ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- The head coach walked onto the field wearing the familiar navy cap with a maize 'M' on the front, but that was about all that looked the same Saturday when Michigan began its first spring practice.
The ball and players were flying all over as Rich Rodriguez began the installation of his spread-option system. The coach, hired away from West Virginia, has fans hoping he can breathe life into an offense that many often found stale and predictable.
"It was ugly at times and I was encouraged at times," Rodriguez said after the session. "Typical first practice."
Players quickly learned how much the coach values speed with drills focused on the system's no-huddle approach.
"It's different, that's for sure," offensive lineman Justin Boren said. "The biggest thing has been the no-huddle. We're sprinting to the ball and sprinting back again."
An offseason training program begun by new strength coach Mike Barwis has helped. Since Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor, he has been insisting that players be in condition to play the game at the fast pace he popularized at West Virginia.
"They got in better shape but they're still not in the shape they need to be for our practices," he said. "But they're getting more confident in themselves."
The Wolverines ended last season 9-4 and 18th in the final AP poll after defeating Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Lloyd Carr announced before the bowl game that he was retiring after 13 seasons. Speculation about the coach's future began seconds after the Wolverines' first game of the season, an embarrassing loss to visiting Appalachian State.
Rodriguez accepted the job shortly after West Virginia lost its regular-season finale to Pittsburgh and cost itself a shot at a BCS championship game berth.
Michigan lost seven offensive starters, including tackle Jake Long. Rodriguez spent the entire early part of practice with the team's quarterbacks and running backs. Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet, sophomore Nick Sheridan and David Cone are the likely candidates to be starting quarterback.
Cone, a redshirt sophomore, is the only experienced quarterback on the roster -- and he's completed just one career pass. Running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown both saw action last season.
Quarterback "is going the be a focal point for us," Rodriguez said. "So far I like their attitudes."
Rodriguez said not to expect a depth chart or the names of starters until the week before the Wolverines' Aug. 30 opener against visiting Utah.
There's a little more continuity on the other side of the ball, where Michigan welcomes back seven defensive starters.
The Wolverines typically played a spring game in front of the public, but fans might not be able to see this season's team until the regular-season opener.
The first phase of a Michigan Stadium renovation will keep the Wolverines off the field this spring and school officials were unable to secure Ford Field in Detroit, the home of the NFL's Lions, because of another event.
Rodriguez said Michigan still is exploring the possibility of ending spring sessions April 12 at a local high school. In the meantime, most practices will be at Oosterbaan Field House, the team's indoor facility.
The coach didn't just have football on his mind Saturday. Attorneys for the coach and his former employer learned Friday that they're expected in a West Virginia court April 3 for discussions of a lawsuit West Virginia University filed in December.
"I won't be there," Rodriguez said. "That's for the lawyers. I've got spring practice."
The university wants Rodriguez to pay a $4 million buyout of his old contract. But Rodriguez claims he signed that agreement under false pretenses, expecting certain verbal promises from the administration to be kept.