2010 Michigan Preview – Defense
Michigan CB Troy Woolfolk
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Michigan Wolverine Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is changing things up with the 4-3 alignment of last year going to a more flexible 3-3-5 set. There isn't a true pass rushing defensive end, but instead there are three tackle-sized players for the front with the hope for the massive William Campbell and the talented Mike Martin to form a great rotation on the inside. One of the linebackers will be used like a combination of end and outside linebacker, and the hope will be for a pass rushing star, likely sophomore Craig Roh, to shine in the position. The secondary has plenty of upside and speed, and it'll have a hybrid of its own utilizing a Spur, which will be part safety and part linebacker. The linebackers have to play better after a disappointing season from Obi Ezeh and a mediocre one from Jonas Mouton. There's experience across the board, but the production has to follow.
Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Craig Roh
Tackles: Jordan Kouvacs, 75
Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen, 5
Interceptions: Jonas Mouton, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Greg Banks
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman SS Cameron Gordon
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DT William Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Roh, 2) FS Jordan Kovacs, 3) Gordon
Strength of the defense: Experience, Safety
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Interceptions
Projected Starters: An ideal 3-4 end, Ryan Van Bergen started every game as a defensive tackle and could move in and out of spots on the line where and when needed. At 6-6 and 280 pounds, the junior is a big, hard-working interior pass rusher who made 40 tackles with five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, and while he's not a speed rusher by any stretch, he can get into the backfield on a regular basis. With his size and frame he's tough to throw over breaking up four passes adding to his skills as a disruptive factor.
There's going to be a spot for junior Mike Martin. The 6-2, 294-pound tackle can play either as a two-gap nose tackle or as a one-gap defender in a 4-3, but first he has to get healthy after having shoulder issues. Very active, the 2007 Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year made two sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, along with 51 tackles, as an every game starter at tackle. He'll be a part of a rotation on the nose and will work as in the one-gap when the defense changes alignments. Very quick and very tough, he can do it all for the interior.
6-4, 274-pound Greg Banks is a tackle who'll spend time working as a big end. The veteran bulked up to get to his current weight, but he's a quick defender who has the potential to be a decent pass rusher after only making five tackles with a tackle for loss last year. His worth will mostly be as a run stopper on the end and as a decent option in a tackle rotation.
Projected Top Reserves: Consider sophomore William Campbell a starter. A key reserve throughout last year, the 6-5, 324-pounder is a space-eater on the inside making just four tackles with two broken up passes and a tackle for loss. He spent most of the offseason on the nose with Mike Martin banged up, but he'll be an anchor in a 4-3 alignment and he'll be a big part of a rotation. A superstar recruit, he has NFL size, athleticism (for his bulk), and the ability to be a rock on the nose and tough to get around.
6-4, 263-pound redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota will work in a rotation with Ryan Van Bergen and could start on the end if Van Bergen ever moves inside. Athletic enough to be a high school linebacker with timed 4.64 speed, he needs to show a burst off the ball right away and has to create a role as a situational pass rusher to see more time.
6-3, 275-pound true freshman Richard Ash is considered by many to be one of the team's top defensive line recruits. Very fast for his size, he's just athletic enough to work as a big, tough end, and he's tough enough to be strong on the inside. However, he's not necessarily a nose tackle and would be a far better fit as a 4-3 defensive tackle. The star prospect from Florida will find a spot somewhere.
Senior Adam Patterson hasn't set the world on fire, but he has seen just enough time to be counted on as one outside spot in an emergency. At 6-3 and 272 pounds he has decent size for a three-man end, but he hasn't done much more than work on special teams.
Watch Out For … the alignment. The coaching staff will play around with the front line depending on the opposing offensive scheme, and while the size and tackles are in place to run a proper 4-3, the idea (at least early on) will likely be to put three bulky players up front and let the outside linebackers do the pass rushing.
Strength: Size. There are several nice tackle options to play around with depending on what the coaching staff wants to do. There won't be a problem coming up with a rotation for a three-man front with the size and strength to hope for more production against the run. Now everyone has to be more physical.
Weakness: Pass rushing end. It's going to take one of the linebackers (or a hybrid) to try to be the next Brandon Graham. The Wolverine defensive front will have to manufacture sacks and tackles for loss to replace Graham's 10.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss.
Outlook: It'll be an interesting front that could flourish with the right three players starting. There might not be any true ends to rely on, but Van Bergen is a high-motor player who'll produce no matter where he is, Martin and Campbell are nice tackles to stuff up the inside, and there are some decent young prospect waiting to show what they can do. However, the loss of Graham is devastating.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: The Wolverine need a pass rusher to help replace the lost production of Brandon Graham, and the hope is for Craig Roh to help the cause in a combination/hybrid role. The 6-5 249-pound sophomore earned CFN Freshman All-America honors making 37 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss with an interception, and he has the combination of skills to do far more. Very fast, extremely weight room strong, and with the upside to grow into a disruptive force, the 2008 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year could be the team's breakout player if used correctly.
Senior Obi Ezeh had a bit of an off year and shockingly saw time on the bench after making 98 tackles as a sophomore, but he still wasn't awful finishing the year with 69 stops with five tackles for loss and a broken up pass. Versatile enough to play anywhere in the linebacking corps, the 6-2, 240-pounder is most natural in the middle where he gets to hold up against the run, but he has the ability to do more to get into the backfield if needed. While he'll be a rock for the defensive front six/seven, he needs to come up with a big final year to finally play up to the promise from his all-star freshman season.
6-2, 228-pound senior Jonas Mouton has been a key starter over the last two seasons making 66 tackles after finishing second on the team with 76 stops in 2008. Working on the weakside, he was decent against the pass, but he wasn't special making two picks with two broken up passes. At his best against the run, he made 11 tackles against Ohio State and has been great at getting in on every play, but he has to prove he can stay healthy. Durability has been a problem throughout his career, and he's not going to last a full season, but he's reliable when he's on the field.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Brandon Herron was one of the team's top recruits a few years ago, but he hasn't exactly shown why. He made 20 tackles with a tackle for loss in a reserve role working as a key backup and on special teams, and now he'll push for time on the outside in the hybrid role for the linebacking corps. While he's only 6-2 and 220 pounds, he's very fast and very strong with the ability to be used as a shot-out-of-a-cannon pass rusher when fully healthy. He missed time this offseason with a minor knee injury, but he's expected to be fine.
Walk on Kevin Leach will be a backup at both outside spots after seeing time in every game last year and getting the start in the middle in three of the last four games. The 6-1, 200-pounder made 46 tackles and a sack, and while he's limited size-wise, he's extremely smart, very tough, and he isn't afraid to stick his nose in to make stops. While Illinois gashed the Wolverine defense in the ugly loss, Leach came up with 11 stops.
Junior J.B. Fitzgerald is an Academic All-Big Ten performer who made 16 tackles and four tackles for loss as part of the rotation. Now the veteran backup will combine for time in the middle with good range, 6-3, 239-pound size, great hitting ability, and the potential to be a top tackler when he gets his chances.
6-1, 244-pound sophomore Kenny Demens was a top special teamer last season seeing time in every game and making seven tackles. The biggest option for the middle, he'll get his chances to show what he can do to plug up the holes on the inside. He was a four-star recruit with plenty of talent and defensive tackle strength, and now he has to show it off.
Watch Out For … Roh. The front six/seven is going to need pass rushers, and since the line doesn't have a true end who can fly into the backfield, Roh has to shine on the outside. He has the skills to become terrific.
Strength: Experience. With all the veterans, this could be a solid area if Roh plays as well as expected, Mouton can stay healthy, and Ezeh can revert back to his pre-junior year form. There's enough developed depth to form a nice rotation to keep everyone fresh.
Weakness: Physical play. Everyone can move and swarming around isn't a problem, but the linebackers weren't nearly as physical as they should've been. Ezeh, who was a major disappointment at times last year, should be doing far more against the run, while more plays need to be made closer to the line.
Outlook: There's way too much responsibility put on the linebacking corps that has to clean up the messes left by the defensive front. Ezeh and Mouton have the experience and the potential to form a tremendous twosome if they play up to their talent level for an entire season (hardly a lock), and Roh should be terrific with the bigger role. This is a good corps, but it's not elite. It'll be a sound group that should be among the team's most consistent areas.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: With Boubacar Cissoko booted off the team midway through last year, senior Troy Woolfolk moved from strong safety to corner with decent, but mixed results. The 6-0, 186-pound son of former Wolverine star running back, Butch Woolfolk, looked the part this offseason showing off his track speed and his 6-0, 186-pound size as a possible shut down corner. He made 46 tackles, but didn't do anything against the pass with a mere one broken up pass. He has the range and he has the experience, and now he has to be a major player.
6-0, 183-pound sophomore J.T. Floyd is an emerging star who'll replace Donovan Warren at left corner. He started twice last year first taking over for Cissoko against Michigan State and seeing time against Ohio State, and now he's ready to do far more. He made 17 tackles, but he didn't come up with a pick and only made one broken up pass doing most of his work on special teams. A nice recruit for Rich Rodriguez, but not an elite one, he has good athleticism and is extremely smart, and the light appeared to go on this spring with a nice group of practices.
Redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon came to Michigan as a top-shelf wide receiver prospect. At 6-3 and 208 pounds, he has the size to create matchup problems and become a dangerous target, but he was quickly moved over to the defensive side and now he has the look of a special playmaker for the secondary. One of the stars of spring ball, Gordon was all over the field, was a big hitter, and showed the physical ability to become a star at one of the safety job. He'll start out (most likely) as a strong safety handling the deep plays, but he has the size and the ability to move to a different role as a bit of a linebacker/defensive back hybrid.
Sophomore Jordan Kovacs quickly proved that he belonged as a burgeoning star for the defense, and he could be the biggest playmaker on the defense if he can do something in pass coverage. The CFN Second Team Freshman All-America performer did everything he could against the run finishing second on the team with 75 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss as he went from being a decent backup to the starting strong safety once Troy Woolfolk moved to corner. At 6-0 and 200 pounds he's a strong player who was a high level Ohio high school track star, and now the hope is for him to become more of a big play performer at free safety. He could play any of the three safety spots.
Redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon has a nice mix of 5-11, 208-pound size, 4.45 speed, and good toughness. Now he has to find a role. He has cornerback speed and can play any safety spot, but because of his thick, strong body type he has the look for the hybrid Spur role being used as part linebacker and part safety. He's one of the faster players on the defense, and no matter how he's used he'll be all over the field.
Projected Top Reserves: A few key players from last year are looking for a place to fit in, but for junior Mike Williams , it's a case of needing to play better. He made 56 tackles starting for most of the year at free safety, but he struggled way too much when the ball was in the air and he wasn't consistent. A big-time recruit, he has yet to play up to his potential and his prep résumé, and now he'll make a push to see time at the new Spur as part safety and part linebacker even though he's only 5-11 and 190 pounds.
A tweener, sophomore Floyd Simmons will possibly be used as an outside linebacker and could see time at the Spur after spending most of last year on special teams before missing the last four games hurt. At 6-0 and 197 pounds he's not all that big, but he's a tough, willing hitter who came up with five tackles with a forced fumble.
Sophomore Vladimir Emilien is well past the torn ACL that cost him his senior year of high school, and now he'll try to be a part of the strong safety mix after making one tackle in five games of work. He's 6-1 and 202 pounds with 4.4 speed and all the tools to be a major part of the secondary equation if he can be healthy. He missed time this offseason banged up.
Sophomore Teric Jones saw a little time as a true freshman making seven tackles working mostly on special teams, but with sub-4.4 speed he needs to be a part of the secondary. While he's only 5-9 and 194 pounds, he's a great hitter who isn't afraid to get physical. With his wheels, he can play just about anywhere and will start out as a strong safety with tremendous range.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Turner has a freakish collection of skills with tremendous strength and 4.49 speed in a 6-2, 197-pound frame, and he's going to get his chances at corner and potentially at safety. One of the team's top recruits last year, he didn't see time right away and now has four years to become a major part of the secondary.
Watch Out For … the Spur. The defense will more often than not go with five defensive backs, but the hybrid Spur position could become a linebacker if one of the linebackers moves up front to create a 4-3. There are several decent options for the job, most notably Thomas Gordon, and while being physical is a must, the position will mostly be like a nickel back.
Strength: Versatility. The move to a 3-3-5 alignment makes sense mostly because the secondary could be one of the team's deepest and most versatile areas. The corners are relatively set, but Woolfolk could quickly transition over to safety if needed, while the three safety spots are almost interchangeable.
Weakness: Pass defense. The Wolverines only picked off 11 passes last year and four of those were by last year's starting left corner, Donovan Warren. There's little proven production from the returning players when it comes to pass defense, and while there's speed and upside, a ball-hawker has to emerge.
Outlook: It'll be interesting to see how the coaching staff plays around with the combination. It should say something that the potential is there to be the team's biggest strength even though the corners could've been super-recruit Demar Dorsey (who's now a Louisville Cardinal) and Boubacar Cissoko (who's in big trouble after getting arrested for robbery). Woolfolk and Floyd will be more than fine, Kouvacs is a playmaker, and Cameron Gordon is about to become special.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons will take over for Jason Olesnavage, who hit 11-of-15 field goals last year and showed tremendous range hitting 5-of-6 shots from beyond the 40. Gibbons might have been the best all-around placekicker this offseason, but he has to prove he can be consistent on the short to midrange kicks. He'll nail a few big ones and will get his chances from around 50 yards. The 6-1, 245-pounder has a big leg with great range.
Considering redshirt freshman Seth Broekhuizen struggled this offseason and didn't exactly take the punting job by the horns, Will Hagerup will get every shot to take over the job. The athletic 6-4, 210-pound freshman has a big leg and is ready-made to step in and start. He's a bomber with nice touch.
Michigan got a great year from Daryl Stonum, who averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown, and he'll be the main option once again. Jeremy Gallon will get a little work in as a slot receiver, and he'll also be a backup kickoff returner and the top punt return option. He's cut on a dime quick and he'll be great at making the first man miss.
Watch Out For … the placekicking situation. It's Gibbons as the main man, but junior Justin Meram is a short range specialist who doesn't miss from inside 35 yards. Broekhuizen will make a move for the punting job, but with his monster leg he could also be used as a long range kicking option.
Strength: Stonum. The offense could use as much help as it can get, and the dangerous wideout will be a major factor for field position.
Weakness: Zoltan Mesko. One of the nation's top punters last year, he averaged a whopping 44.5 yards per try, forced 18 fair catches, and put 15 inside the 20. Hagerup should be great in time, but the Wolverines need Mesko-like punting production right away.
Outlook: The special teams weren't bad last year, but there are huge question marks with the kicking game, the coverage team has to do more on kickoffs, and the return game could use more pop on punts. On the plus side, Stonum is a top kickoff returner and a weapon, and the new kickers are promising.
Unit Rating: 6
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