Just eight days remain until Michigan begins its 2014 season with a home opener against familiar foe Appalachian State. In hopes of rectifying a past blunder, senior defensive end Frank Clark is chomping at the bit to take the field.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Clark told GoBlueWolverine.com. “When you go through all the winter conditioning, all the spring ball, the long summer runs, the strength tests, and the conditioning tests, all you can think about is getting back in pads.”
Clark says the Wolverines have refocused their efforts on conditioning this offseason, mentioning the many ‘gassers’ that their workouts have consisted of. Throughout the at times grueling summer workouts, Clark has been waiting, albeit patiently, for the opportunity to embark on his last season in Maize and Blue.
“All I could think about was I can’t wait to get back in pads,” said Clark. “The time is here finally. It’s my senior year. My final round of two-a-days. My final round of camp. I’m just waiting for it all to come together for the season.”
Coming together has been a common theme for Michigan throughout fall camp. With leadership brought to the forefront this go around, Team 135 is devoted to becoming a closer unit on both sides of the ball.
If you ask Clark, that is exactly what is happening.
“I think we have [grown closer],” said Clark. “You know, this is the closest the team has been since I’ve been here. We have a lot of guys who actually bought into the program. You know, our coaches and our strength and conditioning staff, them bringing the leadership phase of everything. I believe we have come together great as a team.”
As with any team, the senior members are looked upon first to set the pace for their younger teammates. This season, however, Clark is not the only Wolverine stepping into a leadership role on defense.
“Me and Frank are seniors so we’ve been leading just from experience,” said senior defensive end Brennan Beyer. “We have a lot of guys. All of us are stepping up and working hard. We are calling each other out when we need to and just getting after it as a group.”
Clark deflects any indication that he is the sole leader of this team. However, he recognizes his role while echoing Beyer’s sentiments that leading the defense is a group effort.
“I don’t want to say I’m the leader of the defense,” said Clark. “I believe we have several leaders on the defense and even other guys with leadership qualities on this defense. I believe that as far as on this team, I’m one of those anchor guys.
A couple days ago coach asked for us to write on cards what we believe are our images on this defense. One of the things I wrote was being an anchor. I’ve always been a guy that believes if you put the team on my back, if you put the defense on my back, I can accept that role and carry the team. But like I said, I can’t do it by myself. I’ve got my boys with me to help me.”
As head coach Brady Hoke enters his fourth season with the program, continuing to compile more depth across the board is a goal, and one of the most encouraging signs from last Saturday’s scrimmage was the expanded defensive depth compared to recent U-M teams.
Clark too sees a more complete Michigan squad this season.
“I believe we do [have more depth],” said Clark. “You’ve got a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, the offense and defense. The offense, you know, it struggled a bit last year, just as the defense did, and they came together great in the Spring Game and summer.
“I’d say everyone is doing a good job as far as the freshman and even going into the sophomore group,” says Clark. “I believe a lot of guys are doing a good job at my position on the defensive line. Taco Charlton, you know, Henry Poggi and other guys are doing an extra job. Bryan Mone came in and is accepting his role as a freshman coming in. There’s no jobs guaranteed, and he’s really competing for a job down there with those nose tackles; you can really see that.”
With a handful of young, but talented pass rushers and run stoppers on defense, Michigan should see more success getting into the backfield and disrupting the opponents’ offensive rhythm. At least, that’s the plan.
To help accomplish that, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be selecting more exotic play calls to change where the pressure comes from. This will help foster an aggressive attitude that Michigan looks to embody on defense this year.
“Aggressive meaning we are blitzing,” said Clark. “We are going to blitz more, we are getting after it. Even going to punt block as a defense. The punt block team, we are going to get it. We are going to get it all. We want to go get sacks. We want to force some errant throws. We are going to force interceptions. We want big hits. We want it all because everyone knows that defense wins championships.”
Following that mantra, Clark has his sights set on a championship for Team 135.
“The ultimate goal that I see at this program is the national championship,” said Clark. “A lot of people say ‘the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl’, but my dream coming into college at the University of Michigan was always playing in the National championship.”
Clark sees that as a distinct possibility if everyone comes together this year. That is why he, in addition to several other leaders, is getting others focused for the upcoming season.
“On the defense, me, Jake, and some of the other guys, Desmond Morgan, we’ve basically done our job in bringing our defense together. Waking them up and letting them know that we actually can be one of those best defenses in the nation, one of those top five defenses that everyone talks about, one of those feared defenses.
“A lot of people watched the struggle last year as far as our overall record. That didn’t really show the positives of our team. We were really better than what the record suggested. This year our goal is to actually show that.”
That challenge begins with the Wolverines’ first opponent on the docket, Appalachian State.
“Game one, that’s our first thought,” said Clark. “App State, they’re undefeated against us. With all due respect to them, we want to end that. Our goal is to win every game this year. No matter who we play, no matter where we play, our goal is to win every game.
“That first game against App State, we want to unleash it all.”
Clark Sees Improved Defense in 2014
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