2011 Michigan Football Preview: 1000 Foot View Part 2

When we left off, we were wondering what Al Borges is going to do with a transitioning offense, the BTPOY in Denard Robinson, and the general mass confusion that happens when you switch from spread 'n' shred to pro-style.  This is a fun topic to talk about because you're generally talking about something that is good, and how Borges and the new guys can possibly make it better.  Now we go to the not-so-fun part. 

DEFENSE (dum, dum, DUMMMMMM)

Michigan Defense Nat'l Rank Scoring Nat'l Rank Total Yards
2008 84 67
2009 76 82
2011 107 110

Last year, the defense sucked.  Like, it historically sucked.  Actually, the past 3 years the defense sucked so bad that a guy who installed an offense that was the most potent in Michigan history (and would have been even moreso had they had anything better to work with than 90-yard drives every time) got canned.  As you can see from the handy set of national rankings immediately to your right, the defense under Rodriguez/GERG regressed significantly during their tenure.  This was obviously not the goal of that coaching staff and I'm sure it was about as much fun living it as it was watching it, which is to say that pulling my leg hair out by the roots with a rusty set of tweezers would be more fun.  But that's not what we're here to talk about, right?  AMIRITE?

Let's talk about potentially the biggest hire of Brady Hoke's life: Greg Mattison.  Greg Mattison was the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.  Like, the best defense in the NFL for the past decade Ravens.  I do not think that Mr. Mattison saw the chart I just posted above prior to accepting the job, and I pray that he is not reading now.  Either way, he's sort of committed now, so I suppose it doesn't matter.  I'm going to hazard a guess to say that Mattison's defense will play aggressively, physically, and be a blitzing defense.  Mr. Mattison?

"I know what I want to be," Mattison said. "I want to be a team nobody can run the football on. ... And I want a defense that is aggressive, that makes that quarterback nervous when it's a passing situation. The next thing we find out is do we have the players to do it or are they performing to do it."

Ah yes, an aggressive defense, that's the ticket!  Despite the Defensive Coordinator boilerplate, Mattison has the credentials to make the Michigan defense something to be feared once again.  Will he do it this season? It's hard to say.  He returns a good deal of starters from a defense that sucked, so we are left with experienced players who didn't get the job done last year.

The defensive line is likely going to be the strong point of the unit.  Mike Martin is expected to garner some all-conference awards should he stay healthy, and Ryan Van Bergan has a death grip on a starting spot.  Craig Roh looks to put his hand on the ground to fill out the line.  The main point of concern is where the 1-tech (and forgive me if I'm wrong here, and please do correct in the comments if I am) is going to come from.  Early in camp, former 5-star Will Campbell was destined for the 1 tech and the space-and-double-team eating defensive tackle that would allow Mike Martin some single-blocking and an ability to wreck havoc in the backfield.  Walk-on Nathan Brink has been getting a ton of attention lately from the coaching staff, who praise his toughness.  Also, yesterday during a 20 minute media session, this happened:

Most prominently, junior defensive tackle Will Campbell took snaps with the second-unit defense, and unheralded walk-on Nathan Brink took his place on the first team.

It is probably not good that a walk-on is taking snaps with first team over the prohibitive (extremely prohibitive, granted) starter and former 5-star guy Will Campbell.  There are a myriad of reasons, of course, that this would be happening, so probably not super-eyebrow-furrowing time yet.  However, if Mike Martin has to slide to the 1-tech, and Van Bergan play the 3-tech, the line's effectiveness will likely be diminished as the 3-tech is really what Mike Martin is designed to do.  Again - I may be mixing my tech's here.  We want Campbell to be a double-team eating immovable object that frees Martin to shed his blocker and wreck havoc.  That's the goal. 

Either way, that bit about "making quarterbacks nervous" that Mattison spoke to is going to be vital for this team's success, because the secondary still looks pretty shaky.  Troy Woolfolk returns from injury as the leader of that unit, which takes care of one servicable corner position.  The other corner will likely be J.T. Floyd.  A redshirt Junior, Floyd is a 3-star guy listed at 6'0", which makes him pretty tall for a corner.  Floyd was injured last year in November, putting then-freshman Courtney Avery on the field.  Avery makes up the competition for Floyd's spot this year.

follow the jump for the rest......

When was the last time we saw competent safety play from a Michigan squad?  I'm seriously asking.  I think it was at some point during the 35 year stretch that saw a Curry brother back there, but I can't remember.  Regardless, Jordan Kovacs will lend an experienced head to the backfield this year.  I love Kovacs.  He's my guy.  This makes this next section hard to type out:  Kovacs is a smart player who is only out of position when his lack of athleticism puts him there.  He is not Ed Reed.  He will lend some stability to that spot, but his athleticism is always going to be a liability.  At free safety, either Carvin Johnson or Marvin Robinson will start, although there has been some talk of Thomas Gordon throwing his name into contention.  Either way, Defensive Backs coach Curt Mallory says that the positions will ideally be interchangeable, meaning that Kovacs will likely play the majority of snaps with "not-Kovacs" rotating in and out.  Josh Furman is also an option, but has not had anything that sounds like "starter" attached to his name.

Linebackers will probably be a more solidified starting bunch.  Kenny Demens is your starter at MLB.  There is no disputing this.  Reports have it that he is playing as well as anybody has at that position in quite some time, which probably means "since David Harris," if I can put on my Fred Jackson mask for a minute.  At SLB, it appears as though Cam Gordon is going to get the nod.  The WLB position is a little more up in the air.  You've got Mike Jones, Marell Evans, and Brandin Hawthorne all vying for their shot with the first team.  The same tea leaves that I alluded to earlier from Mgoblog make it sound like Evans needs to step it up, and that Hawthorne has been putting in a late push to run with the 1's.

So what do we make of this?  The defensive line should be serviceable, especially if they can find a DT to compliment Martin, which is a 50-50 proposition at this point. The secondary is still a liability with too much youth and too little athleticism.  The linebackers should be...competent?  I really don't know what to make of that unit.  Demens is going to be good, I'm confident in that.  As for the others...I just don't know, and probably won't until we start playing some games.  My guess is that one or two guys will be significantly better than the others; how long it takes to ID those guys and get them the reps remains to be seen.

Special Teams

Special teams were a disaster last year.  This year, they will be better because there is quite literally no place to go but up.  Freshman kicker Matt Wile will be handling the kickoffs, punting, and field goals for the first game while punter Will Hagerup serves his four game suspension for a violation of team rules.  You'll recall that Hagerup was suspended for last year's Ohio State game as well.  There's a lesson to be learned here somewhere.  When asked how having a true freshman handling kickoffs, punting, and field goals, Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded with "very comfortable."  Given that there are no other options, I suppose I'd be comfortable too.  The bottom line here is that we just need a dude who can hit a 35 yard field goal with regularity.  I'm not greedy.  Matt Wile, for his part, comes in with some credibility.  He was actually rated by Rivals and Scout, which is rare for kickers.  ESPN had this to say:

He has a field goal approach that is repeatable. The ball jumps off his foot and he has a smooth rhythm. He does need to finish down field more on his FG at times. There are times where he pivots and comes across his body slightly. His kick offs are solid for a high school kicker. He generally drives the ball into the endzone and gives his team good hang-time to run underneath his kicks... Matt should be able compete early in college.

Matt has not only competed early in college, he has won.  Let's hope that his game transitions well from the tee to the ground, etc.  Unless your name is Rich Rodriguez, high-rated kickers do not usually flame out.  Let's hope this is the case.  We are counting on you, Matt.  All of us. 

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