Michigan Football: Why Defensive Line Production in 2012 Is Most Vital
To begin the 2011 season, Michigan's defensive line was nearly non-existent. The foursome of Craig Roh, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger combined for a paltry two sacks and seven tackles-for-loss in the first four games combined.
The line's tackle stats were equally disturbing. You'd have to pass six Wolverines before finding Van Bergen, who was credited with just 11 tackles.
Michigan was able to get away with these puzzling figures due to the confusing blitzing schemes employed by first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
There's no question the opening four games of 2012 will provide a much sterner test. Films of Mattison's schemes are no doubt being studied by the likes of Alabama, Air Force, UMass and Notre Dame.
Regardless, too much blitzing forces single coverage in the passing game. Remember Western Michigan's Jordan White hauling in 13 passes? And what about Michael Floyd, who snagged 12 for the Fighting Irish?
So it would be nice if Mattison could count on even the slightest improvement over a season ago. Problem is, only Roh returns from the group that saw Martin, Van Bergen and Heininger graduate. Reserves Jibreel Black, Will Campbell and Brennan Beyer will join Roh in what will be Michigan's least experienced front four in years.
Optimistically speaking, Mattison made a pair of moves in hopes of getting the best possible play from the defensive line. Roh moved from the weakside end slot to the strong side and Black moved inside to tackle. That will allow the highly athletic Beyer to inherit Roh's previous position. That is, unless Frank Clark takes the job away from Beyer. “I feel very comfortable with the moves, very comfortable," Mattison told the press after the spring game. "I think that might be one of the bright spots of the spring."
While there might be a lack of experience, Mattison is at least creating some depth. Keith Heitzman had a solid spring working in Roh's slot, and at least four Wolverines will fight for playing time in the interior line. And that's not including 5-star recruit Ondre Pipkins, who could turn some heads when camp opens this fall.
A standout at the Army All-American Game, Pipkins has the size (6'3", 320 lbs) and ability to play right away.
Willie Henry, a last-minute recruit from Cleveland Glenville, was especially impressive during his senior year and could be another surprise.
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