2013 Michigan Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Michigan Wolverine Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: After the disasters in the Rich Rodriguez era, getting good defensive production is never taken for granted. Coordinator Greg Mattison has done a nice job, but it's going to take some patience and some work to make a decent D a lot better with top pass rusher Jake Ryan hurting with a torn ACL and with few true superstars to rely on right away. The talent is there, but it's in the form of underclassmen who need time and seasoning. For this year, there's a nice base to work around with a potentially strong rotation on the ends around a good tackle pair in Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black. The secondary will be decent statistically, but it only finished fifth in the nation against the pass because there weren't many offenses on the slate that could throw. Overall this will be a very good, very sound defense that needs to force more turnovers and has to find more disruptive parts, but it could get exposed by a hot offense. On the plus side, the future is tremendous after a phenomenal recruiting class to build on an already exceptional base of young talent.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Desmond Morgan
Tackles: Jake Ryan, 88
Sacks: Jake Ryan 4.5
Interceptions: Thomas Gordon, Raymon Taylor, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB/DE Brennen Beyer
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Frank Clark
Best pro prospect: Freshman S Dymonte Thomas
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Morgan, 2) S Thomas Gordon, 3) DT Quinton Washington
Strength of the defense: The Underclassmen, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Proven Depth, Jake Ryan's Knee
The pass rush up front has to be better, and the potential is there to be fantastic on the outside with the expected emergence of Keith Heitzman, a 6-3, 277-pound sophomore end with good pass rushing skills and a high-end motor. He made seven tackles with a tackle for loss in his limited time, but this offseason he did enough to hold down the job.
There's a bigger question mark on the other side with 6-2, 277-pound junior Frank Clark allowing 6-3, 254-pound junior Brennen Beyer to move to linebacker.
Meanwhile, 6-2, 244-pound sophomore Mario Ojemudia will be deep in the hunt for steady playing time. Clark bulked up in a big way over the last few years but is still considered a potentially dangerous pass rushing prospect after cranking up 25 tackles with two sacks and nine tackles for loss. Fast for his size, he'll be disruptive in any situation, while the real find could be Ojemudia, a terrific recruit last year who saw a little time making 11 tackles with a sack and a pick. It'll be tough to keep him off the field.
The interior will once again be anchored by senior Quinton Washington, a 6-4, 305-pound veteran who made 32 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. A former offensive lineman in specialty packages and special teams, the former guard has settled in to the job on the defensive front adding excellent size and decent toughness against the run. Backing him up is 6-3, 308-pound sophomore Ondre Pipkins, a ready-made nose tackle who made seven tackles as a true freshman reserve. With great quickness off the ball and pass rushing potential in the interior, he could be a third down specialist in the rotation.
At 6-2 and 276 pounds, senior Jibreel Black isn't a huge interior presence, but he bulked up a bit and should be stronger now that the starting job is his. Fast off the ball, he cranked up three sacks with five tackles for loss and 20 tackles. While he'll never be the type to engulf ball carriers, he's too quick for the mediocre interior linemen. Adding more size behind him is 6-3, 306-pound redshirt freshman Willie Henry, a decent prospect out of Cleveland who was a nice high school pass rusher, but will end up being asked to stop the run. The size is there to work on the nose if needed.
Watch Out For … the freshmen. The 6-6, 249-pound Taco Charlton is a great-looking end with excellent athleticism and a great motor. Very tall and very rangy, he makes himself bigger with his first step to go along with his frame. 6-2, 305-pound Maurice Hurst Jr. and 6-4, 260-pound Henry Poggi are two excellent tackle prospects who could've gone anywhere. Hurts is a big interior lineman who moves too well to simply be stuck on the nose, while Poggi is tremendously fast with pass rushing potential as a 3-4 end or an interior force.
Strength: Upside. There might not be a lot of experience, but there might be an upgrade in talent and eventual production with the expected emergence of Clark, Heitzman and Beyer into more dangerous pass rushers. Black and Washington might not form a brick wall in the interior, but they're solid.
Weakness: A sure-thing speed rusher. The line is full of big athletes who should be able to get behind the line on a regular basis, but only one lineman, Craig Roh, came up with more than three sacks. It would
be nice if there was one guy who made offensive coordinators sweat.
Outlook: It was a rebuilding year for the line, and the production was fine, but nothing special. It's another rebuilding for the front four but there's the upside to be really, really good. There's a good rotation on the outside and enough bulk in the interior to come up with a better year against the run.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Can Jake Ryan come back? The team's best all-around defender last season, he led the team with 88 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss with four forced fumbles. The 6-3, 241-pound junior earned All-Big Ten honors with tremendous speed and quickness on the outside as an all-around playmaker and pass rusher. However, he suffered a torn ACL this offseason and is iffy at best to make it back in time to make an impact on the strongside. From all indications he's progressing in a hurry, and there's some thought that he might be able to come back in late October if the rehab process goes without a hitch, but realistically, it's asking for too much for him to be the same playmaker and devastating force in the backfield without a full year to recover.
Until Ryan is right, 6-3, 254-pound junior end Brennen Beyer is another speedster who can get off the ball in a hurry. Like a hybrid linebacker and end, he was a seven-game starter
on the line making 19 tackles, but he didn't do anything behind the line. 6-3, 233-pound senior Cam Gordon will get a long look on the strongside after coming up with 17 tackles and three tackles for loss as a reserve. The former safety moved to outside linebacker and bulked up on the way to a 66-stop, three interception season in 2010, but he had back issues and hasn't been a huge part of the mix lately. When he's 100%, he has the ability and speed to be all over the field, and the three-time Academic All-Big Ten all-star won't miss any assignments.
6-1, 227-pound junior Desmond Morgan was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and came up with 63 tackles. He followed it up with a stronger 81-stop season with 5.5 tackles for loss on the weakside, and now he'll replace Kenny Demens in the middle. While he's not big, he can cut on a dime and is whip-smart; he's always in the right position and always around the ball. Steady, he holds up extremely well against the run, but he also gets dinged up a bit missing two games last year. With Morgan's size, or lack of it, the Wolverines need another option in the middle to keep the main man fresh. 6-3, 222-pound sophomore Joe Bolden isn't built for the spot, but he's a good enough talent to hold his own. One of the team's top recruits last year, he brings the thump with tremendous range, toughness and versatility making 31 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss.
Sophomore James Ross came up with a nice freshman season as a spot starter and solid reserve making 36 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. Now the 6-1, 223-pounder will get the call on the weakside with the smarts and tackling ability to become a star. A great recruit last season, he showed he could produce right away with good toughness and the ability to get all over the field. He'll be backed up by sophomore Royce Jenkins-Stone, a 6-2, 215-pound safety-sized option who made 145 tackles as a high school senior. While he didn't do much as a special teamer finishing with six tackles, he'll now be a big part of the rotation. He hits like a middle linebacker and has the athleticism to shine on the outside.
Watch Out For … Ben Gedeon, the 6-3, 215-pound recruit who was fantastic as a high school running back and two-way player who'll quickly turn into a solid linebacker. Extremely smart and with huge upside he'll be groomed to take over a starting spot in a few years. Meanwhile Mike McCray is a 6-4, 230-pound tough guy who might be used right away. A four-star recruit with good versatility and a great frame, he could be used inside or out.
Strength: The potential. It might take a little while to find the right mix and the right rotation, but the Wolverines have some nice twos who can step up and produce when needed. Bolden and Gordon can shine when they get the chance, and the new guys have upside. Basically, the depth isn't quite as bad as many might let on.
Weakness: Jake Ryan. Yeah, there's hope that he could come back at some point this season, but it's still a huge hit to lose the team's leading tackler and top pass rusher. He made 16 tackles for loss and no other defender came up with double-digit stops behind the line.
Outlook: It's an interesting mish-mosh of talents. Even with a hobbling Ryan, the linebacking corps has the potential to be solid if Morgan can hold up and Ross and Gordon can make up for Ryan's lost production. There might not be any superstars, but the corps will get the job done.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The secondary did a nice job last year, and it should be solid again helped by the return of senior Thomas Gordon is back after finishing tied for third on the team with 81 tackles with two picks and two broken up passes. A strong all-around safety who can play either spot, he can get behind the line when needed and he's decent at generating a bit of a thump when he has to. One of the team's steadiest hitters over the last few years, he does a little of everything right and is fantastic in the open field.
Sophomore Jarrod Wilson will push for the strong safety job to allow Gordon to see more time at free safety. At 6-2 and 196 pounds, Wilson has the right size with the smarts to handle the increased workload without a problem. He only made eight tackles, but the potential is there to quickly become one of the team's leading tacklers. The Akron native has fantastic range, and he's going to have to hold up with top backup option Marvin Robinson choosing to transfer. That means 6-4, 201-pound redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark will get a long look. Very big and with great potential when the ball is in the air, he was a decent get out of Kentucky. Now the timetable might be moved up.
5-10, 186-pound junior Raymon Taylor is back at one corner after growing into a starting job last season making 45 tackles with two picks, but he only broke up one pass. Good in the open field and a tough tackler, he handles himself well, but he has to come up with more big plays. Extremely quick, he's fluid and cuts on a dime. He'll start on the left side while 5-11, 174-pound junior Courtney Avery will get the first look on the right. A good, smart, reliable spot starter over the last few seasons, he came up with 19 tackles with a forced fumble, but he didn't make a pick. Able to play either corner spot or could see time in nickel and dime packages, he has the experience and ability to play a much bigger full-time role.
Can junior Blake Countess return healthy and play up to his promise and potential? At 5-10 and 181 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 in the 2012 Sugar Bowl and finishing with 44 tackles with six broken up passes two years ago. Just when it seemed like he was about to rise up and be a star, he suffered a knee injury in the opener agaisnt Alabama. He's expected to be back and ready to push for time at one corner.
The freshmen safeties will likely see time early on. Dymonte Thomas is one of the nation's top defensive back recruits with 6-2, 195-pound size and the quickness and rushing ability to also see plenty of time as a running back. Very tough and extremely physical, he has the talent to become a whale of a free safety, while 6-0, 198-pound Delano Hill is a blazer who could step outside at corner or be a killer at the nickel. With the right size and good tools, he'll eventually produce no matter where he plays.
Watch Out For … Jourdan Lewis. While Ross Douglas will likely get a long look behind Taylor on the left side right away, and Channing Stribling and Reon Dawson are big defenders who could move over to safety if needed, it's Lewis who's the star corner prospect of the lot. At 5-10 and 159 pounds he's rail thin, but he's really, really fast with sub-4.4 wheels and tremendous quickness. He could be a devastating returner.
Strength: Pass defense. The Wolverine defense didn't play too many teams that could throw the forward pass, but even so, not allowing a 200-yard passing day until the bowl meltdown against South Carolina was impressive. There weren't too many big plays allowed, and Alabama, Northwestern, Iowa and South Carolina were the only ones to come up with multiple touchdown passes.
Weakness: Interceptions. There were two against Notre Dame and two more the next game against Purdue. There were three the rest of the way and none in the final four games. Gordon and Taylor each came up with two picks, and no one else in the secondary did much of anything.
Outlook: The recruiting class is phenomenal. The overall numbers were a bit misleading, but the secondary really wasn't all that bad and should be decent again if Taylor and Gordon can be even better. The safety depth is a huge concern and there will be problems against the more efficient passers, but overall the numbers should be solid.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Senior Brendan Gibbons has improved in a huge way since connecting on one of five field goal attempts two years ago. He nailed 13-of-17 field goals two years ago and cranked out 16-of-18 shots last season including a 52-yard bomb against Nebraska. Turning into an ultra-reliable kicker who can be used anywhere inside the 50, he has all-star upside and the ability to come through in the clutch. Meanwhile, junior Matt Wile showed off a little leg strength of his own blasting away for a 52-yarder in the bowl loss to South Carolina but missing a 53-yarder against Nebraska. It's his kicking job next year, and he'll also serve this season as the directional punter after getting 12 chances and averaging 35.9 yards per try putting nine inside the 20. He also stepped in against South Carolina when Will Hagerup was suspended for violating team rules.
It would be nice if All-Big Ten senior Will Hagerup could pin teams deep, but his job is to air it out. He only placed three of his 33 kicks inside the 20, but he improved his average in a huge way cranking out 45 yards per kick after averaging a horrendous 36 yards per try as a junior. He's good, but Wile, a former top recruit, will still see action.
Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon came up with a good 2011 as a punt returner averaging 10.1 yards per try, but he only averaged 5.5 yards per attempt last season. Meanwhile, Drew Dileo came up with 11 yards per try on his two attempts. Gallon has the speed and quickness, but he needs more space to move. Sophomore Dennis Norfleet will once again handle the kickoff return duties after averaging 23.6 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For … Wile. A jack-of-all-trades, he has the talent and he has the leg, and if Gibbons or Hagerup aren't great, the junior will step in and take over. He has the experience now to go along with the tools.
Strength: Experienced kickers. No matter who the Wolverines stick with at kicker, they have reliability. Gibbons has become fantastic, while Hagerup blasted the team out of several big jams.
Weakness: Coverage. The punt return game struggled a bit, but the coverage teams were the big problem allowing an okay 9.7 yards per punt return with a score and 23.2 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: A total disaster a few years ago, the special teams have improved and now there's a positive. The return game needs more pop and Hagerup needs better placement, but for the most part, because of the kicking game, things are night-and-day better than they were not all that long ago.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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