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Posted on Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan football over-under: Will the defensive line's sack total drop?

By Kyle Meinke


Craig Roh, left, is entering his fourth year as a starter and will be depended upon to help make up for the loss of three defensive line starters, including star Mike Martin.

Melanie Maxwell |

Take a cursory look at the Michigan football team's roster for next season, and things look promising: 15 returning starters, a star quarterback in his third season as a starter, a reigning 1,000-yard rusher at tailback and a completely intact defensive back seven.

But for as encouraging as those returners are, the massive turnover at defensive line is every bit as disconcerting.

The Wolverines are losing two four-year players in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Combined with the loss of Will Heininger, Michigan must account for 87 lost starts on its defensive line.

That's double the 39 career starts that return, which is staggering. And, hey, 38 of the 39 returning starts are accounted for by one player, Craig Roh.

The defensive line started slow last year, but found its rhythm midway through the season and was terrific down the stretch. It saved Michigan in late-season games against Illinois and Virginia Tech, and was thoroughly dominating against Nebraska.

Can Michigan pick up where it left off, despite the turnover? We debate whether the Wolverines' front four can post 15 sacks, a season after recording 17.

Over-under: Michigan's defensive line will record 15 sacks

Kyle Meinke: Is this even a debate? Listen, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was marvelous last year in taking a group of linemen who were poorly coached for a different scheme, and making them fundamentally sound in a new scheme. Bravo.

But look at the guys with whom he was working. Martin was a monster in the middle who could be productive even while facing regular double-teams. Van Bergen is as tough as anyone. Those guys finished their careers with a combined 75 starts.

Michigan Football Over-Under

This is part of a 14-day series featuring 2012 Michigan football-related debate from sports writers Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner.

Wednesday: Can the Michigan offense maintain its production?

Thursday: Can the Michigan defense be as stout in 2012?

Friday: How many wins will Michigan collect away from home?

Saturday: Can Denard Robinson reduce his interceptions into single digits?

Today: Can Michigan's revamped defensive line keep up its sack production?

Monday: How many catches will quarterback Devin Gardner record?

They posted 306 tackles in their careers, including 23.5 sacks. They had nine of of the line's 15 sacks last year -- despite Martin's double teams. And you're replacing that with, what, exactly?

Martin's replacement, senior Will Campbell, has never put it all together, and even if he does, he won't be the kind of force who can free up others. He has had a hard enough time taking care of himself in his Michigan career.

Junior Jibreel Black is the other tackle. He's smart and fast, but he also has never played tackle in college and weighed 260 pounds last year. He also won't have a guy such as Martin beside him to draw away attention.

Either sophomore Frank Clark or converted linebacker Brennen Beyer will start at weak-side end, while Roh slides into Van Bergen's strong-side role. Clark is supremely athletic and could have a breakout season, but he's still light on experience.

That means you're talking about possible regression at every spot along the line, with Roh the only exception. Coaches say strong-side end is a more natural fit for him, and his catalog of experience will serve him well.

Prediction: It's an athletic group, and having the watchful eyes of Mattison, coach Brady Hoke and position coach Jerry Montgomery upon them could make this a formidable group. The talent is there. But the seasoning is not, and seasoning means more along the defensive line than just about any other spot on the field. Take the under.


Nick Baumgardner: This is a tough one. Really tough, actually. Michigan loses so much production up front in Martin, Van Bergen and Heininger that it seems extremely unlikely that any type defensive line production will be the same.

But I don't think it's impossible.

Heininger and Martin came up with 4.5 sacks, combined, last season inside. In limited playing time, Campbell made two and Black had 1.5. Both of those guys will play more this season, as will Richard Ash and Quinton Washington -- between them, they should be able to duplicate Martin and Heininger's numbers, if not increase them.

Roh made four sacks last year, and seemingly played out of position. He's moved to the strong side now, Van Bergen's old spot, and if he can avoid the slow start he had in 2011, he should easily be able to duplicate Van Bergen's 5.5 sacks.

As for the weak-side rush end? Well I see nothing but positives. Clark didn't play a lot last year, but when he did, he made an impact. He's incredibly athletic and has a great burst off the ball. With one more year in Mattison's system, he could be poised for a breakout.

The same could be said for Beyer, who is changing positions but played a ton last season. And the coaches -- Mattison especially -- love him.

Prediction: Michigan loses a ton up front, but few people in America put as big an emphasis on the defensive line as Hoke. Between him, Mattison and Montgomery, the Wolverines' defensive line gets more expert tutelage than perhaps any other spot on the field.

Michigan has some holes up front, but it's not void of talent. There's size and speed, it's just not proven. Not yet, anyway. In 2012, I'll take the over.



Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

I value Kyle's analysis, but I think I have to lean more towards what Nick Baumgardner says. True losing Martin and Van Bergen will be tough for Michigan to fill, however Will Campbell and Roh should be able to fill those two spots nicely and don't forget they are seniors with playing experience. Plus we have highly touted Ondre Pipkins coming in to the mix that could be game changing freshman like Kyle Kalis could be on offense. Not to mention this is Year 2 under Hoke, Mattison, Montgomery. Those 3 are arguably 3 of the best defensive line coaches in the nation. If you think about it there wont be too many new faces on defense.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 9:32 a.m.

Kyle, I think you're a great writer but your analysis in this article is very short cited. Football is a team game and it takes 11 players on the field to register a sack. You completely ignored 7 of those players in this article. Do you think Michigan's defense as a whole will be better? I do. We are returning 8 starters on defense. With that in mind, I think it's foolish not to expect the sack number to increase. There is such a thing as a "coverage sack", implying that quarterbacks can be sacked due the lack of an open receiver to pass to. This is actually far more common than sacks due to a missed block or stellar defensive line play.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 9:18 a.m.

I took the over because i think the back 7 are going to be a lot better. We are returning everybody and I think the jump for Countess, from freshman to sophomore, will be significant. The argument is simple. When it takes a QB longer to find an open receiver, you get more sacks. It's as simple as that. Do I think the D-line is going to be better? No. Mike Martin was probably the best DT in the Big 10 and Van Burgen was probably the smartest in the Big 10. As far as total sacks go, I think it will probably be more than 15.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

Anyone wonder what the "over under" is on Kyle writing a decent column on Michigan football?


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 3:47 a.m.

Steve-O...I enjoy Kyle's column and look forward to something, ANYTHING regarding UM football during this down time and Kyle delivers daily.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:19 a.m.

KYLE. . . you are A-OK in my book. . . great read! GO BLUE!!!

Terry Star21

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:06 a.m.

Steve please - Shame on you ! Kyle is the best college football writer the AA.Com/Ann Arbor News has ever had. Kyle is diligent in his fact reporting and complete in even the smallest details before he writes a single word. Why ? Because he hustles to meet with players and coaches first hand and he researches stats and past history endlessly - so that we have the very best in Michigan Football reporting. And I for one am very grateful because I know pretty much everyday I am going to read something interesting, something new, something exciting about college footballs most famous team - Our Team ! MgoBlueForTiM...Kyle writes 'Over' our expectations...


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

Ouch! Steve that's a bit harsh. Kyle does a much better job than previous beat writers for UM football. Not to mention that this time of the year he's digging at the bottom of the cookies jar for any crumb of a story to entertain us. You must be interested or you wouldn't be reading. Lighten up. It's almost football season!

Kyle Meinke

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

Steve, not sure what the number is, but I'm probably taking the under regardless.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

I think your caption for the pitcute should read differently. Craig Roh is enterig his 4th year as a senior? So he's been there for 8 years now?


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 8:41 p.m.

Unless I completely read it wrong the first few times

Wally the Wolverine

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

Kyle, I think you're spot on with your analysis. Many fail to recall that we could not even run a full fledged scrimmage this Spring due to the lack of depth. Absent work in "gamelike" conditions, it's no stretch to believe that it could take the D-line up to midway through the season to gel (like last year). Only this year, there is an undeniable drop-off in talent on the defensive front - with a tougher schedule. Suggesting the front 4 can merely be "coached up" completely dismisses reality. Granted, it's easy for one to vote with their heart, but if they had to put their mortgage payment on it, everyone would take the under on this one.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:51 p.m.

Wally. - Last year everything about the defense was new. Mattison himself said that this year he need not explain the defense and could far more easily change the scheme because the defense all know what is expected. Only God himself knows if they'll "gel" by the first game, but I'd be shocked if they are not sound for ND.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

A lot of optimism here, with little to base it on. Go Blue.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

RW - Optimism based on coaching and talent. From almost the worst defense in 2010, to overall 17th, and 6th against scoring. Yes we've lost some leaders, and yes the guys that need to step up spent the majority of their time under the worst defensive coaches in Michigan history. They've bought in to the new system and have their own bones to make this year. Solid talent and gifted coaching can produce exceptional results, and some of our guys are far better than solid.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

This defense will dominate the opposing offenses and each quarterback will be literally afraid to even touch the ball. This will make sacks a bit harder as fumbles will be much more abundant to boot. Michigan doesn't need to fill graduation spots, they just need to fill all defense spots with a 'class A' Mattison players - the rest will be magic. Each player on the front then will acquire the nickname 'Sack' before his number. Not sure if the over/under "15 sacks" Kyle writes about is for each game ? If so, I say 15 sacks per game is probably about right. Of course, Michigan controlling the ball on offense for so long may cut that number down. Theo is picking 11 sacks a game. MgoBlueForTiM....every opposing QB leaves with 'turf green' jersey.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 3:44 a.m.

Theo doesn't predict defensive him, defense is to offense what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globetrotters.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 3:27 p.m.

Michigan can feast on the weaker teams on the schedule but have a tougher go wrt to the better teams. How well can the Maize and Blue defensive lines guys get off blocks by the opposing O-line guys and get the QB sack? If they average more than sack 1 per game, it could be significant and a game changer. I will be watching and hoping for the best.

Kyle Meinke

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

MRunner, if Michigan gets more than a sack a game from it's D-line, that bodes very well for its chances next season, considering the D-line is (in my opinion) the biggest weakness. I'm not sure it'll happen (which is clear, considering I took the under here), but if it did, Michigan's defense could be killer, considering all the experience in the back-end.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

And what's with Quinton Washington? The dud is a senior. Was a four star recruit. Weighed 315 lbs. in high school. If people are disappointed in big Will, why not Washington? The coaches don't even bother to mention his name.

Kyle Meinke

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

No problem Scott. The bottom line is Washington could see the field -- not saying he's 100-percent out -- but I just don't see it happening.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

Thanks for the info. Kyle. I guess it's all up to Will and Black.

Kyle Meinke

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

Scott, D-line coach Jerry Montgomery told me before the Sugar Bowl that he hopes Q will contribute this season, but if he does, it'll certainly be in a reserve role. They didn't move Jibreel Black to tackle to have him back up Q, and Campbell has been Their Guy since the Sugar Bowl. With Ondre Pipkins also entering the picture, it's possible Washington won't play much, if at all.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Heck yah (unfortunately). If Mattison can turn big Will around they should put them both on a postage stamp.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

Ted ted ted - Oh Teddy always so very negative. BWC had some very bad coaching. Sometime last year the light turned on and he bought in. From everything we hear from his teammates, he has turned it around. Yes he faces technical challenges because of his height, but he seems to have evolved the necessary work ethic. BWC will play most of the snaps against Alabama. 2012 - BWC's breakout year. Bank it.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 5:33 a.m.

Don't count on it . Will just doesn't have the drive. Pipkins will play most of the snaps against Alabama and will start by the second game. but the dline will have a lot more speed that they did last year.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

The fact that the coaches converted Black to DT when he tipped the scales at 260 tells you all you need to know about how they viewed talent and depth at that position. Hopefully the DL can prove themselves to be up to the challenge as it is really the only glaring weakness, position-wise. Barring catastrophic injury, I think the OL will be solid, and the offense has the potential to not only put points on the board but to maintain possession and control the clock. Between Denard, Fitz and Rawls we will grind out yardage and wear opponents down. Denard will improve in the passing game enough to maintain that threat so defenses that load the box will pay. I also bet one or more of the WR's have a breakout year. Our kicking game should be solid and dependable...I can see them wining some close games for us that we might have lost in previous years. Overall, I'm still skeptical (national champ contenders???) and the schedule is brutal, (but they surprise everyone and beat ' heard it here first) but I predict a very respectable 8-4 season. Cannot wait for football to start.......GO BLUE!!!!!