ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Colin Kaepernick stood before the Michigan team at practice this week, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins sized him up and decided very quickly he can still play in the NFL.
Kaepernick, who will be honorary captain of Michigan’s spring game on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, played for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh when he was with the 49ers. Kaepernick, who helped the 49ers make the 2013 Super Bowl, hasn’t throw a pass in the NFL since 2016.
It was during that season he became a national lightning rod for controversy and conversation with his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games. He has been outspoken on racial inequality in this country.
Kaepernick will have a chance to show off his skills during the 15-minute halftime of the spring game. He will participate in what was described as a “throwing exhibition” sponsored by the Wolverines Against Racism student group. He will throw to NFL free-agent receivers.
“When he stood up in front of the team, I’m not proud to say this, but he was bigger than me,” Jenkins said while breaking a smile during a news conference Thursday. .”
Harbaugh and Kaepernick have remained close and communicate frequently.
Jenkins said he was delighted to listen to Kaepernick’s comments to the team on Wednesday and said he focused on effort and the work players need to do to stay ahead. Kaepernick did not discuss his activism with the players.
“His message was, grind. Grind for the life you want,” Jenkins said. “Work hard to achieve. The days are gonna be tough. You’re gonna be working your butts off, and it’s just like, you’ve got to push through. You gotta take that extra inch to get better when everybody else is relaxing. Really cool message.”
Colin Kaepernick is the honorary captain of Michigan’s spring football game on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the program announced Wednesday on Twitter.
Linebacker Jaylen Harrell said Kaepernick shared thoughts that could help the players in all phases of their lives.
“He actually dropped a lot of knowledge on us,” Harrell said. “Just some things you can take in your day-to-day life that you can also apply to the field.”
He stressed the concept of working harder because others are trying to do the same.
“His message was sort of, every day, stack the days,” receiver AJ Henning said, relaying Kaepernick’s comments. “Get 1 percent better. When you’re not working, someone else is getting better and getting ahead of you. His message to us was just, continue to work every day with that chip on your shoulder like there’s no tomorrow.”
Creating their own defense
Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, Michigan’s pass-rush duo last season, are gone, with Hutchinson, whose 14 sacks set a program single-season sack record, projected the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick.
But first-year defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has made clear to the players he’s not looking for Hutchinson and Ojabo clones.
Michigan defensive ends Mike Morris, left, and Aidan Hutchinson celebrate after the win.
“The main thing Coach Minter has been trying to instill in us, and I really like it, there’s not going to be another Aidan Hutchinson, there’s not going to be another Jabo, but there is going to be a Mike Morris, there is going to be a Taylor Upshaw, Mazi Smith, Kris Jenkins etcetera,” Jenkins said. “So he’s just been telling us, of course we’re going to have to step up the talent because we’ve lost good talent, but we’ve got good talent to build off.
“It’s one of those things, don’t copy them, but up your game to that standard. Build off yourself.”
Harrell said it’s about this group putting their stamp on the defensive front.
“That’s not our goal to replicate,” Harrell said. “Those guys are gone. They did what they had to do at a high level. We’re going to keep going building every day.”
Michigan fans will get their first chance to see the three early enrollee freshmen receivers, Amorion Walker, Tyler Morris and Darrius Clemons, during the spring game.
There has been considerable talk this spring about the speed of these receivers. AJ Henning, entering his third season, said what stands out is their versatility.
“Each one has unique qualities that make them different, and they bring huge playmaking ability to our room,” Henning said. “You have the bigger receiver in Darrius, he’s fast as well. Amorion, he has elusiveness and he’s quick, too. And Tyler, he has the quick twitchy speed as well.
“They’re all huge playmakers and bring different personalities and different attributes to our room.”
Copyright 2022 Tribune Content Agency.