2012 Michigan Preview – Defense
Michigan S Jordan Kovacs
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Michigan Wolverine Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison did exactly what the team program needed him to do. Michigan turned its experience and savvy up front into a pass rushing machine with pressure coming from all angles and sides in a night-and-day improvement overall from previous seasons. Losing heart-and-soul linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen is a problem, and now it's up to Will Campbell and the tackles to step up and become rocks on the inside so Craig Roh and the speedy pass rushers can shine. Kenny Demens leads a strong linebacking corps helped by the expected emergence of Desmond Morgan into a statistical star, while the loaded secondary is deep at corner and experienced at safety.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Kenny Demens
Tackles: Kenny Demens, 94
Sacks: Jordan Kovacs, Craig Roh, 4
Interceptions: Courtney Avery, J.T. Floyd, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Will Campbell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Blake Countess
Best pro prospect: Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Demens, 2) Countess, 3) S Jordan Kovacs
Strength of the defense: Corners, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, Proven Tackles
The line made a night-and-day improvement over the end of 2010 with a far better pass rush and stronger play against the run. However, leading sacker Ryan Van Bergen and his 5.5 sacks are gone from one end putting the pressure on 6-5, 269-pound senior Craig Roh to do even more. The former outside linebacker moved to end late in the 2010 season and last year held down the starting job for all 13 games finishing with 32 tackles with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. The 2008 Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year has a great burst and good closing ability, but now he's going to be the one keyed on with Van Bergen done.
Stepping in on the other side will be sophomore Brennen Beyer, a promising 6-3, 225-pound who doesn't have the size but is a pure pass rusher with phenomenal speed. In a perfect world he'd be used as a hybrid outside linebacker in a 3-4 and turned loose into the backfield, but after spending a little time last year as a linebacker making 11 tackles he'll be an end. If he's not a regular starter he'll be a specialist, while 6-2, 228-pound sophomore Frank Clark is another undersized option for the rotation. Extremely fast, he'll be a pass rusher on the line after making ten tackle last season with a pick against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
6-5, 322-pound senior Will Campbell will not only stay put on the inside of the line, but he should blossom as a full-time starter. A massive widebody who's built for the nose, he move to the offensive side for a stretch a few years ago before moving back to the D Line. A superstar recruit who hasn't panned out, he spent last season as a reserve making 14 tackles with two sacks in the rotation. With his size he should be an anchor, but closing out his career with a good, steady season would be enough.
While undersized for a Big Ten tackle at 6-2 and 260 pounds, junior Jibreel Black is strong enough to make up for it. A possible terror of an interior pass rusher, he's fast off the ball and could shine if Campbell does his job taking up space and occupying blockers. He made 18 tackles with 1.5 sacks as a key reserve, and while he might not look the part and would be better as a 3-4 end, the coaching staff likes him. Because of Black's size 6-4, 302-pound junior Quinton Washington will see time to hold up against the power running teams. An occasional offensive lineman in specialty packages and special teams, he's an offensive guard who should be stronger on the defensive side with a little more time. He made one tackle in his limited time.
Also bringing size to the interior is 6-3, 301-pound sophomore Richard Ash, a huge prospect with shocking speed and athleticism for his size and a world of upside. He got a little work in as a nose tackle but didn't do too much. Now he needs to be a big part of the rotation on the inside and has to be groomed to start next year.
Watch Out For … Beyer. He's not all that big but he can really, really move. With a full-time motor he should have bursts of games when he cranks up big numbers, but there will be other games when he's erased and flattened by a big blocker with a head of steam.
Strength: Interior size. Going with an undersized tackle like Black is fine when the rest of the tackles look like they came from NFL central casting. Campbell has all the tools to be a massive presence on the inside and Ash and Washington are big. However, there's little in the way of …
Weakness: Proven production. Mike Martin was the one who made everything go on the line last season, while Van Bergen was a great complement to Roh on the end when he wasn't working inside. Yeah, Campbell has a world of upside and skills, but he hasn't done it yet. The same goes for the rest of the tackles.
Outlook: There doesn't appear to be any sense of panic even after losing three veteran mainstays in Martin, Van Bergen, and Will Heininger. The coaching staff won't let this group slip, but it could take a little while to find the right combination. That's a problem with a date against Alabama out of the gate.
Unit Rating: 7
Senior Kenny Demens worked his way into the starting lineup in the middle of 2010 and last year he took the job in the middle and made it his. He showed excellent promise two years ago with 82 tackles and then last season led the way with 94 stops with three sacks and five tackles for loss. A star special teamer early on, the former top recruit is a tackling machine with great range and consistency. He'll be backed up 6-3, 230-pound freshman Joe Bolden, one of the team's top recruits and the heir apparent to the job for next season. He brings the thump and has tremendous range and toughness with the ability to play any of the three linebacker spots.
Back to his spot on the strongside is 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Jake Ryan after starting most of last season when the defense wasn't going with a 4-2-5 alignment. Fast and with great upside, he made 37 tackles saving his best for last with seven stops against Virginia Tech. He has the athleticism and speed to do even more in the backfield after coming up with three sacks and seven tackles for loss. He'll work in the mix with 6-3, 222-pound veteran Cameron Gordon, who came up with four tackles in a limited role thanks to a back problem. The former safety moved to outside linebacker, bulked up, and didn't see much time after making 66 stops with three picks two years ago. When healthy he has the ability and the speed to be all over the field with the smarts to always be in the right position.
6-1, 220-pound sophomore Desmond Morgan was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and turned in a fantastic season making 63 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. While he's not all that big he can cut on a dime with the toughness to work inside and out. With ten tackles against Virginia Tech, he ended his season on a high note following a ten-stop game against Ohio State. The sky is the limit, while 6-0, 214-pound senior Brandin Hawthorne will once again work in the equation after making 43 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. He started five times last year on the weakside, but Morgan was better.
On the way is Scout's No. 2 middle linebacker, 6-2, 215-pound Royce Jenkins-Stone, who's coming off a 145 tackle season and a spot in the U.S. Army All-America game. While he's decent in pass coverage, he's at his best when he gets to see a play and go like a guided missile to the ball. Fast, he'll be at his best in space early on and needs to get functionally stronger to be in the hunt for an inside job
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. Linebacker wasn't exactly a desperate need to fill for right now, but the coaching staff went out and loaded up for the near future with three blue-chip talents. Jenkins-Stone should be a force while Bolden got to school early and could contribute from Day One. James Ross might not have the ideal tools, but he's a smart, quick prospect who'll get it right away as a good weakside defender.
Strength: Tacklers. Demens is about to get all-star recognition as he closes out a good statistical career, while Ryan and Morgan can both hit. Ryan is about to blow up into a statistical star, and if the starting three can stay healthy they'll combine for well over 150 stops.
Weakness: Raw bulk. It's nitpicking, but Demens is the only big linebacker hovering around 250 pounds while Ryan is around 230. It's a bit by design with some of the bigger possible linebackers working as defensive ends, but there are a few who look like beefed up safeties.
Outlook: There's a good chance that this becomes a major strength if Ryan builds off his strong finish to 2011 and if Demens can be Demens again. If the true freshmen can provide anything right away this will be a deep and talented group that could grow into the best corps the program has had in a long while.
Unit Rating: 8
With help from the pass rush the secondary turned in a big 2011, and it could be even better if true sophomore Blake Countess grows into the star he's expected to become. At 5-10 and 176 pounds he's not all that big and he's a bit thin, but he's not afraid to tackle with eight stops against Virginia Tech – coming up with some nice open field stops – and finishing with 44 tackles with six broken up passes. He didn't come up with any picks, but he didn't take over the starting job until late in the season and it's just a question of time before he becomes too dangerous to throw at.
Back again is 6-0, 185-pound senior corner J.T. Floyd, who bounced back from a foot injury that limited him in 2010 to make 48 tackles with two picks and a team-leading eight broken up passes. An excellent recruit for Rich Rodriguez, he has all the tools with size, smarts and good athleticism.
6-0, 197-pound senior safety Jordan Kovacs has been one of the team's best tacklers over the last few seasons finishing second with 75 stops, four sacks and eight tackles for loss last season after making 116 tackles in 2010. Smart, he's an academic all-star as well as a two-time All-Big Ten selection on the field with great range and speed. The Ohio high school track star isn't huge, but he's not afraid to come up with the big stop. He makes up for his lack of big plays when the ball is in the air by bringing it against the run and getting into the backfield.
Veteran Thomas Gordon finished third on the team with 67 tackles with a pick and two broken up passes as a ten game starter at free safety. At 5-11 and 208 pounds he's big enough for the position and is extremely fast with great range. Able to work in a variety of ways, and be used like a nickel defender at times, the junior can do a little of everything for the secondary.
The Wolverines are loaded at corner. Countess and Floyd are sure things, but Courtney Avery can step in without a problem working behind Countess or in nickel and dime situations. At 5-11 and 173 pounds he's a bit thin and he isn't a true blazer, but he makes plays coming up with 26 tackles with two picks – including a game-sealer against Ohio State - and two fumble recoveries taking one 83 yards for a score against Minnesota.
On the way is top recruit Terry Richardson, a 5-9, 160-pound baller who doesn't have size and isn't all that fast, but makes up for it with a nose for the ball.
Watch Out For … Countess. Floyd might be the team's top corner at a loaded position, but Countess has a bigger upside. Eventually he'll be a dangerous playmaker when the ball is in the air; he'll need a few picks to be an all-star.
Strength: Experience. The Wolverines have four good starting defensive backs to count on to come up with a strong year. The corners are terrific and Kovacs is like another linebacker against the run. Experience was a plus last year and now it's a really big deal.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Michigan D was great at getting into the backfield and was strong at getting to the quarterback, but the team only finished with nine picks with the secondary coming up with just seven.
Outlook: After a rough time and dealing with lots of growing pains the Michigan secondary should be fantastic. The corners are deep and talented and the safeties are strong with upside. However, the defensive backs will have to be better at making big plays with the pass rush unlikely to be as strong as it was last year.
Unit Rating: 8
Junior Brendan Gibbons hit just one of five chances on field goals two years ago, but he bounced back in a big way nailing 13-of-17 kicks last year with a 43-yarder against Ohio State and with two of the misses coming from beyond 40 yards. He might not be a special kicker, but he's good enough to be counted on.
The punting game has to be far, far better and will be a work in progress. Junior Will Hagerup had a rough year averaging 36 yards per kick and was replaced by Matt Wile, a sophomore who improved things a bit averaging 41.6 yards per kick with four put inside the 20. Both have big legs, and Wile was a top recruit, but consistency is a must.
The kickoff return game has to be far better after finishing 117th in the nation averaging just 18.43 yards per try. Justice Hayes will have to try to add more pop in place of Martavious Odoms, who averaged 21.2 yards per try. WR Jeremy Gallon had a nice year on punt returns averaging 10.1 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For … Hayes. Odoms wasn't bad, but overall the kickoff return game didn't work. Hayes has the speed and the potential to turn into a nice replacement who could bust out a few more big plays.
Strength: Gibbons. A major concern going into last year, he found his groove and ended up hitting six of his final seven field goals and nine of his final 11. Going 3-for-3 against Virginia Tech was the difference in a Sugar Bowl win.
Weakness: Punting. Hagerup has a great leg and Wile is solid, but the Wolverines need far more pop out of a punting game that was a disaster at times. One of the two has to rise up and produce.
Outlook: A complete and utter disaster two years ago, the special teams were a bit better last season. They still weren't a positive, though, needing help and work across the board. The return game has to be better, the coverage teams need help, and the punting game has to improve.
Unit Rating: 5
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