Michigan Football: What You Need to Know About the Wolverines' 2012 Coaches
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The Michigan Wolverines exceeded all expectations in 2011 with an 11-2 overall record and a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl during head coach Brady Hoke's first season in Ann Arbor.
One of the primary reasons for Michigan's success a year ago was the fact that Hoke went out and got two of the best coordinators in all of college football by hiring Greg Mattison and Al Borges.
The Wolverines return plenty of talent in 2012, and even though there are some concerns along the offensive and defensive lines, the expectations for the team haven't changed because Hoke and his staff refuse to settle for anything less than a Big Ten championship.
Here's a look at some of the things you should know about Michigan's coaching staff heading into this season.
Greg Mattison Will Dial Up Plenty of Blitzes
Greg Mattison is one of the top defensive coordinators and recruiters in college football.
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Michigan has to replace three starting defensive linemen, and two of the expected starters are not exactly world beaters—or they just haven't proven that they are yet.
Defensive tackle Will Campbell has one last season to try and live up to his 5-star rating coming out of Detroit Cass Tech High School back in 2009, and alongside him will be the undersized Jibreel Black, who checked in at 6'2" and 279 pounds at Michigan's media day last month.
The only returning starter, senior defensive end Craig Roh, has had to adjust from playing on the weakside of the defensive line to the strongside. Although the position change is expected to help Roh, it is not unreasonable to believe he will struggle making the adjustment early in the season.
"Jibreel Black, Craig Roh, Will Campbell and Richard Ash are working very hard," Michigan head coach Brady Hoke told Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com last Thursday. "But we've got a ways to go when you talk about our defensive line."
All that being said, the Wolverines are going to have a tough time getting to the quarterback with just a four-man rush early in the season, which means Mattison will be dialing up plenty of blitzes to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, much like he did last season.
Michigan's secondary is also the team's biggest strength on defense, so the Wolverines should not be afraid to leave cornerbacks, like fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd and sophomore Blake Countuess, in one-on-one coverage if they feel the need to blitz some extra defenders.
Remember seeing safety Jordan Kovacs up at the line of scrimmage a lot last season? Look for a lot more of that in 2012 as well.
Al Borges Will Play Devin Gardner at Quarterback and Wide Receiver
Expect to see Devin Gardner taking snaps at quarterback and catching some passes this season.
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Al Borges is one of the brightest offensive coordinators in college football and he knows making a potential game-changer like Devin Gardner sit on the sidelines for an entire game because Denard Robinson is the team's No. 1 quarterback does not make any sense.
The expectation this season is that Gardner will see some action at wide receiver due to a lack of depth and playmakers at the position, as well as at quarterback in Michigan's "deuce" formation, which features both he and Robinson on the field at the same time.
"Devin's a big guy that can run, and he's got good hands," Borges said earlier this month according to TheWolverine.com. "It would be bad coaching if he was standing next to me the whole game when you've got a guy who can really help us. Last year we were pretty deep at that position so it wasn't as critical. I think this year he can play more of a part."
Borges also said the coaches have not determined how much they will play Gardner at wide receiver and "right now it's still an open book".
Michigan fans and foes alike should keep an eye out for Gardner, who will don No. 12 this year instead of No. 7, because he will certainly be on the field for plenty of key plays in 2012.
The Offense Will Be a Hybrid of the Spread and Pro-Style Once Again
Denard Robinson should thrive once again in Al Borges' hybrid offense this season.
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In the early phases of the 2011 season, the Michigan offense was not firing on all cylinders, mainly because of the fact offensive coordinator Al Borges had the personnel for a spread offense trying to execute a pro-style scheme.
The results were sloppy games against Western Michigan and Notre Dame, followed by improvements against Eastern Michigan and San Diego State, when more plays looked like they were out of Rich Rodriguez's playbook from 2010.
After those first four games, the Michigan offense took off running and scored over 31 points in six of their final eight games. The Wolverines scored over 40 points in four of those contests.
Denard Robinson is the furthest thing from a pro-style quarterback, which was an adjustment Borges had to make last season.
Now that Michigan's Heisman Trophy candidate and offensive coordinator are on the same page entering the 2012 season, the Wolverines offense should once again be able to put up huge numbers.
Expect to see plenty of read option and sweep plays, but Michigan fans will also see plenty of I-formation plays and power offense with running backs like Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls running behind fullback Stephen Hopkins.
Curt Mallory Will Have the Secondary Playing Tighter Coverage
Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess and the rest of the secondary will be expected to play tighter in coverage this year.
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Michigan's defensive backs coach Curt Mallory told his defensive backs that he expects them to play a lot tighter in coverage this season.
Mallory believes the Wolverines have the personnel to tighten up their coverages this season with fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd and sophomore Blake Countess, who are two of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten conference. Throw returning safeties Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon into the mix and Michigan's secondary stacks up with some of the nation's best.
"You try to get them up there and get them close, and there are times they're getting run by and times they're able to play a little tighter," Mallory told TheWolverine.com last Thursday. "We're really pushing that as an emphasis this fall. Get in there and play with more confidence and their ability to play tighter."
Michigan may also be forced to play tighter coverage if the defensive line cannot apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is forced to call more blitzes, as mentioned earlier in the slideshow.
The Staff Isn't Afraid to Be Honest
Michigan's staff is always up front with players and the media about how the team is performing and what is expected.
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Coaches often mince words with the media and tend to say one thing that really means something else entirely, but that is not how Brady Hoke and his staff operate. Members of the media covering Michigan know they are getting the honest opinions of the Wolverines' coaching staff whenever they have to answer questions.
Hoke has not been afraid to let the entire country know that Michigan's offensive and defensive lines have a lot of room for improvement.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has also called out his defensive players on multiple occasions in the hopes they will continue to strive toward playing "Michigan defense" on every play.
"You can see we've got a long way to go," Mattison said during a press conference after Michigan's first practice in pads last week. "There's a lot of guys that are trying to play Michigan defense. It's just the consistency factor that we have to improve on.
"We gotta get to the point where a player stacks up good play after good play and good practice after good practice and right now we're not getting that. I can't say that there's one player that I would say, 'Boy every practice he comes out and he's perfect technique and he's going as hard as he can and he's executing. You're going to expect that, but you can't accept it."
Honesty has been this staff's policy from day one with the players on the roster as well as the high school prospects they are recruiting to play for the University of Michigan. Do not expect that to change anytime soon.
All of Them Will Have Michigan Ready for Alabama
Opening the season against Alabama is no easy task, but the coaches will have Michigan ready to play.
The Alabama Crimson Tide were penciled in as a 10-point favorite over the Michigan Wolverines back in February for their season opening game at Cowboys Stadium on September 1st.
The consensus outside of Ann Arbor is that Michigan does not stack up with the defending national champions on paper entering the 2012 season, but the Wolverines' coaching staff isn't buying any of that even if everyone else is already counting on them to start the season 0-1.
"It's a storied program, with a lot of tradition, just like we have," head coach Brady Hoke said at a press conference earlier this month according to TheWolverine.com. "I know one thing: you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Our first impression of Team133 will be Sept. 1, against Alabama."
The Michigan coaches are not going down to Arlington, TX to play a close game with the Crimson Tide. The Wolverines are going to Jerry's World to beat the No. 2 ranked team in the Associated Press Preseason Poll, and they are not interested in listening to the reasons why they can't pull off the upset.
The last time Michigan played Alabama was in the 2000 Fed Ex Orange Bowl. The Wolverines pulled out a 35-34 victory over the Crimson Tide in overtime. Tom Brady threw for 369 yards in that contest for Michigan.
Also, the Wolverines have a 4-2 record against the Southeastern Conference in neutral site games since the 1999 season. All of those match-ups were in bowl games.
They Expect to Win the Big Ten Championship
A Big Ten championship is the only thing that will satisfy Brady Hoke at the end of the 2012 season.
During Brady Hoke's first press conference as the head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines he made one thing clear to everyone listening: it's Big Ten title or bust in Ann Arbor.
Hoke does not see any grey area in attempting to meet this expectation. Unless the Wolverines win the Big Ten championship this season it will be perceived as a failure in his eyes.
"If we don't win the Big Ten championship...we know what the goal is," Hoke told TheWolverine.com. "If we don't meet it, then we fail. It's pretty cut and dried."
For this reason, Hoke labeled last season as a failure because the Wolverines were not the ones holding up the Stagg Trophy in Indianapolis after the Big Ten Championship game.
"We failed because I failed as a head coach," Hoke said according to AnnArbor.com. "We have to do a better job of coaching and preparing those guys on a weekly basis on how we're going to play the game of football."
The expectations won't change, even if Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark miss time due to legal issues, or if Roy Roundtree isn't healthy to start the season. Nothing will change the expectations Hoke and his staff have for Team133.
Michigan Has the Best Staff in the Big Ten
Brady Hoke has assembled the best top to bottom staff in the Big Ten.
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Make no mistake about it, the Michigan Wolverines staff, from top to bottom, is the best in the entire Big Ten.
Yes, the Ohio State Buckeyes may have the rockstar head coach in Urban Meyer, and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio got the better of the Wolverines in Brady Hoke's first season at Michigan, but the Buckeyes and Spartans don't have two coordinators with the accolades that Al Borges and Greg Mattison have racked up over the course of their careers.
Mattison was the man behind Florida's defense in 2006 that demolished the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship game, and even Meyer admits that his former assistant stacks up with any other defensive coordinator you can think of.
"He's not only one of the best defensive coordinators in America, but also the best recruiter in college football," Meyer said while on the set of ESPNU in 2011 according to FootballScoop.com.
On the offensive side, Borges has coached several high-powered offenses at UCLA in the late 1990s and Auburn's unbeaten team in 2004. Borges also coached the offense during Brady Hoke's two seasons at San Diego State from 2009-2010.
Fred Jackson has also been a member of the Michigan coaching staff since 1992. Although his responsibilities have changed from year to year, Jackson has always worked with the running backs. For those unfamiliar with the Michigan program, Jackson has produced NFL running backs Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas, Mike Hart and several others.
Hoke may not be the best head coach in the entire country, however, his staff and ability to recruit will have Michigan in the national spotlight for years to come.