2011 Michigan Preview – Defense
Michigan LB Cam Gordon
Michigan LB Cam Gordon
Posted Jun 14, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Michigan Wolverine Defense

Michigan Wolverines

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Michigan Preview | 2011 Michigan Offense
- 2011 Michigan Defense | 2011 Michigan Depth Chart
- Michigan Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: The defense was a complete and utter disaster, finishing last in the Big Ten in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense. More than that, everyone looked disorganized and confused, with the last straw coming in the embarrassment against Mississippi State. Expect massive changes in style and production as defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should be a night-and-day improvement over Greg Robinson. To start, the D is going to a 4-3 after Robinson played around with a 3-3-5 and a 3-4, and the defensive linemen appear to be much happier. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen lead a good front four that'll benefit by being coached by a coaching staff full of D line experts. The linebackers are small, but they can move, and the secondary that struggled so mightily last year now knows what it's doing.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jordan Kovacs, 116
Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen, 4
Interceptions: Cam Gordon, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DT Mike Martin
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore FS Carvin Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Cam Gordon
Best pro prospect: Gordon (as a safety)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Martin, 2) SS Jordan Kouvacs, 3) Gordon
Strength of the defense: Experience, Coaches
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Corner Health

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defense had major problems, but there were some excuses – like injuries – for the back seven's woes. The defensive line was simply bad, but it has way too much talent returning to not be better. Going from the 3-3-5 and 3-4 alignment to the 4-3, the spotlight will be on to see if there can be a night-and-day difference after getting ripped apart.

It's not fair to blame the woes of the defense and the line on senior Mike Martin, a high-energy, high-motor, nasty playmaker of a noseguard who made 37 tackles with 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. The 2007 Gatorade Michigan Player of the year is very active and is a great leader who can always get around the ball. At 6-2 and 299 pounds he has the size to sit on the nose again, but he can also work as a disruptive one-gap tackle in the 4-3. Bringing more size to the spot is 6-4, 315-pound sophomore Quinton Washington, a decent backup who made two tackles and saw a little time on offense as a blocking back. Insanely strong and very big, he has the makeup and the bulk to eat up everything inside.

6-5, 333-pound junior Will Campbell started out the year on the defensive side, move to the offensive line for a stretch, and now is back at tackle after making just one tackle. A true space-eater, he doesn't move too much, even though he has decent athleticism for his size, he has to use his NFL-caliber tools to live up to his superstar recruit hype. He'll get his chance as a big body on the inside, while 6-3, 320-pound redshirt freshman Richard Ash is another big presence with surprising speed and quickness. A top recruit he'll be a key part of the interior.

Senior Ryan Van Bergen started every game on the outside making 37 tackles with a team-leading four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The team's best pass rusher last year, he was perfectly suited for the three-man front at 6-6 and 283 pounds, and now he's going to try to show he can be more consistent at getting into the backfield. He's not a speed rusher, but he's always working, always moving, and always going full-tilt. Terrific against Ohio State, he needs to get to the quarterback even more. Redshirt freshman Kenny Wilkins is a 6-3, 262-pounder with great strength and decent enough athleticism to get by. He might not be a pure pass rusher, but he has a good burst off the ball.

6-5, 251-pound junior Craig Roh spent last year as an outside linebacker before moving up to end for the last four games. The 2008 Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year has the speed and the all-around ability to be a devastating pass rusher if used the right way, and while he wasn't a total disappointment making 43 tackles, he only came up with half a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. The upside is there to be terrific, but he has to start hitting the quarterback. Sophomore Jibreel Black is one of the team's stronger players and he can fly into the backfield as a possible pass rusher. At 6-2 and 258 pounds he's a short, squatty player who can move. In a reserve role he made seven tackles with two quarterback hurries, and now he'll work in a rotation with Roh.

Watch Out For … Campbell. He should be a killer defensive tackle, and he should be an all-star who has the NFL types drooling, but it hasn't come together yet. If he turns out to be the man, the line will turn things around in a hurry.
Strength: Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison. When the head coach and the defensive coordinator are defensive line coaches by trade, the front four isn't going to be full of lambs. The new coaching staff is going to kick this group into shape, and by all indications it's exactly what the players have been waiting for.
Weakness: Proven production. There's a good collection of talents, but can they form a good unit? Van Bergen and Roh have to be pass rushers, and they haven't been doing enough. That has to change for a line that finished with just 18 sacks and was steamrolled over by everyone.
Outlook: Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh are a good threesome to work around, and Campbell has been around long enough to be ready to shine. This group has been through the down time, and now the coaching is there and the system is in place to do far more. Be shocked if the line doesn't quickly pull up out of its nosedive.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: A four-man linebacking corps for most of last year, now the group should be faster and with a better rotation in a 4-3. There are plenty of options for the middle, there's good experience to rely on, and the young outside defenders who sputtered last year should know what they're doing. With the expected improved play of the line, the linebackers should be better even though leading tackler Jonas Mouton is gone from the weakside and Obi Ezeh is out in the middle.

Ezeh was pushed out of the starting spot midway through the season by junior Kenny Demens, but there will likely be a three-man fight for the job on the inside. The 6-1, 250-pound veteran made 82 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. A top special-teamer when he started his career, the one-time four-star recruit will get his chance to be the anchor if senior Marell Evans doesn't take the job. Evans was at Michigan as a spot starter at linebacker and on special teams, and then he bolted to go play at Hampton. Now he's back bringing his 6-3, 225-pound size and great athleticism for the middle.

Sophomore Cameron Gordon was a defensive back and started the first part of last year at free safety before moving over to strongside linebacker. While he's undersized at 6-3 and 207 pounds, he's physical and he moved extremely well making 66 tackles with three picks, four broken up passes, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two recovered fumbles. Originally a wide receiver, he moved over to the defensive side and was a star right away. A big hitter who plays bigger than his size, he's a hybrid type who should flourish in the full-time strongside role. Bringing more size is 6-3, 224-pound redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, a fast, athletic tackling machine who'll be a major stat-sheet filler with a little bit of time and experience.

6-2, 208-pound sophomore Mike Jones will take over for Mouton on the weakside, and he's ready again after missing most of last year hurt with a leg injury. On the plus side, he got hurt early enough to give him time to heal and to preserve his year so he returns as a sophomore. Safety Brandin Hawthorne will also work at weakside linebacker after working mostly as a special teamer. He only made one tackle, and he has yet to make a big impact, but he moves well and hits well for his 6-0, 203-pound size … at least in practices.

Working somewhere in the equation, possibly in the middle, is 6-3, 244-pound senior J.B. Fitzgerald, a spot starter who made 22 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. An academic all-star, he's smart, big, and is great for the middle but can work on the strongside. When he plays, he'll put up big numbers. Also trying to find more time in the system is true freshman Kellen Jones, a four-star recruit with 6-1, 215-pound size, the toughness to play inside, and the speed to work on the outside. He's a pass rusher who can camp out in opposing backfields.

Watch Out For … the middle situation. Demens did a nice job over the second half of the year, at least when it came to cleaning up messes, and Fitzgerald can step in and play, but Evans will have the expectations to shine right away.
Strength: Athleticism on the outside. Gordon has been moved around over and over again throughout his career, and now he has settled in and should be terrific on the strongside. Jones will be all over the place on the weakside.
Weakness: Proven production. This isn't the most physical of linebacking corps. While everyone will move and there will be plenty of swarming around the ball, holding up against the power teams could be a problem if the possible starting threesome averages around 210 pounds per man.
Outlook: Last year the linebacking corps was asked to be in control of the defense, and it struggled behind a defensive front that did a whole bunch of nothing. There's experience and there are plenty of options to play around with, but it might take a regular rotation to keep everyone healthy and on the field. Gordon has star potential and Jones should be strong on the other side, and as long as the middle is set with Demens or Evans the improvement should be immediate.
Unit Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: Injuries, academic problems, youth, no pass rush – the Michigan secondary never had a chance. The pass defense was the worst in the Big Ten and 112th in the nation, and was 103rd in pass efficiency defense, but there's a chance that things turn around in a huge hurry if all the corners comeback healthy and if some thumpers can emerge at safety.

If senior Troy Woolfolk is 100% after suffering an ankle injury that knocked him out last year, he'll be the team's main shut-down corner. The former strong safety moved to corner and was fine, but not great, and he's still trying to come back after the ugly injury to be the same type of tackler. The son of former Wolverine running back Butch Woolfolk has the athleticism and he has the 6-0, 195-pound size, but he needs to prove he's the same player he was before getting hurt. If he's not right, 5-11, 167-pound sophomore Courtney Avery will be back at a starting spot. Thrown to the wolves, he started the final four games of last year and finished with 36 tackles with four broken up passes. He's rail thin and he isn't a blazer, but he isn't afraid to tackle and could end up as a nickel or dime defender.

Senior Tony Anderson made just four tackle in his limited time last year working mostly as a special teamer, but he has been around long enough to be ready to become a factor. At 5-11 and 192 pounds he has decent size and is extremely smart, but he has to prove he can play. He'll combine with 6-0, 183-pound junior J.T. Floyd, who was just growing into a corner job last year before getting hurt. He started the first nine games making 55 tackles with a pick, four broken up passes, and two tackles for loss, suffered a foot injury, and now he has to get back to form this offseason. A nice recruit for Rich Rodriguez, he has the tools to be a good one with the athleticism and smarts to be a factor, but he has to get healthy.

Junior Jordan Kovacs is the team's leading returning tackler after making 116 stops doing what he could for the struggling defense. The veteran earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors mostly for his stops against the run, but he hasn't done enough against the pass with just a broken up pass and with two broken up passes. At 6-0 and 195 pounds the former Ohio high school track star isn't big, but he's physical with is an excellent athlete with great range. 6-2, 200-pound Marvin Robinson is a bigger option with a little bit of time spent as a true freshman. He made three tackles as a special teamer, but he had problems with a shoulder injury and wasn't able to fully show what he could do. Injuries have been a problem throughout his football career, but he's a good, physical prospect who could play at strong or free safety.

With Cam Gordon moving to linebacker full-time, and with last year's starter, Ray Vinopal, transferring to Pitt, 6-0, 195-pound sophomore Carvin Robinson will get the call at free safety. He saw a little bit of time last year as a part linebacker and part safety finishing with 18 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Quick and a good hitter, he could be the breakout star of the secondary with the range to be good against the pass and with the punch to be nasty against the run. 6-2, 207-pound redshirt freshman Josh Furman is one of the team's fastest players to go along with his terrific size. A phenomenal athlete and a special sprinter, all the tools are there to be a dream of a free safety.

If the defense goes back to a 3-3-5 alignment for any length of time, 5-11, 205-pound sophomore Thomas Gordon will step in as the main nickel option. Fast and with great range, he came up with 23 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss working as a part linebacker, part defensive back, but he didn't do anything against the pass.

Watch Out For … the corners. If Woolfolk and Floyd are back and healthy, the secondary takes on a whole different look. They're not certain to be back at 100% by the start of the season, but they should be ready to go.
Strength: Experience. Last year's secondary was full of young pups thrown to the wolves. The hope was for Demar Dorsey and Boubacar Cissoko to be major players, but they were gone, as was top corner Donovan Warren, and the coaching staff still stuck with the five-man defensive backfield on a regular basis. Now there's enough experience to be ready to start doing more.
Weakness: Pass defense. The team only picked off 11 passes two years ago and came up with a mere 12 as a team last year with linebacker Jonas Mouton getting two. Overall, the Wolverines allowed 200 yards or more in every game but one, the win over Purdue, and they allowed two touchdowns or more in seven games.
Outlook: The secondary can't help but be better. First, the pass rush should be better and should help out the cause. Second, there's more experience after suffering through a ton of big mistakes and errors as everyone tried to figure out what they were doing. Assuming Woolfolk and Floyd are fine, the defensive backs will be solid.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The offense might have put up points in bunches, but the kicking game didn't help the cause with sophomore Brendan Gibbons hitting just one of five chances and sophomore Seth Broekhuizen hitting just three of nine chances. The Wolverines missed their last four field goal attempts and didn't come up with a made field goal over the final four games. True freshman Matt Wile will get every shot at the job after Gibbons and Broekhuizen struggled this spring.

Sophomore punter Will Hagerup came up with an excellent season averaging 43.6 yards per kick with 11 put inside the 20. He didn't get enough hang time and he only forced six fair catches, but he showed blast and plenty of potential.

Sophomore Jeremy Gallon averaged 21.8 yards per kickoff return, but he struggled on punt returns averaging 4.3 yards per try. Others will be tried out for both jobs.

Watch Out For … Wile. The 6-2, 210-pounder from San Diego is one of the nation's top kicking prospects and he'll get the job right away mainly because the other options are so awful. He's a good punter, but he's needed more for his range and his potential as a reliable kicker for the next four years.
Strength: Hagerup. He didn't get too much help from the coverage team, but he came up with a good year and showed great potential. Don't be shocked if he pushes for close to 45 yards per kick for long stretches.
Weakness: Placekicking. Last year's special teams had problems, but the placekicking was the biggest issue with the two kickers combining to hit 4-of-14 shots. Fortunately, all the losses were by double digits, and while a miss against Illinois almost mattered, the Wolverines still won.
Outlook: The special teams can't help but be better. Special teams coordinator Dan Ferrigno first has to settle the kicking game, and then he needs to find more pop to the return game and get more out of the coverage teams. On a team full of question marks and changes, this is the biggest unknown.
Unit Rating: 4.5

- 2011 Michigan Preview | 2011 Michigan Offense
- 2011 Michigan Defense | 2011 Michigan Depth Chart
- Michigan Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006