Should Michigan suffer through another season of poor defensive line play, head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator can only blame themselves.
Because of defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery's move to Oklahoma, Coach Hoke decided to take on the position of defensive line coach along with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
Both Hoke and Mattison previously coached Michigan's defensive line—Hoke from 1997-2002 and Mattison from 1992-94.
To complete the coaching merry-go-round, Hoke hired former Wolverine linebacker and graduate assistant Roy Manning to coach the outside linebackers. Hoke also reassigned linebacker coach Mark Smith to the inside linebacker job.
Hoke's dissatisfaction with the defensive line—especially the lack of pass rush—should come as no surprise.
Most of the quarterback pressure came from Mattison's ability to dial up a variety of blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs.
Granted, Michigan hasn't had an abundance of talent up front since Hoke and Mattison arrived two seasons ago, but the "cupboard is bare" theory is beginning to wear thin.
A quick look at the defensive stats show Ryan Van Bergen as 2011's sack leader with a ho-hum 5.5 and Craig Roh leading the 2012 “fearsome foursome” with four. In comparison, seven Wolverines since 1985 had seasons with 10 or more sacks—Brandon Graham most recently with 10 in 2008.
In fact, Mark Messner did it twice, notching 11 in 1985 and 10 in 1987.
Finding a legitimate pass rusher this spring, or even in the fall, may be no easy task. Unless Ondre Pipkins, Jibreel Black, Quinton Washington and a few others can show considerable improvement, Mattison might resort to the 3-4 defense he used occasionally in 2012.
Employing just three down linemen, Michigan could take advantage of its solid group of linebackers. Jake Ryan, James Ross III, Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan could be on the field at the same time in the formation Mattison used to perfection with the NFL Baltimore Ravens.
With Black and Chris Wormley at the ends and Pipkins and Washington sharing the nose, the 3-4 actually makes sense.
In either case, Michigan now has four position coaches devoted to the front seven.
Manning, a self-proclaimed "Michigan Man," played outside linebacker for the Wolverines from 2001-2004, winning the Roger Zatkoff Award as the team's top linebacker in his senior season. Manning totaled 72 tackles, nine TFL and three sacks during his career.
After bouncing around the NFL for three seasons, Manning held position coaching jobs at Cincinnati and Northern Illinois in addition to serving as a Michigan graduate assistant in 2011.
Hoke told mgoblue.com:
We always knew if there was ever an opportunity to bring him back, we would love to. We think he's one of the top young coaches in our profession. He knows our expectations. He knows what it means to wear that winged helmet. He knows Michigan.