ANN ARBOR, Mich. – During his short tenure at Michigan, redshirt junior defensive lineman Willie Henry has seen himself bounce around the defensive line. Originally starting his career as a nose tackle, then to a three-technique the next year and currently is pushed to the outside of the line as a defensive end.
It might seem like wiping the slate clean every season, however Henry prides himself on helping the team wherever he can. Even at linebacker, if that’s what the coaching staff wanted to do.
Whatever the team needs, count on Henry to be out there.
“I can adjust,” Henry said. “I pride myself on it. Adjusting and helping the team as best as possible. I don’t think the coaches will put me in a position where they don’t think what’s best for me or the team. I feel like the decisions they’ve made, I agree with it. I go out there and practice my heart out.”
Of course, adjusting is one thing, but actually making plays is another. Despite being in the same position group, transitioning from the interior defensive line to the outside is not as easy as simply slotting a player into the spot and let him run wild.
For Henry, the defensive coaching staff helped ease that transition during camp.
“Playing from inside you were on the person so fast,” Henry said. “You get about two or three steps before you’re meeting offensive tackles. It was an adjustment I had to make through camp and coach Mattison did a great job getting me through that. And coach Durkin, you know, with the defenses and stuff, making me feel comfortable. I felt good out there.”
How long did that transition actually take? Not long, Henry said. Without certain members of the coaching staff coaching him through the process, it could’ve been longer.
“Maybe a couple days into practice,” Henry said. “I haven’t really worked the outside since I’ve been here. I’ve been mostly an interior d-lineman. Working at it about a week to get my hands and stuff ready, coach Mattison did a great job trying to coach me through that from playing inside to outside. Coach Carr, Coach James, they did a great job helping me with the transition.”
Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin would like U-M to see multiple defensive fronts during the season. With the defense having quite a bit of depth this season, Durkin has the personnel to challenge his defense during his first season on campus.
Not only will Durkin challenge his own team, Henry says multiple fronts also challenges opposing offenses as well, making it difficult to scheme for.
“I think it helps us a defense,” Henry said. “It keeps offenses on edge not knowing what we’re in. We can move from different fronts so it helps not being able to read us. The best way to help us as a defense against a young quarterback is giving him looks he hasn’t seen before. I like that we can switch it up with a 3-4, 4-3 defense. Keep offenses on edge.”