2012 First Look: Defense

Submitted by Brian on January 11th, 2012 at 2:37 PM


MIKE-MARTIN-112109-1-thumb-320x389-17091[1]Will Heininger Notre Dame v Michigan ft_wTXsLodyl[1]

Van Bergen and Martin, Heininger

  1. NT Mike Martin. Penetrating, active nose tackle a major factor in Michigan's massive improvement in run defense; forced a pitch on a speed option; late-season run was absolute dominance; backed up by air, hope, and freshmen.
  2. SDE Ryan Van Bergen. Crafty veteran and iron man was less explosive than Martin but not by much; turned in huge OSU game; consistent production in UFR even if the actual numbers aren't that amazing; backed up by walk-on.
  3. DT Will Heininger. Walk-on evolved from liability against MAC teams to solid, maybe even better than that, Big Ten DT; made a play or two every game after the nonconference schedule; replacement will be Will Campbell and the hope he can finally play some football.
  4. CB/S Troy Woolfolk. Bounced from CB to S throughout career; basically a NEVER FORGET poster all to himself after series of injuries robbed him of all or much of his senior year twice; marginalized by injury and burned by Posey; did not start Sugar Bowl.

    [worry ceases]

  5. JB Fitzgerald. Touted recruit never managed to see the field except on occasional snaps spotting Demens or playing DE under GERG.
  6. Brandon Herron. Scored two touchdowns against WMU and was never heard from again.
  7. Jared Van Slyke. Saw some snaps due to injury over the course of his career.



Kovacs, Ryan, Roh

  1. SS Jordan Kovacs. Never going to be a great deep half guy but the best damn tiny linebacker there's ever been; great tackling in space; great angles; huge part of Michigan's lack of big plays given up; best safety since at least Marcus Ray and probably further back.
  2. SLB Jake Ryan. Explosive edge athlete with a burst opponents are unprepared for; did get confused sometimes as a freshman; outstanding flow; nickel DE.
  3. WDE Craig Roh. Solid, but did not provide the explosive edge rush Michigan was hoping for. May end up moving to SDE, but his size and body type seemingly disqualifies him from that.
  4. CB Blake Countess. Touted recruit stepped into the starting lineup when Woolfolk was struck down and played very well; crappy edge tackling needs work; had tough close to the season against OSU and VT.
  5. CB JT Floyd. Resurrected his career and even turned in a big play or three along the way; jumped a route against Illinois to salt that game away; best technique amongst cover guys; still not that fast; also crappy edge tackling.
  6. MLB Kenny Demens. Ate a lot of blocks after move to new system; hopefully will get more decisive in year two; highly underrated cover guy; not much of a blitzer; may seem a lot better if the NT in front of him is a space eater instead of a penetrator.
  7. FS Thomas Gordon. Also a big part of Michigan's excellent big play prevention; largely exempted from secondary criticism after OSU game because he was not on the field for the worst of it; sweet-ass interception against EMU; probably a better fit at SS.
  8. WLB Desmond Morgan. Wrested the job away from a couple veterans once he got healthy, whereupon he was okay for a freshman; problems in coverage; problems with misdirection; a big chunk of Michigan's outside vulnerability; will either improve or see someone yoink his job.

    [starters cease]

  9. Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
  10. WDE Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
  11. DT Will Campbell. Alternates tossing his man into the quarterback with passive acceptance of blocks. Conditioning and effort an issue.
  12. WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Tiny safety-sized LB a man without a position after Michigan ditched the 3-3-5.



please don't be our DT.

Most of the DL. YAYAYAYAYAYAYYYYYYYYY. The best unit on the team is strip-mined by eligibility expiration, leaving the next generation to… oh, right, the next generation doesn't exist. Fantastic.

Michigan's options at SDE are redshirt junior walk-on Nate Brink, who saw occasional snaps this year and was blown up on 80% of them, guys no one has seen or heard from like Jordan Paskorz, or true freshmen. At defensive tackle they've got two spots to fill and two guys who have seen meaningful snaps, Quinton Washington and Will Campbell. Kenny Wilkins and Richard Ash exist, Chris Rock will be coming off a redshirt, and there are some freshmen arriving. The most prominent is 330-pound tank/battleship/Hoke impersonator Ondre Pipkins.

I'll wait for you to finish retching.

All right! We retched it real good! Anyway. Massive dropoff is all but inevitable here. I'm betting Brink, Pipkins, and Campbell are your opening-day starters with Washington a guy who rotates in on the interior; Godin, Strobel, and Wormley will all play immediately due to necessity, leaping past Wilkins and Ash. Rock may also get some PT.

Nothing else. So we've got that going for us. Except…

Maybe WLB. Desmond Morgan is far from invulnerable at WLB, especially with Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer enrolling early. James Ross is extensively praised for his play identification ability and should be a candidate for early playing time. Teeny-tiny Antonio Poole is coming off a redshirt and is presumably less teeny-tiny.

That is a lot of guys vying for a single starting spot, many of them more athletic than Morgan at a spot that puts a premium on athleticism. Meanwhile, Kenny Demens is backed up by Mike Jones and more freshmen. Like Omameh, displacing him from the starting lineup provides an ancillary benefit by creating a quality backup where there is none already.


Sanity. O Mattison, without whom we are naught, yea, verily doth we bring these burnt offerings to your lustrous feet. May they keep your pecs jiggling as they command our forces to do something wondrous.

Experience. Michigan has it with eight starters back. For the first time since Carr's final season Michigan will go into the year running the same thing they did the year before. Run and tell that.

Depth at linebacker and quasi-linebacker. Michigan may have to pirate one of the three valid options at WDE to help out on the other side of the line but right now you can have decent confidence in any of Roh, Black, and Clark. At SLB, Ryan is a bust-out star, Brennen Beyer is coming off a freshman season with some promise and a role in short yardage, and Cam Gordon's still hanging around. In the middle, a flood of touted freshmen arrive to back up returning starters; Poole is also around.

Bending but not breaking. Kovacs and Gordon gave up vanishingly few big plays over the course of the season; both return.


The line, obviously. There's some talent there but if Michigan doesn't experience a massive backslide it's time to assume that Michigan's DL will be great as long as Hoke and Mattison and Montgomery are around.

Michigan-Jake-Ryan-tips-pass-by-Western-Michigan-Alex-Carder[1](caption) Michigan linebacker Craig Roh (88) and defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen (53) get to Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller (3) for a sack. Michigan's Brandon Graham (upper right) was also in on the play. The Wolverines defense sacked Hiller twice in the game.  *** Michigan built a 31-0 first half lead, then coasted to a 31-7 season opening victory over Western Michigan University at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. True freshman quarterback Tate Forcier threw three touchdown passes to lead the Wolverines.   ***  The University of Michigan Wolverines open Rich Rodriguez' second season against the Western Michigan University Broncos at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Photos taken on Saturday, September 5, 2009. ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

okay, but what about, like, teams other than Western Michigan?

Getting to the quarterback. Roh did not blow up as we hoped and most of the options to replace other guys are ponderous. Campbell and Washington and Pipkins are going to be the sorts of guys who shove a couple dudes at the LOS on passing plays. Michigan got away with a lack of pass rush from the outside last year because a couple of their inside guys were great penetrators; next year Michigan needs their outside LB types (WDE and SLB) to MAKE PLAYS or opposing quarterbacks will be able to grow small businesses in the pocket.

Secondary athleticism. I love Kovacs with all of the hearts and think whatever athleticism he lacks is more than made up for by his smarts. At this point I'm not sure athleticism is even an issue. I can't remember the last time it came up in a game.

The rest of the secondary… we don't know about. Sometimes you're going to get burned over the top. When you have great recovery speed you can live. When you don't you die, which happened to Michigan time and again against Devier Posey. JT Floyd is much better but isn't likely to get a sniff from the NFL; Countess and Avery are faster but little buggers ill-suited to take on the Michael Floyds of the world. Thomas Gordon has decent to good speed; he still got burned over the top big time by Nebraska.

There are no blazers and the big guy in the secondary is almost kind of maybe outright slow. Yeah. So… could be an issue.


Can these coaches salvage the line? Tell me lies, baby.

How ready to play are some of these freshmen? If Bolden comes in and rips Morgan's job away from him that's probably good, but we're really talking about Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley, Tom Strobel, and Matt Godin here. Pipkins all but has to start from day one and two of the other three will be frequently-used depth guys.

Are the cornerbacks for real? They seemed fantastic over the first 11 games but the results against OSU and VT are alarming.


I'm torn. There is a case for a backslide despite returning eight starters. For one, the fumbles will not be as plentiful. For two, a lot of Michigan's weakness was covered up by Mike Martin being essentially unblockable the back half of the season and Van Bergen being so reliable. I'm worried that without those two, Michigan is going to have issues. In the best case scenario the new guys prevent OL from getting to the second level, making a lot of plays available for the linebackers that the linebackers might not make. I also don't see where the heat comes from.

But they do return eight starters and go from year one to year two in the same system. They seem pretty injury-resilient at spots that aren't Jordan Kovacs and bring in a lot of talented freshmen. They will be much older at just about every spot.

It's mandatory, though, so… yeah, they'll be worse. The lack of consistent pressure will be a year-long problem that exposes some of the issues in the secondary and the linebackers are not at the level they need to be to benefit from planetoid DL.

Sacks backslide into the bottom half of D-I after finishing 29th, total defense slides into the 30s, and the scoring defense does not repeat its top ten performance from a year ago.


Blue boy johnson

January 11th, 2012 at 3:01 PM ^

Have often read on this blog that so and so is not athletic enough and these other guys are better athletes. What is this based on? Seems like these opinions come directly from the rectal area. Heard this crap about Kovacs, never believed it. Oh yeah Cam Gordon is far superior athlete to Kovacs. He is? Never seen any quantifiable evidence of it myself.

Now we have unathletic Desmond Morgan ready to be pushed to the side by the more athletic, Bolden, Ross, Ringer. This after Morgan replace all the supposedly more athletic upperclassmen in his true freshman year. Amazing. What is the basis for these other guys being more athletic? I really want to know. I call bull shit.

That is a lot of guys vying for a single starting spot, many of them more athletic than Morgan at a spot that puts a premium on athleticism.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:18 PM ^

The guy would almost always get beat to the edge. He was good at stopping smash mouth offenses b/c of his size and williningess to hit. But he was a liability in space.

That being said, he diahnosed plays well and was not afraid to hit so that made up for a lot of his short comings b/c of the defenses formation dialed up by Mattison. Morgan needs to be moved to MLB once demends leave so that he can just focus on stuffing the run while the other LBs fly around the field.



January 11th, 2012 at 6:47 PM ^

We know bc we have eyes. Desmond Morgan can't run it's that simple. If you couldnt see that i dont know what to tell you. Watching him run to the sideline is painful. He beat out other guys who don't run particularly well and were small to boot, or just bad. Kovacs can't run well either but can play bc he has great instincts, is a great tackler and bc the coaches allow him to play as a semi LB.

As for the frosh we won't know for sure until we see them on the field but if you watch tape and read scouting reports, it seems like guys like Ross, Stone and Bolden run well to very well and are generally very good athletes.

And what are you calling bullshit on, that 1 guy is more athletic than another guy? Are all Michigan players exactly as athletic as each other?

Blue boy johnson

January 11th, 2012 at 7:00 PM ^

So we agree Morgan is a better athlete than Herron, Brandin Hawthorne, Mike Jones, and Antonio Poole.

We also agree that we won't know the incoming freshmen's athletic ability, relative to Desmond Morgan, until they get on campus and compete for PT. I can agree with that, because when I watched Morgan's HS footage he looked like a damn good athlete against HS competition.


January 11th, 2012 at 9:19 PM ^

No, for example we know Herron is a far superior athlete than Morgan, he would kill him in a decathlon. But Herron doesn't know how to play linebacker and was constantly in the wrong place. No one is saying that the best athlete is always the best player. But when you see a guy who obviously has severe athletic limitations, you have to figure that big recruits like Bolden, Ross and Stone, who the scouting services are gushing about, are going to more athletic players. Again I'll ask why you have such a problem with that?

Blue boy johnson

January 11th, 2012 at 9:39 PM ^

The only thing I have a problem with is everything you wrote. Quite frankly you are talking out your ass, you didn't say a damn thing and assert it as a truth, which is my whole point. Where did you offer anything substantiating your claim of Morgan's lack of athleticism relative to anyone else mentioned.


January 11th, 2012 at 11:08 PM ^

a high percentage of people on this site would agree that D. Morgan is less "athletic" than Herron and Hawthorne. It is something that I know to be a fact. I do not know their statistics or 40 and shuttle times, but i know it to be true because I've seen it with my own eyes. 

That being said, Desmond Morgan plays because he is a damn smart and very instinctual football player who has responded great to coaching and the coaches trust him the most to be out there on the field. 

I think of him like the Kovacs of LB's - let's see if he can hold on to his job for 4 years. I like the kid a lot. 

Don't want to speak for anyone else but what I would say is that it seems as though Bolden and Ross also possess great play recognition abilities (like Morgan), and it seems as though they are "more athletic". Also, I believe Poole reshirted last year. Basically, there is a boat-load of people that could vy for that WLB spot, and I actually like Morgan's future at MLB once Demens leaves. Most optimal scenario if I could write it would be to have Bolden/Ross/Poole lock down WLB and give Morgan a year to back up Demens and then start at MLB for 2 years. 

I can't believe my response to you in an argument I wasn't involved in has gone this long. Just started typing I guess. 

Anyways, can't wait for September of 2012!!

Blue boy johnson

January 12th, 2012 at 2:49 PM ^

Fuck it you guys have convinced me. Overwhelming proof has one me over.

Herron, Jones, Hawthorne, Poole, superior athletes one and all, couldn't win a starting position over Morgan for one reason; they were to dumb to learn the playbook. Stereotypes for the win.

Morgan? He's a smart mother fucker but cain't run a lick. he has the rare combination of being smarter than Stephen Fucking Hawking but less athletic. Morgan is a Quantum Mechanic,he fixes Quantum  Computers

The only reason Demens played: He's the love child of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Every once in a while you can find an exception to the rule.

Gordon couldn't play safety despite his pheonomenal athleticism because he was too dumb. We shall brook no other possibilty for not beating Slovacs LOL out.

Thanks also for the overwhelming proof that the incoming linebackers: Ringer, Ross, Bolden and  Jenkins-Stone are great great athletes. Nice to know this is what their bios contend.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:04 PM ^

I think a lot of how the secondary performs depends on how good the Big Ten's receivers are, off the top of my head I can't think of any that scare me as much as Floyd or Posey.


January 11th, 2012 at 9:29 PM ^

I just took a look at the receivers in the Big 10 because I was curious too and you're absolutely correct. Illinois loses Jenkins, Iowa loses McNutt, Sparty loses Cunningham, Martin, and Nichol, Minnesota loses their best receiver in Mcknight, Nebraska returns Bell and Kinnie; but they weren't all Big 10 to begin with, Northwestern loses Ebert and Dunsmore, Ohio loses Posey, and Purdue loses Siller. I only looked at the Big 10 teams that we have on our schedule for 2012. But from what I just listed, Nebraska is really the only team that returns experience at the receiver position. Now I will never count out the possibility of a break out freshman or whatever may happen, but it should be nothing compared to the Jenkins, Floyd, Posey, and Mcnutt that we faced this year. Even our non-conference teams in Alabama, Air Force, UMass, and ND don't return great experience. Now Alabama could easily get a physical freak like DGB, I won't put that past them, but they lose Maze and Hanks, Air Force passes the ball five times a game, UMass better not give us a problem unless Gerg is filling in for Greg that day, and ND still has Eifert, but lose their monster, Floyd. So to sum all this up, our secondary could look great next year simply because we return experience with Captain Kovacs, Countess, Floyd, and Gordon.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:12 PM ^

I'm assuming that you're referring to the final season as the back half of season 4, which I thought was pretty good. There were a few episodes that I didn't like (sadly including the last part of the finale), but it was still a strong season overall.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:15 PM ^

The schedule is tough next year, especially in the first 4 games. This makes the lack of D line experience even more concerning. It'll be interesting, to be sure. I can see UM being 2-2 or even 1-3 at the bye week.

The prevailing thought that Michigan may be a better team next year, but, have a worse record seems spot on at this point.  Sounds like a good problem to me!


Date Opponent
Sept. 1 vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 8 Air Force
Sept. 15 Massachusetts
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 at Purdue
Oct. 13 Illinois (Homecoming)
Oct. 20 Michigan State
Oct. 27 at Nebraska
Nov. 3 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 Northwestern
Nov. 17 Iowa
Nov. 24 at Ohio State
Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship Game



January 11th, 2012 at 3:35 PM ^

I'm more concerned about UM stopping the AFA option, especially with the departures on the D line who were so good at blowing up option plays this year.

Sure is fun trying to see if we'll match an 11-2 record from the previous year tho, eh? :)


January 11th, 2012 at 3:41 PM ^

Its nice to have a year under the collective belt with experience, but the losses are significant.  I love the standard Hoke has established.

The option is difficult to work against, but I just have a feeling that the mediocre finish AFA had this year along with the graduating QB will not allow for enough firepower in the AF arsenal (see what I did there?) to match up with Michigan. 


January 11th, 2012 at 3:53 PM ^

loses a ton of players on both sides of the ball including their first and second string QB's.  Their first string QB was one of the better QB's they've had in a while - he's a huge loss.  I live in Colorado and I think most Air Force fans would say this year was a little disappointing.  I'd also guess most Air Force fans think 2012 is going to be a down year compared to their last couple of years.

At this point, the only way I see UM losing to Air Force is if UM beats themselves.


January 11th, 2012 at 7:27 PM ^

That's actually a pretty common state of affairs for Air Force. Most guys for the team tend to be projects who don't get or expect meaningful playing time until Junior year. However, the prep school, the freshman team and the main team all run the same system. So whoever comes in has a lot of experience aging in the same system for the same coaches. So it's not like the 17team lost starters are getting replaced by sophomores and freshmen. There will be a dropoff but it won't be remotely close to Michigan 2008.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:16 PM ^

Sanity. O Mattison, without whom we are naught, yea, verily doth we bring these burnt offerings to your lustrous feet. May they keep your pecs jiggling as they command our forces to do something wondrous.

Emphasis mine. So awesome. B. Cook; I heart thee.

Magnum P.I.

January 11th, 2012 at 3:21 PM ^

Our DL is definitely in Hold-me-TomVH territory right now. It won't help that they'll be vetted against Alabama's beastly OL first thing next season. Mattison is gonna have to do some creative blitzing, a la the first few games of this season, if we want to get any pressure at all.


January 12th, 2012 at 11:51 AM ^

 First off props to Magnum love the mustache. Do you use a conditioner or stache wax?

There is a big positive to playing Alabama's beastly O line the first game of the year....it's all down hill from there!  I want the guys to play hard becuase this is a chance to make a huge statement.

I'm thinking people are slightly over reacting to the state of our D line next year. BWC was a joke ( sorry Big Will but you where a door mat) before Coach Hoke took over and now he is serviceable atleast after one year. Who knows what happens in year 2. From what i saw with Pipkins he not the space eater folks think he is, the kid can play and with 3 people coaching him up I think he'll be solid next year.

I'm more concerned about the defensive ends than I am tackles. I won;t be surprised if we see one of the freshman DE's on 3rd down or sure passing downs. Whoever ends up being the faster , more reliable tackler who chooses good angles.

I'd love to beat Alabama next year but I'm happy as long as the game is close.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:28 PM ^

How big of a concern is it that the O line AND D line take a drop off at the same time in terms of quality opponents to practice against? I remember reading an article earlier where one of the D line (Roh?) said how much going up against Jake Long in practice helped him improve.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:28 PM ^

I would hope Marvin is more than ready to be a meaningful part of this defence. I don't usually look for too much from a guy until it's his 3rd year of college (redshirt or not). Well, it's year 3 for Mr. Robinson so I expect to see him making plays this fall.


January 11th, 2012 at 3:35 PM ^

... we're going to be ranked highly at the start and then go to Jerryworld and get crushed by an Alabama team that dominates the line of scrimmage and makes fewer mistakes than VTech.  That will likely dominate the national narrative, particularly if we go into Notre Dame and give up the streak there.

We could see real improvement from Denard and easily lose two more games next year.  If Denard doesn't improve, prospects are bleak.



January 11th, 2012 at 4:26 PM ^

These predictions are fun to read but at the end of the day they are just that. The Bama team we see next year will more than likely look a lot different than the team we seen last. Look how well auburn faired after a nt. Its anybody's game/guess!


January 11th, 2012 at 3:37 PM ^

I think we probably do a lot more blitzing with Kovacs and our linebackers and hope we get there before they can complete anything

  Yeah, it puts more pressure on that secondary, but if the interior Dline can manage to eat up blockers and we get more of the Death Roh we got in 2010, we should still be pretty good