Monday, August 13, 2007

2007 Michigan Preview: The Defense

My, oh my, what a turnaround the Michigan defense made in 2006. They were lambasted in 2005 after allowing multiple late scoring drives to lose close games. In 2006, they became the best unit in the country the first 11 games of the year before struggling mightily against the spread formations of Ohio State and Southern Cal. The rushing defense was particularly special allowing only 1.9 yards per carry and 5 TDs for the entire 13 game season and was the best rushing defense in the NCAA in decades at only 43 yards per game allowed. David Harris, LaMarr Woodley, Alan Branch, and Leon Hall all headed off to the NFL and Rondell Biggs graduated as well. That's a lot of talent to lose from one side of the ball. On the plus side, however, a lot of talent returns.

Defensive Line

Tim Jamison, DE (RS Junior)

Contributed 13 tackles and 5 sacks as a part timer in 2006 when he split PT with Rondell Biggs. He's not a big guy on the end, but has a phenomenal first step and great instincts rushing the passer. His biggest weakness would seem to be holding up at the point of attack at only 266 pounds, but he has shown a knack for shedding blockers and making plays. I expect big things out of him in 2007.

Terrance Taylor, NT (Junior)

Terrance was the fireplug in the middle of the nation's best rushing defense last year. He contributed 23 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery. A former state heavyweight wrestling and powerlifting champion, he is nearly impossible to move from the point of attack and requires a double team on every rushing play. Look for more notice this year as he steps out from behind the shadow of Alan Branch and becomes the best nose tackle in the Big Ten.

Will Johnson, DT (RS Junior)

Will Johnson spelled relief for Alan Branch and Terrance Taylor last year seeing action in all 13 games and contributing 7.5 tackles and 2.5 TFL and 1 sack. He has good size and strength and will help form one of the better duos in the middle with Terrance Taylor.

Brandon Graham, DE (Sophomore)

Brandon Graham was last seen making waves as a true freshman earning PT on the best DL in the country. He was a LB in HS and has a motor that won't quit. Finishing with 3 tackles, 1 FF, and 0.5 sacks as a frosh he'll be looking to make waves replacing LaMarr Woodley in 2007. With his combination of speed and strength, few OTs in the country will be able to handle him one on one and the only thing standing between him and greatness is experience.

Other players in the mix for PT along the defensive line include Marques Slocum (RS Freshman), Adam Patterson (Sophomore), Greg Banks (RS Freshman), Jason Kates (RS Freshman), John Ferrera (RS Freshman), and Ryan Van Bergen (Freshman).


Shawn Crable, OLB (RS Senior)

2nd team All Big Ten in 2006, he was a terror making plays all over the field finishing with 37 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 PBUs, 2 FFs, and 1 FR. He's tall at 6'5" with long arms and great speed off the edge and is a great blitzer. He'll have more freedom to make plays in 2007 and I suspect Ron English will move him all around the field to confuse the offense.

Chris Graham, OLB (Senior)

Graham has good wheels and hits like a mack truck, but has had trouble consistently making plays thus far in his career. If he can read the flow of the play better this year, he could be a very good OLB in 2007. He started 4 games in 2006 and made 25 tackles and 1 TFL. This year, he'll be fighting for PT and might be in danger of losing the starting spot if he doesn't produce.

John Thompson, MLB (RS Junior)

The man with first crack at replacing the outstanding play of departed David Harris is likely to be John Thompson. His legacy at Michigan thus far has basically consisted of one legendary 8 tackle, 3 TFL performance in 2005 in an overtime victory in Iowa City. He's isn't an outstanding physical talent, but he does have good instincts. He will be pushed hard by Juco transfer Austin Panter.

Other candidates for serious PT at linebacker include Austin Panter (Junior), Jonas Mouton (RS Freshman), Brandon Logan (Junior), and Obi Ezeh (RS Freshman).

Defensive Backs

Morgan Trent, CB (RS Junior)

Trent is a returning starter at CB in 2007, although he is probably best remembered for getting beaten repeatedly by Ohio State and USC in the final 2 games struggling mightily against Dwayne Jarrett. This year, he can't hide behind Leon Hall and will be tested to make plays and prove his worth over the entire schedule. He's got the blazing speed and good size to allow him to match up with anybody. What he needs to work on is his reads and footwork. I expect a solid season out of Trent this year, although he will not quite be an all conference caliber performer.

Jamar Adams, Strong Safety (Senior)

A returning 2nd team all conference performer in 2006, Adams will be counted on to lead the secondary in 2007. He racked up 47 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBUs, 1 sack, and 1 FF on the season. He's got good size and is better against the run than playing deep in coverage.

Steve Brown, Free Safety (Sophomore)

Brown was a special teams whiz as a true freshman making plays all over the place and racking up 14 tackles on the season. He's got good size and speed and it will be up to him to prove he can make plays on the ball in the air as the deep man in Michigan's cover scheme.

Johnny Sears, CB (RS Sophomore)

He's big and fast and oozing with potential, but thus far hasn't done much at Michigan. Now there is a starting spot wide open and Johnny Sears has to figure as the favorite to grab it, or at least until super freshman Donovan Warren makes his name known nationally. Hopefully this season he will make himself known more for his play on the field than for his resemblance to Lil Jon off the field.

Other kids in the mix for PT in the secondary include Donovan Warren (Freshman), Charles Stewart (RS Junior), Anton Campbell (RS Senior), Brandon Harrison (Junior), Michael Williams (Freshman), Artis Chambers (Freshman), and Doug Dutch(RS Junior).

All in all, it's an interesting unit. There are some stars (Crable, Taylor, etc) and some major question marks (CBs and a few LBs). If Ron English is going to live up to his billing as one of the best DCs in the country, I expect him to do good things with this group. They might not be a top 10 defense nationally again, but I expect they can be top 30 or 40. If they can find a way to hold opponents to 20 points or less, Michigan will have a very good shot at winning each and every game.



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