes, there’s still issues that need to be worked out, and there’s 11 more regular season games beyond that — no matter how good the opening matchup is perceived to be.

“We definitely did get ahead of ourselves, especially after we won Florida – we were feeling ourselves,” Winovich said of 2017. “But I knew in the back of my mind, we had a lot of problems that were looming, almost. Just the way our offense was struggling and I knew eventually the defense was going to let something up. It’s just the course of football – you can’t be perfect at all times. I personally wasn’t surprised. But I think people get out ahead of themselves.

“I’ve stressed this with the whole day-to-day, too. Just taking things one bite at a time – one step. Like I said, you can’t get too overextended. Because, mentally, your mental resources get too divided and chopped up. Even your physical resources, because you’re saving yourself for a different game.”

So, while the necessary experience returns for Michigan to contend, surprisingly, the fanfare behind the 2018 team seems somewhat — lackluster.

Sure, college football fans get behind the team once the season draws nearer, and fans of the maize and blue are no different. However, in 2016, as that season approached, there was a veritable thickness in the air, rife with excitement about the possibility of that team making a College Football Playoff push.

And that team did, going late into the season, one spotted ball away from achieving the goals set before them.

Yet, this 2018 squad doesn’t seem to get that sort of attention or expectation. As Winovich notes, an 8-5 record will do that.

But, as he says, it’s a constant reminder of where this team has been in recent times compared to where it wants to be this year.

“The narrative in general is largely very negative, from my perspective as a player,” Winovich said. “I think it’s even pushing through more inside the facilities, because we know 8-5 or 10-2 is just not where we need to be. There’s definitely a lot of motivation from that. But, like I said, no one’s happy with 10-10-8 or whatever. In the forefront of my head, I think about the losses that we’ve got. Getting blown out from Ohio State three years ago at home. Two years ago was the Ohio State and the Florida State game – and Iowa. Last year – I could ramble those off, too. We don’t get caught up in the number of wins. The fact that we have a standard and we’re not at that standard, so we’re going to do everything to get that.”

And it’s up to the leadership on the 2018 team to coax the younger players — many now upperclassmen — to get to that point.

There’s been a large recognition by the coaching staff, led by Jim Harbaugh, that changes needed to be made this offseason. Gone is former strength coach Kevin Tolbert. Gone are Tim Drevno and Greg Frey. After a public intoxication incident, gone is Fergus Connolly, who was part of the behind-the-scenes sports science and nutrition staff.

Now, Michigan has brought in one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation in Ed Warinner, who coached some of Ohio State’s great lines in recent years. That coach in Florida that Michigan beat a year ago? Well, Jim McElwain is now a Wolverine, as a wide receivers coach. A recruiting ace was brought in for the offensive side in tight ends coach Sherrone Moore.

Just as, if not more importantly, all of the behind the scenes stuff was overhauled. Ben Herbert was brought in to oversee the strength and conditioning staff, and he’s made early dividends. Abigail O’Connor has revamped the team’s nutrition. There’s an entirely new, state of the art, weight room that occupies half of what used to be the Oosterbaan Field House.

And, as Winovich notes, even the way the team goes about its business in the offseason is different, too.

Whereas, over the last few years, every Tuesday and Thursday, the team would have early morning competitions and drills, each with the results posted, those drills are now shorter with the results unlisted. Why?

Because Winovich says that the players were taking Monday-Wednesday-Friday — essentially — off from heavy strength training, in efforts to get better scores on those drills.

Now, the focus and onus is on improvement. Competition — as Winovich puts it — is back at the heart of getting better for game days, and not about keeping score of who’s the fastest in the winter. These wholesale changes have made the team better, as far as Winovich can see. But it’s still up to the players to show how much come fall Saturdays.

“Between the changes that – I talked to Coach Harbaugh about in the offseason and the stuff we’ve implemented – between the new weight room and guys – as a player and as a coach, you can do a lot for somebody,” Winovich said. “Like, there’s the old analogy, ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make the horse drink it.’ And it’s the same thing. I think guys have taken self-ownership and have bought into this whole thing, just themselves. That’s probably one of the biggest differences.

“Coach Harbaugh has provided the vehicle for us. He’s taken care of nutrition. He brought in – I’m not making comparisons here – but he brought in, in his mind, the best strength coach in America. He’s a hell of a strength coach. He’s brought him in, he’s checked that box off. He’s brought in a brand new weight room. He’s taking care of providing that stuff for us and now kind of putting it on our shoulders, and I think we’ve done that.”

For the most part, we know what we’re going to get from stalwart veterans like Winovich or even third-year DE Rashan Gary. But it’s the bumper crop that we still wait for returns on.

Some of them are guys who have been on campus a few years already, but only now are getting their chance to shine, with players ahead of them graduating — or they made a move this offseason to make sure they see the field.

Winovich says there’s a number of defensive players that he’s excited to see in 2018, and listed who could make a contribution to help get the defense back to having multiple, full rotations, like the 2016 squad had.

“I speak about what I know most closely, and I would say that would probably be the defensive line in specific and the young guys,” Winovich said. “I think a lot those guys were able to turn the corner, like Carlo Kemp, Aubrey Solomon, Luiji (Vilain), Kwity (Paye) – and Michael Dwumfour. I felt like they got it. If I had to place stock in who I think is going to have a productive year, a better year – at least compared to last year, because some of them didn’t really play at all, it would be those guys.

“Amongst others. There’s a lot of guys. Devin Gil, too. Devin Gil is one of those guys that will be fighting for a spot this year. He did a great job in spring.”

Michigan is set to kick off fall camp in earnest on August 3, with game one taking place September 1 at Notre Dame Stadium against the Fighting Irish.

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