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August 7, 2013Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is tough to please, so when he says he's happy with his group's attitude and 'want-to,' you know he means it. Mattison sees plenty of potential in the defense, though he'll know much more when they put the pads on in a few days.
News: Redshirt junior outside linebacker Jake Ryan continues to improve, is running and expects to be ready - possibly - for the Big Ten season after recovering from a torn ACL suffered in spring.
Mattison: "Jake's been great. He was one of the guys I saw in that weight room. I said, 'I'm surprised you're lifting with the big boys - I didn't know could lift that much. ' Jake Ryan has really gotten stronger. By the trainer's admission he's been running, and he does walkthroughs with us.
"At one point you would make a call and weren't sure Jake would do it right or not. Now, Jake is with the group that he does it, and then he coaches the position that he's teaching the other guys. That's where he's come in two or three years."
Views: The latter news is as big as the former. Yes it's important to have him on the field first, and his progress has been remarkable. But 'unorthodox' has always been the word to describe Ryan - he wouldn't always do everything right, but he'd still make the play.
Now, though, he is doing things right. Between that and his added strength and experience, he should have an All-Big Ten season if he returns early, as expected.
News: The defense, like the offense, returned in collectively outstanding shape and eager to learn.
Mattison: "Our strength coach [Aaron Wellman] - I'm not saying this to pump him up, but seeing these kids we had two years ago and seeing them now, it's night and day difference. We went through this morning watching them do a lift; our goal is to get stronger during the season so we lift during camp. There were 10 or 12 defensive linemen lifting weights I never thought they could lift. They were putting it up like nothing.
"When I see the physical change in a lot of our guys, so many look more like a football player."
Views: While several worried what might happen after former strength coach Mike Barwis left, many former players swear Wellman is outstanding at getting a kid in shape to play in the physical Big Ten.
The transformed bodies speak for themselves. Junior defensive end Frank Clark is 275 pounds and runs like a linebacker, stride for stride with a running back (at times) in non-contact drills. Strength gains are up across the board.
News: Freshman defensive back Dymonte Thomas picked up where he left off in spring and will likely be the starting nickel back this fall.
Mattison: "The thing that impressed us was we felt he was going to be a very good blitzer and could really run. For an incoming freshman, he really seemed to want to play early. Through the ups and downs that attack a guy, he came out in camp and just continued to go up."
Views: There will be growing pains - "There's a lot to learn, where he should blitz, why, where he should go, how his coverage should be," Mattison said - but it's clear Thomas is a special talent. He focused specifically on the nickel position in the spring, and though he's going to work at safety, too, it's clear they have high hopes for him at the nickel and don't want to overload him.
Thomas will play a huge role for the 2013 Wolverines.
News: Much will be expected of sophomore safety Jarrod Wilson in his second year, and he's showing improvement.
Mattison: "We've had three inputs now, three installs. The players seem to really want to embrace our learning. We've made a very big goal of our defense to be smarter, to be a defense where you don't make missed assignments - you make sure that offense can't look out there and say exactly what you're in.
"To do that, a player has to have attention to detail. Jarod has done a great job of it. The safety, that's the guy they read probably more than anybody. A lot of our kids have done that and have bought in to be a smarter team, perfect alignments and that kind of thing."
Views: The coaches don't seem overly concerned about the lack of experienced depth here, even with redshirt freshman Allen Gant moving to outside linebacker. Wilson, though, has plenty to prove. He made his share of freshman mistakes last year - more disconcerting, he had a tough time putting the bad plays behind him. We've seen guys progress in that area over the years (Jeremy LeSueur comes to mind), but there's not a whole lot behind Wilson if he's not getting the job done. He might be one of the more important pieces of the defense this year.
News: Michigan has three extremely capable players at the rush end position, and all are expected to play a role this fall.
Mattison: "You see a 275-pound rush end that used to be 217 when got here running with a guy - not chasing, but getting up there and running with him. Frank Clark has tremendous athletic ability. He's so much stronger. Frank was a safety and outside linebacker out of Glenville at 217, now he's a rush for his third year at 274 pounds.
"[Sophomore] Mario Ojemudia was 225 pounds last year. This year he's 250. His shirt looks so tight I asked if it was his little brother's shirt. All of a sudden he looked like a guy you should hope they'd look like.
"[Freshman] Taco Charlton is stronger, older, a lot more mature now, already in one semester of being here. Taco understands defenses better now. If Taco does technique right, he can play the position like he's supposed to. It will be very interesting when pads go on to see how far he's come in that last semester."
Views: This might be as deep and potentially talented a trio of rush ends Michigan has had in some time, which should bode well when it comes to improving the pass rush. All three are capable of getting to the quarterback and there's great competition - exactly what's needed to get the best out of each.