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2008 Michigan Preview - Defense
Michigan CB Morgan Trent
Michigan CB Morgan Trent
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Michigan Wolverine Defense

Michigan Wolverines

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 CFN Michigan Preview | 2008 Michigan Offense
- 2008 Michigan Defense | 2008 Michigan Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Michigan Preview | 2006 CFN Michigan Preview 

What you need to know:
While there's plenty of uncertainty on offense, Scott Shafer's defense should be solid after bouncing back from a disastrous start. The line has the potential to be among the best in the nation, but now all the talent needs to turn into more production with tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson and ends Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham needing to dominate. The secondary was terrific last year, and it will be again even with new safeties to go with strong corners Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren. The question is the linebacking corps that should be decent, but nothing special outside of Obi Ezeh in the middle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Obi Ezah, 68
Sacks: Brandon Graham, 8.5
Interceptions: Morgan Trent, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DT Terrance Taylor
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Austin Panter
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Austin Panter
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Will Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Taylor, 2) DE Tim Jamison, 3) CB Morgan Trent
Strength of the defense: Defensive line, cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
Proven depth across the board, outside linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Sort of a disappointment last year, especially against anyone running a spread offense, the line needs to be the rock of the team with all four starters. The biggest key will be the play of 6-0, 319-pound senior Terrance Taylor on the nose. He has NFL early pick talent, and he has been a good producer over the last two seasons finishing last year with 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, but the coaching staff is looking for more. Taylor has all the tools to not just be good, but be something special, and the new staff tried to light more of a fire under him this off-season. A second-team All-Big Ten selection last year, there's no reason he shouldn't become an All-American. With his strength and quickness, he will be the anchor of the line, and likely the defense.

While Taylor is an established all-star, the rising superstar is 6-5, 285-pound senior Will Johnson, who has a hamstring issue, but has blossomed this off-season into a big-time talent who's poised and ready to be dominant. Very quick, very athletic, and phenomenally strong, he has all the physical tools to dominate at the NFL Combine next year. For now, he should be more of a playmaker in the backfield after coming up with just a half a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, along with 40 tackles.

Back as the team's top pass rushing option up  front is Tim Jamison, a 6-3, 265-pound senior whose main question mark going into last year was his consistency, and then he made 52 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Now the issue continues to be whether or not he can hold up and stay healthy, a concern early in his career. More than just a pass rusher, he has All-American potential.

6-2, 270-pound junior Brandon Graham is a freak of nature with sprinter's speed to go along with his size, running the 100 meters in 10.9 seconds in high school. Last year the measurables translated to better play on the field leading the team with 8.5 sacks to go along with 25 tackles. A top playmaker, he'll be asked to do more against the run, but his job will be to make plays in the backfield on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: While he didn't see too much work last year, 6-3, 259-pound junior Adam Patterson has the talent to be a good all-around end behind Graham. He might not be all that big, but he was originally considered to possibly become a light tackle when he first started out. Last year he made four tackles and a sack in a limited role.

Working behind Jamison will be 6-4, 258-pound sophomore Greg Banks, who should play a bigger role in the rotation this year. He saw a little bit of work in every game making seven tackles on the year, mostly in mop-up duty. A good special teamer, he'll be on the field doing something throughout the year, even if it's not always on defense.

On the way is 6-2, 285-pound true freshman Mike Martin, a top defensive tackle prospect who's already one of the line's stronger players. A mauler of a run stuffer and a potentially great presence in the backfield, the 2007 Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year made 96 tackles and 36 tackles for loss last season alone.

Watch Out For ... the all-star honors to come. Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding one for the line, and while the stats were there, the meaningful production wasn't there on a consistent basis. This year, there's too much talent and too much returning experience not to be better.
Strength: NFL-like skills. All four starters look like future NFL mainstays. There's strength, quickness, and a whole bunch of ability. Now the hope is for a year of working together to translate into more production.
Weakness
:
Stopping the run. Forgetting that Oregon gouged the Wolverines for 331 yards with its spread attack, Michigan made up for it later by stuffing the Illinois and Minnesota spread ground games. And then there were problems again late in the year allowing a total of 882 yards and nine touchdowns to Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Florida. 
Outlook: This group has to be great every game, no matter what, or Michigan loses. It might be that simple. Taylor and Johnson have the potential to be among the nation's best tackle pairs, while Jamison and Graham are big, quick pass rushers on the outside. While the depth with appear to be lacking, there's great size inside with prospects like 308-pound Renaldo Sagesse, 336-pound Marques Slocum, and 339-pound John Kates able to step in and clog things up if needed. Overall, this group looks the part, and now it has to play like it.
Rating: 8.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters: The team's second (Shawn Crable) and third (Chris Graham)
leading tacklers are gone, but the situation isn't all that bad if senior Austin Panter lives up to his billing on the strongside and if James Mouton is healthy on the weakside.

The 6-3, 231-pound Panter was just the second JUCO transfer in the Lloyd Carr era, but he didn't exactly pan out in his first year making seven tackles in seven games and was used mostly as a special teamer despite having a great spring. He was a superstar at Butler JC as a pass rusher with great quickness against the pass, earning national JUCO defensive player of the year honors in 2006, and while he has the upside, he has to prove he can handle the full-time work.

Mouton, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, will be a part of a rotation with Marell Evans, but he'll be the main man as long as there aren't lingering problems from a high ankle sprain. He made five tackles last season, working mostly on special teams, but he has the potential to be one of the team's top tacklers. He's fast with safety-like athleticism in a big frame.

Back in the middle as a solidifying force is 6-2, 247-pound sophomore Obi Ezeh, who finished fifth on the team with 68 tackles and two sacks with four tackles for loss and an interception. He's a big-time prospect who'll earn All-Big Ten honors sooner than later, and with his versatility and tackling ability, he can produce either in the middle or on the strongside.


Projected Top Reserves: Working either in the middle behind Ezeh or on the strongside will be 6-1, 239-pound senior John Thompson, who made 29 tackles and an interception in nine games. A starter for part of the year after being a main reserve early in his career, he brings good speed along with plenty of experience.

Battling for the weakside job is 6-3, 231-pound sophomore Marell Evans, a good special teamer who appears ready to take on a bigger defensive role. With good range, he has the skills to be strong in pass protection, and at the very least will be a key defender in the rotation on the outside.

6-2, 218-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Herron was one of the team's top recruits two years ago as a four-star linebacker prospect who could even project to be a big safety if needed. A good tackler, he's physical enough to handle himself on the strongside behind Panter.

Watch Out For ... Crable to be sorely missed. There's just no immediate replacement for a playmaker who came up with 90 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 28.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Panter is good, but he's not that good. Then again, last year's corps was trying to find an answer for losing David Harris.
Strength: Speed. This is a fast all-around group with good size. It might not be as fast as last year's trio, but the speed didn't always do the run defense much good. The backups have as much speed, if not more, than the projected starters; that's not necessarily a negative.
Weakness
:
A sure-thing all-star on the outside. Ezeh will be a great one to revolve the linebacking corps around, but Panter, Evans, Mouton and Herron, with all their upside and potential, have to prove they can be more than just ordinary.
Outlook: This should be a good group, but it might not be anything special. However, if the front four is as good as expected, the linebackers will get plenty of room to roam free and clear and they should put up some big numbers. Considering the secondary should be good, this will be the biggest defensive question mark going into the season.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The big question going into last year was whether or not 6-1, 188-pound senior Morgan Trent could replace Leon Hall and be a number one corner. Question answered as the former wide receiver got toasted way too often two years ago, and then last season he made 41 tackles and two interceptions with eight broken up passes as he turned into a better coverman. He's still not Hall, but he's good enough to erase most top receivers.

Also back on the other side is Donovan Warren, who went from being a superstar prospect to start in 11 games making 52 tackles with an interception and eight broken up passes as a true freshman. The 6-0, 180-pound sophomore is a speedster who has no problems staying with any receiver, and he's a proven tackler who isn't afraid to get his nose dirty.

About to blossom into a superstar is Stevie Brown, a 6-0, 209-pound big hitter who made 28 tackles and an interception as a reserve for most of the year, and a starter against Appalachian State. One of the team's fastest players, he showed this spring that he's ready to make the jump from good to big-time now that he'll get more work.

5-9, 206-pound senior Brandon Harrison would be the slam-dunk starter at strong safety, but he has a shoulder problem. He made 42 tackles with an interception and 6.5 tackles for loss as a top reserve, and now he needs to find a steady spot. He needs to step in for Jamar Adams, the team's leading tackler, at strong safety, but he could also play corner if needed.

Projected Top Reserves: If it's not going to be Harrison at strong safety, it'll be 6-2, 206-pound senior Charles Stewart after making 14 tackles last season. Versatile enough to play either safety or corner, he's a more natural option at safety where he has the size to be an intimidating presence and a sure tackler.

The defense is getting an upgrade from the recruiting class with two phenomenal prospect, Boubacar Cissoko and Brandon Smith. The 5-9, 175-pound Cissoko has linebacker strength and 4.4 speed with the potential to play just about anywhere in the secondary. He's a top corner prospect who should have few problems stepping in and being a backup from day one.

The 6-3, 210-pound Smith was the team's best recruit this year, and he's going to be an all-star sooner than later. A do-it-all-player in high school seeing time as a quarterback and a wide receiver to go along with his duties on defense, he's a great athlete with a nose for the ball and big hitting ability. He might need a little more seasoning than Cissoko when it comes to playing right away, but he should be in the mix this year.

Watch Out For ... Brown. Yeah, he had a great spring in 2006 and he didn't turn into the star he was supposed to become. This year he appears ready to be the next great Michigan defensive back, and it'll be a major disappointment if he isn't one of the team's top tacklers.
Strength: Corners. It's not like the Wolverines faced too many big-time passing games, but the corners came through big-time. After the early debacles against Appalachian State and Oregon, Michigan allowed just five touchdown passes over the final ten regular season games.
Weakness
:
Proven depth. The true freshmen might have a world of talent, but they're still true freshmen. There's not a lot to count on, especially at corner, if injuries strike.
Outlook: This was supposed to be a problem last season and it turned out to be the strength of the defense. The starting foursome from the nation's eighth best pass defense should be excellent once again, and they could be even stronger if the front four provides more of a pass rush. The new starting safeties should step in without skipping a beat, while the corners will be among the best in the Big Ten.
Rating: 8.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Jason Gingell was originally supposed to be the placekicker, but he only hit three of nine field goal attempts and quickly got replaced by senior K.C. Lopata, who nailed 11 of 12 attempts. While Lopata doesn't have a big leg, he's automatic from 45 yards and in. Sophomore Bryan Wright has the biggest leg among the three and will handle the kickoffs and extra long field goals.

6-5, 235-pound junior Zoltan Mesko has been a decent punter over the last few years, but he hasn't been anything spectacular averaging 41.1 yards per kick while putting 22 inside the 20. He's great at hanging the ball up in the air, but he puts too many kicks in the end zone with eight touchbacks.

Will Brandon Minor be too valuable as a runner to see time on kickoff returns? The Wolverines have to be far better after averaging just 18.5 yards per try, and Minor was part of the problem averaging just 19.8 yards per try. Brandon Harrison and Carlos Brown will also be in the mix. CB Donovan Warren will handle punt returns, but he only averaged 4.6 yards per try. Greg Harrison will also get some chances after averaging eight yards per return.

Watch Out For ... Lopata to be the man. Gingell is too average and struggled too much to see any time. There won't be a rotation.
Strength: Mesko. He's a steady, decent punter who won't get Michigan beat. He'll average over 40 yards per kick, pin plenty of offenses deep, and he'll be on the All-Big Ten lists.
Weakness
:
Kickoff coverage. A big issue over the last few years, Michigan allowed 22 yards per return in 2006 and allowed 22.6 per try last season. The return game needs a big boost after being completely mediocre.
Outlook: The new coaching staff will put a bigger emphasis on the special teams that were generally fine, but nothing to get excited about. Michigan isn't good enough to have average special teams, but with so much focus and work going into other areas, this could get neglected as fall practices go on.
Rating: 6.5