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Filling in the Holes: Michigan's Defense

Russell IvanacSenior Analyst IOctober 9, 2016

Filling in the Holes: Michigan's Defense

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    You see the man in the picture there? That's Michigan's defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, and boy does he have his work cut out for him.

    Let's first look at what we do know about the Wolverines' defense. They were less than spectacular last year (yielded 30+ points in 7 games), and lost three of the most important defensive players to the NFL (Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, and Donovan Warren).

    And it doesn't end there.

    Arguably their best and most important remaining player in the secondary (Troy Woolfolk) will almost assuredly be out for the year with a dislocated ankle and broken fibula in the same leg.

    Add in the fact that Michigan will also be without J.T. Turner and Demar Dorsey, each for different reasons, and you have a defense that is thin, inexperienced, and in a state of flux.

    That's not a recipe for success at any level.

    What we don't know at this point is who will step up and fill the holes left all through-out the defense. Obviously only time will tell who will step up, but for now, let's take a look.

Defensive End

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    Key Losses

    Brandon Graham - 64 tackles (42 solo), 10 sacks

    Next in Line

    Ryan Van Bergen - 39 tackles (20 solo), 5 Sacks

    Will Heininger - 10 tackles (2 solo)

     

    Replacing a player like Brandon Graham is no easy task for any team. More than likely it will take a team effort to fill the hole he left, and there is really only two paths Michigan can take to do so.

    One option is to shake up the defensive line a little and move red shirt Junior Ryan Van Bergen to Graham's old spot. This would lead to Junior Mike Martin sliding over to Van Bergen spot, which is a spot that seems to fit Martin more, and would allow Sophomore Will Campbell to take the starting spot at nose tackle.

    The other option would be to leave the defensive line as it is and basically plug red shirt junior Will Heininger into Graham's old spot. This would force Martin and Campbell into a rotation at defensive tackle. Greg Banks would also be an option to plug into Graham's old spot.

    Campbell has all of the tools to be a top notch nose tackle, and needs to be given the chance to develop into just that. That said, it wouldn't be very smart to pull Martin from the starting line-up for a player who hasn't proven himself at this point.

    While both options will more than likely be explored, the first option seems like the more likely as it seems to optimize the starting talent, which will be important because the defensive line is the strength of the defense at this point.

Strong-Side Linebacker/Spinner

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    Key Losses

    Stevie Brown - 79 tackles (44 solo), 1 interception, 1 sack

    Next in Line

    Floyd Simmons - 5 tackles (4 solo), 1 forced fumble

    Mike Jones - 3 tackles (2 solo)

     

    In all fairness, it is probably just as likely that a player not mentioned above could start the season as the starting "Spinner", but red shirt sophomore Floyd Simmons and sophomore Mike Jones were Stevie Brown's back-ups at the end of last year, so they both already have some experience with the position.

    The nature of the position also makes it difficult to see who will be taking over the starting job, as it is a hybrid linebacker-safety position that requires the player to have skills from both a linebacker's and a safety's skill sets. Meaning it could be almost any linebacker or safety on the roster who isn't already set in their position.

    No matter who ends up with the job though, he won't have much experience and will be put in a crucial role in a secondary that is struggling to keep its head above water at this point.

Cornerback

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    Key Losses

    Donovan Warren - 66 tackles (43 solo), 4 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown

    Troy Woolfolk - 46 tackles (30 solo)

    Next in Line

    J.T. Floyd - 17 tackles (14 solo)

    Cullen Christian [Freshman]

    Courtney Avery [Freshman]

     

    A couple of months ago, the cornerback position was far more of a bright spot than it is now.

    At the time promising corner Demar Dosey, a talented recruit with more than his fair share of baggage, was set to team with Senior Troy Woolfolk, red shirt freshman J.T. Turner, and red shirt Sophomore J.T. Floyd to form a solid, relatively deep cornerback group.

    Then it all fell apart.

    J.T. Turner asked for and was granted his release, Demar Dorsey was denied acceptance by the admissions office, and Troy Woolfolk was injured during practice.

    So now Michigan has been left scrambling to put the pieces together.

    By all appearances it seems that Floyd has earned a starting cornerback spot, and according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, true freshman Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery will compete for starting spot opposite Turner.

    Rodriguez also said the following in the same press conference, "True Freshman playing at any position, let alone corner, makes you nervous". That means that the two incoming freshman will almost definitely not be the only ones fighting for that spot.

    Other options at corner may be Sophomore safety Teric Jones and Senior cornerback James Rogers. Jones saw some time at corner last year and could just as easily make the transition again back to corner.

    Overall, this defense will be the weakness of the Wolverines this year, and the Wolverines will only be able to go as far as the defense will allow them. Just take the following stat as a measure of that.

    Michigan was the only team in the Big 10 to finish in the top 5 in points per game and have a losing record in conference play.

    Michigan will have to win games in their conference if they hope to make a bowl game this year, and they can't do that without their defense stepping it up.

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