In the spring Michigan re-introduced the base 3-4 to their defensive package. The reason for the addition of the scheme was obvious. They have overwhelming talent at linebacker. The speed and athleticism possessed by this corps of backers is as good as that of any other unit in the country. That makes getting as many of them on the field at the same time a very desirable option. “It’s definitely a lot more speed on the defense,” said Pierre Woods. “People say that we can’t run in the Big Ten. They say its power, not finesse. It’s still power, but we have power AND speed. We’re going out there hitting. We have to lay the smack down baby!”
It should come as no surprise that a number of guys at that position have stuck on at the onset of fall ball. The remarkable thing is, even though the competition is fierce, the camaraderie of the group is as strong as it has ever been. That has a lot to do with leadership.
Lawrence Reid and Pierre Woods are both heading into their fourth years as Wolverines, and each has taken the task of helping others with their games as seriously as they do working on their own. "My role as a senior is to help lead the defense,” Reid said. “My stats aren't as important as being someone that the younger guys can look up to on and off the field.” That type of gesture by such a capable player really says something to the other members of the team. That said, Woods was sure to warn others not to mistake Reid’s unselfishness for lack of talent. "Lawrence Reid has always been underrated, even in Ohio,” Woods said. “Ohio State didn't recruit him, which is something I don't understand. Lawrence is a great linebacker who plays low and does what he has to do.”
What Lawrence has to do at his position has changed a bit over the last six months with the advent of the 3-4. “I’m dropping into pass coverage a little more than I did last year and I’m also in the pass rush a lot too,” Reid said. “I’m getting more comfortable with it (dropping into coverage). I never did it in high school but I’ve been here for four years, so I’ve gotten better at dropping back.” Sophomore Prescott Burgess (who is up to 6-3, 235 and still running in the 4.6 range) sees some differences as well, but he can also find some similarities to what was run in the past. “The line can get up on you easier with 3 down lineman,” Burgess said. “A lot of it is still the same though. You have to read your keys. I’m feeling real comfortable at linebacker. Last year I was kind of shaky, but this year I’m feeling real good.”
Burgess, who switched to linebacker from safety last year, credits the upper classmen with helping him attain his newfound level of comfort. “We talk everyday,” said Burgess of he and the older linebackers. “It’s none of that worrying about who is starting. They’re real helpful with anything we need. It’s like a family in the linebacker room.” Shawn Crable echoed those sentiments. “Those guys took us under their wings,” Crable said. “When I first got here I thought people were going to be a little selfish in worrying about their positions, but there was none of that. They welcomed us and they said if you’re the best man then go for it.”
That is exactly what Shawn intends to do after being relegated to the sideline for all of last year with a shoulder injury. Crable put in a great deal of work in the offseason (up to a cut 238 lbs. and still running in the 4.5 range) in anticipation of stepping between the hashes this year. Even though he may not start, he indicated that he would relish just being able to get on the field after having to sit and watch during his first season. “It was an adjustment because you’re coming from playing and being a superstar where you’re from…and then you come up here and you have to start all over,” Crable said. “You have to change everything you learned in high school. You’ve got to work on being lower…you actually have to work technique now. That was the good part about being out. The bad part was coming out of the tunnel and knowing that you wouldn’t be playing! It was frustrating because you want to contribute. But my teammates helped me through it.”
Now with a year under their belts, both Burgess and Crable must do what their older teammates did for them, and help the newcomers to the program make their transitions. Incoming freshmen Chris Graham and Tim Jamison are certainly leaning on their elder teammates for guidance in their early days as Wolverines, but their raw talent has allowed them to come in and make their presence felt in practice from day 1. “Chris Graham has made A LOT of plays,” Reid said. “He has basically come in and is wrecking shop!” Crable was equally impressed with both of the young freshmen and thinks that some field time this season is in their future if they continue to play so well. “Those guys are some killers,” Crable said. “They really come off at it you! There is a lot to be learned before they’re ready to play on Saturdays, but I wouldn’t put it past them.”
For their part, the two freshmen are taking things in stride. Jamison, who reportedly has been exceptionally quick off of the edge, is focusing on adjusting to playing standing up. “I always had my hand down in high school, but I’ll get used to it, Jamison said. “I’ve been adjusting to it great.” Graham’s adjustment has been pretty smooth as well. “I’m starting out fresh and have a lot to prove, so I’m just going hard every time I get in there,” Graham said. “The first week of practice couldn’t have gone any better.”
From top to bottom, Michigan’s linebacking unit appears to have what it takes to anchor what should be a very explosive defense.