2007 Michigan Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 26, 2007

Preview 2007 Michigan Wolverine Defense

Michigan Wolverines

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Michigan Preview | 2007 Michigan Offense Preview
2007 Michigan Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Michigan Preview 

What you need to know:
Defensive coordinator Ron English did a fantastic job in his first season sending the dogs loose to attack more than previous Michigan teams. Now the hope will be for overall speed and athleticism to make up for the lack of experience and a few gaping holes. This won't be the nation's number one run defense again, and it won't be fourth in sacks, but it will create plenty of turnovers and force a ton of mistakes. It'll also give up too many big pass plays. The safeties are fine, the linebacking corps won't be an issue, even without David Harris to anchor things anymore, and the line, in time, will grow into a strength. The biggest issue will be at corner, where Morgan Trent isn't a number one lockdown defender, and there are several untested prospects waiting to get their chance to shine.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jamar Adams, 47
Sacks: Shawn Crable, 4.5
Interceptions: Jamar Adams, Shawn Crable, 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Shawn Crable
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Johnny Sears
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Austin Panter
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Tim Jamison
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Crable, 2) DT Terrance Taylor, 3) SS Jamar Adams
Strength of the defense: Size, overall speed and athleticism
Weakness of the defense:
Cornerback, proven depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The lone returning starter to the defensive front might not be a household name, but 6-0, 310-pound junior tackle Terrance Taylor is a tremendously strong, quick interior defender who came up with 23 tackles, a sack and five tackles for loss. He benefited from playing next to Alan Branch, but Branch also benefited from playing next to him. Now he should grow into his own as an all-star lineman to work around.

Taking over for Branch will be 6-5, 291-pound sophomore Will Johnson, a quicker, more athletic tackle who'll have to use his skills to come up to fill the role. He's not going to be anywhere near the anchor Branch was, but he's tough, smart, and solid. Even though he only made seven tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, he showed the potential to be a rock of a starter.

The biggest issue with 6-3, 266-pound senior Tim Jamison is whether or not he can be consistent in a full-time role for a full season. Part linebacker and part end, he established himself as a good reserve and a pass rushing terror making five sacks and 13 tackles. Staying healthy has always been an issue, and now he has to grow into more than a specialist.

6-2, 276-pound sophomore Brandon Graham is a freak of nature. With tremendous size and sprinter's speed, running the 100 meters in 10.9 seconds in high school, he's a bulked up linebacker playing on the end. He only made three tackles and a sack as a freshman, and now he appears ready to emerge as the next Wolverine defensive star. At least that's the hope.

Projected Top Reserves: At 6-3 and 38 pounds, sophomore Jason Kates is the biggest option up front. A big-time prospect, he didn't see any action over his first two years, but with his bulk, he should grow into a key space-eater behind Taylor.

6-2, 262-pound sophomore Adam Patterson saw time in six games as a true freshman making two tackles. Originally considered to be a possible tackle, he'll work behind Graham as a big run stopper on the outside.

Watch Out For ... LaMarr Woodley to not be as missed as you might think. Yeah, he put up 12 sacks and forced four fumbles, but he wasn't consistent and disappeared for key stretches. Jamison and Graham might not put up the sheer numbers, but they could be more effective from start to finish.
Strength: Size. The tackles aren't massive, especially with the 330-pound Branch gone, but they're more than big enough. The ends, averaging around 265 pounds among the top four, help make the line almost impossible to run on.
Proven production. There's Taylor and a whole bunch of really, really promising prospects. Jamison hasn't proved he can do it for a full season, and Graham, Johnson and Patterson are still looking to show they can handle more work.
Outlook: Of course Michigan is going to get several cream-of-the-crop linemen, and of course a few will step up and shine in their new roles. Even so, you don't get better by losing Branch, Woodley and Rondell Biggs. There will be an overall drop in production, but it'll still be tremendously effective.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: The big question will be where 6-5, 245-pound senior Shawn Crable plays. More of a linebacker by nature, and a good one on the strongside, he could be moved to the line to provide a LaMarr Woodley-like pass rush after making 37 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Athletic enough to be solid in pass coverage, he'll use his speed and quickness to be a bolt of lightning into the backfield.

There are some big losses on the Wolverine D, but not bigger than in the middle where David Harris, the team's leading tackler over the last two seasons, has to be replaced. At the moment, it'll be up to 6-1, 230-pound senior John Thompson to take over after being the main reserve in the middle over the last two seasons. While he hasn't seen too much playing time with Harris tough to get off the field, he has better speed.

Taking over a full-time role on the weakside will be senior Chris Graham after getting the start in four games including the Rose Bowl. He's been a spot starter over the last two seasons making 42 stops as a sophomore and 24 last year, and even though he's only 5-11 and 225 pounds, he can fly.

Projected Top Reserves: If it's not Thompson in the middle, it'll be 6-3, 231-pound junior Austin Panter, the second JUCO transfer in the Lloyd Carr tenure, will be the main man. While he's not huge, he's a ready-made tackler with good all-around skills. He'll produce even if he's not the starter if this spring was any indication.

If Crable ends up seeing more time on the end, 6-2, 243-pound sophomore Obi Ezeh will play a big role either in the middle or on the strongside. While he hasn't seen any time yet, he's a big-time prospect who has All-Big Ten written all over him. It just might take a year before he gets there.

Watch Out For ... the middle linebacker situation to not be settled until the opener. It seemed like Thompson would be a lock to take over for Harris, but that was before Panter proved to be ready to step in and shine. Even Ezeh will be considered for the inside.
Strength: Speed. Harris wasn't slow, but Thompson can really move, while Graham is a speedster on the outside. Getting to the ball, and into the backfield, won't be a problem.
Sure-thing depth. Getting Panter showed just how much the coaching staff wanted help right off the bat for the corps. The starters are hardly settled, much less the backup rotation.
Outlook: It's not as bad as many might make it out to be. There isn't a David Harris, but there will be plenty of production in the middle from Thompson, Panter, or a combination. Crable and Graham have enough experience to be good, steady producers who'll know their jobs.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Can 6-1, 189-pound senior Morgan Trent be the number one corner who can take over for Leon Hall? Trent started most of the season on the right side, and will so again, and with his experience, he has to prove he can stay with number one receivers after getting burned way too often. He got ripped apart by Ohio State and USC, and didn't appear to make much of an improvement in spring ball. Tackling isn't an issue, making 45 tackles, 40 of them solo, but he has to be far more consistent in coverage.

Stepping in for Hall on the left side will be 6-0, 189-pound sophomore Johnny Sears, who made 13 tackles as a reserve but didn't do anything when the ball was in the air. A blazing fast, superior athlete, he has the tools to be a key corner, but he'll have to fight to get the job.

The one sure thing in the secondary will likely be 6-2, 212-pound senior strong safety Jamar Adams, who finished third on the team with 47 tackles with an interception. He hits like a ton of bricks and was a consistent producer throughout the year. He might not be a superstar all-around prospect, but he's tough, smart, and is always in a position to make plays against the run. Now he has to do more against the pass.

It'll be an ongoing battle for the free safety spot, but 6-0, 195-pound sophomore Stevie Brown appears to be ready to take the job by the horns. He's not huge, but he's tough, physical, and is one of the team's fastest players. He made 14 tackles as a reserve and now should blossom after playing extremely well this spring.

Projected Top Reserves: It's a stretch to call Brandent Englemon a major disappointment last season, making 29 tackles and breaking up three passes despite being banged up, but he didn't build on the promise of a strong sophomore campaign. At 5-11 and 206 pounds, he has the size to play strong safety to go along the speed to start at free safety. A good veteran, he needs to play a steadying role in the secondary. 

6-1, 205-pound senior Charles Stewart could become an invaluable reserve. He'll start out behind Adams at strong safety, but he can also play corner, where he made 24 tackles with two broken up passes. He got two starts in place of Trent, and now he looks like a natural at safety.

Pushing Trent hard for the starting job on the right side is 5-8, 195-pound junior Brandon Harrison after making 30 tackles and three tackles for loss. He's far more physical than his size would indicate, and he could get the call if Trent isn't better than he was at the of last year. While he might not be a strong number one, he'll battle as a second corner.

Watch Out For ... apparent sure-thing starters like Trent and Engelmon to be pushed out of jobs. The secondary has to improve, and that will come from the younger options.
Strength: Raw speed. Everyone can move, including the backups. On athleticism alone, the Wolverine secondary will overwhelm most receiving corps.
Coverage. For having such a phenomenal pass rush up front to help out, Michigan only came up with 12 interceptions with the secondary barely accounting for half of them. With Leon Hall and his three picks, along with 15 broken up passes, gone, someone else needs to step up right away.
Outlook: The holes on the front seven should be filled without a problem, but the secondary is another story. Not only does it lose Hall, but it has to replace Trent as a starter, even though he's desperately needed for his experience. The safeties will be more than fine. Adams will be an all-star, while Brown is a star in the making. The corners are going to need help all season long.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 6-4, 242-pound sophomore Zoltan Mesko stepped up and became a weapon for the punting game averaging 41.6 yards per kick with 17 put inside the 20 and with eight fair catches. He didn't air too many out, but he was what the team needed. The placekicking situation will be an issue with a three-way battle to replace Garrett Rivas, who nailed 17 of 20 field goal attempts. Senior Jason Gingell will fight with sophomore Bryan Wright, who'll likely get the first crack at the job on opening day. He has a big leg, but he has to prove he can be consistent.

Watch Out For ... the placekicking situation to not be that big an issue, even if there will be a massive drop-off from Rivas to whoever takes over. Michigan only played one game decided by fewer than seven points, and will explode enough on offense to make up for the problems.
Strength: Mesko. He should only get better. He won't be asked to bail the offense out of too many jams, but he'll be a savior for a defense that might need all the help it can get early on against the better teams.
Beyond the placekicking issues, stopping kickoff returns. Even with Rivas bombing away, Michigan still allowed 22 yards per kickoff return. There weren't too many huge returns, but the coverage team was consistently mediocre.
Outlook: Steve Breaston was a weapon as a punt returner, but his biggest strength was making everyone freak out about kicking to him. It'll take a variety of players to do what he did, with sophomore corner Johnny Sears the likely top replacement. The kicking game will be a work in progress.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 Michigan Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 26, 2007
2007 Michigan Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 26, 2007
2007 Michigan Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 26, 2007

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