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Posted on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 7:05 a.m.

A mistake-free defense is Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's goal

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wants his players to eliminate the big plays that hampered the Wolverines' defense in 2010.

Melanie Maxwell |

Greg Mattison has coordinated some of the best defenses of the past couple decades — college or pro.

He’s coached for 31 years at the college level, including some of those stout Michigan defenses of the mid-1990s and Florida's national championship unit in 2006, and the past three years in the NFL, where he molded a top-three defense with the Baltimore Ravens.

He has an eye for talent on that side of the ball — and is inheriting a group that posted the worst defensive season in school history last year.

How can the Michigan defense go from laughingstock to championship caliber?

“Our biggest goal and our biggest purpose with this defense is do not give up the really big plays,” he said.

How long will it take?

“I wouldn’t be coaching here if I didn’t think we could get this defense up to the level Michigan expects (this year),” he said. “That’s my job.”

Mattison made the comments Tuesday after the Wolverines had completed their second practice of the fall. Both workouts were without pads.

During the 20-minute window the media was allowed to watch Tuesday, it was readily apparent that, pads or not, Michigan’s camp will be fast-paced and physical. Players swiftly shuffled between several stations. Rarely was there a lull in the routine.

Early in the workout, running backs Thomas Rawls and Michael Shaw each went down on rushes, but got up and kept going, with Rawls dragging four defenders.

No one on either side of the ball stopped working until the whistle was blown — whether or not the ball carrier went to the ground.

“No one — no one! — is going to get a big play on us,” Mattison barked to the team.

Mattison said after the workout it is difficult to measure how a defense is performing during padless practices, and Michigan won't add full pads until Friday.

So, he is stressing perfect alignments and techniques on every play.

“The thing we have to correct is any missed assignments, because missed assignments will eventually turn into big plays and that is what will kill us,” Mattison said.

“They’re going to rush for some yardage. Every team we go up against is going to get a run of 4, 5, 6 yards. We know that. But we can’t give up 25 and 30, and the home runs.

“That’s hard (to practice) in no pads, because there’s no tackling. So, sometimes, the guy might have gotten hit at the line of scrimmage, but you can still see if the defense is still cupping the ball and the secondary is still running to the ball.”

Mattison is ditching last year’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme in favor of a 4-3 — that is, a four-linemen front with three linebackers and four players in the secondary.

Michigan installed about 65 percent of its new defense in the spring. More has been added this fall, but the coaching staff has said it will be careful not to overwhelm the players.

“As a coach, you have to make sure that you don’t slow your players down (by overcoaching),” Mattison said. ”We’ll have a large script of defenses, but they’ll only be called if we can execute them.”

To run the system properly, though, Mattison first requires bigger linemen than those employed by former coach Rich Rodriguez. The coaching staff set off-season weight goals for many players — and from the looks of the updated roster released Tuesday, most achieved them.

Craig Roh’s weight gain is particularly impressive, going from 251 pounds last year to 269 this year.

“The thing I felt that would help him play the position and do the things we want him to do would be to gain some weight,” Mattison said. “In practice, with no pads, I’ve seen that already.”

Ryan Van Bergen now weighs 288 pounds, which is five pounds heavier than last year but about 10 pounds more than his spring weight. He said he was on about a 6,000-7,000-calorie diet to help put on the weight.

Mike Martin is up five pounds to 304.

The biggest success, though, was defensive tackle William Campbell, whom Hoke said was “out of shape” in the spring. He trimmed down from 342 in the spring to 322 this fall.

Mattison loves the dedication to improvement Michigan has shown, but warns that expectations should be tempered. The defense has “miles and miles to go” before it’s a championship-caliber unit, he said.

“But we’ll get there,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we could.”

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 3:58 a.m.

"No one — no one! — is going to get a big play on us," Mattison barked to the team. I could see or hear BO saying this... TiM.. GO BLUE..


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Now if they could just get some players that can stay sober long enough to get off the bench and take off their red shirts, then the coaches could maybe do something!

Terry Star21

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 6:53 p.m.

You're on the wrong page....your looking for the East Lansing Journal and the Columbus Dispatch - college football sections.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 12:53 a.m.

In Kyle's article, I do not see a quote where coach Mattison says he expects results in 3 years, but not before, due to not having "his guys". I am used to seeing that quote coming from the coaching staff. Am I missing something? Has something changed? You bet!

Terry Star21

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

Good one Jaxon !

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 1:57 a.m.

Can I get an "Amen" Brother Jaxon5, for Brother Mattison. I'm sure if you keep reading you will something about next year. It would have been writen about a year ago.


Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 10:53 p.m.

Mattison is my new hero.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

"Our" new hero. One of many it would appear.

Terry Star21

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

"I wouldn't be coaching here if I didn't think we could get this defense up to the level Michigan expects (this year)," he said. "That's my job." - man this is good stuff, I love that approach ! But this one is the one I want to see every game; "No one — no one! — is going to get a big play on us," Mattison barked to the team" ! I think players, maybe everyone needs to be reminded these simple but effective sayings daily. I don't know what the heck went on last year, but I read everything printed, saw the scrimmages and two practices plus every game and I don't remember a lot of positives - mostly yelling, negative teaching approaches, ect. (I know people, quit dwelling on the past !). There has been a ton of positive things coming from this coaching staff and early camp - some say talk is cheap, maybe so and we'll have to wait and see. I as a Michigan Football Faithful I like what I am hearing and seeing - and I am believing - that's why we all keep following and supporting Michigan ! MgoBlueForTim..............NO ONE - IS GOING TO GET A BIG PLAY ON US !!!!!

David Vande Bunte

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

This year we will see what kind of difference good coaching and scheming can make. I have had a long struggle in my own mind as to whether Michigan's defense was so horrendous because of the complete lack of talent or if it was the combination of bad coaching and poor scheming. Basically, I struggled with deciding if personnel wise, the defense was really that bad, or if the individuals on the defense were victims of circumstance. If Michigan had run a 4-3 or 3-4 instead of a 3-3-5, if Michigan had a coach like Mattison teaching instead of RR and Robinson, would it have made a difference? Would they still have been ranked #108 overall? I have finally resolved that question in my own mind now. With the right coaching, and the right defensive playcalling, even with the exact same players, Michigan's defense could have been much better than it was. I believe that last years exact same unit, under a different set of circumstances, could have been respectable, even still missing Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd. Sometimes just having the right coach can be the difference between excellence, average, and pathetic. If you can be coached up to a level higher than your talent, the opposite must also be true. You can also be coached down to a level lower than your talent. On the defensive side of the ball, RichRod and Gregg Robinson were coacher-downers. I believe that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison are coacher-uppers.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

DVB I completely agree with your thesis. Coaching is important for exactly the reasons you noted. This will be a better team because of superior coaching and leadership. And last year's team, no use stating the obvious. TiM Go Blue!

Terry Star21

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

David - I will never, ever believe in my mind that our defense was that bad the last three years. That is good stuff, what you said about being coached down to a lower level. Bo was modest and didn't praise himself, but you know his players were always thinking; The Bo, The Bo, The Bo ! COACHING does make a difference and these young kids, some still teenagers, even though they are men - are very impressionable.


Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

If these coaches dont get you excited about this year and years to come with Michigan football then I think you need to check your pulse when it comes to being a michigan fan! I just listened to coach Mattison on the site and I love the way he talks about getting guys going 110% with great technique. To me it feels as though there is an air of normalcy around AA with the typical excitment of having a great season. The best thing I heard from Mattison, besides teaching guys to play the right way is that every game a Defense should look different, every time you go up against someone you need to change things so that the other offense cant predict what your going to do. I cant wait until Sept. 3rd! @ 2:30pm! (central time) GO BLUE!


Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

Perfect attitude. Defense wins ballgames. Watched the 2001 Citrus Bowl on BTC last night and even though Auburn scored 28 points, that was one good hard hitting Michigan defense with one Brady Hoke on board as an assistant coach. Now if we can end the flow (flood) of turnovers on offense, we should see a very large turn around.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

And that would make Coach Mattison the reincarnation of Vince Lombardi since the WCiMFH once said even Coach Lombardi couldn't improve the Michigan defense. "No excuses." Just coach the players you have to the best of their abilities and do it this year. TiM Go Blue!


Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

Rofl Mick. Thanks for the explanation. I have heard Brady say that several times now when asked about "rebuilding".

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 8:16 p.m.

TS21 Sorry I am technically challenged. I still draw with crayons.

Terry Star21

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 7:40 p.m.

Hey Blu n tpa - we need to get you a profile picture, maybe a Wolverine or something cool ! This is Michigan for God's Sake !


Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

Hey TrueBlueinohio, WCIMFH=Worst Coach in Mich Football History (that would be the previous guy), some of us don't like mentioning him by name. TiM= This is Michigan (Hoke said that in response to a question in his introductory presser).


Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

I know I haven't posted on here for quite some time nor read very many comments during the summer, but what is WCiMFH and TiM?