Spring Positional Battles: Defense

Posted on Posted in Michigan Football

Hello again, friends.

I’m back again with the 2nd part of my spring positional battles series, this time focusing on defense.

Let’s get right to it after the jump:

Defensive Line

It’s hard for me to really believe there are true “positional battles”, because Mattison is big proponent of rotation in his defensive line. Out of the 4 positions, he’ll often use 10+ guys in any given game. When Michigan goes to the nickel, they lose the nose tackle and drop a linebacker down to rush the passer (in years past, this was the SAM linebacker). I don’t know how that’s going to look with the new defensive scheme, but still, it’s another “rotational” spot. For the purpose of this exercise, I’ll go spot-by-spot, pointing out 2-3 guys who I believe are in position to get time this season. I’ll also highlight who I believe the nominal starter will be.

Strong Side Defensive End 

In last year’s scheme, this position was more run support than pass rush, and while that will remain true in 2014, it’s my understanding that the defensive end spots will be more balanced now. By balanced, I mean that rather than one focusing more on run support and the other on pass rush, each spot will focus more equally on each, so to speak. It’s no secret that Michigan needs to get to the quarterback better in 2014, and I’m sure with the new defense that Mattison will utilize inside blitzes more, especially with playmaker Jake Ryan now manning the MIKE linebacker position.

Anyways, at SDE, I think you’re looking at a combo platter of Brennan Beyer, Taco Charlton, and Matt Godin. Beyer, who played well at SAM last season, is dropping down to what I believe his ideal position is. In last year’s defense, he would be too small to be effective as a SDE, but in this year’s version, I think he’ll be successful. He’s who I would pencil in as the “starter”, and I think you can expect production from him similar to what Craig Roh did as a senior. Taco Charlton is the wildcard–he’s a freak of athleticism with ideal size, but he’s raw as hell. When it comes to rushing the passer, I think you’ll see him inserted in place of Beyer. Charlton might not be ready to break out yet, so I would wait until 2015 to put huge expectations on the kid. As for Godin, he’s a freakin’ chunk of stone in the form of a man. Huge, unmovable, and with good technique, he doesn’t have the athleticism of the other guys, but he’ll definitely be an asset in run support. Also, Godin has the size to get some run at 3 technique defensive tackle, so look for him there as well.

3 Technique Defensive Tackle

To this day, I wish that Michigan had a legitimate nose tackle in 2011, so that Mike Martin could have played this position. Martin was a great nose tackle, but he played there out of necessity. Had he been allowed to play 3DT, he would have murdered running backs and quarterbacks on a regular basis. Anyways, the guys who I believe will see the majority of time here are Willie Henry, Tom Strobel, and Henry Poggi. Henry showed a lot of good things last year, and he might very well be the strongest guy on the team. He has the ability to just throw offensive linemen out of the way, but as we all know, football is as much about technique as it is about strength (see Campbell, William). Henry will be the starter (unless he’s forced to play nose due to the injury situation of Ondre Pipkins), but these defensive line spots are subject to heavy rotation. Strobel is a guy I was very high on coming out of high school, but he’s a bit of a tweener right now. He’s listed at 6’6″ 268, which screams defensive end. But I don’t think he has the fast twitch ability to play the edge, and if I recall correctly he had been working at defensive tackle exclusively towards the end of last season. Poggi is the wildcard here. He’s a bit smaller, listed at 6’4″ 271, but he’s built really well and was a very good technician coming out of high school. If not for an injury last season, I believe the odds are high that he would have burned his redshirt.

1 Technique Defensive Tackle (Nose Tackle)

Ondre Pipkins would be the obvious starter here, but we don’t know if he’ll be 100% healthy by the time the season starts. Reports are very encouraging, and the fact that he’s managed to stay in shape (listed at 313) is very good news, but the fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know. Willie Henry is another guy who can play the nose, but I believe the best lineup possible is Pipkins at the nose and Henry at the 3 tech. Maurice Hurst Jr is coming off of a redshirt, but I really have no idea what to expect from him. I didn’t see him play last year obviously, and he’s a bit small at only 280 pounds. It’s entirely plausible that he puts on weight before fall camp starts and gets to 285-290 or so, but that’s still a bit light. And, only being a RS Freshman, I struggle to believe that his technique is up to par, at least consistently. Early enrollee Bryan Mone has the size at 6’4″ 315, but I wasn’t encouraged by his senior film and his performance at the all american games, as it looked like he was out of shape and had added bad weight. Enrolling early will only help him, so I have some confidence that he can at least be a decent rotational player as a true freshman.

Weak Side Defensive End

Your starter here, unquestionably in my view, is Frank Clark. Clark was kind of a tease last year, showing absolute dominance at times (Penn State), and otherwise disappearing at times. It’s important to remember that he came to Michigan as a skinny safety/linebacker hybrid, and he’s put on somewhere around 60-70 pounds in 3 years. It’s entirely possible that he’s still getting used to playing with such bulk, although he’s still retained good athleticism. I don’t think he’ll ever reach the stupid-high ceiling that some bloggers have placed on him, but I think he’ll be very good. Mario Ojemudia will get some run, especially on passing downs, but he’s still a little small at 250 pounds. I’m happy with the progress he’s made, but it’s hard to be a “complete” defensive end with that size. I’m hopeful he can be productive rushing the quarterback as a rotational guy this season. The wildcard is a guy not even on campus yet, and that’s true freshman-to-be, Lawrence Marshall. His Rivals profile lists him at 6’4″ 230, and I’ve heard some chatter on the twitter box that he’s around 240 now. That’s good news, of course, but it remains to be seen if his technique will be good enough to play right away. You can be successful as a pass rusher at 240-245lbs, but it’s hard to do so without either blinding athleticism or outstanding technique. At the time of this writing, I don’t believe Marshall has either. Time will tell..

Linebackers

I don’t believe there is a battle for MIKE, as Jake Ryan has that locked down. I also believe that James Ross is the unquestioned starter at SAM, due to the defensive scheme change. However….

Weak Side Linebacker (WILL)

Right now, Desmond Morgan is your starter there. He’s a senior, probable captain, and basically a 4 year starter. He lacks plus speed and athleticism, but is a good tackler and a heady player. Allowing him to play free on the side of the defense will allow him to flow better, in my view, which will allow him to make up for some of his shortcomings. However, Mattison likes to rotate his linebackers as well as his defensive line. Last year, Joe Bolden played nearly as many snaps as Morgan and Ross, and Ben Gedeon saw significant time as well. I’m a huge, huge fan of Ben Gedeon. I think he has as much upside, if not more, as any linebacker on the roster. He’ll play, as will Bolden, but I think it’ll be another year before Gedeon locks on to a starter job and doesn’t let go.

Secondary

Cornerback

I think it’s pretty clear that Blake Countess has one starter job locked down, but on the other side of the field, incumbent Raymon Taylor will see competition from Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, and (squeals) Jabrill Peppers. It’s honestly pretty rare to see only 2 cornerbacks on the field at a time for Michigan, so the competition here is really going to be for who the 3rd cornerback is. Michigan could make the 3rd corner a true nickel guy (where I believe Lewis and Peppers will battle), or they could bump Countess inside to play the nickel, and have the 3rd corner be an outside guy (where Stribling and Peppers can both play). It’s really going to come down to what the coaches do with Countess. Will Countess stay outside in any defensive set? Will he bump down to the nickel? Whatever the answer to that question is, it will determine who the “3rd corner” is.

Safety

Safety is a weird spot, to me. Where is Jarrod Wilson playing? I like him at free safety because I see him as a rangy, centerfield type. But Michigan has traditionally (under Hoke) put their more “responsible” player at strong safety (Kovacs, then Gordon), and let a younger guy play free safety. However, I don’t think Dymonte Thomas is a real free safety, although I do think he could be a legitimate impact guy at strong safety. If I had my way, you’d see Wilson at FS and Thomas at SS, but I just don’t know what will happen. Two other guys will compete for time, they being Jeremy Clark and Delano Hill. I literally have no idea what to think of Clark, so I won’t pretend to know. Hill, I like. I think he’s still a year away from impacting the defense, but he’s very athletic, and very fast for his size, so he’ll definitely be a special teams ace again.

I hope you enjoyed this little series. I had fun doing it. As always you can follow me on twitter @B_Sakowski_PG, and look for my next article where I’ll be doing a season update on Michigan Baseball.

Until next time, Go Blue, Beat Tennessee.

Derek Devine
Institutional voice of Alma College during the day, Michigan fanatic at night. Taking TBHR to the next level one post at a time.