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September 5, 2013

U-M pleased with rotation along defensive line

Blowout victories are always a terrific chance to cycle young players into the lineup, providing those lower on the depth chart with experience in a real-game situation.

In last Saturday's 59-9 victory over Central Michigan, the Wolverines certainly did that, specifically along the defensive line.

Michigan played 14 defensive linemen against the Chips. At rush end, junior Frank Clark, sophomore Mario Ojemudia and redshirt freshmen Matt Godin and Tom Strobel played (Strobel also played at three-technique defensive tackle). Fifth-year senior Quinton Washington and sophomore Ondre Pipkins played at nose tackle. Senior Jibreel Black, redshirt freshman Ryan Glasgow, redshirt freshman Willie Henry and Strobel got in at defensive tackle. And sophomore Keith Heitzman, junior Brennen Beyer, freshman Taco Charlton and redshirt freshman Chris Wormley played at defensive tackle.

The players loved seeing so many of their brethren get onto the field.

"We're a family," Washington said. "We all want to see each other play and get reps, make stats. Ultimately, it's helping Michigan. That's what we're all here for. The more we can stay fresh on the field, the more it's going to help Michigan."

The Wolverines almost certainly won't play 14 defensive linemen again next week, when Notre Dame comes to Ann Arbor for a primetime showdown.

But there will be a solid rotation along the line.

Ten of the linemen got in on the action in the first half last week, as the Wolverines nearly constantly cycled through players along the front seven.

And the starters were thankful for the chance to rest a bit.

"Last year, the next day, I would be in complete pain," Washington said. "It was hard to walk, hard to get out of bed. This year, it's a little more manageable. Still painful - but a little more manageable."

"I didn't get to play the whole game. I got some rest, so I felt pretty good afterwards," added Black. "Hopefully, we can keep that rotation going. If we keep playing the way we played, yeah, that would be great."

Washington isn't sure exactly how frequent the rotation will be, moving forward, saying it will be determined on a "game-to-game basis." Notre Dame will likely play with tempo, going hurry-up at points, which will make it difficult to get new players into the mix.

But the Wolverines will get new defensive linemen on the field whenever possible.

A big reason for that is Michigan coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's focus on achieving a more forceful pass rush from the front four.

In 2012, the defensive linemen accounted for just 12 of the team's 22 sacks.

"We are all trying to compete to prove to him that we can do it, let him know that we don't have to run a blitz," Washington said. "We can get there on our own. The defensive line has take it personally, and we work hard to try and get home with different techniques and methods to get to the quarterback."

Getting new bodies - and fresh legs - onto the field as often as possible helps the Wolverines in pass-rush situations.

"We're headed in the right direction with the pass rush," Black said. "When you look at last year, we didn't get enough sacks. It wasn't good enough. To have four sacks in the opening game, it shows what we have been putting in and that it is working. We're headed in the right direction."

Against the Chips, the Wolverines tallied four sacks, matching a 2012's season-high for a game. They also had nine tackles for loss, which also matched a single-game high from last year.

But Washington wants more.

"We're never satisfied. The more, the merrier," he said. "Everything we can get. I can't put a number on it If we can get there on every play, that would be our goal.

"You have to be greedy on the defensive line."

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