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Michigan Gladly Warms to Task

Times Staff Writer

That big ceiling so high above them? The warmth and light the Michigan Wolverines enjoyed so much Thursday?

That was the sky. And the sun.

Excuse them for having been dazed after their two-hour workout Thursday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, their first practice in Southern California leading up to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl game against Texas.

“This is the first time we’ve been outside since Nov. 22,” Coach Lloyd Carr said. “It was obvious that we need to get acclimated to the weather a little.

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“After three, four days off, it was a little bit ragged. But we finished strong and got a lot of good work done.”

A key task will be stopping versatile Texas quarterback Vince Young, who passed for 1,669 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns. The task of simulating Young’s moves went to freshman wide receiver Morgan Trent. “Athletically, he can do some of the things Young can do,” Carr said.

Finding someone to play the role of Cedric Benson, the Doak Walker award winner as the nation’s top running back after a 1,764-yard rushing season and 19 touchdowns, proved tougher.

“We don’t have anyone like him,” Carr said, smiling. “We’re trying to do it with a number of guys, but sometimes you can’t simulate exactly what you’re going to see.”

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Among the observers Thursday was former Wolverine coach Bo Schembechler, who remains close to the program he coached to 13 Big Ten titles in 21 years. Schembechler, 75, had surgery last month to insert a pacemaker -- he has a history of heart problems, including heart attacks in 1970 and 1987 -- but recovered in time to speak to the team before its regular-season finale against Ohio State.

On Thursday, however, he was content to watch and simply enjoy the weather. “You look out your window and there’s not a cloud in the sky,” said Schembechler, who does a weekly TV show that precedes Michigan football games and is active on the speakers’ circuit.

Schembechler, who has a small office at Michigan’s Schembechler Hall, was also pleased at the prospect of renewing acquaintances with Texas’ Darrell Royal, who won three national titles as the Longhorns’ coach and is now a special assistant to the president for athletic programs. “He’s one of the good ol’ guys,” Schembechler said.

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Receiver Jason Avant, who had arthroscopic knee surgery after the Ohio State game, remained on crutches and didn’t practice with the team. Carr said Avant had a “setback” the day of the team’s final practice in Ann Arbor and experienced some swelling. “We think he’ll respond, but we’d obviously rather have him practice,” Carr said. “We’re all confident he’ll be ready to play.”


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