Throughout spring practice, any notion that the main focus defensively didn’t involve the words, “pass rush,” is pure and utter, poppycock. Able to bring down the quarterback just 22 times in 13 games in 2012, tied with Purdue at eighth in the Big Ten conference in that category, the emphasis and attention to detail on technique needed to be amped up.
As is the case with most things, if the resources are available and the right parts in place, the possibility for improvement increases. A spring football game isn’t normally a great indication of what’s to come in the fall, but if the capability of getting pressure on the quarterback translates, even an iota, to the 2013 season, the Wolverines could be onto something.
Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison, and the Wolverines have been constructing the model of a, “Michigan defense,” since arriving in Ann Arbor in January of 2011, attempting to hit on several defensive line recruits, dating all the way back to their quickly assembled 2011 class.
Here’s a quick look at each of Hoke’s defensive line recruits still on the roster, including the unsigned class of 2014:
Frank Clark: Clark was a late addition to the class, bringing an intriguing blend of a high football IQ coming out of Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville high school but also possessing the type of athleticism required for an elite or even effective edge rusher in college football today. Originally listed at 6-2, 205-pounds coming out of high school, Clark is now up to 277-pounds but still displaying the quick first step that got him on the field as a freshman.
Keith Heitzman: For every freakishly athletic pass rushing end, a sidekick that can hold the line of scrimmage and throw their body around is just as important. Heitzman didn’t come to Ann Arbor with any glitz or glamour either, but now entering his redshirt sophomore season he’s displayed the toughness Hoke and company are looking for, cracking the rotation in 2012.
Brennen Beyer: A Michigan lifer, Beyer came in as the most highly regarded defensive line recruit in the class, and his strength and effectiveness has only increased since arriving. A carved 6-3, 254-pounds, Beyer brings a nice blend of physical play upfront with enough athleticism to maintain and attack the edge from a defensive end spot.
Mario Ojemudia: This is the “freak” edge pass rushing type in the class, exactly what Frank Clark brought to the 2011 crew. Ojemudia has the speed and athleticism to take advantage of one-on-one opportunities on the edge, and is up to 6-3, 244-pounds. Ojemudia immediately made it on the field in 2012, coming up with a sack in nine games played.
Matt Godin: Godin redshirted in 2012 but can easily be seen as another Keith Heitzman type, underrated out of Detroit (Mich.) Catholic Central high school, but someone at 6-6, 277-pounds that isn’t afraid to throw his body around, as evidenced by a positive performance in the big house at the spring game in 2013. Despite being so big, Godin is athletic enough to chase ball carriers down, though will be primarily asked to work on the interior of the line.
Tom Strobel: Versatility. Strobel was afforded the luxury of a redshirt in 2012 as well, and now stands at 6-6, 262-pounds with range to move around on the perimeter but also the size to chop it up on the interior. This is the prototype Michigan has been looking for. Strobel is a guy that can turn into a plus player and be effective with a four man front, rushing the passer or holding the line.
Chris Wormley: If it weren’t for a devastating ACL tear in fall camp, Wormley would have seen the field quite a bit for Michigan in 2012. But positives can come out of a negative situation and Wormley used the forced redshirt year to his advantage, rehabbing, getting stronger and potentially coming back better than ever for four more years in Ann Arbor. Coming off such a gruesome injury, Wormley showed no ill effects or fear to get back into the mix upfront. Wormely is now 6-4, 290-pounds and carries the weight well. Another guy that can mix it up in the interior but has the explosion to get to the quarterback.
Ondre Pipkins: The motor Pipkins has for a 6-3, 308-pounder is impressive and the soon to be sophomore will be a fixture in the middle of Michigan’s line for years to come. Getting the opportunity to play as a freshman, Pipkins will be asked to do more than just rotate in and out in 2013. With he and Quinton Washington potentially eating up two blockers at times, either should be able to create advantageous pass rushing situations for their teammates on the outside. But don’t let his size get in the way, Pipkins has the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield as well.
Willie Henry: Another late add out of Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville but this time in the 2012 class. Henry, unlike his former high school teammate Frank Clark, was redshirted in his first season in Ann Arbor, but routinely drew praise from the coaches as a standout on the scout team, and an interior lineman that stepped up his play in spring practice, culminating with a nice performance in front of fans at the spring game. Henry is a pure interior player at 6-2, 306-pounds, but his burst gives him the capability of doing more than taking on blocks.
Taco Charlton: While Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia are pass-rushing specialists, Charlton is the same, but also just so happens to be 6-6, 265-pounds and an early-enrolled freshman that is set to contribute from a defensive end spot this fall. Drawing rave reviews throughout spring practice, Charlton brought his passing rushing ability to the public eye in the spring game, taking credit for a couple of sacks and hitting quarterbacks despite their orange, “don’t touch me,” jerseys. As Charlton continues to add strength, he’s a defensive end with the perfect blend of size to stop the run and speed to get sacks, making it very possible for Michigan not to blitz in every passing situation.
Maurice Hurst: This is the Ondre Pipkins of the 2013 class. A defensive tackle that can stonewall things in the middle of the defense, taking on blocks, and attempting to stand his ground. Hurst will most likely be a redshirt candidate in 2013 but someone that has a role in this Michigan defense.
Henry Poggi: The best player no one is talking about in this 2013 class. Poggi is the Chris Wormley of the class, although more highly thought of coming out of high school. Poggi has the size at 6-4, 260-pounds (will likely be heavier by fall camp) to be effective on the interior and a unique pass rushing style in one-on-one opportunities on the inside or outside. Remember, on the field in the 2013 Under Armour All-American game in January, Poggi was quite possibly the best player on either defensive line that day, routinely getting in the backfield, and chasing down ball carriers sideline to sideline. If Poggi comes in in shape and picks up the defense, there’s no reason he won’t be on the field this fall.
Bryan Mone: Mone sets the tone on the interior of the line in this class. 6-4, 316-pounds, Mone is an athlete in the middle that can eat up blocks and be a stalwart in rush defense but also possesses pass-rushing ability. Yet another multi-faceted guy to add to the defensive line mix and someone that wouldn’t need to be subbed out based on the situation.
Brady Pallante: An undersized wrestler in the same mold as former defensive tackle Mike Martin, Pallante can bring a toughness on the interior along with a relentless motor. Someone who will be able to get leverage against the offensive line, Pallante will be perfect in short yardage situations and against the run.
Lawrence Marshall: Here’s the Clark, Ojemudia, and Charlton of the class – the edge pass rusher with superior athleticism that will be called upon to get after the quarterback in passing situations. Marshall will continue to add weight with still over a year before he arrives in Ann Arbor but his length, technique, and motor off the edge have a major role in what Hoke and Mattison are looking to build.
Michigan still has several options left on the defensive line in the 2014 class with none bigger than in-state defensive tackle Malik McDowell and Virginia defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. Add either of those, or both, to the class, and 2014 will bring in yet another dynamic, impact group to add to the mix.