Michigan flamed out at the end of last season, dropping five out of its last six games to finish a mediocre 7-6. That isn’t what Michigan fans expected from Brady Hoke. The disappointing record drove Hoke to hire a new offensive coordinator and reshuffle his defensive staff.
The changes have transformed a team that was dispirited and broken after last season into a group eager to face a difficult road schedule that sends the Wolverines to play at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.
“The temperament of the team is different,” said defensive back Blake Countess. “The team is hungry, this is the hungriest I’ve seen a team since I’ve been here.”
The defensive changes spurred intense competition during spring practice, and even Countess, an All-Big Ten first-team selection last season (six interceptions, 46 tackles, one interception return for a touchdown) felt pressure to earn his position every day in practice.
Countess specifically mentioned both Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling as players who’ve made tremendous strides this spring.
“Those guys came in as freshmen last year running around with their heads on fire. Both guys had tremendous talent but didn’t understand what they were being asked to do last season.”
Countess’ work has paid off, earning him the right to wear the No. 2 jersey made famous by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. The jersey does not currently carry a legends designation but that’s just a formality delayed by Woodson’s NFL career. It’s still an incredible honor for a player lining up in the Michigan defensive backfield.
“It’s been a goal of mine since I committed,” said Countess. “I look up to guys like Charles Woodson and Deion Sanders, and they both wore No. 2 in college.”
Top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers, who has said he hopes to be better than Woodson, will have to wait for the number—Countess has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Michigan needs its defense to be stout—especially early in the season while its offense gets on track, adjusting to a new scheme and integrating new players on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
Could Michigan be poised for another surprise run like its 2011 campaign in which it won 11 games?
For that to happen, the team’s newfound hunger needs to translate into a lockdown defense, and Countess will need to earn the No. 2 jersey on every play.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.