Wolverines Report For First Day of Practice

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Rich Rodriguez stood at the center of a crowded practice field Monday, surrounded by two major construction projects, each representing a new beginning for Michigan football.
The first-year Wolverines head coach twirled a whistle around his wrist while loud Motown music blared from large speakers temporarily attached to a nearby golf cart.
The music, like the practice facility being built nearby and the work being completed on a $226 million renovation of Michigan Stadium, is new. The first day of preseason workouts for Rodriguez new surroundings and all is not.
"It's just nice to play football," Rodriguez said at a news conference following Michigan's first practice of the summer. Even after 25 years, "the first day of practice is pretty exciting as a coach, you get involved in certain drills. I like getting in the middle of it. I like coaching and teaching."
Rodriguez's summer debut marked the beginning of his preparations for Michigan's season-opener against Utah on Aug. 30.
But the afternoon workouts also marked Rodriguez's first step away from a busy offseason that included the settlement of a $4 million buyout dispute between the coach and his former employer, West Virginia.
The two sides reached an agreement last month as Michigan picked up $2.5 million of Rodriguez's buyout, leaving the coach to cover the remaining $1.5 million. The deal was reached nearly seven months after Rodriguez left West Virginia only a year after extending his contract.
But Monday, Rodriguez focused squarely on the present, talking of the improvement he saw in the Wolverines first summer workout after spending the spring learning the spread offense another marked difference from Michigan's past.
"We're not in game shape, but we're in a lot better shape than we were in the spring," Rodriguez said. "We're right on track."
Michigan won't begin workouts in pads until Friday before beginning two-a-day practices on Saturday. Rodriguez and his staff will begin to implement schemes on both sides of the ball, adding more as the start of the season approaches.
With a number of key question marks on offense particularly at quarterback and on the overhauled offensive line Rodriguez will depend on Michigan's defense to provide stability in the Wolverines' early preparations.
While Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan compete for the starting job at quarterback and Brandon Minor works to fill the shoes of departed tailback Mike Hart, Michigan's defense boasts enough experience to keep things settled early on.
"Any time you have inexperience on one side of the ball or the other, you hope the other side will make up for some of the mistakes you know are going to happen," Rodriguez said. "We're going to make mistakes on offense, but we have to keep them to a minimum and not make big mistakes and our defense and our special teams has to be outstanding."
For Threet, who appeared to be the most comfortable during Monday's drills, the timing of a starter being named isn't important. Threet spent the summer working with Sheridan, working on individual drills to establish a comfort level with Rodriguez's fast-paced brand of offense.
"We knew there were certain strides we had to take," Threet said. "I think everybody felt a little better today. All of us (vying for the starting quarterback's job) are trying to do what we can to get on the field and play and show the coaches that we should be the guy."
Notes:@ Running back Kevin Grady practiced Monday after being suspended indefinitely by Rodriguez for last month following a drunken driving arrest in the offseason. Grady pleaded not guilty after registering a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. Grady missed all of last season with a knee injury. Rodriguez said Grady is still suspended as far as seeing time in upcoming games goes, but has done enough to practice. When Grady is eligible to return to Michigan's game day lineup will be determined later, Rodriguez said. "He's not done enough to warrant playing time," Rodriguez said. "He's out there working but he's not working with the first couple groups."

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