Prior to Greg Mattison’s arrival in 2011, Michigan’s defense had been giving up small fortunes each Saturday. However, these days, the coordinator’s men run a more efficient budget (they’re stingy).
Despite allowing 40 or better thrice in 2013, Team 134 actually held tight for a good portion of the season, ranking No. 13 nationally in terms of total defense, per NCAA.com. If not for a woeful offense, the Wolverines would have won at least nine games. That’s a guarantee.
Improvement under Mattison has been steady; in 2013, the secondary shifted into another gear and helped corral 17 interceptions, the second most in the Big Ten. The front four and linebackers contributed to an average of 4.93 yards surrendered per play, just about a half-yard more than the mark of Michigan State, which had arguably the best D in the land.
There are more than a few favorable stats and “good” reasons to believe that 2014’s defense has throwback qualities and far more than loose speculation surrounding the idea that Mattison’s guys have the potential to be one of his better collections this fall.
Why put stock into that? Because Mattison knows what he’s seeing at practice—and he loves what’s on the horizon.
“The thing that I’m excited about is watching our kids work out this summer—they remind me of the ‘old Michigan’ groups that we had,” said Mattison, who served as line coach and coordinator from 1992-1996.
“The thing that’s exciting is that there’s competition at every position—I mean, there’s guys on our team who have been starters for two and three years that are competing for starting positions. It’s very healthy. They all respect each other because they’re all working very, very hard together. I’m excited about the defense.”
D-Line Is Gearing Up
Mattison doesn’t have Buster Stanley or Will Carr this time around, but he does have a promising trio of redshirt sophomores to piece together up front: Willie Henry (6’2,” 297 lbs), Matt Godin (6’6,” 285 lbs) and Chris Wormley (6’4,” 292 lbs).
“The thing that people don’t realize is that so many of our kids played at a young age and with that is why you lose [four] games [in 2013] by a separation of 11 points—but now these are kids who are veterans, and they’ve had a lot of experience,” Mattison said. “That’s going to be a positive thing for us.”
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A year ago, Henry appeared in 12 games. Godin played in six and filled in on special teams. Wormley got into 13. Granted, those aren’t career-starter numbers such as the ones put forth by Stanley and Carr, but they’re something to work with.
And then, take this into consideration: Mattison praised Godin’s dedication and said that “he wants it” as much as anyone. The former Detroit Catholic Central star is coming into his own and could be a major contributor to Team 135.
“He’s working extremely hard in the weight room,” Mattison said. “He’s becoming very, very strong, and he has great pride. He wants to be ‘that’ guy.”
So, who where the other players who were “that” guy?
Stanley was one of them. He was team MVP and co-captain in 1993. Of course, Godin is quite a ways from reaching that level. But the bottom line is this: He’s a hard-nosed, dedicated, team-oriented guy who competes. And along with ends Brennen Beyer, Taco Charlton and Henry Poggi, he’s giving Mattison a familiar, early-to-mid-1990s feeling.
Love for LBs
In addition to the line and coordinator duties, Mattison is also mentoring linebackers, and he was quick to point out the advancements, saying that Joe Bolden “had the best spring practice of anybody” and continues to progress. He also said that he’s anticipating a strong return from Jake Ryan in addition to increased efforts from Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and James Ross, who is excelling as a “Sam” linebacker.
At this rate, the middle of the field could soon be stacked with traditional, punishing Michigan linebackers. Jarrett Irons? Anyone? Even something close would suffice.
If Mattison isn’t the reason for the massive turnaround, then he’s 1B. And with his plan in motion, nearly anything seems possible for the Wolverines defense.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.