Found August 22, 2012 on MaizeAndGoBlue:

When Brady Hoke took over in January 2011, he stressed that his team would be tougher and would get back to playing Michigan football. He inherited a very talented offense, but it was the defensive side of the ball that would make or break the season. Hoke hired Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to lead the charge and it was the first indication that Hoke was the right man for the job.

Mattison had a tall task at hand, trying to turn one of the worst defenses in Michigan history into something resembling a Michigan defense of the past. But he had years of experience at the highest levels to draw from, including a stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 1995-96, erecting what would become a year later one of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen.

All he did was transform a team that allowed 35.2 points and 450.8 total yards per game the previous year into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense, giving up just 17.4 points and 322.2 yards per game. Even the most die-hard of Michigan fans didn’t see that coming.

With the majority of starters returning this season, and an offense expected to take a leap forward, is there any room for the defense to improve on last year? Let’s examine the players who will man the Michigan defense.

Defensive Line

#73 – William Campbell Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 38/0 19 3.5 2 0 1 #55 – Jibreel Black Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 26/0 25 1.5 1.5 1 0 #88 – Craig Roh Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 38/38 112 21 6.5 3 0 #97 – Brennen Beyer Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 11/0 11 0 0 0 0

Projected Starters: DT William Campbell, DT Jibreel Black, DE Craig Roh, DE Brennen Beyer

By far, the biggest question on defense is the line. The graduation of the big three – Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Will Heininger – leave the Wolverines with just one player who has started a game on the line. That player is senior Craig Roh who has started every single game since he arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago.

This season, Roh is switching from weak-side to strong-side to fill the spot vacated by Van Bergen. Roh has put on about 20 pounds to get his weight up to 281, slightly less than what Van Bergen played at. He says it’s a more natural fit and he’ll need to have the same impact that RVB did for Michigan’s defense to be successful.

On the other side will be sophomore Brennen Beyer who is also new at the position. He played in 11 games at linebacker last season and is now taking over the weak-side end position. He was in a battle with Frank Clark for the spot, but Clark’s legal woes opened the door for Beyer.

In the middle, senior William Campbell’s time has finally come. He arrived at Michigan as a hyped-up five-star, but has disappointed so far. This offseason, he has trimmed down to a slim 308 pounds and has drawn praise from the coaches for his improvement and leadership. It’s probably too much to expect him to perform to Martin’s level, but if he can clog the middle well enough, it will go a long way towards forging a tough defensive line.

Joining Campbell is Jibreel Black, a junior who hasn’t yet started a game but has played in 26 career games. The last two seasons, he was a reserve defensive end, but Hoke asked him to add weight and move to the 3-tech position to replace Heininger. It has been a bit of an adjustment, moving from outside to inside, but after bulking up to 279, he still hasn’t lost his quickness.

“He’ll be the most quick 3-tech you’ll see in the Big Ten this year,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan.

If that’s the case, he’s in for a big year, but we’ll find out from the start when he goes up against what will likely be the best offensive line in the nation in week one.

Backups: The aforementioned Frank Clark is in line for major playing time at defensive end, but it largely depends on the outcome of his legal troubles. His pretrial date is Sept. 11 and it’s hard to imagine he’ll see the field before then. If and when he does, he’ll be a valuable asset. He played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recorded 10 tackles, and picked off a pass in the Sugar Bowl to set up Michigan’s second touchdown.

Richard Ash is a is a big bodied sophomore waiting to fill in in the middle. Freshman Ondre Pipkins is another. Pipkins was the subject of a scare last week when he had an apparent neck injury in practice and was taken to the hospital. It turned out to be nothing more than a stinger and he was back at practice a few days later. Both he and Ash have drawn praise throughout camp. Quinton Washington is another guy who will rotate in. He has about a dozen games worth of experience in his career.

Linebackers

#90 – Jake Ryan Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 13/11 37 11 3 1 2 #25 – Kenny Demens Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 38/20 13 80 0 80 0 #44 – Desmond Morgan Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR 12/7 63 4 1 0 1

Projected Starters: SAM (strong-side) Jake Ryan, MIKE (middle) Kenny Demens, WILL (weak-side) Desmond Morgan

For the first time in years heading into the season linebacker will be a position of strength for the Michigan defense. It helps that the guys playing the position were recruited as linebackers rather than as defensive backs and converted to linebacker.

The leader is senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens. An All-Big Ten honorable mention performer last season, Demens became a stalwart in the middle. He had his share of struggles in his first year in Greg Mattison’s defense, but became more consistent as the year went on. This year, with a full understanding of the defense and a lighter frame, he should thrive.

Jake Ryan had a good season as a redshirt freshman last year and is poised to break out in 2012. He made 11 tackles for loss last season and added 12 pounds since then to help him shed more blocks.

Desmond Morgan will get the nod at the weak-side spot. He impressed as a true freshman in 2011 and despite being slightly undersized has a great football mind. Better consistency should be expected this season with a year under his belt.

Backups: Most of the backups that will play key roles are freshmen, but before we get to them, let’s talk about a couple of upperclassmen who have experience. Redshirt junior Cameron Gordon and senior Brandin Hawthorne both have plenty of experience. Gordon is a journeyman who went from receiver to safety to linebacker. He has played in 20 career games, starting 13. He has enough athleticism to give Michigan a solid backup to Ryan. Hawthorne is also a converted safety with good playmaking ability.

A host of freshmen will push for time. Joe Bolden, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, will see snaps at middle linebacker. He has great football instincts and great potential. Kaleb Ringer and James Ross will likely push for action at weak-side linebacker to spell Morgan. Ringer also enrolled early and has a ton of potential. Ross will likely redshirt but you never know.

Secondary

Projected Starters: CB Blake Countess, CB J.T. Floyd, FS Thomas Gordon, SS Jordan Kovacs

#18 – Blake Countess Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR 12/6 44 1.5 0 6 0 1 0 #8 – J.T. Floyd Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR 31/22 131 2 0 13 3 2 0 #32 – Jordan Kovacs Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR 37/33 266 21 5 2 4 5 2 #30 – Thomas Gordon Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR 22/14 90 5.5 2 2 1 2 4

Michigan was known for putting out great defensive backs throughout the 90s and early 2000s, but the past few years have been a letdown due to a combination of injuries, poor recruiting, and attrition. This year, Michigan enters the season with the secondary full of veterans.

The leader is obviously Jordan Kovacs. You know his story – from walk-on to four-year starter. He’s on several preseason awards watch lists and has defied logic his entire career. He’s sure to be a team captain when Hoke announces them. He’s a great tackler, he’s smart, and he loves to blitz and disrupt the quarterback.

Thomas Gordon has started 14 games and is a hard-hitting safety who recovered a Big Ten-best four fumbles last season. He was the team’s third-leading tackler a year ago.

At the cornerback spot, Blake Countess is a rising star. He grabbed the starting job as a true freshman last year and had a great season all things considered. He struggled down the stretch against Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but the experience should help him grow this season.

J.T. Floyd has started 22 games and is the most veteran cornerback on the team. He had a surprisingly good season last year and will look to cap off a pretty good career this season.

Backups: Marvin Robinson and Jarrod Wilson are the main backups at safety. Robinson came in with a lot of hype but has yet to make his mark. Wilson is a freshman who, like Bolden and Ringer, enrolled early. He has a lot of upside even if he doesn’t see the field much this season. Josh Furman is also an option, though like Robinson, hasn’t lived up to his recruiting hype to date.

At cornerback, Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and Delonte Hollowell are the main players. Avery started some games two years ago before the new coaching staff came in, so he’s a pretty good third option. Taylor and Hollowell don’t have much experience – just spot duty last year – but could develop into decent corners in the next couple of years.

For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.

TomorrowRecord Watch
FridaySchedule Predictions

THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES
WOLVERINES!!!

Boy had to reverse Michigan tee

A 5-year-old Oklahoma boy named Cooper Barton was forced to turn his Michigan Wolverines t-shirt inside-out upon his arrival at elementary school last week.

2012 Michigan Football predictions: Breaking down the schedule

Brady Hoke This is the Part 3 of a 3 Part Michigan Football preview. Part 1 centered on the offense, Part 2 zeroed in on the defense and Part 3 will be projecting the wins and loses. Last year, I received heavy criticism for projecting that Michigan would finish the regular season 10-2, which they did. When the exact right coach lands in the exact right spot, special things usually...
UP NEXT: THE BIG HOUSE

Michigan AD invites Okla. boy to game

Michigan's athletic director reached out to the family of Cooper Barton, the boy who was forced to turn his Michigan shirt inside-out at school, and invited them to a football game.

Hoke “Pleased” After 19 Practices (w/ video)

Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke met with the media earlier this evening to answer questions about team 133. Hoke talks about the team’s progress to this point, a recent scrimmage Saturday, the left guard battle, injuries, and preparation for Alabama.

U-M to practice at Ford Field

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan Wolverines are 11 days away from their season opener against Alabama, but they are hitting the road on Wednesday. To try to simulate the atmosphere of Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Brady Hoke is taking the Wolverines down I-94 for an evening practice in downtown Detroit. "We're going to have a practice at Ford Field," Hoke said Tuesday...

30 Teams in 30 Days: #14 University of Michigan Wolverines

Head Coach: Brady Hoke (11-2, entering 2nd year) The Story: Maybe this should be called “The Narrative.” After three disappointing seasons with Rich Rodriguez running the ship, Brady Hoke stepped in and found instant success. Hoke, being a “Michigan Man,” simply had to step on the sidelines to wake up the echoes (ooops, wrong school). [...]

Michigan Football News: Chris Bryant out for season, Kaleb Ringer to redshirt

The University of Michigan football program made two announcements on Thursday regarding injured players. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Chris Bryant will miss the 2012 season with a fractured tibia. Freshman linebacker Kaleb Ringer recently underwent successful knee surgery. Ringer will redshirt the 2012 season. This comes a week after it was announced that freshmen defensive...

2012 season preview: the offense

Under Rich Rodriguez, offense was the name of the game and defense was an afterthought. The offense soared to heights Michigan fans weren’t used to, but it struggled against the tougher defenses. It was both exciting and frustrating at the same time. When Brady Hoke took over and brought in Al Borges as his offensive coordinator, many wondered how the offense would change. Would...

Podcast: Can No. 8 Michigan Upset No. 2 Alabama?

Each week Daniel Evans and Jeffrey Krumrie will break down the best three college football games for that week. Make sure to check in each week to hear their opinions. This podcast is also available on Itunes by searching for College Football Saturday. Jeffrey Krumrie and Daniel Evans break down week one’s monster clash between No. 2 Alabama and No. 8 Michigan.  Can Denard Robinson...

#7 Michigan Wolverines: College Football 77 in 77

Welcome to The Sports Bank 77 in 77. We’re previewing one team a day everyday as the college football season approaches. And we’re doing it in rapid fire sequence. Today, the Michigan Wolverines. 2011 was: outstanding Michigan. In his first year at the helm for the maize and blue, Brady Hoke led the down-and-out Wolverines to a 10-2 regular season record on their way to a Sugar...

Barnum getting ready for Jerry Dome (w/video)

Michigan fifth-year senior center Ricky Barnum talks about his chemistry with Denard in camp, the distractions the coaches are giving to the offensive line, and his take on the left guard situation.

Michigan prepping for Alabama by practicing at Ford Field

The Michigan Wolverines and Alabama Crimson Tide square off on September 1st in Dallas at Cowboys Stadium. “We’re going to have a practice at Ford Field,” Hoke said Tuesday. “We won’t have a scrimmage, but we’ll run some situational drills that puts some pressure on our players.” Most of the Michigan players NFL stadium experience came last season in New Orleans at...

Midweek Lowdown is forced to turn our shirt inside out

New for the 2012 football season...it's a little feature we're calling the "Midweek Lowdown". Basically, we follow a lot of sites and read a lot of stuff. So this is going to be where we'll share that stuff with you. Simple enough? Michigan DL Ondre Pipkins returns to practice 3 days after sustaining neck injury This is great news for many reasons. Status...

Lembo turns around Ball St. fortunes with approach

(Eds: APNewsNow.) By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer A year ago, the goal at Ball State was to get the football program back on track. In 2012, the expectations are higher. Players are talking about division and Mid-American Conference championships and bowl appearances - things that haven't been uttered around Muncie, Ind., since Brady Hoke left after the 2008 season. The credit...
College Football News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.