ANN ARBOR, Mich. - James Ross III walked into the Crisler Center media room wearing a "Ball Hawks" hat he earned in camp. He said that the coaches gave him a hat because he had a couple of forced fumbles in camp.
Ball Hawk isn't just an expression for this defense, it's a mentality. One that's been emphasized by defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. To see a lot of assisted tackles on the stat sheet at the end of games is normal. According to Ross, anyone on the field at any point can swarm the football.
"All the guys out there, we do our best to do what we can on the field at any given time," Ross said. "A lot of those guys, we're just running to the ball. Anybody can make a play at any give moment. J.D., our corners, safeties, we all run to the ball in the same amount of time. There's going to be a lot of assisted tackles."
Durkin is always tinkering with his defense. Adding looks when they make sense and removing others altogether when they don't. It's all about the adjustments. Ross appreciates that his defensive coordinator is always looking to go with another look if needed.
"Coach Durkin is a great coach and he's putting something different in every single day," Ross said. "Just as offenses look at us and put in something new. He's a great coordinator and he knows what would work and what doesn't work. He might take something out that we might be confused by or he will add something in that he thinks will help us."
Durkin wants his defense to be aggressive, Ross knows that. He also knows that his coordinator has an immense amount of trust in his players in order to make the aggressive blitzes work.
"He's definitely a guy who believes in us and believes in how agressive we can be," Ross said. "He lets it loose a lot. It's just the trust he has in those DBs, guys like Jourdan Lewis and guys like Jeremy Clark, Stribling. Making sure they have to cover guys but also the d-line and the linebackers have to get there in order to make the blitz work."
The defense is also aided by the amount of depth it has at seemingly every position. The depth also has in-game experience, which to Ross, really allows the defense to become more aggressive knowing that someone can be slotted in easily and play without missing a beat.
"That definitely helps," Ross said. "When you've got guys that are just as good as the next guy that's in there who's waiting to go in, you're freed up because you don't have a fear of making a guy tired. You're hoping he's OK for the next play because the next guy isn't as good. In this case, everybody is just as good as the next guy so it makes everything a lot easier."