Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke announced some pretty significant coaching staff shuffling on the defensive side of the ball on Thursday evening, and it needed to happen.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will now coach all linebackers, Mark Smith will coach the defensive line, Roy Manning will coach the cornerbacks, and Curt Mallory will coach the safeties.
Hoke also announced this morning that redshirt senior Jake Ryan will move from strong-side linebacker to middle linebacker in 2014, with more positional changes possible on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s one of our best football players instinctively, but when he’s playing SAM and you face those detached formations, it gets him away from the action at times,” Hoke said. “Just think back to the Ohio (State) game, where we had a guy who is a pretty daggone good football player and he’s out of the box not (being able to) make plays.
It is unclear to this point who will resume strong-side linebacker duties now that Ryan has been moved, but with guys like Desmond Morgan, James Ross III, Joe Bolden, and Ben Gedeon, just to name a few, the linebacker position should be a strength of the defense in 2014.
The impact of the shuffling of the defensive coaching staff remains to be seen, but changes had to be made after Michigan only has collected 47 sacks as a team the last two season. The Wolverines’ pass defense was ranked 66th in the nation in 2013, which is a significant drop from 2012, where they ranked fifth.
With as much grief as people gave the offense in 2013, and trust me, that was totally justifiable, the defense was plays away here and there from giving the season a completely different outlook. The talent is there, but the execution was not, so it is encouraging to see that Hoke and staff are addressing the status quo by making changes.
Does Michigan have the pieces to have a nationally elite defense such as Michigan State this past year? Probably not, but there is enough there in every level to suggest that this group can do more.
In the defensive backfield, you are looking at a group that includes Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Dymonte Thomas, and incoming freshman sensation Jabrill Peppers, just to name a few guys. That position group has the makings of an elite unit, but the coaches need to unlock that potential.
What will make or break all of these changes, and really, the entire defense in-general, is the development of the defensive line. This past season had a lot of average-to-below average efforts from that group, and that will not fly in the scheme that Hoke and the staff uses.
The success of the defense will almost directly depend on the development of Frank Clark, Taco Charlton, Keith Heitzman, Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, and more.
Fans are hoping these changes will make the team better in-house. If not, it could be another long season and time to clean house.