On defense, the focal point is the return of former Wolverine and Irish defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison rejoins the Wolverines after departing from the Baltimore Ravens in the off-season and is looking to greatly improve a Michigan defense that ranked as one of the nation's and team's history worst in 2010. They will scrap the 3-3-5 and go to a more traditional 4-3.
Front SevenMichigan strength is at the defensive line. Seniors Mike Martin (#68) and Ryan Van Bergen (#53) will line-up at the tackle positions. Martin looks like a professional wrestler, but he did win the heavyweight state championship in his only year of wrestling in high school. Martin was on the All-Big Ten 2nd team and could be on the 1st team this season. Van Bergen will make his 28th start Saturday. He had a fumble recovery last week and broke up a pass against the Irish early in the game last year.
Craig Roh (Jr. #88) and Will Heininger (Sr. #39) will be the ends. As a freshman, Roh started at the same spot but weighed about 50 lbs less than a typical end. Many are anxious to see his production return to the level of where he played as a freshman, when he had 7.5 tackles-for-a-loss, two sacks and two picks. Heininger made his first start last week registering a couple of tackles and a pass broken up.
The defensive line wasn't effective last week until Michigan decided to blitz. In their defense, it was hard to be effective when the quarterback was making three step drops and throwing quickly. Still, much more is expected from this group.
The story defensively on Saturday came from one of their linebackers, Brandon Herron (Sr. #58). Herron was named the National Defensive Performer of Week 1 by the College Football Performance Awards. In his first career start last Saturday, he became the first Wolverines player in the modern era to record two defensive touchdown returns in the same game. Herron intercepted a pass and returned it 94 yards for his first score. Later in the game he would recover a fumble and return it 29 yards for his second score.
Ironically, Herron was asked at the beginning of summer camp to switch linebacker positions to WILL with no guarantees that he would see the field either way. Jake Ryan (Fr. #90) started for an injured Cam Gordon (So. #4) at SAM and caused the Herron interception by hitting the Western Michigan QB as he was throwing. Ryan caused quite a stir in the Spring Game by tallying two sacks and intercepting a pass for a touchdown. It's too early to tell, but he seems like a ball hawk and possible game changer in the future. Gordon started at free safety against the Irish last season and was primarily responsible for letting Rudolph get the 95 yard touchdown with 3:41 left in the 4th quarter.
Kenny Demens (Jr. #25) is Michigan's best returning linebacker. Demens is much more suited to play the MIKE in the 4-3 than anything in the 3-3-5. Despite starting only seven games last season, Demens was 3rd on the team in tackles. Last Saturday he had six tackles including one for a loss.
The SecondaryAt cornerback, Troy Woolfolk (Sr. #29) returns after missing all of 2010 with a broken and dislocated right ankle. It was a big blow for him and the Wolverines as he was figured to be the one defensive player the Wolverines could least afford to lose going into that season. Woolfolk injured his other ankle in the first half Saturday, but coaches say he could have returned if necessary.
Courtney Avery (So. #5) and J.T. Floyd (Jr. #8) are still competing this week for the start at the opposite corner. Avery was the surprise starter last Saturday. Avery was pressed into duty as a freshman starter after Floyd was lost for the season due to injury. Floyd intercepted a Nate Montana pass last year in South Bend.
The other defensive stalwart for the Wolverines against Western Michigan was walk-on Jordan Kovacs (Jr. #32). Kovacs had two sacks, a forced fumble, a PBU and led the team in tackles with ten. Kovacs participated in a campus student tryout and found himself playing his first career game against Notre Dame in 2009. Kovacs started against the Irish last season and on the game's first play was called for a late hit. Kovacs went on to make an interception off Dayne Crist. Michigan fans keep expecting him to lose his job to a scholarship player, but this gamer won't let it happen.
The free safety will likely be Thomas Gordon (So. #30). He's still learning the position after being a hybrid linebacker in the 3-3-5. Gordon registered a sack on Crist and another tackle for a loss in the 2010 game.
The starting safeties had 18 tackles last week. It's very likely that Kelly will test the secondary often by sending Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick and T.J. Jones down field, regardless of whom the Irish quarterback may be.