The defensive shortcomings at the end of the 2004 season shone a bright light on that side of the ball heading into the spring drills. The Wolverines employed multiple fronts out of a base 3-4 last year, but they appear to have switched back to a base 4-3 for 2005. That should ease some of the burden on their big man in the middle, Gabriel Watson. The Southfield native was a defensive stalwart for the first two-thirds of the 2004 season. However, he tailed off a great deal toward the end. He reportedly had been dominant throughout spring and was too much for any lineman to handle one-on-one during Saturday's session. Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr believes that his senior tackle has made the necessary improvements to ensure consistency in his last year donning the Maize and Blue. Furthermore, he expects the addition of defensive line coach Steve Stripling to not only help Watson, but the entire defensive line as well.
"All of these kids are back, which means they should be better," Carr said of his defensive linemen. "I think Steve (Stripling) is a very very strong fundamentalist. I think there has been great improvement along that line because of the things he brings to that position. My expectation is it is going to be one of the strengths of our team. I think Pat Massey has had an absolutely wonderful spring. I think Gabe Watson has all of the potential and I think he committed to doing the things from a conditioning standpoint that will really allow him take a big step. Lamarr Woodley has had a great spring. Tim Jamison has had an excellent spring, but he missed the first two weeks. Will Johnson has had a very good spring. I think we're going to be stronger there because everybody is a year older. I'm encouraged by that. I think what Steve brings is he is an excellent pass rush guy too. I just think we're going to have better pressure. That, when it really comes down to it, was one of the problems that we had a year ago. We were young and not as strong as we needed to be. We wore down."
Moving further away from the line of scrimmage, the speed at the linebacker position looks to have improved over a year ago. That is most evident at the weakside linebacker spot, where Chris Graham seems to have taken over. He was all over the field on Saturday and can track plays from sideline to sideline. The Indiana native was already a physical specimen when he first hit campus last fall, but he is even bigger now. He plays with an attitude and definitely has to be one of the fiercest hitters on the team.
Manning the side opposite Graham were SAM backers Prescott Burgess, Shawn Crable, and Pierre Woods. Woods was at defensive end for much of the spring, but worked out at strongside linebacker during Saturday's session and acquitted himself very well. The depth at athleticism in the linebacker corps is certainly fodder for a number of intriguing position battles this fall.
"Chris (Graham), I think, is a guy that I think really has had a great spring," Carr said. "I think he is going to be very difficult to keep out of the lineup. I think David Harris had a very goods spring. We've got good competition in there. Of course Scott McClintok is back, but that's an open competition. We'll obviously have to see in the fall. At the other positions, Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable have both had productive springs. Crable, particularly, I think is getting comfortable. He has got really explosive speed. I think there are a lot of things that we can do with him are going to give us n ability to be a much quicker faster defense.