Preview 2007 - Defense
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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.
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
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
Weakness of the defense:
Cornerback, proven depth
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Weakness: 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.