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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quickies: The D-Line

This, We'll See Tons of This (Fingers Crossed)
The Low Down:
In 2009, Brandon Graham got held on every single play and last year our undersized d-line only brought three and the defense gave up 4.5yds a rush (insert a knock on the 3-3-5 followed by some rabble, rabble). Craig Roh, who showed promise as a true freshman being a rush end was moved to more of a hybrid-esque linebacker position. Mike Martin at NT and Ryan VanBergen at SDE (Strong Defensive End) were the staples in the line. At DT we had platoon between Greg Banks, Renaldo Sagesse, and Adam Patterson. William Campbell was on the D-Line and then he wasn't, after an uninspiring freshman campaign and a not so awesome start to the season, that saw him basically only see the field in a goal line run package as a blocker. Quinton Washington essentially flopped spots with Campbell mid season, but to my recollection didn't see the field on the D-Line.

The team alone only had 18 sacks coming in for a not so solid 93rd in the country. VanBergen and Martin are our 2 returning sack leaders with 6.5 between the 2 of them. Greg Banks (2) and Adam Patterson (1) were the only other lineman to register a sack. I'm not counting Roh's (0.5) because as far as I'm concerned he was a LB. If you're searching for a moral victory defensively after last season, Michigan did have more TFL's (Tackles For Loss) than little bro last year. Michigan came in 73rd while Sparty came in 86th nationally. Again, outside Roh, VB (8.5) and Martin (6.0) are the only players along the line that returning with stats in this category.  

I've said it once, and I'll say it again, that 3-3-5 thing, whatever it was, wasn't conducive to our defense (any aspect of it) at being good. With the 3 down lineman trying to plow through these big manball offenses in the Big Ten, pressure isn't going to be applied and more often than not your best player (Martin) will be getting double teamed and taken out of the play. This also as mentioned allows the lineman to get to the second level easier making it much more difficult for LB's to step up and make a play. 

1 Year Later:
Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison are both former D-Line coaches, so you know they will coach the group especially hard and expect much from this group. This is evident by the constant coaching and expectations on Martin, who has taken notice and been one of the teams key leaders this off season and early into camp. 

In hindsight I am pleased I couldn't get to this post last week, as my thoughts and opinions would most likely have turned out to be pretty inaccurate. A week or two ago, I say the 2-deep ends up something like this...

Roh CampbellMartinVanbergen
BlackAshQ. WashingtonHeininger

Now one week later, there's some rumors out there that this might be the case...

BlackCampbellQ. WashingtonHeininger

Damn you internets... Damn you...

No Freshman on the 2-deep quite yet, but keep an eye out for Frank Clark, who basically traded spots with  other freshman Brennan Beyer. Clark has been generating a substantial amount of buzz through fall camp. I would expect to see him in pass rushing situations only as size wise it'll be hard for him to hold the line and play the run effectively.

Let me butter you up with the good stuff, Mike Martin and Ryan VanBergen return to anchor the line. These two guys, past Brandon Graham, have been the 2 most consistent players on the defense I can recall over the past 3 seasons. Both have added some weight and appear to be primed for great seasons. Martin is set up for another All Big-Ten Caliber season, with a huge chance to improve his draft stock. Rittenberg gives him his #10 spot in his preseason top-25 player rankings. Craig Roh is getting moved back to where he belongs, on the line with his hand in the dirt. Roh also got jacked up over the summer bumping his weight up from 251 to 269. There hasn't been much hype about Roh since the inception of fall camp, let us for now attribute that to the illness rumors floating around Roh. PLZ DON'T BE MONO.

The elephant in the room... Will Campbell...  It was reported shortly after Brady Hoke's hire that Campbell was moving back to defense and that Hoke and Mattison were going to make a point out of developing the 5-star recruit. It appeared early in the fall that Will was on his way to doing what the coaches asked of him to be a major factor in this front 4. He was even praised by Hoke for his commitment to the team by meeting his weight goals.
Will Campbell left spring at 342 pounds and came in at 316, 319,” he said. “Just watching him move around and do those things, you can see that. That’s a commitment. A commitment is always important - he showed his teammates he’s made a commitment."
Then this gritty, hard working walk-on, named Nathan Brink popped up, and Campbell's consistency has been a cause for concern. At first it seemed like your typical fall camp overachieving all-star like hype, but sounds like kids' got game. Mattison on Brink.
"He has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to [defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery] on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries to step a certain way. And he's really, really physical." …
"In the spring it was mentioned a number of times because his toughness stuck out like crazy," Mattison said.
Nothing is set in stone and I am a huge proponent of the best players on the field, but how disappointing would it be to see Big Will not being able to beat out an under-sized walk on for the starting role. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed and that, the coaches are just toying around with different options and the rumors of Will barely hanging out with the 2's are just of the motivational type fluff.

With Terry Talbott off the team with a medical exemption, the depth on the line is thin and it's vital that Will and/or Q. Washington really step up their game. This team desperately needs a player at the DT position to take the pressure off of Mike Martin. If teams are allowed to double team Martin because he gets no help in the middle we could have some serious concerns.

Expectations: What is them?

3 things in my mind are cut and dry. Martin, VanBergen, and Roh. That 4th spot will be a mystery until either Sept 3rd or when Brady Hoke releases the depth chart. If Will Campbell isn't there at the beginning of the season, I will be worried about the production of this unit and more importantly if Campbell will ever amount to a productive member of this team. VanBergen is big enough to move inside but what does that do to the SDE position? Hello Brink or Heininger? Maybe Jibreel Black but most reports have him somewhere in the doghouse.

So with all the uncertainty, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and make a highly and most likely inaccurate and very flimsy prediction. Will Campbell, will take a hint and will be consistent enough by seasons start to secure the starting role at DT. VanBergen, like never leaves the field so, when Will goes off expect VanBergen to move inside bringing Nathan Brink, the defensive line's Jordan Kovacs  on the field at the SDE position.
To take my flimsy uneducated prediction further, VanBergen and Martin will both be All Big-Ten, and Roh will be right on the cusp of All Big-Ten. This unit, as long as someone can step up to take double teams off Martin, should be able to apply more pressure to the backfield than what was seen last year. This as stated before should help the secondary and free up the LB's to read/react and make plays. Improvement, my friends improvement.

Up next: Now instead of talking about how crappy the 3-3-5 kind was, I get to over speculate on if this offense will take a step back under Borges or not. I'll get it out of the way and start with the QB's. As always, Go Blue.

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