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Posted on Thu, Aug 18, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

Michigan football coach Brady Hoke names 3 defensive starters

By Kyle Meinke

Michigan football coach Brady Hoke is a defense guy, and he doesn't mince words when he says his unit has a long way to go before the season opener.

But there are three guys with whom he's pleased.

Hoke said he's filled "about two or three" starting spots on defense. When asked who they were, he responded:

"(Cornerback Troy) Woolfolk's had a nice camp, I think (nose tackle Mike) Martin's had a nice camp, (safety Jordan) Kovacs has had a nice camp."


Junior safety Jordan Kovacs "has had a nice camp" Michigan football coach Brady Hoke said. Kovacs was second in the Big Ten last season with 116 tackles and had two interceptions.

Melanie Maxwell |

That doesn't exactly leave a lot to the imagination.

Each of those players was a starter last year, although Woolfolk, a senior, missed the season after suffering a brutal ankle injury during fall camp.

Martin, a senior, was an all-Big Ten player last year who anchors the Wolverines' defensive line, and Kovacs, a junior, has been one of Michigan's most consistent players the past couple of years and started every game last year.

Although the Wolverines have nine defensive starters back, Hoke said every other position remains undecided.

Michigan will hold its first fall scrimmage Saturday. Hoke has said he hopes to start penciling in his two-deep roster around then, although position battles are expected to persist throughout camp.

Notably, walk-on sophomore defensive tackle Nathan Brink appears to be a legitimate contender to earn minutes at the defensive tackle position. The walk-on sophomore from Holland Christian was seen getting first-team reps ahead of junior Will Campbell at Tuesday's practice.

Thursday, Hoke continued to gush about Brink, a name most didn't know until this week.

"(Brink is) one we may not have seen earlier," Hoke said. "Coming out of spring, we thought he could help us some, but I think he'll probably help us more."

Hoke lauded Brink's toughness, coachability and technique at the team's media day Sunday, then echoed those sentiments Thursday without being prompted to do so.

"He's just kind of a guy who's shown up," Hoke continued. "I give Nate a lot of credit. He's coachable and teachable and all those things that you want.

"I think he's tough-minded. If you're going to play up front defensively, you better have that first and foremost."

Hoke said competition is healthy for his unit.

How is Campbell taking it?

"That's (on) Will," Hoke said of the Detroit Cass Tech product, who was one of the top defensive tackle recruits in the country coming out of high school. "He's competing. He'll compete, and then we'll go from there."

Martin will anchor the defensive line, and he is considered one of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten.

Hoke has been pleased enough with Martin — and has enough respect for him and his leadership skills — to name him among the first batch of starters, but he also has identified a couple areas for improvement.

"His biggest obstacle at times (is) he's not following-through on the basic fundamentals once in a while," Hoke said. "He's really learning, really working hard at it, and I like the endurance he's showing."

It's healthy to have competition for jobs in camp because it keeps players sharp, but having so many positions undecided at this point can also mean a team is short on playmakers.

Does Michigan have many playmakers on defense?

"You have to understand, I'm really hard on the defense now," Hoke said after a moment, his hoarse voice dropping. "Eh, I'd say no. I mean ..."

Will Michigan's defense be a liability this year, as it was last year, when it finished 110th overall?

"I think defense helps any team. I don't know about this particular team," Hoke said. "We'll find out."

Hoke acknowledges he's especially hard on the defense, and the line in particular, because he played the position growing up and has taught it for much of his career.

One positive he did point out is he thinks the defense is getting to the quarterback better. Hoke said that's due to a better understanding of the concepts being taught up front, as well as improved paths being taken into the offensive backfield.

The 4-3 defense being installed by Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is supposed to facilitate quarterback pressure, which also would help take some of the onus off Michigan's secondary.

Hoke also has been pleased with his defense's grasp of the new blitz packages.

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


Michael Erickson

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

Not surprised.bout Jordan Kovacs ! All the guy does is make plays, one of.the most.fundamentally sound players on defense the last two years. What he lacks with physical ability ( which isn't much ) he makes.with.Smartskins and instincts ! Kids amazing and one of my favorite players on the team. I know the defense will be much better, and Will Campbell I hope can step it up and play as expected. I hope the rest of the.Big-Ten is on alert because Michigan is coming and you will know you were in a fight when you play us ! GO BLUE !!!


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 6:20 p.m.

Well, see, that is part of the problem because it isn't all about heart. It's also about reading, anticipating, and then having the speed to cover behind your corners, and Kovacs has been short on that (see Illinois game, UMass game, most any other game). I like Kovacs but he was a walk-on for a reason and has limitations enough that he wouldn't be starting at most teams in the B1G, especially at those we re trying to surpass.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 3:36 p.m.

Even if Brink starts you know Campbell will have to play LOTS of minutes. Brink is thirty-five to forty pounds under weight he won't hold up playing every down for a whole Big Ten season. But if he brings play making and some urgency to D that is awesome, and hopefully a wake up call and some urgency for Campbell and Ash. Will did show up for camp fifteen pounds lighter, that's a start and an obvious change in attitude. The D needs everybody! They can't write anyone off.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

I definitely think there are players on this team who can be play makers. As a pass rusher like Mike Martin, it's hard to be a play maker when you're in a 3-3-5 defense, and you get double teamed all the time. With the new D, more pressure will be applied to O-Lines and allow guys to get to the QB, and when QBs are under pressure, they're more likely to make mistake passes, where talented guys like Jordan Kovacs, JT Floyd, and Troy Woolfolk can pick them off. I think with Mattison and Hoke running the D now, more play makers will emerge simply by default. We only have room for improvement coming from 110th!


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 2:21 p.m.

Even though this year our D and our team as a whole will not reach the standard that BH and staff are setting, there is no doubt in my mind that one of the biggest differences between this year and the last 3 will be that we will see marked improvement throughout the season ... individuals will improve, the D will improve significantly, and our team will improve throughout the year. BH and the coaches will get the most out of the talent that we have ... what that means in terms of wins and losses remains to be seen, but we will surprise some people and other teams. Go Blue.

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

Guys, I think we need to have a more plasible goal regarding the defense specifically, and the team overall. Improvement is the measuring stick for the players, the units, and the TEAM. In some cases that improvement will lead to wins but because of the lack of experience that still wont be enough to win all the games. Coach Hoke and staff has done such a good job with this team that we the fans have forgetting how we got here. Awful defense and even worse special teams coupled with lack of direction and instruction from the WCSiMFH (Worst Coaching Staff in Michigan Football History) will not be overcome in 8 months time, even if Vince Lombardi was coaching. I just want a team that "brings it" and we will have to live with whatever growing pains show up over the next 4 months. TiM Go Blue!

Blu n Tpa

Sun, Aug 21, 2011 : 10:41 a.m.

B1 Please read the second paragraph. The D was 110 out of 120 and special teams was 120 out 120. Calling that experience is like calling the lookout on the Titanic "experienced". Yeah, he did it before, just not very well.


Sat, Aug 20, 2011 : 7:08 p.m.

Lack of experience? Aren't there 18 starters coming back?


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 12:07 p.m.

I agree with 1st Down that this defense is probably a couple years from being a very good unit. Hoke was guarded for a reason. He knows it's going to take a lot of work and some time before this is the type of Michigan D that everyone wants. Recruiting deficiencies can't be fixed overnight. The last 3 years have set the program back and the coaching change probably pushed things out a little longer because of having to re-stock the team with different types of players. So be it. That being said, I think this defense WILL definitely be better than last year. How much better is anyone's guess. We'll know a lot more after the first 3 games.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 11:32 a.m.

Gotta love Jordan Kovacs. Regardless of how many things people post and question his value, the kid just keeps getting better. Typical example of a player not ranked by stars, but by his will to compete and win. While he is not the most athletic person on the team, he manages to do what is necessary to help the team win. It's all about heart.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 7:53 a.m.

Just because a guy wasn't a 5 star player in high school, it doesn't mean he can't matriculate into a really good player in college as his body gets bigger and also has great coaching and motivating, add to that the resources available at the U-M. Big Will might just be a guy who was great against high school boys but is struggling against college men. Hopefully he can reach his potential and bring it on game day.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

I agree. while he may have been the team bully in HS just because of his size, that isn't true in college. He has to work to compete now and it is debatable whether he wants to put forth the effort to attain gretness.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 6:50 a.m.

For some reason my last comment got deleted, I'M mystified as to why. So I'll try again. @B163, just because a guy wasn't a 5 star high school player doesn't mean he can't mature in his college years and reach a potentially strong career with all the resources the U-M has and now with the best coaching he's ever had, who knows how good he could be. Campbell on the other hand might just turn out to be a guy who did really well against high school boys, but is having a difficult time against college men. I hope Big Will ends up being a great player, he just has to prove it, he certainly has a lot going for him.

1st Down

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 11:20 a.m.

Hey Mick...welcome to the club that AA mysteriously deletes messages which are 110% fine and do not actually violate their vaunted "conversation guidelines" It boggles the mind sometimes... that said, I admire your optimism...but our D has a couple years to go to where we are good again....the new talent coming in from Hokes recruiting will certainly help....but when I think of great Michigan defenses, we had back line players like Vada Murray and Tripp Wellbourne...and we just do not have that kind of calibur player at safety these days.... and that will hurt us big time though we will be ok this year, just not that good overall

1st Down

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 4:47 a.m.

The defense is still a year from being decent and 2 from being just is what it is, people really need to realize that the previous staff really let us down in recruiting, taking many defensive players that did not qualify and others that simply do not fit the scheme of a solid Big Ten defense. In addition, many players are now just learning proper technique + other than perhaps a decent defensive line, the majority of our LBs and DBs struggle to play in space and take proper angles.... I like Kovacs, but lets be honest, he is a 5-9 kid who runs a 4.8+...the guy can tackle well playing downhill but dont ask him to do much in coverage because it is beyond his abilities.... Woolfolk is on the mend, JT as well and he is not all that to begin with....this defense is going to struggle and will end up the season ranked probably 7-8th in the conference...a significant improvement but still below average.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

and this is why we won't have the 9 and 10 win seasons some are predicting. Tough talk from the coach is good when his team can back it up. I don't think this defense can back up the tough talk we've seen lately. 8-4 is a great season for this group. The defense just isn't going to be good because new coaches show up. There is a lack of skill on that side of the ball. I agree, 7 or 8 in the big ten, which means we'll go 4-4 at best. And the Notre Dame game is what gets us to 8-4.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 4:32 a.m.

I feel uneasy about Hoke's cautious statements too, but there's always the chance he's sand-bagging everyone. It's no secret that coaches like to use this psych technique, under playing the real team behind the "no comment" barricade. I guess many of us are tempted by our total approval of Coach Hoke to avoid engaging in a bit too optimistic projections for this season. Still - think about Sept. 10 when Notre Dame comes here for the night game (nationally televised). If this team (both units) is worth anything, they'll be pumped and prepared for that game! How the Wolverines handle Notre Dame under the lights will be the earliest indication of success or the amount of success we can look forward to in 2011. I also think talking about the Ohio team is premature. They have a new coach whose eyes often look like he's trapped in the beams of headlights and they have lost the players and coach who looked like guarantees of success. Talent only helps when it's matured enough to help. So we'll have to keep an eye on the Ohio team, they may or may not be able to cover the gap this year.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 6:57 a.m.

Excellent analysis T2B76, I was wondering about potential sand bagging also. I also thing Fickell looks like a deer in headlights


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 4:02 a.m.

Look B163, Just because a guy didn't get big time mention in high school, it doesn't mean that as he matures as a young man that he couldn't show a great ability in the future. Particularly with adept coaching and motivating. See, these things matter in life, they make a difference. Like I said in an earlier post, maybe Campbell is a guy who did great against high school boys and is having a hard time against college men. Where as Brink is just coming into his own and the resources they have at the U-M can only benefit him that much more. So B163, don't poo poo guys abilities just because you feel like it, you're just sitting around guessing, you're not out there coaching the team, are you?


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 3:47 a.m.

It's so exciting reading this stuff, I can't wait for the season to start and find out what we have in store for us.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 3:25 a.m.

This is NOT good news, Wolverine fans. Among the three defensive starters Hoke is declaring, two of them are WALK-ONS. In other words, two walk-ons are the best players on the defense. For all those slappies that are calling for a 9 or 10 win season, let that sink in for a moment. OSU probably has walk-ons that are their 3rd string....their 1st and 2nd string are all 3, 4 or 5 star scholarship recruits. I love UM football, I think Hoke and Co. are the right guys to return us to our rightful place at the top of the B10 and beyond, but there will definitely be a "transition" period before we get back to the top of the mountain. I'm sticking with my prediction of 6-6. Anything above that will be cause for celebration.


Sat, Aug 20, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

Kovacs was offered scholies by other schools but turned it down to walk on at Michigan. He was highly touted in high school. Google it.

Kyle Meinke

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

Burton, Cool. You're post is right on, by the way (other than the 2nd walk-on thing). Skepticism is needed at this point because, hey, they finished 110th in total defense last year! They may have nine starters back, but that doesn't necessarily mean those guys will get their spots back if they can't get stops.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Kyle, You're right, I was thinking of Brink. My bad. i'm not knocking Kovacs...he was one of the few bright spots on the defense last year. Love his nose for the ball and his toughness. The point I was trying to make is that the talent on this team is not in the same league as the better teams in the B10. Hoke & Co. have a tough task trying to utilize RR's players in their new schemes. I have faith in them that they will do a good job coaching them up, but I'm tempering my optimism with a healthy dose of skepticism...

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

I think Kovacs was looked at coming out of high school but wasn't there a problem with his knee or shoulder that had to be fixed? Anyway every season people take shots at him, his speed, or lack thereof, his walk-on status, or there's this new faster, stronger player that's going to knock him off the starting lineup. That is until they get to the field and what happens? When the introductions are done, JK's out there standing with the other starters. The young man plays smart, hard nose football and what's not to like about that? TiM Go Blue!

Kyle Meinke

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 3:39 a.m.

Burton, only one of the starters is a walk-on (Kovacs), and he's a former one at that who was about the only consistent tackler in Michigan's secondary last year. The other two -- Martin and Woolfolk -- are all-Big Ten players, when they're healthy. All three are strong, upperclassmen leaders, which I suspect is why Hoke singled them out as the starters at this point. I'd venture to guess the second walk-on you're thinking of is Brink, who is simply getting a look right now at DT. He's not a guaranteed starter, and really, I bet he doesn't start. But there's competition inside on that defensive line right now, and that's what Hoke wants. Keeps everyone sharp, and just might help push Campbell. ... although that remains to be seen.

Terry Star21

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

Great news from camp. Sorry to hear about Will, but the coaches gave him every opportunity to come through. This Brink kid (walk-on) has really impressed everyone and that's the kind of stories we love. I like that 4-3 defense as pressure (blitz) on the quarterback is what the game is all about. If you remember the times before 2008, Michigan was feared for their defense/blitzing - I'm looking forward to seeing this more. MgoBlueForTiM...........opposing quarterbacks down and out like walmart sparty...


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 1:53 a.m.

They have to learn the patented Michigan defensive move, One hard step forward, then turn around and chase the play down from behind :) Martin, being on the line, mastered that move last year, but also mastered "Getting Up" in order to chase the runner down from behind.


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 3:27 a.m.

Yeah, I took some time off. Trolling in the off season can be so draining, a bit like work. Rodriguez made things easy, but Hoke has been less entertaining so far. Well, good luck to you and the team you root for, I really don't think things will be getting any worse in the next couple years, so i do expect some improvement. I fully expect them to win two of their non conference games this year, maybe three......


Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 2:53 a.m.

You better master it too, ninja. Cuz you will be learning it the hard way when your little boys are chasing the fumble recovery/interception return from behind.

Terry Star21

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 2:04 a.m.

There you are,we missed you....sorry about your team.....