April 17, 2013
2013 Post-spring depth chart & analysis: Defense
Michigan fans have to be excited about the depth and talent they saw on display defensively during the Wolverines' spring game. U-M has emerging playmakers along the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
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Defensive End: How deep and talented is Michigan at the end
position? Well, the Wolverines moved junior Brennen Beyer to
strongside linebacker just like that without it impacting the ends
one bit. The truth is, Beyer was the most likely to get lost in the
shuffle because he lacked the explosiveness of the other three rush
ends -- junior Frank Clark, sophomore Mario Ojemudia and freshman
Taco Charlton. All three impressed in U-M's spring game, with
teammates raving about Clark's potential to be one of the Big Ten's
most feared pass rushers. Ojemudia, meanwhile, should see the field
plenty, especially in passing situations (potentially opposite
Clark) while Charlton appears to be the prototype for the position's
At strongside end, redshirt sophomore Keith Heitzman had the most
consistent spring of those jockeying to start, and with a solid
summer and fall camp, he likely starts the Aug. 31 opener. But
redshirt freshmen Matthew Godin, Tom Strobel and Chris Wormley (now
that he's back from injury) will also be in the mix, and Godin got
runs with the second-string defense in the spring game, giving him
the early leg up on his classmates. Wormley also saw time at
defensive tackle and at his size, with the potential to add even
more weight before fall camp, he might just end up a better fit
Tackle: Michigan is in position to go three-deep at both
tackle positions and that's before freshmen Henry Poggi and Maurice
Hurst Jr., arrive this fall. The Wolverines are extremely excited
about the interior, and for good reason. Fifth-year senior Quinton
Washington was, arguably, the most improved player a year ago and
he's still getting better. Sophomore Ondre Pipkins is backing
Washington up for now, but Pipkins is a game-changer and he will see
the field considerably in all manner of situations, though his
strength (at least for now) is in the run game.
At the three-technique, senior Jibreel Black had an outstanding
spring and is ready to take a big step forward. He had a chance to
record a sack late against South Carolina, came up short, and the
missed tackle proved huge in USC's scoring drive. Black is motivated
by that singular play and intends to use it to his advantage
throughout the rest of the offseason and into next year. Redshirt
freshman Willie Henry is a lot bigger than Black but is showing the
same quickness off the snap to beat the guard and center and get
into the offensive backfield. Those two should be in line for a huge
campaign of making plays.
Linebacker: Jake Ryan's injury is a blow. And even if he
returns in October (or November) and even with fifth-year senior Cam
Gordon and junior Brennen Beyer stepping in to his void, it's a
loss. No way to sugarcoat that. Ryan was the type of defensive
player that would have made everyone else around him better, and
coming into the season was the one player offenses had to account
for on every snap. Now, that player could still emerge. It could be
Clark or sophomore linebacker James Ross III or someone else, but
someone will have to prove himself worthy as opposed to the known
commodity that is Ryan.
That said, linebacker should be a strength for the Maize and Blue.
Gordon showed an ability to rush the passer and make stops in the
backfield during the spring game, and could be a guy that gets
double-digit tackles for loss. Beyer will likely get more of a
chance on first and second down as teams look to their ground games;
Beyer has proven he is adept against the run, and not so much in
In the middle, junior Desmond Morgan has the lead over sophomore Joe
Bolden but both will play. The coaches like Morgan's leadership in
that position, and his ability to make every stop. He's not quite
the athlete Bolden is, though, so expect the sophomore to get reps
against spread teams.
Ross is the player with the most potential at linebacker, and he
could be the difference-maker Ryan was in line to be. While there is
great competition at the SAM and MIKE, Ross seems to be the clear
choice over classmate Royce Jenkins-Stone. The latter is showing
some good signs and will spell Ross here and there, but like Ryan,
Ross becomes the kind of performer the coaches just have a difficult
time taking off the field.
Cornerback/Nickelback: Michigan's cornerback situation is
perhaps the most fluid on the defense. Junior Blake Countess is
expected to reclaim one of the two starting positions when he
returns to full health, but there is certainly great competition,
and emerging threats that won't just hand it to him.
Once Countess rejoins the fray, there will be four corners vying for
two spots -- senior Courtney Avery, junior Raymon Taylor and junior
Delonte Hollowell the others. Hollowell was a big surprise Saturday.
He ran with the ones quite a bit and defensive coordinator Greg
Mattison stressed that he enjoyed a good stretch of practices to
earn that opportunity. However, that may have just been a message to
be delivered to Taylor, who is the more physically-talented corner
and has the experience of last season. Still, it will be a
competition to watch in fall camp.
Avery, meanwhile, has no desire to just accept a move back to
nickel. He wants to start at corner and will do everything he can
this summer and into preseason practice to win a job, whether it's
Countess' or Taylor's. If he doesn't come out on top, he'll find a
challenge at nickel with true freshman Dymonte Thomas an early
favorite to claim that post after demonstrating the skill set (he
has the physicality to be a better blitzer than Avery) the coaches
are coveting at that position.
Safety: While there is an abundance of bodies at cornerback
with legitimate opportunities to start, the safety position will
likely come down to three, possibly four, players. Fifth-year senior
Thomas Gordon is poised to assume Jordan Kovacs' leadership role and
looks to be a better fit at strong safety where he can creep up into
the box and make plays in the run game. Sophomore Jarrod Wilson has
the characteristics of a free, but he's in a bitter fight with
senior Marvin Robinson to start next to Gordon.
Redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark is also rising quickly in the ranks,
and could be a greater factor come August, but for now, it appears
that two starters will come from the trio of Gordon, Wilson and
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