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July 29, 2014

Analysis: Opponents talk Michigan's defense

Michigan's defense was expected to carry the Wolverines in 2013. Instead, it struggled. This season? They are once again expected to be one of the Big Ten's best, and opponents know it.

As we do every year at Big Ten Media Days, we spoke to opposing players on both sides of the ball to get their thoughts on the Maize and Blue. Under the condition of anonymity, they share the good and the bad. Here are their thoughts.

On the overall defense: "Our coach is a big fan of their defensive coordinator and thinks when their talent is up to snuff and they have the depth and experience, that he's going to turn them into something special. They weren't there a year ago - way too many holes that we could, and did, exploit, but we expect a much more physical defense this season."

On what stood out from their game last year: "I was surprised how far off their corners played. Normally, you do that to protect against the deep ball but we had no problem getting behind their corners and safeties. They didn't play us tough at the line of scrimmage. They made some plays. They had a few picks against us, but their zone had a lot of pockets in it and they almost never played us man-to-man."

On the secondary: "There's no one that really hits you like some teams so you knew you could get away with going over the middle or going up for a ball because you weren't going to take a lick. Some teams have these safeties that will just kill you, but Michigan wasn't one of them. They did have a guy [junior Jarrod Wilson] that was around the ball a lot but he wasn't a headhunter."

On redshirt junior cornerback Blake Countess: "I thought Blake Countess was tough to play against. He's not real physical but he's one of those guys that knows what he does well and what he doesn't. And he sort of lulled us to sleep. We kept thinking that we could go at him and I think that's what he wanted because he stepped in front of two balls, picked one, and we didn't throw at him very much after that."

On freshman Jabrill Peppers: "If he's as good as they say he is, he could start on that team because they don't have that physical, in-your-face corner. Their guys are good, but they're not great. They seem to be missing that aggressiveness you get from Michigan State and Penn State, and some of the other teams. I don't know if that's because they don't have confidence in themselves or if the coaches don't have confidence in them, but you could push them around and they didn't push back.

On the front seven: "It's always funny because you see things on film and expect it to go one way and then when you play them it goes the other. They were a good rush defense but we ran all over them. They weren't as physical up front as we expected and their linebackers were more upper-body tacklers - they weren't using their legs, and with the guys we had running the ball, if you tried to arm-tackle them, you ended up on your butt."

On linebacker Jake Ryan: "He played against us and I think that was his first game. We respected the hell out of him. Our coaches watched a lot of film from his previous year and kept telling us he was going to make plays. He was probably still feeling his injury, but that's a long time ago now and I think we're going to see him at his best this year."

Another on Ryan: "He's a menace. We schemed away from him last year. They had one guy, maybe two that could beat you, and he was one and we could isolate him. I think they moved him inside to middle linebacker and that's going to be a good move for him and for Michigan because he's the guy you want involved in every play. He's physical, he's smart, he has that extra gear and he has a killer instinct. He could play on any team in the Big Ten."

On the defensive line: "They seemed to have a lot of undersized guys last year. Guys you could overpower and move around pretty easily. We had a good day against them but I think we have a great offensive line so I don't think it was that they were bad. They weren't great, but not that many teams slowed us down."

On Frank Clark: "He's good, but he's not like {Michigan State's] Shilique Calhoun or [Nebraska's] Randy Gregory. He doesn't have that go-to move yet. He's strong, he's fast, but he doesn't utilize everything every play. Maybe six or seven times a game, he's a beast, but the rest of the time you could handle him. Calhoun was a beast on 25-30 plays. I think that's more the norm for the best defensive ends."

On this year's prospects: "I think they can be pretty good. Everyone is playing second to Michigan State right now. Ohio State should be really good this year. Their defensive line is going to be awesome. Penn State has a good defense. Iowa. Minnesota. I think Michigan is in that middle range but I wouldn't be surprised if they're top three or four [by season's end]."

You can read the opponent's take on the offense here.

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