In any competitive sport, there is no such thing as a "good loss." However, there are sometimes those that are a bit easier to take. Valiant comebacks that fall just short, improbable performances against more talented opponents, and high powered duels in which both teams play their best are but a few examples of hose types of defeats. Unfortunately for the Michigan Wolverines, the losses during 2005 campaign were of a bit different variety. In four of their five losses, the Maize and Blue held leads late in the fourth quarter before eventually succumbing to game-winning drives by the opposition. Neither side of the ball can accept all of the blame for those shortcomings, but that hasn't stopped the defense from taking that showing personally. That certainly can be said for senior defensive end Lamarr Woodley.
"Coming off a 7-5 season, your attitude has to change," said Woodley. "Me being a senior, you don't want to leave out on the note of 7-5 again. You have another chance, so you have to take your opportunity if you have a chance."
One of the biggest catalysts for change has been new defensive coordinator Ron English. Even though he has yet to take the field in his new role, Woodley already notices the difference with his new coach.
"Ron English brings a different coaching style than coach Herrmann brings," said Woodley. "I seen that Coach Herrmann wasn't as fired up as Coach English. Coach English… he's very into it. I like Coach English. He's just a guy that is always fired up everyday. When you see him off the field…even at training table he's fired up. There's not one time you see Coach English not fired up and ready to go."
In a conversation with GoBlueWolverine back in February, English gave a glimpse of that passionate approach to the game. He also spoke specifically about how it would affect Woodley and his comrades up front.
"They are going to attack and play downhill," said English regarding the front seven. "But the thing is, they're going to be held responsible for being physical. I'm not so sure that everybody knows what that really means. We're going to be held responsible for that. We're going to be held responsible for triggering to stimulus. Again, I think it comes down to how fast we play, how violent we play, and if we know exactly what we're doing. If we know exactly what we're doing, we'll play fast."
The "fast" and "violent" mantra was ingrained as part of the everyday routine during the spring. According to Woodley that playing style has been internalized to the point that it's blatantly obvious when a player is NOT playing that way.
"Everybody is playing fast and violent," he said. "Whenever we're not doing that… when we go back and watch film you see plays like that and he'll say, 'Lamarr you weren't fast on this play' or 'you weren't violent on this play.' Then you have to go back and ask yourself why. Maybe you weren't hustling? Maybe it's because you're tired? There are different reasons for that."
That kind of accountability will be placed on every member of the defense, but for the seniors, the responsibility is certainly greater. For Woodley that means stepping outside of his comfort zone a bit, and English has tried to help his young pupil with that process.
"I think Coach E looks at me as a guy that needs to step up and be a leader," said Woodley. "That's like the main thing he pushed towards me. He tries to get me to speak a little more because I'm not a guy that really talks a lot. I have to challenge myself, and he challenges me too…to be that leader."
Thus far, Woodley's biggest adjustment hasn't been in what he says to his teammates…it has been in how he says it.
"In a way, I'm vocal because I do talk a little bit since I mess around a lot," he explained. "But when it comes to being serious I'm still kind of laid back. I don't have that serious mode as a leader. I'm that laid back joking kind of leader that gets everyone fired up like that. I need to work on more of being serious and getting guys going like that."
As pivotal as it is to Woodley to improve on his play from last year, he has placed greater emphasis on becoming the type of leader the team needs him to be. That doesn't mean that he isn't putting in the work to make his game better. His belief is that his personal improvement will be a byproduct of setting a better example for his teammates.
"Your last season you always try to have your best season, but right now
my goal is just to be a leader," said Woodley. "I think pretty much
everything else can handle itself. I'm trying to be more of a leader to the
team. I just felt like if I would have left I would have been letting the team
down. Being that I'll be an older guy this year I'll be more of a leader. I
didn't want to let my guys down. Plus I came in here with a nice group of guys,
and I want to leave out with them."
For more on Woodley and the UM defense, be sure to check out GoBlueWolverine The Magazine.