New defensive line coach Steve Stripling surely has put his imprint on the way the line will be deployed in 2005. The former Spartan defensive line coach has not been on the job in Ann Arbor long, so those outside of the program don't know much about him beyond what appears in his bio. One thing that we found out on Saturday, though, is he is intense! Whether that trait has is rubbing off on his players remains to be seen. That said, there were times during the initial practice session that left us wondering if it had. The guys up front were certainly a little chippy for it to be a non-padded practice. At one point, Gabe Watson was put to the ground unnecessarily (by his estimation). When the 335-pounder got up, he let the culprit know with a forearm shiver! While that was nothing over the top or out of the ordinary for a football practice, it was a bit of a switch for Watson.
Woodley, Massey, and Watson
Big Gabe was the anchor of the 3-4 scheme last year, but Saturday he wasn't the only man on the interior. Fifth year senior Pat Massey slid back inside to defensive tackle. Taking his place on the end was another move mentioned previously on GoBlueWolverine.com. Pierre Woods slid down to a three-point stance and lined up at the end opposite Lamarr Woodley. The line-up definitely stresses quickness off the edge, while at the same time boasting two ends that should be able to hold up at the point of attack.
Behind Watson and Massey in the middle were sophomore Alan Branch and redshirt freshman Marquis Walton. Walton shed considerable weigh from last year and looked to be in excellent conddition. The Wolverines showed even more depth at that spot when Will Johnson and Will Paul came in for some time. Backing those two up were Tim Jamison (behind Woods) and Rondell Biggs (behind Woodley).
From left to right:Branch, Walton, and Paul
At backup defensive end, redshirt freshman Tim Jamison saw some time behind Woods. Though he was sporting a knee brace, we could that his explosion is returning. We also noticed his increased mass. Opposite him in a backup role was veteran Rondell Biggs.
Moving away from the line, the linebacker changes were just as expected. Prescott Burgess lined up at strongside (SAM) backer where he practiced both rushing the passer AND dropping back into coverage. He certainly appeared physical enough for the role. His performance will likely be based on how quickly he picks things up.
Behind Burgess was a bigger Shawn Crable. The redshirt sophomore definitely looked every bit of the 247 pounds he is listed at.
Crable rushes the passer
At MIKE, Scott McClintok was first string and he was backed up by David Harris. Redshirt freshman John Thomspon looked to be getting time at both middle and weakside backer. The WILL position will be a dogfight, as both Chris Graham and Jacob Stewart looked primed for action. Stewart is noticeably thicker and Graham looked to be the fastest linebacker on the field.
Michigan lost three starters in the defensive backfield, but they return three players with a lot of playing experience. Saturday, it certainly looked like it. Leon Hall and Grant Mason were unquestionably the number ones at corner, while Ryan Mundy was solid at safety. Mason had a fine day out on the island, breaking on the ball like he was in midseason form. He came close to picking off two passes in seven on seven drills. Meanwhile, Hall covered Avant and Breaston for most of the day, more than holding his own in the process.
Behind Hall and Mason were a couple of talented, but inexperienced youngsters. High school friends Charles Stewart and Morgan Trent both looked the part of a Big Ten defensive back. Stewart is probably the biggest of all of the corners. He has packed on the muscle, but has managed to maintain his good quickness. Trent also has nice size, but his major asset is his speed. Trent has the wheels to run with any receiver in the country. In one drill he covered Adrian Arrington on a crossing route using inside trail technique. When the quarterback released the ball, he ate up the separation with a quick burst, got even with Arrington, and knocked away the pass. The key with each of those young men remains improving their fundamentals, techniques, and knowledge of the defensive calls and packages.
Coach English instructs Morgan Trent (left) and Charles Stewart
One of the better experiences of the day was watching defensive backs Coach Ron English work with his unit (especially the safeties) on pursuit angles. The issue was stressed quite a bit, with Mundy leading the way at the front of the line each time. Brandent Englemon lined up beside Mundy with the number one's for most of the day. Jamar Adams, (who was slightly hampered by a knee injury), and Willis Barringer came in in relief.
Be on the lookout for more photos throughout the week. In the meantime, here were the notable visitors to the practice:
1.) Brandon Harrison (looking every bit of 5-10, 195. VERY put together.
2.) Eugene Germany
3.) Chris McLaurin
4.) Mister Simpson
5.) Brandon Graham
7.) Robert Eddins (DE - Detroit Crockett)
7.) Tony Elzy (RB - Warren JFK)
8.) Bryant Nowicki (OL - Bay City John Glenn)