2009 Outlook: Defense

Submitted by JokischTacopants on February 7th, 2009 at 1:10 PM

This is in response to DeadMan's recent diary, which I appreciated, but disagreed with quite a bit, especially in relation to the young players (he tended to dismiss them).

I don't aim to include every single guy on the roster, just the possible starters and key backups I foresee. [note that I removed special teams tackles, thus "non-ST tackles" for some of the guys who had stats strongly inflated by them]

Brandon Graham (20 TFL, 10 sacks)
Ryan Van Bergen (13 tackles)
Greg Banks (6 tackles)
Adam Patterson (1 tackle!)

Graham will be all-Big 10 and maybe an all-American. Van Bergen had a solid season as a fFr backup and should be ready to be a competent but not special starter as a third year soph. Those pointing to Banks and Patterson should keep in mind how little time they saw last year as third year players (especially Patterson!). There is decent chance someone else could see significant time in order to be a starter for 2010, then, such as a converted TE or Roh.

Mike Martin (20 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
Will Campbell, Fr.
R Sagesse (3 tackles)
V Helmuth

Martin played very well for a true frosh, and should be a competent starter, but not a stud (yet). Campbell will need to be a decent starter from Day One, as Sagesse barely saw the field, Kates left, and who knows if Helmuth can put on 30-40 pounds in a year. This position will clearly be a weakness, but hopefully not a 6.0 YPC size-weakness, and at least it is building for the future (better than a horrible DL with upperclassmen starters). Ferrara could come back from the OL if there is an injury. Others have mentioned the DEs, but they seem too undersized (260) to me. There would be less need for DTs if a 3-3-5 is frequently played, but a 5th DB isn't available that anyone would go out of their way to get on the field (if Turner is that studly, for god's sake please move him to FS).

Obi Ezeh (98 tackles)
Jonas Mouton (76 tackles)
JB Fitzgerald (2 non-ST tackles)
Marell Evans (4 non-ST tackles)

As was aptly pointed out, none of these guys have a David Harris 6th sense about LB playmaking. But with a 3rd year and a 2nd year starter, they should be solid. Fitzgerald should be competent at ILB while Ezeh (the leader of the group, obviously) moves to the outside. Demens, Evans and Herron are available, but none were able to break into (or stay in) the starting lineup last year, when the opportunities were golden. None of the true frosh seem to have the size or pedigree to play a significant role.

D Warren (52 tackles, 4 PBU)
B Cissoko (15 tackles, 3 PBU)
T Woolfolk (Mgoblue says 9 tackles, 10 of which were ST... ???)
J Turner, Fr.

Warren seemed to take a step back due to injuries, but should be a very good corner this year. Cissoko showed some flashes and some weaknesses, but he was only a true frosh. He should be competent (yes, that's my favorite weasel word) this year. Turner, being a borderline 5 star recruit, should be as useful as Cissoko as a 3rd corner and next option in case of injury, and maybe play some safety if the worst case scenario happens there. Hopefully Woolfolk (or JT Floyd or a position-switcher?) can provide another option for dime/quarter packages.

B Smith rFr
S Brown (64 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 int)
M Williams (7 non-ST tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack)
V Emilien, Fr

Brandon Smith was a very highly rated recruit who missed last year because of surgery. Plenty of good programs count on a guy like him to step up and be a decent starter as a rFr (Texas last year, for example, had two rFr safeties start, and they weren't higher-rated than Smith). I won't get myself started on Brown because I want to be positive about student-athletes, but... hopefully he can be somewhat better. Maybe Turner or Emilien could emerge, or Williams. Clearly the weakest spot, pending more information on the freshmen.

I'm more optimistic about youngsters like Van Bergen, Mouton, Fitzgerald, Cissoko and B Smith than DeadMan was. Nevertheless, this won't be even a very good defense, unless it lucks into some amazing sophomore starters like the 1997 team did. If Graham can command constant double teams, Warren shuts off WRs, and a safety emerges, it could be an average Big 10 defense. If it can simply be more consistent and slightly better than last year's--which I think it can--then the significant offense improvement should take this team to a 7-5 record with the weak non-conf schedule.

My summary of the starters:

All-Conference: Graham, Warren
Very Good: Ezeh, Mouton
Competent (replacement level): Van Bergen, Martin, Campbell, Fitzgerald, Cissoko, Smith
Frighten Me: Brown



February 7th, 2009 at 2:18 PM ^

The fact that Stevie Brown had 64 tackles last year as a safety shows how much the defense struggled.

Nice rundown. I tend to think that Martin will be better than "competent," but that will hinge on his development.

*Side note: the defense has many young stars in the making: Warren, Cissoko, Turner (if you believe the ratings), Martin, Campbell (ditto on the ratings), and Mouton could all blossom into NFL draft picks. And that does not include players like Roh, LaLota, or Fitzgerald who were highly touted but who are either true freshmen or redshirt freshman.

In 2010/2011, this could be a REALLY good defense.


February 7th, 2009 at 9:55 PM ^

I agree: the defense will definitely look a lot better if the offense keeps the ball away from the other team longer.

I don't think there are too many defenses who could have done really well last year being on the field as long as they were. The D may have looked really bad last year, but I think it looked a lot worse than it really was.


February 7th, 2009 at 2:25 PM ^

I feel like everyone is overlooking the impact that Mike Williams is going to have in the Secondary. I think he is gonna start over Smith, as he has game experience and looked OK during it.

Mark my words here, Williams has break out season.


February 7th, 2009 at 2:47 PM ^

Yeah, I tend to agree with you. Williams impressed me, especially on special teams. Very solid tackler. I'd like to see him in the lineup. We've all heard great things about B. Smith. I think the secondary can be the strong point of the defense in '09. Lots of young talent.


February 7th, 2009 at 4:08 PM ^

What is your reasoning for Ezeh playing outside linebacker and not staying in the middle? I've seen a couple people say this. Did you read a quote somewhere from a coach or from Obi that said this would happen?


February 8th, 2009 at 8:28 PM ^

I may be in the minority here, but I don't think there is any way that he plays on the outside. I also don't ever remember him playing anything but inside. If he did play outside, it was very little at the beginning of 2007. This is a quote from his bio on mgoblue.com: "Sophomore (2007) ... earned first varsity letter ... CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America first team ... The Sporting News Freshman All-America second team ... The Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten ... played in all 13 games and started 10 contests at inside linebacker"

link: http://www.mgoblue.com/football/playerbio.aspx?id=130936


February 7th, 2009 at 5:06 PM ^

I remember watching the Oregon game in '07 and the announcers said that UM's best Defense would be their Offense. If UM can hold on to the ball longer the D should look much better this year. I think we were the kings of 3 and out last year and that was why (in my opinion) the D was sub-par. There was plenty of talent just not enough stamina. The O should be better which should take some pressure off the D.


February 7th, 2009 at 7:49 PM ^

According to someone I know who's son played with him in h.s. and who's still a friend, he was up to 270 before the season even ended last year.


February 7th, 2009 at 10:23 PM ^

I like our offense and defense for next yr. Should be a good yr. Ignore this 08 season, that was a fluke. We all know are players are better than that. 8-10 wins.

I'm sure predictions will change aftr spring ball too.


February 9th, 2009 at 1:48 PM ^

I think that Williams will be a big surprise next year. I like what I saw in limited action next year and I think he will be a big contributor as our FS. I don't see much of a place for Smith, though. As shaky as Brown can be I still think his experience gives him the edge.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of Marell Evans, who, if I remember correctly, began last season as starting OLB.


February 9th, 2009 at 3:13 PM ^

I don't necessarily disagree with what you are saying here. I feel okay about our starting 11 or so on defense. After that is where I'm worried. I mean, look at the depth at every position. How many players are there that you truly feel can and will step up next season if we needed them to? I'm not exactly high on players like Woolfolk who couldn't break into the starting lineup last year when we needed all the help we could get in the secondary. Similarly, Smith looks great from all I've seen, but how much can we really expect from a redshirt who was injured all of last year?

Basically, I see weaknesses on the D-Line and at safety in our starting squad. I think our players have the ability to play well at those positions, but the question is what happens if they don't? Where are the players coming from? At defensive line (tackle especially) and safety, do we simply have enough bodies that could fill in and make plays.

For example, look at Oklahoma. They lose their best defensive player and still go on to the national title game with a decent (talent-wise) defense at least. Where would our defense be next season if Graham went down?