Welcome to Part 2 of our 3 part 2012 Michigan Wolverines Football season preview. Part 1 centered on Michigan’s offense, part 2 will focus on the defensive side of the ball. In 2010, Michigan finished 110th in overall defense (450.8) and 107th in scoring defense (35.2). In one season under the tutelage of Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison, the Wolverines made a shocking turnaround finishing 17th nationally in total defense (322.2) and 6th nationally in scoring defense (17.4). It will be fascinating to see how the defense performs in the second season of the Brady Hoke era.
Defensive End: Craig Roh (Sr) has started 38 consecutive games and split time between OLB and DE. His senior season will have him strictly working on the line. He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention last season and should be even better this year. Keith Heitzman (RS Fr) will back up Roh at DE.
Defensive Tackle: Jibreel Black (Jr) moves from DE to DT and will compete with Nathan Brink (RS Jr) for the starting position. Quinton Washington (RS Jr) is also in the mix here and this is a strong trio of players. At Media Day, I asked D-line coach Jerry Montgomery about Nathan Brink. “Our philosophy is toughness, effort and being a technician,” Montgomery said. “He [Brink] represents all three of those things. He plays the game, he plays hard. I just love what he brings to the table mentally.”
Nose Tackle: William Campbell (Sr): Big Will Campbell is primed for a huge senior season. He is in great shape, 6-5, 308, and has learned how to play lower to the ground. The sky is the limit for Campbell. Big Will was identified by several of his teammates as the best dressed Wolverine. Richard Ash (RS So) will back Campbell up at the nose.
Rush end/OLB: Brennen Beyer (So) is a player the coaches are very high on. He has all the tools to become an outstanding player for the Wolverines.”He’s [Beyer] a high energy guy, smart, physical,” said D-line Coach Jerry Montgomery. “He’s put on some weight and gotten stronger in the off-season. He brings another dynamic to that position. He’s going to hold the point well and be in the right place.”
Frank Clark, who was just cleared to practice, will also see significant playing time. Clark showed off his athleticism and playmaking ability in Michigan’s Sugar Bowl victory.
Reserves: Ken Wilkins (RS So) will see time at DT. The Wolverines have 7 incoming freshmen on the defensive line; Tom Strobel, Chris Wormley*, Ondre Pipkins, Matthew Godin, Mario Ojemudia, Ryan Glasgow and Willie Henry. Pipkins was a 5-star recruit and checks in at a massive 6-3, 340.
*Wormley is out for the season with a knee injury.
OLB: Jake Ryan (RS So) racked up 11 TFLs last season, including a Sugar Bowl record 4 TFLs. He has size, 6-3, 242, speed, athleticism, and a knack for the big play. The sky is the limit for Ryan and it should be a lot of fun to watch him terrorize opposing backfields this season.
MLB: Kenny Demens (Sr) was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection last year and is poised for a stellar senior campaign. True freshman and early enrollee, Joe Bolden will likely be the primary back up here.
OLB: Desmond Morgan (So) was tremendous last year as a true frosh. He started 7 games and racked up 63 tackles. He notched a career high 10 tackles and 1.5 TFLs in U-M’s Sugar Bowl victory. Like Ryan, Morgan is only going to get better. “Desmond Morgan has had a very, very good camp,” Greg Mattison told WBBL radio. “I think the Big Ten Conference is going to see this kid for a number of years and be very, very impressed with him.” Brandin Hawthorne (Sr) started the 5 games that Morgan didn’t lat year and tallied 43 tackles.
Reserves: Cam Gordon (RS Jr) has really bulked up and will be a key back up at OLB. Michigan has an outstanding group of incoming freshmen linebackers; the previously mentioned Joe Bolden, fellow early enrollee Kaleb Ringer, James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone. They are all fast and athletic. Don’t be surprised to see them forcing their way onto the field this season.
CB: JT Floyd (Sr) has started 22 games at corner and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention last year. He led Michigan last year with 2 interceptions and 8 pass break ups. Floyd is a talented player who should have an outstanding senior season.
CB: Blake Countess (So) was very impressive in his freshman campaign last year. He was a Big Ten All-Freshmen selection and started the final 6 games of the season. Countess recorded 44 tackles and 6 PBUs.
SS: Jordan Kovacs (Sr) was second on the team last year with 75 tackles. He also had 4 sacks and an interception on his way to All-Big Ten honorable mention.With 34 more tackles, Kovacs will become the 15th player and first defensive back in school history to join the 300 tackle club. ”He’s fun to coach,” said defensive backs coach Curt Mallory. “As good a player as he is on the field, he’s an even better young man off it.”
FS: Thomas Gordon (RS Jr) started 10 games at free safety last year and made some big plays. He forced two fumbles, recovered 4 fumbles and snagged an interception. He also finished third on the team with 67 tackles. True freshman and early enrollee Jarrod Wilson along with Marvin Robinson (Jr) will battle for playing time at free safety.
Nickel Back: Courtney Avery (Jr) will play as much as the starting corners do, which is a good thing, because he has big play ability. In the Minnesota victory last year, he tied the Michigan record for longest fumble return for a touchdown (83 yards). Avery sealed the win over Ohio State with a game-ending interception. I asked him about his knack for making big plays. “Coach Mattison always says if you hustle to the ball good things will happen,” Avery said. “So I pride myself in going to the ball as hard as I can.”
Reserves: Delonte Hollowell (So) will see time at corner. Josh Furman (RS So) will compete for time at safety. In addition to Wilson, Michigan has 3 incoming freshmen defensive backs; Jeremy Clark, Allen Gant, and Terry Richardson.
Will Hagerup (Jr) missed the first 4 games last season, but finished strong. He has a big leg and should be one of the best punters in the Big Ten.