Down the middle of Michigan Football’s defense

Last week, we looked at Offensive Coordinator Al Borges’ comments regarding the offense. Now let’s turn our attention to Greg Mattison and the defense.

“My philosophy has always been you’re only as good as you are down the middle,” Mattison explained. “You can’t have a great defense unless it starts at the nose, goes to the linebackers and to safety. Any great defense I’ve ever seen starts down the middle. Obviously, that starts with the nose.”

Thomas Gordon (30), William Campbell (73)

Considering that, let’s take a look at Michigan’s defense down the middle. As Mattison said, it starts with the nose and he was talking about William Campbell. He is massive in size and talent. There was a time when it appeared his talent might go largely untapped. Then Brady Hoke, Mattison, and Jerry Montgomery (D-line coach) started molding him. Campbell showed glimpses last year of the player he could be and that was highlighted by his strong showing in the latter stages of the Sugar Bowl when he was imploding the Hokies O-line. He has NFL talent and the stars are aligned for him to realize that talent this season and anchor Michigan’s defense.

Lining up next to Campbell on the line will likely be Jibreel Black (Jr) who has been bulking up to accommodate his move to the interior of the D-line. The early returns have been coming back as all positive on this switch.

The edges of the D-line will be manned by Craig Roh (Sr) on one side and a combination of Frank Clark (So) and Brennen Beyer (So) on the other. The coaches are extremely high on both Clark and Beyer.

On to the linebackers, the middle will be manned by Kenny Demens. Last year he led U-M in tackles with 94 and was an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. He is poised to have a big senior campaign. Early enrollee Joe Bolden is the real deal and he will push Demens hard and should see the field this year. Demens will be flanked by a pair of rising stars in Jake Ryan (RS So) and Desmond Morgan (So).

Moving back to the safeties we can be sure 5th year senior Jordan Kovacs will be starting and should be one of the defensive leaders. Early enrollee Jarrod Wilson has been impressive and according to reports has a high football IQ. Last year, Thomas Gordon flashed some big play ability and Mattison is looking for more from the redshirt junior. “I’m looking for him to play a lot faster. I’ve told him that, straight out,” Mattison said. “I love Thomas Gordon. He’s a great young man that has ability, but he must play faster, more reckless. Sometimes guys worry about are they fast enough, can I do this – well, yeah, if you’re going to be out there, you’ve got to be able to do it. He knows that. We’ll see during the spring if he does play faster.”

“Sometimes when you’re a safety coming down like he does, you kind of hesitate because you don’t want him to run by you,” Mattison said. “But there are times you can go hit that because you’ve got a corner and another safety playing behind you, so if you miss him somebody else will make that play.”

Not to be forgotten are corners where Michigan has a slew of skilled players. Sophomore Blake Countess figures to have one spot locked down. He was impressive last year and played with a bit of edginess. Meanwhile 5th year senior JT Floyd is going to have to hold off a pair of juniors in Courtney Avery, who sealed the Ohio State win with an interception, and Terrence Talbott, who is looking good in spring practice. U-M also has a pair of sophomore eligible corners that they really like in Delonte Hollowell and Raymon Taylor, both of who played last year as true freshmen.

Michigan’s highly rated incoming freshman class features a plethora of skilled defensive prospects, some of who could play right away. Keep an eye on 5-star DT Ondre Pipkins,  All-American linebackers Royce Jenkins-Stone and James Ross, All-American corner Terry Richardson, and DEs Chris Wormley and Tom Strobel.

You can follow me on Twitter @isportsRob

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