When Brady Hoke announced the hiring of Greg Mattison as his defensive coordinator on Tuesday, it not only signaled a sense of professionalism that was being re-established within the program, it was a statement about the aggressive changes that are about to take place in Ann Arbor.
Mattison, a former Wolverine defensive coordinator and line coach, brings with him a fervent belief in Michigan football and rabid school pride. The pairing of Hoke and Mattison represents the return of "Michigan Men," a belief that it takes a certain type of person to wear the maize and blue.
Suiting up for the team will regain the honor and sense of pride that caused recruits from all over the country to consider offers from up North.
"There's a certain amount of pride that goes with playing Michigan football," Mattison said. "I want to put that back on the field."
Which is another added benefit to Mattison's addition: he is a top notch recruiter.
"He's one of the best recruiters out there — he's a helluva recruiter," said former Michigan linebacker Jarrett Irons. "I'd put him in anybody's house and he'll sell them on Michigan and will be genuine about it."
It's a skill that Mattison believes he has never lost.
"Recruiting is all about where you're at. If you really believe in the school you're at … it's easy to sell a place like Michigan," he said.
His attitude is a welcome sign for Wolverine fans who were worried when top defensive recruits, like Blake Countess, began to explore other options. With a new leader who is so closely linked to, and highly respected, in the professional ranks, Michigan will again have a leg up when recruiting players on the defensive side of the ball.
However, the biggest change that Mattison's hire might suggest is the style of defense that Michigan will put on the field. Although Hoke and Mattison have yet to choose a scheme, they have stated that they want their defense to be "aggressive."
One of the most aggressive defensive schemes, and one that Mattison ran while in Baltimore, is the 3-4 defense. When used properly, it mixes a combination of looks and intricate packages of blitzes meant to constantly keep an offense off-balance.
With the 3-4 becoming more widely used in college, Mattison may choose to install it, as Stanford and Georgia did this past season. Michigan certainly has the personnel.
The most important part of a 3-4 defense is the nose tackle. Meant to occupy blockers and collapse the pocket, a good nose tackle, like recent Alabama grad Terrence Cody, can energize an entire defense.
It might also be the perfect position for highly-touted but under-utilized defensive tackle William Campbell. A rising junior, the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Campbell was used as a reserve when Rodriguez switched to a three-man front this past season. His blend of size and power would be a natural fit in the middle, as would that of his potential back-up, 6-foot-3, 320-pound Richard Ash.
The next needed ingredient for a 3-4 scheme is powerful, long-armed defenders to play the two-gap five technique defensive end. Michigan has a perfect fit for that in rising senior Mike Martin. At 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, Martin can rush the passer with great agility for a man of his size, but also has the ability to move laterally and anchor against the run. It's a skill set that Ryan Van Bergen would also bring as the other end.
Lastly, a good 3-4 scheme needs thumping interior linebackers and athletic, agile outside linebackers to rush the passer. Michigan has the prototypical 3-4 OLB in rising junior Craig Roh. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder was moved to a hybrid role this season in order to better utilize his pass-rushing ability.
The 3-4 would only further that development. Across from him, Mattison could slot 6-foot-2, 245 pound J.B. Fitzgerald, who has a similar body type and skill set to Stanford OLB Thomas Keiser, who flourished in the Cardinal's 3-4 scheme.
In the middle, Michigan lacks real depth, which was easy to see, given how poor it was against the run, but Kenny Demens, the team's fifth-leading tackler, would be a good bet to captain the middle of the field with his solid technique and physical style.
While nothing has been determined, a new page has certainly been turned, and big changes are underway in Ann Arbor.
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