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2011 Preview – Defensive Line and Linebackers

August 31, 2011

Part III of the Season Preview takes a look at the front 7 of Michigan’s defense, the defensive line and linebackers. 

Defensive Line

Key Losses: Greg Banks

Returning Starters: Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Craig Roh,

The leader of the defense, and probably the best player on the team after Denard Robinson is senior Mike Martin.  Martin has shown flashes of brilliance in the 3 years he has been in Ann Arbor, including earning 2nd Team All-Big Ten honors last year.  He is poised to make a run at All-American status this year if he can get support from those around him.  The other defensive tackle was supposed to be former 5 star recruit Will Campbell.  Campbell did his part in the off-season by shedding 20+ lbs of “bad weight” to get him down to a svelte 320.  Unfortunately, his technique is still a ways off, and until he can be consistent, he will likely be playing situationally.  That means that senior Ryan Van Bergen, a potential All-Big Ten candidate at defensive end will start the season inside at defensive tackle.

A big part of the decision to move Van Bergen inside to tackle has been the shocking emergence of walk-on Nathan Brink at the strongside defensive end position.  As of a week ago, he was the starter at that end spot, but it looks like senior Will Heininger will get the start on Saturday, largely because of his experience.  But Brink’s emergence has been a nice surprise this fall, and he will see the field plenty.  Normally giving a walk-on significant playing time at defensive end would be a huge red flag for a defense, but given that Brink is beating out several scholarship players and is drawing rave reviews from a coaching staff that knows a few things about playing defensive line, this has to be a positive.  Some kids just develop late, and Brink may be one of those kids.  The other defensive end will likely be played by returning end/linebacker Craig Roh.  Roh is adjusting to putting on some additional weight to be able to play defensive line in the Big Ten, but is making strides.  Sophomore Jibreel Black showed he has a great motor and athleticism last year, and will certainly see the field at defensive end as well.

In addition to Will Campbell coming in to spell the starters, sophomore Quinton Washington is coming along and could play in goal line situations, and sophomore Richard Ash is still in the mix as well.

Overall, this is a deep and talented group, and with Brady Hoke, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, and position coach Jerry Montgomery all paying close attention to this group, they should be a strength.


Key Losses: Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton

Returning Starters: Kenny Demens

By the end of 2010, it appeared that Michigan finally found the middle linebacker they had been looking for the past several seasons with the emergence of Kenny Demens as a star in the making. Demens is ready to build on a solid 2010, and has the MIKE linebacker spot locked up. The question is who will play alongside him.

The battle at the WILL (weakside) linebacker position is still up in the air, though sophomore Mike Jones is currently the leader.  Senior Brandin Hawthorne and true freshman Desmond Morgan are pushing Jones for that position, and it is still unsettled.  Even if Morgan doesn’t get the job, look for him to contribute as he’s been very impressive this fall in camp according to observers, and Hoke has mentioned his name several times in interviews.

As for the SAM (strongside) linebacker, the starting nod will likely go to junior Cameron Gordon, now playing his 3rd position in as many years (WR, S).  Last year he played a hybrid safety/linebacker role, but has put on enough weight to be comfortable at the SAM position this year.  Backing him up will be sophomore Jake Ryan who seems to have all the tools but just needs another year of seasoning before taking the field on a regular basis.

As you can see, there are several guys in the mix for the 3 linebacker spots.  One other name to be on the lookout for is senior J.B. Fitzgerald, who will likely backup Demens at the MIKE spot.  He could also end up at one of the SAM or WILL positions if necessary.

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