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Posted on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 3:25 p.m.

Michigan simplifying things on defense; several freshmen expected to contribute

By Dave Birkett

Simpler is better.

That’s the approach Michigan is taking to rebuilding its defense this offseason, a year after the Wolverines allowed the second-most points in school history.


Michigan football head coach Rich Rodriguez keeps watch during drills at spring practice on Tuesday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell |

“We’re going to maybe have some true freshman that have a chance to play, so we’ve got to make sure our system is simple enough that our recruit freshmen coming in can learn it and that our current players can pick up where they left off,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Tuesday.

True freshmen could play key roles for Michigan at cornerback (Demar Dorsey, Cullen Christian), safety (Marvin Robinson) and outside linebacker (Josh Furman) next year, but none of those players is on campus now for spring practice.

Rodriguez said he wants to use more players on defense this year - the Wolverines relied almost exclusively on their 11 starters in games last year - and that depth could go a long way toward making Michigan formidable again.

Already, several players have switched positions to add competition on defense. Receiver Cam Gordon is now a safety, as is Teric Jones, who started on offense but moved to cornerback midway through last year.

Troy Woolfolk is a full-time cornerback after playing both corner and safety last year, fullback Mark Moundros is serving double-duty as a linebacker, and defensive end Ryan Van Bergen is among a committee of players in the mix to replace Brandon Graham.

Van Bergen had five sacks last year playing opposite Graham, the nation’s leader in tackles for loss. Rodriguez said Greg Banks, Adam Patterson and outside linebacker Craig Roh also will see snaps at Graham’s rush-end position.

Roh, who started as a 230-pound true freshman last year, added about 20 pounds this offseason to better withstand the rigors of the Big Ten.

“I think any coach will tell you, you don’t replace a guy who’s been as good (as Graham), not just what he does on the field but how he leads the football team,” Rodriguez said. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached.”

Despite Graham’s absence up front - he’s expected to be a first-round pick in April’s NFL draft - Rodriguez said his biggest area of concern on defense is the secondary.

Both starting safety positions are up for grabs, and Justin Turner, a redshirt freshman, and seldom-used sophomore J.T. Floyd are competing for the starting cornerback job opposite Woolfolk.

“There’s a lot of unknowns there so as a coach you worry about it,” Rodriguez said. “I’m hoping that after spring practice I’ll feel a little more comfortable with it because we have some young talent there. And frankly as I said, there’ll be maybe some young guys coming in, challenging them starting in August.”

Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.


Sean T.

Sun, Mar 21, 2010 : 5:17 a.m.

Lemans, that was nothing but the truth. Though I hope that RR improves dramatically I have serious doubts and I'm not fooled by the term "Simplify" either. If we start more than 2 frosh on defense we are in trouble especially if they are CB's. To Simplify means he doens't think they can catch on by fall camp!


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 8:10 p.m.

Yeah...I agree glory years at Wv you must be talking about RR's 7 win 11 loss record against top 25 teams or his undeafeated seasons surely he had those after BC, VaTech and Miami left the conference. He only averaged playing top 25 teams a little over 2 times a season. RR is the most overrated coach in college football and his record against the Big Ten proves it.


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

Told many of you that the defense will look to improve. They will beef up and will get faster also. 2nd year und same DC. RR glory days at WV are following him to UM. By the looks of it, he will have a better team than the 2007 WV if ppl have common sense and keep him. RR is getting his players, last season he focused on offense more because that terrible first year. This season the defense will improve especially wit a DC who hlpd win 2 superbowls. I trust that UM is heading into the right direction which is totally different style to what what many ppl want it to go. GO BLUE!!!!!!!


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 2:07 p.m.

BlueinSC...the language you use lends me to think you are in the same category as Theo212. I'm not sure you're being sincere. If you are...I think you're wrong. Fast is great, but the pounding they take for the entire game results in the line being gassed by the fourth quarter. I'm fine with quick, but they need more muscle on the O-line. Do it with good conditioning and stamina. A football game is not a sprint, its a marathon.


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

GoWings, No, no, no... The only beef the O-line needs will be the tiny portion allowed by The Almighty Barwis each week... remember, these linemen will be so fast, they will burn most DBs of opposing teams. Long Coach The King


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

The resurgance of Penn State football was due to 4 very athletic freshmen,2 once offense and 2 on defense.I see Michigan with the same situation.On D, we lost one very good player and two over-rated players.Brown never knew where he was supposed to be any sceme and the enigmatic Warren was slowed down with injuries but the coaches played him because of his supposed "leaadership.(I can still see the image of him getting beat twice by Posey of OSU by 5 yards and Pryor graciously overthrowing him). We lost a great one in Graham but every team in the league did too.PSU-Bowman and Lee at LB,OSU in Gibson,Iowa in Angerer.Actually we have plenty of experiance on D,the queston is whether we have leadership.Martin,Campbell,Sagesse should be enough in the middle and Roh,Banks,Lalota and Van Bergin will be on the outside.Talbot and Black will fill in if neccessary.The Dbs are loaded with Woolfolk the leader.Turner has been here long enough to play a cover corner but 2 freshmen in the DB is a probability.Robinson could be an AA at safety and Dorsey at CB. This leaves the LBs.Our leaders played poorly but the talent is there and we now get depth.Mouton,Ezeh will have to improve to hold their jobs as they are pushed by Fitzgerald and Demonds.Freshman Jake Ryan is a prototypical Big Ten LB with size and speed but must learn the outside position.Josh Furman will have to play the Hybrid LB/DB position as soon as possible.We have experiance with players like Isaiah Bell, J T Floyd and Mike Jones but players like Furman and Dorsey have to play as soon as possible.They should filter in by the PSU game.i agree with tater that the zonal scemes that we have been using should be replaced with man to man.Our talent is better than their talent!


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 10:42 a.m.

Theo I appreciate your enthusiasm and to an extent, I wish I shared it. I just hope for your sake that the team some how approaches your hyperbole.


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

Roh putting on 20 pounds...FINALLY, someone in AA is getting it. Quick linemen is fine, but they ALL need some beef to take the four quarters of hitting the Big Ten is known for. And I agree that relying on true freshmen is a bad trend, but I hope they stick to what was said and hope they can contribute, but we need last year's Sophs and Jrs step up and take the huge void that Graham left. Sounds like there's enough candidates, but who will it be. NOW...if we can see to it that the O-line starts getting some beef on them as well.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 5:28 p.m.

It's about time RichRod started paying attention to the defensive side of the ball. The defense will be porous next year. There are good kids here, but way too young, way too inexperienced. AZ, you are alot more optimistic than I am. I'm struggling to see 5 wins on the schedule [Mass, BG(maybe), IU, UofI, Purdue(maybe)]. I'm sure by the start of the season, I'll be drinking the koolaid again, but right now, I don't see it.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 4:44 p.m.

I don't say this as an RR homer, as many of you know I am certainly not, but I do feel that with the experience coming back on offense, this team will win 8 games minimum by outscoring the 3 losing teams we lost to last year - Purdue, Illinois, and MSU. If the defense improves by simplifying, as you should always do with a new scheme and/or young players (you want to react, not think), this team may win 9-10 games. Again, I'm not being a homer, it's just the way I see it. 8 games is the minimum, and beating Iowa and/or Wisconsin at home is not out of the realm of possibility. OSU, imo, remains the best team by far in the B10 and I don't see them being caught by anyone anytime soon. Again, not an OSU fan, but it's how I see it.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 3:23 p.m.

True freshman playing key roles--ouch, ouch, ouch. When you are a high school star you are amazing, but when you get to college you are playing with a whole field as good as you are. Defense wins ballgames.

Ted Bundy

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 3:07 p.m.

3,2,1... Let the Michigan haterz begin their "expert analysis" on why Michigan football stinks. Personally, I think Justin Turner is gonna be a stud. If you remember correctly for those who actually follow college football in depth and not just partake in "hating", Turner was #1 recruit outta Ohio. He's a special player I think.