Spring preview: Michigan's defensive line to undergo facelift in camp
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
The Michigan football team jumped 93 spots in the overall defensive rankings last year, and nothing was more closely correlated to that ascent than the play of the front four.
The line struggled to apply pressure early in the season, and the overall defense played pretty well. But as the front four became more disruptive, the defense followed suit, eventually dominating in late-season games against Illinois and Nebraska.
Now, that process will begin all over again.
Day 1: Receivers/tight ends
Day 2: Quarterbacks
Day 3: Offensive line
Day 4: Tailbacks/fullbacks
Day 5: Linebackers
Day 6: Defensive backs
Day 7: Defensive line
Day 8: Specialists
Seniors Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were two of the Wolverines' most important leaders last year. Van Bergen led the team in career games (50) and was second in starts (38). Martin was third (49) and fourth (37), respectively.
They developed an on-field chemistry through that extensive experience, eventually calling plays independent of coordinator Greg Mattison.
The Wolverines will miss the pair's savvy play, a problem that is compounded by the graduation of a third starter, Will Heininger. Michigan returns 15 starters overall, but nearly half its losses were sustained here. That hurts, as coordinator Greg Mattison's 4-3 scheme works best with assertive play up front.
What they have back
Craig Roh is the only returning starter, although he will move from weak- to strong-side end. There isn't a lot of difference between playing the two positions in the 4-3, but his assignments will change. That will take some getting used to, but Roh should be fine.
His primary backup at weak-side end, Jibreel Black, also is moving inside. Coach Brady Hoke told AnnArbor.com he made this switch not only get the best four players in the same lineup, but to increase the overall speed of the front four.
Black, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, will have to put on weight in the offseason to mix it up in the middle. His move will help bolster the depth at tackle, where the leaders to play are unproven senior Will Campbell and junior Quinton Washington. At Roh's vacated weak-side end spot, Frank Clark and converted linebacker Brennen Beyer will duke it out in the spring.
There also will be an infusion of six freshmen defensive linemen, the team's largest class in 32 years. However, none of them will be on campus for spring ball.
Develop familiarity, and get a feel for the tackles.
Part of what made last year's group so effective, especially late, was a familiarity with each other. Van Bergen and Martin played in a combined 99 games at Michigan, and were able to feed off each other. The Wolverines won't have that kind of consistency up front next year, with three new starters and three position changes.
The real concern is in the middle, where the team appears to really be counting on Campbell to make an impact. Only, he never has, despite being given ample opportunity to do so. Hoke is optimistic, but Black's move inside shows concern is high at tackle.
Roh will be fine at end, and Clark and Beyer will sort things out opposite him. Although Beyer didn't play end last year, there isn't a drastic difference between the position and his old strong-side linebacker spot. He often played with his hand down in practice, where he showed good handwork. He has to work on his consistency and become familiar with his new assignments to make a successful transition.
There is a new expectation, or position, for nearly every player on the defensive line. Their work is cut out for them in this 14-practice camp.
Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.
Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.
What about Kenny Wilkins and Richard Ash?
Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.
I haven't posted for a while, but I would make two observations. 1. I agree with Hoke's moves on offense, namely, Schofield to RT, Barnum to Center, and Mealer to LG. Kalis, will need to EARN his PT, and I suspect that WILL unfold over the season. 2. I think Roh to Strong-side End total makes sense , and I am hopful that Black responds at DT. Meanwhile Clark, Beyer, & Washington, have GREAT upside potential, and I expect the coaches to bring that out. It will take a LOT of work, but I think all four of those kids are willing to 'pay the price'....I'm totally 'IN' on all these kids! But I personally am NOT a 'Campbell believer', and unless there is a big turnaround there, team #133 will be hurt there. .....It is what it is! .....The coaches must be brutally tough on this kid. One final thought, I REALLY liked the fact that Hoke commented recently, that UM did NOT achieve what he expected last year, namely, two loses on the road, and NOT winning the league title. There is NO patting himself on the back. He wants MORE for this program, and for these kids! And he will NOT rest until the Wolverines are CLEARLY, the leaders and best...Man, I like that attiitude, GO HOKE! Brady's more like the 'ol man, (Bo) than many around here realize!
Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.
They should try the tough approach with Campbell. The "we have faith in big Will" is getting old. He hasn't put in a good series much less a good game. The Albert Haynsworth of Michigan football.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 10:13 p.m.
This is the only group that concerns me heading into the 2012 season. There is no stand out player be it at DT or DE. Yes, Craig Roh is a three year starter and entering his senior year, but he has had very little success since his freshmen season. I'm hoping that Roh can step up his play his senior season on the field and in the locker room like Van Bergen did this past season. Will Campbell is going to be the biggest key to the defensive line. Campbell does not have to be great, but he needs to be effective so that guys like Washington, Black, Ash and incoming 5 star freshmen Pipkins can cause havoc. If Campbell can demand double teams 50% of the time when out on the field the D-Line will be in good shape. As for moving Black to DT, I really like the move. Black plans to add 10 pounds during to the summer so playing at 270 isn't all that bad for a DT. Jibreel will have a huge advantage with his speed playing the DT; it will take some time to get use to, but if Campbell can be effective Black could have a very solid year at DT. The WDE position is going to be a great battle between Clark and Beyer. Both will get a lot of PT which is good for this position. fresh legs is needed for a pass rushing position. I foresee this battle caring over to the regular season, not a bad thing a t all since both are solid young players.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.
I agree whole heartily with the 'familiarity' aspect....we had this earlier, but not the coaches that could help these athletes fulfill that. These coaches completed a lot in such a short time. And therefore, that will be the difference, the coaching and the 'Michigan family' atmosphere provided - that will make this line so effective in hopefully, a sort time. MgoBlueForTim... family helping out up front.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.
Much credit for the effectiveness of Brandon Graham was attributed to his losing weight from 300 to 260 pounds while his bench press increased from 265 to 500 and leg press nearly doubled to 600. Now we are told a defensive lineman has to get to 300 pounds to be effective? Not necessarily, I says, as does Graham.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.
This is the most important position on the football team, IMO. They set the pace defensively and are losing lots of leadership and talent. Who will replace RVB? He plays like Novak plays basketball. Will Black be able to do that? Beyer? These will be the keys in Michigan's success or failure next year. And did we get many recruits over the former coach's years for DL? It seems like there are almost no players there. Hopefully Big Will and Quinton will pan out. They are both big bodies.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.
It was a constant work in progress that enabled the defense to make big improvements during the 2011 season. Greg Mattison was the key in coaching these young men up. Now, under a secod year under Mattison and Hoke, this defense will work on the weaknesses of last year. I am more hopeful that Mattison and staff can coach up Will Campbell. The defensive unit can continue to build on the successes established last year.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 10:14 p.m.
If Campbell were coachable we would have seen it last year. At most he'll be a part time player who takes up space.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.
The 4-3 under base defense has a DT and NT. The DT position is more similar to the SDE position than the NT position. Is 260 still a tidbit light? Yes, but you want a DT with pass rushing ability while the NT takes a double team. So we arent talking about the traditional 300lb DT in this defense. I like the move.
Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.
a 6-2 260 lb DT? Uh oh...