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Michigan players embrace spring trip to Florida

"I really supported this," senior tight end Jake Butt said of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to have some spring practices in Florida. "I saw guys ripping on him about how this is our free time but no one asked us how we felt about it." Andrea Adelson/ESPN

Michigan players have the day off practice Wednesday, though coach Jim Harbaugh is putting in some work on the baseball field.

After all, no trip to Florida in March would be complete without the prerequisite spring training visit.

While Harbaugh coaches first base at the Tigers-Pirates game, players had options. They could attend the game, or they could hang out on their own.

The day is essentially theirs. And that is one point players made after practice Tuesday in Bradenton, Florida, the first opportunity they had to address the media since Harbaugh decided to train outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. Critics have hollered about time demands placed on players who have traded spring break for spring practice.

But as tight end Jake Butt pointed out, nobody asked the players for their thoughts during all the hullabaloo.

"I really supported this," Butt said. "I saw guys ripping on him about how this is our free time but no one asked us how we felt about it. If you had asked me, I would have backed him up right away and I would encourage it for a lot of other people. The first week of spring ball it's tough for the younger guys, you're learning new plays, you're building that callous of where you're really sore. We don't have to worry about that with classes now. All we can focus on is football.

"We're out on the beach relaxing. It's unbelievable. Not everybody on our team is going to get to take a spring break to get away. We're down here in Florida, sunshine and not too hot, nice breeze, eating great food with our brothers. I don't have anything negative to say about it."

In fact, Butt said, "I think more teams should do this" before pausing and saying, "I hope they don't because then we've got more competition."

The recruiting benefits are undeniable, no matter how much Harbaugh tries to deny them. Rather than focus on how the trip benefits the Michigan brand, Harbaugh spoke earlier this week about trying to build team chemistry and camaraderie, pointing to the movie "Remember the Titans" as an example. Harbaugh showed the movie to his team later that night.

There also has been a trip to the beach, and tournaments set up in ping pong, mini-golf and basketball. Players are sharing living quarters with other players they might not know as well to help build more team bonds.

"We are with some freshmen, too, so we can help them study on days we don't have practice because we have limited time for meetings," receiver Amara Darboh said. "It's a good time to help us remember things by teaching it to the freshmen."

The priority, of course, is practice -- four hours each day for four days -- with major questions that need to be answered at quarterback and linebacker. Many anticipate Michigan will be a College Football Playoff contender after a 10-win season and dominant performance over Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

Players have embraced those higher expectations. Because they want the same.

"They're absolutely realistic," Butt said. "We set the bar during our bowl prep and during that Florida game -- this is where we can be. That's ground zero going into spring ball. Now we're going to try to raise that bar even higher and then have a bar set at the end that we're going to raise even higher in camp and throughout the season."

Those expectations are a big reason why Butt decided to return for his senior season. Not only is this the first time in his career he does not have to learn a new offense, players are more comfortable with the coaches. And Harbaugh brought in defensive coordinator Don Brown, who coached one of the stingiest groups in the country last season at Boston College.

As controversial as this trip has been to outsiders, Harbaugh and Michigan have approached it with a, "What, me worry?" attitude. And if the bonds they form this week help build the all-important chemistry that every championship team requires, they will have the last laugh.