Brady Hoke is more than the head football coach at Michigan, he's also a D-line specialist.
With that being said, the fourth-year man in Ann Arbor faces quite the workload in 2014. At this point, it's all about piecing together a firm game plan, from point A to point B.
Starting with Saturday's spring game, Hoke will finally have the chance to make meaningful adjustments to Team 135's defensive front with Mark Smith, a D-line coach.
And the changes couldn't come any sooner.
Not. A. Minute. Sooner.
However, for as topsy-turvy as the Wolverines' D-line appeared to be this past fall, it wasn't actually a complete train wreck. That, of course, is a welcome sign—one that suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement.
Think of it as a "nowhere to go but up" approach to revamping and re-energizing the ends and tackles. No longer the official, full-time, by-title D-line coach, Hoke will certainly have a say in matters as Smith and Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, devise strategy and tactics.
Playing with Purpose
Pressuring the quarterback was the downfall of Team 134's D-line.
Well, let's rephrase that: The lack of pressure was its undoing.
In terms of sack production, the Wolverines were horrible—they tallied a lukewarm total of 25 sacks for negative-182 yards, despite having turned up their intensity as the season progressed.
Given the unruly nature of this past fall, that total shouldn't come as a surprise. But again, the end results were a mere fraction of expected returns.
Due to talent levels, there is no reason why Hoke's D-line shouldn't compare head-to-head with any line in the Big Ten.
Ohio State pressured quarterbacks and finished with a respectable total of 44 sacks, a mark good enough for No. 3 in the nation. Nebraska came in with 39, putting it at No. 8 in that category. Michigan State, which had one of the most feared defenses in all of college football, had 32 sacks in 2013.
That's where Hoke needs to be. That's where past Michigan lines have been.
While together, the D-line can take over momentum and sway the outcome in Hoke's favor.
And really, it's not all about totals—it's about the quality of those numbers. Look at what the Spartans were able to do. Based on reputation alone, one would have thought they were averaging 10 a game; they made theirs count, despite being ranked No. 31 in that department.
Had there been increased pressure, Michigan could have forced more interceptions. That's a secondary issue—in both senses of the word—but the line and backs are interconnected by virtue of playing on the same side of the ball.
Getting players to understand the concept of "more isn't always better...but it helps" has to be a top concern for the coaching staff, along with establishing links between the 11 on the field.
Michigan doesn't have to lead the league in sacks. But being among the top netters just adds to perception. Teams that are known for getting at the quarterback tend to do just that—get at the quarterback.
Creating a sense of calm confidence starts Saturday.
Well, now that the preliminaries have been completed, it's time to move onto the second part of the plan: Taking the "more isn't always better...but it helps" mentality and installing that very idea into the minds of players.
Hoke's a hard-nosed, blue-collar kind of guy. That's been said over and over again; it'll continue being said for as long as he's at the helm. His attitude and work ethic are two of his selling points. He's a ball coach—nothing more, nothing less.
Let's assume that players respect honest, down-to-Earth coaches. In turn, those players feel the urge to work harder and a little extra. Well, at some point, that work turns into measurables.
The following table illustrates what Michigan's starting front four could look like this fall.
|UM D-Line 2014||SDE||NT||WDE||DT|
|Player||Brennen Beyer||Ondre Pipkins||Frank Clark||Willie Henry|
|Exp./Class||37 games/16 starts/SR||18 games/JR||36 games/17 starts/SR||12 games/six starts/RS SO|
|Upside||Can play DE/LB||DT with something to prove||Versatile, athletic||Turning corner|
Chris Wormley is a possible option for nose tackle, and he's also a candidate for defensive end. The same goes for Matt Godin, who is also a redshirt sophomore. Taco Charlton, a sophomore who is due for his long-awaited arrival, rounds out the list of potential top starters/contributors.
Unproven talent can become proven goods this fall. However, in order for the maturation process to take place, Hoke's upperclassmen and those with the most experience have to anchor down and allow for roster flexibility.
If the "proven" crowd isn't getting the job done, don't expect Hoke to run with the less-qualified players. If he's going to win, he's going to win with experience and execution, not a rag-tag assembly of relatively "green" linemen making lucky plays.
Check out Michigan's full roster on MGoBlue.com.
Cries for the "old Michigan" are heard loud and clear. Not even Hoke could have anticipated such a slippery slope. After starting 11-1, he's posted 8-5 and 7-6 records...not exactly what the Maize and Blue faithful bargained for following the ouster of Rich Rodriguez in 2011.
He's had three full seasons to recruit, which is something he does incredibly well, and educate players on the traditions of Michigan football. The process won't just complete itself due to time. But time certainly helps.
Carr's public approval is worth its weight in gold, just ask the Lloyd Loyalists. However, it's difficult to imagine one of the Wolverines' most respected coaches blowing smoke for Hoke.
What does Carr have to lose by giving his honest opinion? He, perhaps better than anyone, knows about transition phases. Hoke's staying afloat, but a poor D-line could sink his career in Ann Arbor after 2014.
Another year of mediocrity in the trenches wouldn't be acceptable.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.