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April 28, 2010

Spring revelations: Banks is ready to break out

Who is Greg Banks? What type of contribution will he make this fall? The defensive end is a bit of an unknown going into his fifth year at Michigan, serving in a reserve role each of the past three seasons. But teammates and coaches believe we'll be learning a lot more about Banks very soon ...

We take a look at Banks and a number of teammates that made a big impression defensively this spring.

Most Improved

Redshirt sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd was not only one of the most-improved performers defensively, but he might have had the best spring of any defender overall in the estimation of his teammates and coaches. The knock on Floyd a year ago was that he wasn't ready physically and while he boasted a strong football intelligence, he wasn't mentally ready to be an every-down player. Floyd has not added weight since last fall -- he's still 6-0, 183 pounds -- but he's stronger and more aggressive against ball carriers and receivers.  It has also clicked for him mentally, giving the Greenville, S.C., native a chance to be a top-tiered starter for the Maize and Blue this fall.

Be patient a little longer Michigan fans and the payoff could be significant. Sophomore defensive tackle Will Campbell is still not ready to unleash the consistently dominant play of a five-star talent, but he's getting closer and closer, teammates and coaches argue. Flashes of potential followed by a play or two where Campbell looks like a 200-pounder instead of the 6-5, 324-pounder he is. In other words, he still plays too small too often, reminding one of a Gabe Watson and not Alan Branch, largely because he still lacks the stamina and technique to impact play after play, like a Mike Martin. But Campbell is hungrier than he's ever been and loves to hunt down ball carriers. He's a step ahead in the running game and looking to find his rhythm in pass-rush situations.
Breakout Starter In 2010

To be profiled in The Wolverine Football Preview, fifth-year senior Greg Banks has an amazing story to tell. One we only learned about recently that will blow your mind. Considering the obstacles that littered the path before enrolling at Michigan, the setbacks he's endured the past few seasons, battling injury, were miniscule in comparison. Banks' perseverance  is expected to be rewarded this fall when he takes a spot in the starting lineup at defensive end. Superb against the run -- he might remind you a bit of Rondell Biggs from 2006 -- the 6-4, 274-pounder has solid pass-rush skills but has such limited game-day experience that it will likely take him a few weeks to hone those abilities. Make no mistake, though, he has shown the penchant to learn quickly.

Ask for input on redshirt freshman safety Cameron Gordon and faces light up. The Wolverines are trying to keep the hype and their excitement at a minimum  -- after all, Gordon has never even taken a collegiate snap yet -- but one thing is certain, he will be ready for opening day. Noted for his incredible work ethic, the 6-3, 208-pound Detroit, Mich., native will spend every permissible  minute he can watching film this summer to prepare for his responsibility. And that task: act as the last line of defense, punish receivers who dare come across the middle, finish off any running back trying to hit the home run and make a few quarterbacks think twice about throwing the ball up for grabs. An impossible challenge for many but the Wolverines are confident Gordon is the next Marcus Ray (from 1997, not 1998).
Could Be Starting By Oct. 1

Fifth-year senior Obi Ezeh remains the favorite to start at the MIKE linebacker post and with a great season he will stave off redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens but Demens' moment is coming, the Wolverines promise. The 6-1, 244-pounder had an outstanding spring and proved that, given the opportunity, he can handle the duties of U-M's middle linebacker akin to a healthy Lawrence Reid. While Ezeh struggles some with seeing too much of the field, overthinking his responsibility on any given play, Demens does not. He sees a tunnel to the ball carrier or quarterback and attacks with the ferociousness of a jungle cat on the prowl. Demens could win the starting job in fall camp but if he does not, he will be waiting for the moment Michigan needs him.
Freshmen Expected To Contribute In 2010

With the continued news that four-star defensive back talent Demar Dorsey won't likely qualify academically this fall, the focus now shifts entirely to rookie classmate Cullen Christian as the best bet to contribute defensively. In the spring, senior Troy Woolfolk and Floyd solidified their positions as Michigan's starting cornerbacks, but there are still serious questions after that. Redshirt freshman Justin Turner didn't wow this spring and senior James Rogers is viewed as a bit of in-case of emergency fill-in. The lack of an emerging nickel or dime back puts the onus on a freshman to play this fall and it won't be Courtney Avery and it won't be Terrence Talbott and it definitely won't be Dorsey. That leave the four-star 6-0, 180-pound Christian to perform similar to Leon Hall in 2003.

Do not expect a defensive lineman to play a big role this fall, though Jibreel Black and Ken Wilkins (who is now up to 260 pounds) could see some playing time at defensive end. In the secondary, we've talked about Christian and there is some potential for Marvin Robinson to see the field quickly at strong safety. Perhaps the biggest need defensively outside of cornerback exists at the spur position, which is presently manned by redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon. U-M likes Gordon but he doesn't have that job locked up, giving Josh Furman the chance to compete for playing time immediately. Furman is a bit of a freak, boasting a 4.3 40-yard dash with the strength and power to play linebacker. He could be the ideal Wolverine for that role if Gordon doesn't prove up to the task in August camp.
Most Valuable Player

Don't laugh, but word out of the spring is that fifth-year senior linebacker Jonas Mouton is on the brink of becoming the player everyone expected him to be in 2009. Remember 2009? Mouton doesn't want to after playing without purpose and without effectiveness for the Maize and Blue. When he plays disciplined, though -- and there was plenty of that this spring -- he is a difference-maker on par with sophomore outside linebacker Craig Roh. Mouton is fast, has a nose for the football and understands how to get to the ball in the backfield before any gains are made. He can also drop into coverage. If he can maintain his role within the integrity of the defensive game plan, he could make an impact similar to Shawn Crable in 2007.

What does a player that started all 12 games at defensive end/linebacker as a true freshman do for an encore? How about emerging into a player that affects every play of every offensive snap, like All-American Brandon Graham did in 2009. That's the expectation for sophomore Craig Roh. An impossible task in just his second year? No. A stiff challenge? Absolutely. But then, you don't know Roh if you don't think he can do just that. The 6-5, 249-pounder, already showing the leadership skills of a future captain, should emerge one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers and one of the league's most versatile defenders. One astute observer noted: "I don't think we've seen any Michigan defender, as close to the line of scrimmage as he plays, like him in 20 years."

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