ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 10: William Campbell #73 and Brandin Hawthorne #7 of the University of Michigan celebrate after recovering a Notre Dame Irish fumble in the fourth quarter of the game at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines defeated the Irish 35-31. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
This is a tale as old as time.
A behemoth of a young man grows up in the heart of Detroit, MI. He, like many young men his age, plays football through school, but unlike all the rest he is unnaturally gifted. He is tall with broad shoulders and incredibly powerful. He throws other high school athletes around like they were chairs in his way to the buffet line, and he completely dominates almost entirely on the skills that god has given him.
College coaches from all over the country catch wind of this and begin to pursue the big fella. They want him throwing people around at their school. He sticks with his childhood favorite for most of the process until, for some reason, his recruitment opens up late. Following a brief period of uncertainty he reaffirms his pledge to become the centerpiece of the school's impressive recruiting class.
Fans, clad in maize and blue, await his acension into the starting lineup. He is too big, too powerful, too heralded to fail.
As the people of Detroit and the rest of Michigan were finding out, too big to fail doesn't mean too big to fail. Failure is always an option. Like the auto companies that had grown fat on outdated business models*, unable to adjust to the new global economic realities in a slowing economy, and perched on the edge of complete collapse, Will Campbell came to Michigan and couldn't find a way to be effective on the field because the raw power he relied on wasn't enough against college linemen. His conditioning wasn't good enough, and he was thrown into the fray too early and without the proper development time needed to succeed. Also, Will, like those auto companies, was pretty poorly managed.
This continued for his first two years on campus. Will Campbell was perhaps the biggest example of the promise of Rich Rodriguez gone sour. Here was a five-star, can't-miss recruit that was so poorly developed that he got moved across the LOS to the offensive side of the ball in a last ditch attempt to salvage something of his career. Wasted talent and a mismanaged defense is going to be pretty high up on the tombstone someone eventually photoshops a picture of to commemorate the death of the Rich Rodriguez experiment at Michigan. I'm actually shocked no one has made it yet.
However, with death comes rebirth, and Will Campbell finally started to receive the coaching he so desperately needed once Brady Hoke and staff took over. There weren't any major jumps in production, but slowly Will started to find some time on the field in a backup role. The results were mixed between "OMG there's the five-star we've been waiting for" and "aw shit, who got put on skates there?" Don't fool yourself: this was an improvement.
*(I'll be accepting my prize for "most ridiculous comparison using the failure of the Big Three" sometime next week.)
A lot of ink has been spilled on Will Campbell this spring and summer. Not even Denard Robinson can match Will for the number of absurd speculative columns written about what things might be like if he finally puts it together and plays up to all that recruiting hype that everyone still brings up three years later. Hell, I wrote 4000 words on the subject in April (in my defense, it was April ).
Since last season Campbell has been praised for his attitude and effort:
Have you seen consistency out of Will Campbell so far?
"Yeah, I wouldn't say all the way yet. I think there's so much more that we can get from him. What I like about it is his attitude towards it. We do some ‘winners' and ‘losers' every practice, and it pays to be a winner and losing -- there's consequences. Defensively, we've had some consequences, and he's done a great job of running the consequences."
And has gotten himself arrested for (one would have to guess unknowingly) imitating a bad 80s television program while drunk:
Campbell said he was walking across the 600 block of Church Street, an area filled with bars frequented by UM students, early on April 7 to meet some friends at Pizza House. He told District Court Judge Christopher Easthope he slid across the hood of a 2003 Lincoln Town Car and caused damage to the hood.
What does this all mean? I could write 4000 more words on the subject and still not have anything approaching a solid answer. The one thing we do know is that Campbell is one of the most important players on the defense and could have a big effect on how well team 133 carries on team 132's legacy. Campbell will be playing alongside three starters that are at least ten pounds lighter than what they should be for their position. If Campbell can prove to be a solid, unmovable force in the middle it will open up the rest of the line to more single teams and pass-rushing lanes. If Campbell gets pushed around more often than not, it could be a long year.
The wise expectation is to look for Campbell to be a soild, if somewhat unspectacular Big Ten level defensive tackle. Campbell most likely isn't going to "wow" anyone, but with a renewed effort, a clear path to the starting job, and another offseason of work under three stellar defensive line coaches, Will Campbell should prove to be a good fit at defensive tackle, and a solid starter.
Will that be enough? Ask me in about six months.