Ezeh and Mouton Anchor LB Core

Michigan opens the season against Western Michigan in just 10 days. At that time, the Wolverines will unveil a new defense under coordinator Greg Robinson. Veteran linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton will anchor that defense as the Wolverines attempt to right the wrongs of their 2008 defensive campaign.

With Michigan struggling to a 3-9 record in 2008, it's not hard to guess that there were struggles across the board. It's not unfair to guess that a porous defense might have been part of the problem. Addressing that concern, Rich Rodriguez brought in Greg Robinson as his new defensive coordinator.

Adjusting to the scheme of a new coordinator never comes as quickly as the fans would hope for, however, with different defensive signal callers in 2007, 2008 -- and now 2009, it's an experience that the Michigan defense has been through often. Adding to the ease of this particular transition is the experience of returning starters Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton.

"Obi's a leader," linebacker coach Jay Hopson said about his returning starter at Mike linebacker. "He's worked hard. We've talked about that in our room. I expect Obi to have a big year for us."

Ezeh finished with 98 tackles last season, a career high, and, going into another season as the starter on the inside, he's been continuing to improve his game under the tutelage of Hopson and Robinson.

"He (Obi) always really works hard," Hopson continued. "I was just talking to the guy from Grand Rapids, and I said ‘his mom and daddy raised him right.' He's one of those kids who takes pride in what he does. He always wants to excel and he's going to come out and work physically and mentally as hard as he can."

Alongside Ezeh, Jonas Mouton will be back for his second season as a starter at linebacker. Recruited to Michigan as a safety by Lloyd Carr and Ron English, Mouton made the transition to the Will position last year, and, after coming off the bench the first game of the season, Mouton with over 70 tackles.

"Jonas is really, I've been pleased with Jonas. He's worked extremely hard. He's a kid that's an explosive player. He's a kid that, he's just my kind of guy. He's a tough guy. He's physical and we expect Jonas to make a lot of plays for us," Hopson continued.

"Your first year starting (after a position switch to linebacker) is like being a freshman quarterback. There are just things you can miss. With Jonas, he just progressed through that last year. He might have finished second on the team in tackles. You saw him progress, and this year I think you'll see that progression go even further. I think he's ready to have a big year."

In 2008 the pair's games began to mesh together. In 2009 that comfort is going to be even more critical. The projected starter at both the "Quick" and "Spinner" hybrid positions will be on the field at linebacker for the first time in their collegiate careers. With that inexperience, the duo locking down the inside of the line will be expected to hold down the fort.

"Obi is a Mike linebacker. He's our leader. He directs traffic for us. He's a kid that understands our defense and he understands what we're doing. Jonas is our Will linebacker. At times he has to be a little bit more involved in coverage stuff, so they both complement each other.

"You know the Mike's in the box and securing those inside gaps. Jonas will be out there on the edge securing things on the perimeter. They're a good 1-2 team and they love playing together."

Redshirt freshman J.B. Fitzgerald is backing up both Ezeh and Mouton in the middle of the defense and has experience at both the Mike and Will positions. Kenny Demens, Kevin Leach and Brandon Smith, who moved from safety as well, are all in the mix for playing time as well.

Michigan opens the season against Western Michigan in 10 days.

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