Michigan simplifying things on defense; several freshmen expected to contribute
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.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
“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 AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.