A new year is traditionally time to turn over a new leaf. For Michigan's coaches on the recruiting trail, the general principle might as well be "keep doing what you've been doing," but there are a few improvements the coaches can make.
Greg Mattison, defensive coordinator
Resolution: Keep up the good work
If Michigan is going to return to the realm of the nation's elite, it's going to happen with an elite defense. Fortunately for U-M fans, the Wolverines' coaching staff has been assembling the pieces of just such a defense.
Mattison's charisma of a recruiter belies his 63 years of age, and along with Brady Hoke, he has set the tone for Michigan recruiting. U-M's class was fourth nationally last year, and the strongest point (outside of offensive line) was the overall quality - and depth - on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolverines signed multiple players of four-star or better caliber at each of the three levels of the defense. That's continuing in 2013, with defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs galore. Simply maintaining the status quo - and developing the recruits brought in - will form the building blocks of an elite D.
The other area that Mattison can keep up the good work? Recruiting in Ohio. Dymonte Thomas and Ross Douglas, both four-star defensive backs, and Deveon Smith all come from Northeast Ohio, his area of focus. If Michigan is going to beat Ohio State on the field, those victories will start with recruiting victories in the Buckeyes' home state.
Jerry Montgomery, defensive line
Resolution: Land an elite pass rusher
The one area that Michigan's defense still lacks - for all its improvement in the past two years - is rushing the passer. While Greg Mattison has partially rectified that with the use of exotic zone blitzes, a fundamentally sound defense is at its best getting a pass rush from the defensive line.
For all U-M's recruiting success to date, that elite pass rusher hasn't yet emerged. That's not to say one can't develop from the players already on the roster. Frank Clark has shown flashes of ability, and freshman Mario Ojemudia could be a force once he gets a full offseason in the weight room. Even the class of 2013 has the physically talented Taco Charlton, who can turn his potential into production in college.
All that said, a truly elite five-star pass rusher would be a nice cherry on top of the impressive depth Michigan is building across the front line. 2014 Woodbridge (Va.) prospect Da'Shawn Hand is the obvious choice here, though it will be a major uphill battle for the No. 1 player in the junior class.
Michigan can succeed with the players they have - and some could even develop into feared pass-rushers down the line - but a "sure thing" rusher would tie things together nicely.
Mark Smith, linebackers
Resolution: Be selective
Like every position defensively, Michigan has built depth in the linebacking corps in the past couple classes - to the tune of four players in 2012 and two in 2013, to say nothing of the two in 2011 still on the roster.
Michigan also has an excellent linebacker in the 2014 class already, with St. Clairsville (Ohio) four-star Michael Ferns already tipping the scales at 6-3, 240 as just a junior. All that quality depth means that if Michigan takes another linebacker any time soon, it will have to be a highly skilled, high potential player.
That could be class of 2013 athlete Marcus Ball (currently a Wisconsin commit), or a yet to be determined player from a future class. Michigan is not in position to take a player just to fill a roster spot, however, and can make sure that any prospect fits their needs before accepting a commitment.
Curt Mallory, defensive backs
Resolution: Bigger is better
Like every other position on this side of the ball, Michigan's recruiting in the last line of defense has been quality. Michigan has two four-star cornerbacks (Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor) from the class of 2011 on the roster, another in 2012 (Terry Richardson), and two more incoming with the 2013 class (Jourdan Lewis and Ross Douglas). The problem? All of those players stand 5-10 or shorter.
While they're as highly ranked as they are because their skills and athleticism outstrip any size shortcomings, Michigan's coaching staff has expressed a preference for taller cornerbacks in the class. In fact, they have lesser-ranked players in the 2012 and 2013 classes (Jeremy Clark and Channing Stribling, respectively) who are much taller but expected to get a first shot at corner.
Landing a big cornerback - and one whose talent is obvious enough to earn high rankings - would be yet another piece in the puzzle for assembling the type of defense this coaching staff wants to put on the field.
At the safety position, Michigan has had little trouble landing both size and speed. Incoming freshman Dymonte Thomas may be the most exciting safety prospect yet to commit to this coaching regime.