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Posted on Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.

Michigan not happy with its defense in spring game, showing just how important Will Campbell is for next season

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan defensive tackle Will Campbell weighed 356 pounds the first time he set foot on campus. The senior says he's down to 310 pounds and hopes to play this season at 305 pounds.

Melanie Maxwell |

Denard Robinson set an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and will be a third-year starter this season for the Michigan football team. Roy Roundtree has twice led the Wolverines in receiving.

Will Campbell has 19 career tackles and one start.

Which of the three is unlike the others?

Yet, there the senior was, his big, sweaty stomach exposed by a rolled-up jersey, leading the Wolverines onto the field with Robinson and Roundtree for their spring game Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

The defensive tackle's effort has been questioned in past years. He has called himself lazy. He's been a bust.

But after a spring game that didn't reveal much, mostly because of the limited snaps for Robinson and also the skeleton game plans for both units, one thing is abundantly clear: The Wolverines are pinning a lot on Campbell.

Michigan is revamping its defense, particularly up the middle with Campbell and converted end Jibreel Black taking the places of Mike Martin and Will Heininger.


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Video: Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison and Al Borges discuss the spring game

Live chat replay

Body fat, and camaraderie, high as ever at the alumni flag football game

Alumni game photo gallery

That's where the team is at its weakest right now, and it needs to be strong for coordinator Greg Mattinson's 4-3 to function effectively.

"You heard me say it before: You're only as strong as you are down the middle, and that's going to be our whole deal this year," Mattison said. "We'll be fine outside."

The Wolverines have thrust the role of team leader on Campbell, perhaps as an attempt to coax him into shedding his lazy past. He has embraced the challenge.

He has led film sessions, and become a leader of his position group. And that is, at least in part, why teammates pushed him all the way to the front inside the tunnel, alongside Robinson and Roundtree, the expected faces of Team 133.

"That was crazy, coming out of the tunnel like that," Campbell said in an interview room shortly after the game, his jersey still rolled up past his midsection. "I mean, it wasn't like a real game or anything, but it was something leading them out."

Campbell has been hyped before, including last year. Coach Brady Hoke pumped him up publicly, noting his weight loss and renewed focus. But when it was game time, he was on the sidelines more often than not.

He finished last season with 14 tackles.

But his teammates pushing him to the front, asking him to lead them onto the field, and Hoke last week mentioning him as a legitimate contender for the captaincy next year, indicates it could be for real this time.

And they need him to be for real. He knows it.

"It just means I can't slip at all, because I got 120 eyes on me now," Campbell said of leading the team on the field.

It was a mixed bag for the Wolverines' defensive front in the spring game. They didn't allow the first-unit offense to score until Thomas Rawls rammed into the end zone for a touchdown on the unit's final play of the scrimmage.

But it also faced Robinson on only one series, and benefited from the struggles of backup quarterback Devin Gardner, which made it look better than it actually played.

Hoke said the defense was "soft" in the middle.

"We've got to become a lot more physical, and we've got to improve a great deal over the summer," added Mattison. "The good news with that is our staff, and this program, believes in working very hard at improving in the summer and not just lifting weights.

"We make more gains at Michigan in the summer, with what they do on technique, than most programs."

Coaches aren't permitted to supervise summer workouts, which means the onus for organizing and executing those sessions falls on the players. That's where the growth, and assumed leadership, of a guy such as Campbell becomes essential.

By all accounts, he has taken on that role and will be responsible for leading the line during the summer period. After what Michigan's front showed Saturday, in a rather ineffectual performance — Hoke called it "bothersome" — that work is critical before the Wolverines start fall camp in August.

But Campbell also still has a long way to go on the field before he is ready to anchor Michigan's defense.

"We need him to not just knock people around; tackle the football," Mattison said. "Will and I have talked long and hard, that the ball is the issue, not how many lumps you can put on that guard or that center, and Will's getting it.

"Will's the key. You heard me say it before: You're only as strong as you are down the middle, and that's going to be our whole deal this year, because we'll be fine outside."

On the outside, two of Michigan's best players are linebackers Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan. It has seven of its top eight players back in the secondary.

If the middle can hold its own, the Wolverines have a chance to improve on last year's No. 17-ranked overall defense. If it doesn't, things could get dicey, especially in the season opener against defending national champion Alabama.

A lot of that rides on the inside play of Black and Campbell. Each flashed potential in the spring game, but showed they have a long way to go before they're ready for Sept. 1.

"Jibreel Black, the key to him is how strong he gets this summer," Mattison said. "He showed why you can't play at 270 (pounds) in there, if you don't have good technique."

Weight gain is key for him. As for Campbell, he still is working on slimming down.

He arrived at Michigan a hefty 356 pounds. He's now down to about 310 and hopes to play at about 305 next season.

And that's why he played the spring game with that big, sweaty guy exposed. From the time he ran onto the field, through postgame interviews, he said it serves as a reminder that he has only four-and-a-half months to whip himself into shape.

"It's a defense thing," he said. "We all had to lose weight, so we wanted to show it."

They showed off their new bodies. Now, they need to show they know what to do with them, and that starts with Campbell.

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



Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

With Campbell being a senior I think he will turn in a spectacular season. He will dominate the middle and be unblockable freeing up our linebackers to make tackles. Why because he wants to go high in the draft. I seen a lot of players look really good their senior years because they want to be drafted high to get some bonus money.

Steve McQueen

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 2:02 a.m.

Here are McQueen's grades by position coming out of spring: RBs - A. This is the most solid group we have had in at least 5 seasons. Deep, versatile and talented group. Fitz will be a top 5 RB in CF this year, Rawls has a ton of talent and will be an excellent short yardage back and also a guy who can take some of the load off of Fitz in key games. Vince Smith is an excellent little football player and Hayes showed some flashes this spring. Hopkins will be a solid fullback and he has a couple guys behind him that can play too. WRs - C+ Lots of possession type guys, but this group needs a burner. Perhaps one of the two incoming frosh can help there, or perhaps Devin will see some time as well. OL - B. A solid group, which has experience but not very deep. Barnum will do well at center, Taylor is a potential all Big Ten. It will be interesting to see if Kalis can challenge for that guard spot in the summer camp. QB - A- Denard is set to be a Heisman favorite this year. If Devin can get his accuracy down he is a solid 2. Bellomy has potential to be a solid QB also. TE - C - Lack of depth hanging over from the Rich Rod Error really hurts us. DL - B minus - This is one group that I expect will improve greatly from now until the season and beyond. Last years DL was pretty weak in the beginning of the year, but was fairly dominant at the end. 3 DL coaches will coach those guys up. There are some playmakers there, just need consistency. LBs -Aminus Lumping them all together, this is a very deep group...filled with hitters and athletes. This is the first time we have had a good group in at least 5 years. Still young in some spots but the kids can play. DBs - A - Who would have thought that this group could get deep and talented fast..but they have. I like our corners a lot. We can play nickle with anyone and match up pretty well. The safeties are strong as well, and there is leadership there with Kovacs. K/P - Bminus. Need more consistency


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 4:44 a.m.

I agree with a lot of your assessment. With regards to the Oline, keep an eye on Schofield. I think he is going to be a great player for us this year.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

AGREE. . .! i also think walk-on JOEY BURZYNSKI will suprise just like KOVACS did. . . it's great to be a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE!! GO BLUE!!!!!!


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 1:37 a.m.

Not to shabby !


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

"And that's why he played the spring game with that big, sweaty guy exposed." That sounds indecent to me, like WC is a flasher or something. You might want to fix that.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

Ted does love the speed Ain't just smoking the weed One more season of joy As we root for our golden boy boom! big Al has a transformation Puts Russel at the heart of the formation With Devin on the wing We continue to sing Big Al and Ted will be heroes


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

If you don't like the stories, don't read them. Free country and all that...


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

A poem for my main Michigan Man Theo, I mean Ted: There once was a guy named Ted, He was a huge fan of the spread, He Had an uncontrolable lust, For the former coach who proved a bust, Teddy often hates on Borges, But that's cause his frustration is enormous, The poor guy is living in the past, Unlike RR's tenure, his frustration is bound to last, GoBigBlue 4/12


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

I thought you'd like that : )


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 4:44 p.m.

GoBigBlue that is hot.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

After watching the spring game, I feel good about our LB's and secondary, not so good about our D line, good about our RB's, good about QB's (obviously), and so so about our O line. It was a pretty sloppy game all around. Denard barely played but it's obvious why he's the starter and he'll be better this year with another year of experience and the fact that he's a senior. I am confident Devin will be a lot better this season than last. Toussaint and Rawls are a great 1-2 punch. Smith will be a solid change of pace as always. I think the team this year will be better than last year but I don't think our record will improve. Last season's 11-2 record had a ton of luck built into it. It's a tough schedule this season and 9-3 will be a nice accomplishment. We could be staring at two non-conference losses with Alabama and Notre Dame (on the road).


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

LOL You know, every year i listen to how ND is suppose to be more talented and more physical than my Wolverines. They were favored by Vegas to win in '11, by EVERYBODY in '10, and definitely in '09. Vegas, what was the outcome? Hoke will simply out coach Kelly this year. So just stop putting ND in our Lost column. Just like u can stop putting msu there. GO BLUE!!!


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 12:27 p.m.

It's all good !


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:28 a.m.

Keep all your Game Tickets from the 11 an 2 season and won the BCS Bowl game.It won't happen again under this Staff.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

Great comment cutty240. You're the best! You're so smart! Wow...great insight! Our coaching staff is so bad, they will never win another did we ever win 11 games. Hey...why don't you work for ESPN? I bet you would be the best college game day analyst ever! Yeah! With the amazing comments that you post, why arnt they breaking down your door? Please come and be the coach at Michigan!


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:50 p.m.

You're right, cutty. 12-14 wins wins will be more the norm moving forward, with two victories per season over ohio, provided they are good enough to get to the B10 championship game.

Terry Star21

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 6:24 a.m.

Same poster,.... said last year Hoke would be lucky to go 6-6, yep - real reliable !


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:37 a.m.

Hahahahaha!! Good call bud. That's the comment of the year so far! Your right, it must have been just dumb luck that they did it in their first year following 3 of the worst seasons in program history. Wow what a post.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:35 a.m.

thats cuz buckeys rulz, right?

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 2:10 a.m.

Just road my bike by Boise Stadium. spring scrimmage in Boise also. All the fans in orange and blue coming out. I think I'm the most fortunate football fan in the world. My alma mater has coach Hoke and the only other team I care about has Chris Peterson. Two of the classiest guys in the world. Oh and if you think the blue field is ugly on TV you should see it in person. God I love the big house. But Chris Petterson his 2 star recruits and his freshman QB might just beat MSU in East Lansing. If last years team with Kellen Moore had played MSU they would have kicked their rear end all over the place.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:43 a.m.

Glad you had a chance to visit Boise. The table rock is a great place for a brew and just a short walk from the stadium downtown. AA and Boise- two great places to live. Go Blue. Go Broncos.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:08 a.m.

I've been to the stadium there in Boise ... and yes, the blue of that field is ... intense. :-) Visited Boise last year for a few days ... loved it. Particularly the Table Rock Brewery. They had some micros that were fantastic.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 1:56 a.m.

As to Gardner's questionable performance. I have a solution. Devin G. plays WR every snap this year and next and goes pro in the first round in 2013. He's the next Calvin Johnson! Russel Bellomy plays QB next year and gives Shane Morris time to develop (for all the Morris fans) . Myself, I believe Russel has it all- height, smarts, arms strength to be a great QB. I know some won't like him because he can also run-but being fast and an athlete isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some of us are going to go through withdrawal when Denard is gone.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:32 a.m.

I actually like that sentiment. Though Gardner would be my starting wideout AND backup QB. I thought the D played good today. I dont know what hes doing in practice, but everytime Hawthorne is on the field he makes plays. Love his instincts and speed to the ball. He made it sound like football today. Wilson is going to be a freak in the secondary! As a true freshman hes bigger than the entire second unit. Rawls reminds me of Hart just not as shifty. Maybe Kevin Grady in his hay day. And i wouldve liked to see more end to end with Hayes today. Hes elusive in the open field, why not put him in those situations more. GO BLUE!!!


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 1:48 a.m.

Oh, I don't know ... the defense looked okay. They lined up in the 3-3-5 as before. Casteel on the sidelines barking, RR guiding the offense. :-) I stopped by and watched the UofA spring scrimmage here in Tucson. It was a nice turnout. UofA looked okay ... not fall ready, but okay. Their QB doesn't have Pat White / Denard Robinson type speed, but his feet weren't set in stone either. Nice arm for bullets and a nice touch deep. It's going to come down to timing and execution -- if they have that, they'll do okay. If they can't quite mesh ... then it'll be a long fall here in Tucson. I like their punter. He put one practice punt up that must have gone 60+ easily ... *beautiful* high spiral. Gorgeous punt.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

Don, how is the stadium renovation coming along? I've seen a few pictures and it looks like a war zone, but Ibet it'll be nice when they're done. As far as the program, I wish UM would have been able to convince Casteel to come here, I think they'll do fine together again in Tucson.


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

It makes sense to hire a D-coordinator and then let him run the defense he is comfortable with and prefers to run. Hiring Greg Robinson who had never run a 3-3-5 and then forcing him to run it did not make sense.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 9:54 a.m.

i think RR will be more successful at Arizona. The bar is lower to begin with, and the Pac is a little more spread friendly if you ask me. I might actually be rooting for them even though I couldn't stand RR at UM. (Just a bad fit as far as im concerned.)

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:57 a.m.

Casteel is a difference. I know things will go well down in Tucson. RR left with class. You'll definitely see some offense in a few years. I use to visit Tucson when I lived in El Paso. Love the Pacifico with lime outside at night; all those (Seguro?) cactus on the way down to Nogales. Only place I've ever seen it get 120 degrees North of the border. Go Blue. Go Wildcats. Go BSU


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

Difference this year is he has Jeff Casteel on staff. They (UofA) have a huge fullback who took the ball on a run today ... carried half the defense with him for about 20 yards. :-)

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 2:01 a.m.

Thanks for the info. Interesting. What is it with RR and his 3-3-5 defenses? Great offensive mind combined with a self destructive insane approach to defense.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 1:46 a.m.

Isn't Campbell a Senior? How can be a captain or play at 305 pounds net year if he is a senior?


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

The interior d line is not that good because they lose Martin. Campbell is a big drop-off. i don't expect too much from them this year.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

Teddy bear ? I like that. GoBigBlue it looks like you're getting the hang of being a real Michigan man.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 9:49 a.m.

Honestly, I'm not going to believe in Campbell until he gives me a reason to. He has some major shoes to fill, and he has never shown anything better than inconsistency. This DL is going to have issues if big Will cant improve. There is NO other proven players outside of Roh. The offense is going to be just fine, and so is the back 7 on defense. I think the only real question mark on this team is the DL. Hopefully they put together a formidable front four. In Mattison we trust

Terry Star21

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 6:19 a.m.

ted..still funny...


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 2:26 a.m.

Don't worry Teddy bear. They're both Michigan Men which I know you love. So all is well.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

I do think one of these articles has a point, though, that Gardner's poor play makes the D performance seem better than it maybe was and that it wasn't like they really faced Denard today. I'm not necessarily worried about the D, though. I think they will work some things out. I completely trust Mattison.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

Not sure where we're going with this. Is this about WIll Campbell or how the Michigan defense as a unit looked in the Spring Game? I thought the defense played very well in the Spring Game. In 72 plays, they allowed 2 TD and 1 FG, Gibbons missed his attempt.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

Hey, could we have more stories on UM spring football? As of now, I am only counting 4 or 5 on the Home Page (not including the Alumni game).


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 9:42 a.m.

Hey could we have nothing football related instead? Cause that is obviously what football fans would want after a spring game..... /sarcasm

Terry Star21

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 11:58 p.m.

I agree, we never get enough of our beloved football team. This was a very good well researched, well written article - I hope we see a few more tomorrow with some video. Good job