Spring Game Bullets: Defense

Hopefully Will Campbell won't choose to show off his trim physique at any point next year.

Earlier this week, I posted some thoughts about the performance of the Michigan offense during the Spring Game this past weekend. Here's the recap on the defense. Thanks to MGoVideo for the always helpful every snap videos, which can be found here.

Defensive Line:

  • The pass-rush looks to be pretty good next year, as the starting defensive line was: NT Will Campbell, a converted pass rush specialist at 3-Tech, Jibreel Black, another player who came in as a speed rusher and has since bulked up, Craig Roh, 5-tech, and Brennen Beyer (who's competing with the ultra-athletic former linebacker, Frank Clark) at the other end position. Add in strongside linebacker Jake Ryan, and that's a formidable cast of pass rushers. Black had an easy sack on Devin Gardner or Gardner's first play, Roh had a pretty good all-around performance, and Clark had a few nice plays. This group, when given Greg Mattison's impressive plethora of blitz packages, should wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks this year.
  • Unfortunately, neither defensive tackle spot looks to be very solid -- Black is a quick player but he and Campbell didn't always hold up well against the run. Campbell, the disappointing former five-star, has had consistency issues throughout his career and while he has improved, he didn't stand out at the nose during the spring game, even though he should have played well against Michigan's young interior line. Backup tackes Chris Rock and Richard Ash showed some promise, so hopefully there's depth there. Ondre Pipkins will have plenty of opportunity to gain some playing time when he arrives in the fall.
  • The depth at linebacker wasn't too bad. Kenny Demens played well with a cast on his injured hand, made some nice tackles and had an excellent pass breakup. Desmond Morgan went out early with a knee injury so we got to see some of the backups: Antonio Poole and Kaleb Ringer did okay. The position with the most talent on defense is definitely the SAM linebacker spot -- Jake Ryan might be the defense's best player and Cam Gordon looks a lot better than he did as a miscast free safety two years ago. Joe Bolden got quite a bit of practice hype and ran a bit with the ones, but he didn't do a whole lot. Mike Jones didn't either.
  • Brandin Hawthorne made a couple of excellent plays: knifing into the backfield for a tackle for loss on Justice Hayes, intercepting a pass with one hand, and destroying Vincent Smith on a play near the goal line. If these plays didn't happen against the third-string or worse, Hawthorne would be getting a lot more hype.
  • The secondary wasn't tested by any really deep throws all day, so not much happened. Blake Countess is quickly becoming Michigan's best cornerback in a while; he picked off an errant Gardner throw and wasn't really tested. JT Floyd got the start with the ones -- not Terrence Talbott, who was rumored to be getting a lot of reps in practice -- and did pretty well. Jordan Kovacs has a starting job locked down, as does Thomas Gordon, and neither played very much. Courtney Avery almost came up with an interception -- he's the nickel corner for the fall. Marvin Robinson made some nice tackles helping up towards the line of scrimmage, and that's probably his strong suit as the box safety. Jarrod Wilson got a bit of playing time as well, although the early enrollee didn't do much outside of getting run over on Thomas Rawls' first touchdown. Josh Furman has been out of practice with legal trouble and didn't play
To be honest, the spring game really didn't tell us too much about the defense. The offense ran an extremely vanilla offense and the defense didn't really do too much in terms of exotic blitz packages, interesting coverages, or anything else out of the ordinary. Fortunately, Michigan only lost a couple key contributors: Mike Martin, who stands out as the most notable departure, Ryan Van Bergen, and Troy Woolork Woolfolk -- so there aren't too many question marks along the defense. The biggest question is how well the defense will hold up against the run at the point of attack, and they didn't do too badly in the spring game against interior running plays. Outside of that, the defense just flat out played well. Mattison's complete 180 from the days of Ray Vinopal getting pwned by Wisconsin offensive linemen to now is just absurd, even if this was just a scrimmage.

This is how the defense figures to look next year based on who started the spring game (returning starters are bold):
  • WDE -- Brennen Beyer
  • NT -- Will Campbell
  • 3-Tech -- Jibreel Black
  • 5-Tech -- Craig Roh
  • SAM -- Jake Ryan
  • MIKE -- Kenny Demens
  • WILL -- Desmond Morgan
  • CB -- Blake Countess
  • CB -- JT Floyd
  • SS -- Jordan Kovacs
  • FS -- Thomas Gordon
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