With a few exceptions, almost everyone along the defensive line is learning a new position this spring as the Wolverines look to become more ferocious up front against the run and better pass rushers.
Senior Brennen Beyer is locked in at strongside end after moving there late in 2013 from SAM linebacker. Sophomore Taco Charlton has slid over from weakside to strongside end while redshirt sophomores Chris Wormley and Matthew Godin, among many other moves, are now working at the 3-technique (defensive tackle) after previously playing the 5-technique (strongside end).
"I think the coaches are trying to put all of us in a position where we can create a mismatch," said Beyer, who is up six pounds to 256. "I'm a good run stuffer; I can clog it up in there. So that works out well at strongside end, and then I like to get after the passer as well."
Michigan ranked 29th against the run in 2013, surrendering 140.2 yards per game, and was 64th in sacks with 25 total (1.92 per game) so the defensive line did not have anything it could really hang its hat on. The Wolverines are aiming to be great at both this season.
"One of the biggest things Coach [Mark] Smith wants is for us to come off the ball a lot harder," Wormley said. "We are focusing on getting off the ball and using our hands a lot more."
Wormley is up three pounds to 292, but feels that he can still bring the athleticism and quickness inside that he featured a year ago as a strongside end, and that's the point - if U-M's interior players are bulked up ends, they can exploit slower guards and centers, while bulked up weakside ends will still possess the speed to get around offensive tackles.
"They asked me to gain some weight so I gained 5-10 pounds. Nothing drastic," said Beyer, describing the process he and his linemates have taken this offseason. "I could see another five, 10 pounds at the most. I don't want to lose speed and athleticism. I want to keep that but put on as much muscle as possible."
U-M's defensive linemen accounted for only 11.5 of the 25 sacks a year ago (46.0 percent) and know that is not good enough. Not even close to good enough.
"That is something Coach Mattison preached to us from day one, especially as the outside guys - we have to get to the quarterback," said Charlton. "If we don't get to the quarterback, and it's a completion, it's really our fault if it was a long drop. So we have passion that we need to get to the quarterback.
"We're watching lots of film, working on it 24/7, because we believe in what we have to do."
Charlton could be key. The 6-6, 275-pound sophomore is the prototype strongside end in that he has the power and strength to keep the edge against the run but he has the pass-rushing instincts to consistently put pressure on the quarterback.
"I can help this team best and produce best at strongside," he said. "I add a little bit of versatility in me being fast on the strongside I can bring the rush, but I'm at 275 so I can hold my ground too.
"I'm more mature as a player, better as a player. I see it in myself already this spring. Just as my technique goes, I'm getting stronger and still getting faster. The more I get older and mature, and the practice reps I get, the better I really get."
Charlton played in eight games as a reserve defensive end in 2013, contributing to a sack against Nebraska as his playing time grew down the stretch. There were reports the Pickerington, Ohio, native was unhappy and growing restless, but he understands now it was all part of a learning process.
"Last year I went through my drudge," he said. "I didn't play at first but I worked and I earned my spot at the end. Basically I'm starting off this year as I finished last year, and my goal is to keep producing at a high end."
A goal, his linemates share.