ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Brady Hoke's first team at Michigan seemed to set the bar high for his second squad.
The Wolverines won a BCS bowl last year for the first time since 2000 and earned 11 victories for the first time since 2006.
"One of the things coach really emphasizes is that last year we failed," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "It wasn't a successful season. The mission each and every year is to win a Big Ten championship and we didn't do that. At the end of the day, we didn't get what we wanted so that makes us even hungrier for next year."
In the public's first look at Wolverines since they beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, most fans will be watching quarterback Denard Robinson's every move — and throw — on Saturday as the team wraps up spring ball with a practice.
Hoke, though, will be focusing on players with a shot to fill the many holes on both sides of the ball.
Offensive linemen Ricky Barnum, Elliott Mealer, Joey Burzynski and Mike Schofield have made the most of their opportunity to compete for starting jobs. On the defensive line, Will Campbell and Jibreel Black are among those who have improved this spring.
"None of them are where we want or need them to be, but they're making good progress," Hoke said.
Robinson has had to make strides after throwing 15 interceptions last year, some on up-for-grab passes, during an inconsistent season. He is working on being more of a passer and less of a runner, allowing routes to develop instead of tucking the ball under his arm and using his feet to make plays.
"He's done a good job with ball security and in his decisiveness with throws," Hoke said. "I can't say I've seen him make more than a bad throw or two when we said, 'What the heck was he looking at?'"
To make full use of Robinson's talents, offensive coordinator Al Borges has acknowledged he will probably use more spread formations next season than he did last fall in his first year with the speedy QB.
About 350 former players are expected to return to Ann Arbor for a team meeting with Hoke on Friday night. More than 100 of them are expected to play in a flag-football game before the team practices Saturday afternoon. Former coach Gary Moeller will be honored at an event later that night.
"It'll be a great celebration," Hoke said.
Hoke wishes he could have seniors draft two equally matched teams and have a true scrimmage to cap spring ball, but said he can't because of the lack of depth on the lines and at receiver. The first- and second-string offenses are expected to go against the first- and second-team defenses for about 60 plays in simulated situations.Comment on this story
"We get a chance to go in the Big House and compete and assess where we're at to some degree," Hoke said.
The Wolverines will then work out on their own over the offseason before gathering in the summer to begin preparing to play Alabama on Sept. 1 in Cowboys Stadium in Texas.
"Every year, you're urgent in spring, but you can't open any bigger way - to be taking on the defending national champs, in Dallas, on primetime TV in the Jerry Jones Classic," Kovacs said. "It's going to be a great test of where we're really at come Week 1."