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April 15, 2012A year ago at this time, uncertainty surrounded a U-M defense that was dreadful in 2010, giving up nearly 34 points per game. Now, following a mammoth turnaround and Sugar Bowl championship in the first season under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the only question that remains is just how high the ceiling truly is for Defense 133.
"We are already better than we were last year," redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon said. "We are day and night from the end of last season. We are a lot faster on defense, especially getting to the football."
Much of that speed can be accredited to a more confident unit that is more comfortable in its own skin after a year of learning Mattison's complex defensive system.
"We have the same calls and we are more comfortable as a group, especially the defensive backs," Gordon said. "We trust each other and know what we bring to the table. We really look forward to playing with each other.
"It is our second year in this scheme, and we are looking to make a lot more plays out there. Because we understand what we're trying to do, we can throw in new wrinkles to try and confuse the offense.
"Coach Mattison has put his trust in us, and he's given us a whole playbook to learn and execute."
The secondary is arguably the most experienced facet of the 2012 Wolverines, with a returning starter projected at each position. Still, no spot is taken for granted as the team heads into its opening-game tilt with defending national champion Alabama.
"There is always pressure because Coach Hoke is always about competing," Gordon said. "It doesn't matter if you were a starter last season, you have to compete for your job day in and day out.
"Plus with the freshman we have coming in this summer, we should be really deep. Everyone is going to have to compete for their spot."
With a bevy of talented contributors returning, cornerback may prove to be one of the most heated position battles this fall.
"Coach Mallory has been working with our cornerbacks day and night, and they made a lot of strides this spring," Gordon said. "I think they are all capable but still have some room to make up. That is why we have summer and fall to work."
Following a strong spring, Wolverine defenders know they will have to make every day in the summer and fall count in order to secure their roles this season.
"I'm looking forward to being accountable," Gordon said. "We all know what we have to do to be successful this fall, and we are look forward to doing our job and making big plays.
"I think this defense is going to have a lot of fun this season."
"Marvin has been in the weight room and in the film room," Gordon said. "He's been a student of the game this spring.
"He had a big learning curve, but [fifth-year senior safety] Jordan Kovacs and I have taken him under our wing, and he has worked really hard this spring. I know that he is going to contribute."
"Jarrod Wilson is another guy with a big learning curve, but he has learned a lot this spring," Gordon said. "I really think that he can step in and contribute this fall.
"He's made the most of this spring. He's really rangy. He's a long kid, long arms and long legs and can make plays. He's going to be a good player for us this year and in the future.
"Having guys like Jarrod come out and compete isn't only good for them, but it is going to help push everybody to get better."
"There is a lot of pressure on them and they hear a lot of people talking," Gordon said. "They are hungry and ready to prove themselves, and have been doing a good job so far.
"I like Jibreel Black a lot, especially the quickness that he brings in there. He creates a lot of mismatches on the defensive line and that is going to be a huge thing for our defense."
"The quarterbacks have developed a whole lot as far as foot work and reading our coverages," Gordon said. "That has helped us work on our disguises.
"You always need to improve at Michigan, and facing our quarterbacks have helped us do that each and every practice."
"I've seen a lot of good things out of Devin and Russell in practice," said redshirt junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. "Devin really knows how to work his way through the pocket and push our defense with his reads. Russell is young and he's working at it, but still has a ways to go.
"They are both extremely athletic and really good quarterbacks."