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The Electric Kool-Aid Defense Test: What Do I Make of the 2010 Michigan Defense? - Part III, The Defensive Line

This is part III of our ongoing look at the Michigan Defense for 2010. You're either an optimist or you're a pessimist. Don't sit there and tell me you're in the middle, because you're not. It's Kool Aid or Drano. But before you yell "Hey! KOOOO-LAID!" or reach for a coffee mug of Liquid Plumber, we're previewing the 2010 Michigan Defense. So let's sit down, look at what we lost, what we've kept, and what we're gaining this season before you open that office window to yell "Hallelujah!" or to jump out of it.

We've already talked about the Defensive Coaches and the Michigan Secondary, so now we're going to look at arguably the Michigan Defense's most veteran unit: The 2010 Michigan Defensive Line.

The 2010 Michigan Football Defensive Line

Out Going: Brandon Graham (#1DC - Eagles). It's hard to think of a single player in college football that meant more to his team than Brandon Graham did in 2009. Graham was force of nature at Defensive End, single handedly almost willing Michigan to wins it never should've had a chance at. How often can you say that about anydefensive player, let alone at defensive end? With Graham gone Michigan loses it's best pass rusher, best run stopper, and unquestioned leader on defense, so yeah. That's bad news for the Defensive line.

Incoming: Michigan recruited a pile of help for the defensive line, though it's difficult to think that any of it will contribute this season. The biggest name defensive line recruit, at least in terms of OMG talent, is most likely Richard Ash, out of Pahokee, Florida. Ash was a player with a strange recruitment history (committing to two different schools before settling on Michigan), a lot of hype, and a reputation for needing a kick in the pants in order to reach his potential. The sites are split on Ash because he, at least in the eyes of the recruiters, is a boom or bust type prospect. Ash has the prototypical size for a DT/DE prospect, the athleticism to be a dominant pass and run defender, and plenty of space to add bulk. But the sites are split. Rivals loves his potential (#25 DT) but Scout dings him hard for just how unpolished his game is (#52 DT). I think he's going to sit for a year until he adds bulk and learns some technique.

Joining Ash is the undersized but ferocious Jibreel Black. Black is one of those recruits who, if he was two inches taller, would've been one of the most heavily sought after DT's in the 2010 class. Like Ash, the sites are split on Black with Scout loving him (#15 DT) and Rivals slating him a little lower (#25 DT). One thing that is consistent about both players, their offer sheets were redonkulous. Black checks in at a less than ideal height, but possesses a game that's impossible to not to love. Great explosion, great hand work, sturdy against double teams. Generally a high school badass with some serious college potential, but a size disadvantage. Here's hoping he's another version of Mike Martinor Brandon Graham that Michigan will craft into a consumer of souls and destroyer of worlds. Of all the Defensive ine recruits, Black is the most likely to see playing time early. MGoBlog is excited.

Michigan also added DT Terry Talbot, older brother of Michigan corner recruit Terrence Talbot to the 2010 Defensive Line class. Talbot is another undersized DT (re: short) but one that seems to have some talent. Talbot certainly has some potential, with a quick first step, bulky frame that screams MORE WEIGHT PLEASE, but he's not going to see the field any time soon. Both Scout and Rivals are in agreement that Talbot is a straight Three Star prospect, with Scout's report basically drooling on his "upside" before ranking him the #41 DT and Rivals is substantially more meh, slating him #61 DT. This isn't to say that Terry didn't have suitors, he did, with Wisconsin and UCLA standing out as high major BCS offers. MGoBlog likes him, provided his reputed work ethic shows up in Camp Barwis.

Moving out from DT, Michigan signed a pair of Defense End prospects that appear slotted for the DE/LB hybrid position (three-technique or whatever cool jargon people are using these days to describe it). First there is Jordan Paskorz, a low three star DE/LB recruit out of PA. Neither Scout nor Rivals has much on the kid, other than to two he's the 20ish something ranked recruit in Pennsylvania this year. Paskorz seems to be one of those recruits whose motor bought him a ticket to a D1 program. Pitt offered, as did Minnesota and Virginia, but Michigan is easily the biggest name in his mailbox. At 6'3 235, there is no way in hell he sees the field on the Defensive Line short of the plague striking the Michigan team and Paskorz is the only one who survives. (Please, God, don't give my team the plague). Definite redshirt, lots of time in the weight room, maybe a contributor down the line.

In a different vein, there is DE recruit Kenny Wilkins. There is a pretty large spread in recruiting hype for Wilkins, with Rivals throwing him 4 stars and calling him the #15 Weakside DE and Scout saying meh and barely giving him three stars (#67 DE). Wilkins checks in as a work-a-holic and physical specimen, but extremely raw at the DE position. Wilkins seems to be destined for redshirt but could compete for time in 2012. Of the two DE recruits, Wilkins seems to have more upside than Paskorz. But who the hell knows at this point.

Staying the Same: Even though the loss of Brandon Graham is a tough one to take, it's not like Michigan doesn't return a lot of talent to the Defensive Line. Most importantly Michigan returns potential All-Big Ten Nose Tackle/Defensive End/Defensive Tackle Mike Martin. Martin, at least to me, is a game changer. He's one of the strongest players on the team and I've never seen him take a play off. Martin was somewhat hampered at the end of last season by a bum shoulder, but Rodriguez indicated at Big Ten Media Days that Martin's surgery was successful and that he's back at 100%. This is good news because Martin is questionably the best player on this defense. Martin looks like he'll play all over the line this year. He could be on the outside or on the inside. Where he ends up on the line will depend a lot of the performance of the next guy on the list.

After Martin, the guy on the Defensive Line with the biggest upside is DT William Campbell. Campbell is easily the highest rated Defensive Lineman Michigan's recruited in a while. As a freshman, Campbell contributed here and there on the line but never really made an impact. Part of that was technique. As a high schooler Campbell was basically unstoppable, so he never really had to learn howto be a defensive tackle. A year and a half in, Campbell's been soaking up instruction and could very well be a significant contributor this season. I think Campbell's break out year is still a year away, but if he shows himself to be a solid contributor this season it'll assuage a lot of fears about the line.

Joining Martin and Campell on the interior are seniors Greg Banks, Renaldo Sagesse, and Adam Patterson. Banks and Sagesse contributed some meaningful time last season on the Defensive Line, and if they can replicate their performances a little more often this year than last, I'll be pretty happy. Patterson is more of an enigma. Coming in he was a consensus four star DE who has never lived up to his recruiting hype. Rodriguez indicated he'd had a good off-season, but until Patterson starts performing on the field I'll reserve judgment. In all fairness, we've heard this before.

One guy that everyone is waiting to see more of is red-shirt freshman Anthony LaLota. LaLota was one of Michigan's scary haul of five US Army All Americans in the 2009 recruiting Class. LaLota came in as a kid who needed a lot of work in the weight room, but had as much potential as anyone in the 2009 class. Here's the thing: when LaLota committed, he'd played one year of football. One. And he was still an All-American and got a 5th star from Scout (at OT, mind you) and four stars from both sites as a Defensive End. Every major program in the country wanted him, and Michigan reeled him in. The question really is when, not whether, LaLota will grasp enough of his defensive responsibilities instinctively to contribute to the defense. He's only a red-shirt freshman, so I'm somewhat skeptical that he'll be a major contributor this season. But after Craig Roh's frankly stellar for a freshman season last year, there's a 50% chance that LaLota could be a factor this season. If he does, it'll be at Defensive End, backing up the next guy on our list.

Michigan's present starting Defensive End, Ryan Van Bergen, is a good one. Van Bergen was a high four star recruit and enters this season as a red-shirt junior with two full years of playing experience. Van Bergen is a fairly classic Defensive End with a high motor. At first blush, you really don't remember him really standing out last season as most of Michigan's backfield plays were courtesy of Brandon Graham. But look at the film again. Van Bergen spent ample time in the backfield and racked up five sacks and 6.5 total TFL. And that was as a red-shirt Sophomore growing into his body. This season should eb his break out year. If he's got quarterback killing super powers, we're going to see them this year. I think he's going to be a great surprise on the Defensive Line.

Kool Aid or Drano: I'm actually really torn on this. I love the fact that Michigan returns five of it's top six defensive linemen. I love the fact that DT and DE are actually stacked with people who have playing experience, have good playing experience, and know what they're doing in a defense for the first time in three years. I love the red-shirt talent in LaLota. I love that Jibreel Black has the skizzils to contribute right away and that Michigan actually has depth at each of the defensive line positions.There's a lot there to make you plug the Kool Aid machine right into your vein.

That said, you simply don't replace a guy like Brandon Graham. You don't magically get better when a guy like him graduates. Michigan loses 26.0 TFL from last year in Graham alone. He doubled the next closest guy in sacks. Teams ceased running to his side of the field simply because they knew it was fruitless. He was that kind of player. As a result, well... it's hard not to get a little concerned.

Before I started this series I was convinced... convinced... that this year's Defensive Line would one of the best Michigan's see since 2006. Kool Aid does that to you. But looking at the numbers and the uncertainty behind them, I'm not so sure. Defensive line play is often greatly impacted by the play of the Linebackers behind them, and there's no way I can be certain that the Linebackers are going to improve... so... yeah.

Look, the defensive line is the deepest, most talented part of the Michigan defense. The starting defensive line comprised entirely of four or five star talent. The backups are either highly recruited or guys that have proven to be capable players. The young guys already in the system or joining it have tremendous potential.

I'm drinking the Kool Aid about this defensive unit, but because of the loss of Brandon Graham I'm sipping it. Not downing it.