Team 132 surpassed all expectations mainly due to the much improved play of the defense. With virtually all the same personnel from Team 131, the 2011 squad finished with the #17 overall defense in the country, allowing 322.2 yards per game. They also only gave up an average of 17.4 points per game – the #6 scoring defense in the country.
Compare that with 2010, Michigan finished the year with the 110th ranked overall defense that allowed 450.8 yards per game, and the 107th ranked scoring defense which gave up 35.2 points per game.
Here's to you, Greg Mattison.
Hit the jump for some in-depth defensive discussion.
So here's what I think I know about the 2012 defense.
Outgoing: DT Mike Martin, DT Ryan Van Bergen, DE Will Henninger
Returning: DT Will Campbell (Sr), DE Craig Roh (Sr), DE Jibreel Black (Jr), DE Frank Clark (So), DT Quinton Washington (Jr), DE Nathan Brink (Jr)
Incoming: DT Ondre Pipkins, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DE Chris Wormley, DT Matt Godin, DT Willie Henry
Between Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison and DL coach Jerry Montgomery, I think we have this position covered in terms of coaching emphasis.
The three seniors we lost were all big-time contributors on Team 132. Mike Martin, pound-for-pound, could be one of the best defensive tackles we've ever had at Michigan. There's no doubt in my mind he made everyone else along the line, mostly RVB, better at what they do. Martin, like Molk on offense, will be the main keys to success if we can minimize the impact of their absence.
I think we're going to see less and less of standout guys on the DL, and more and more of the group standing out as a whole. I think there's a strong push to make this group as nimble as possible, and that means a lot of substitutions. That means a lot of big-time contributors. Sure, we'll have some standouts, Ondre Pipkins could be one of them. But I'm also looking for Will Campbell to finally become the D lineman he was meant to be.
Roh, Clark, Pipkins, Campbell, Black. I think those are the main dudes for 2012. At least initially. Expect a ton of rotation with this unit.
Outgoing: Brandon Herron, JB Fitzgerald, Merrell Evans
Returning: SAM Jake Ryan (So), MLB Kenny Demens (Sr), WILL Desmond Morgan (So), WILL Brandin Hawthorne (Sr), SAM Brennan Beyer (So), MLB Mike Jones (Jr), SAM Cam Gordon (Jr)
Incoming: Royce Jenkins-Stone, Joe Bolden, James Ross, Kaleb Ringer
The good news is, of the three seniors we lost, none of them were starters. None of them would be considered team leaders, unlike guys lost on the DL. This unit only improves from last year to this year. Last year's stud, Jake Ryan returns after a breakout freshman year which saw his secure his starting spot at SAM by week 3.
The black sheep of this group is Cam Gordon. He sort of fell out of favor with the coaches at some point last spring. Word on the street is a switch to receiver or TE could be in the works. He was recruited as a WR, initially.
Between Ryan, Demens and Morgan, this group is only strengthened by the addition of incoming recruits Royce Jenkins-Stone (#2 overall MLB in the country), Joe Bolden and James Ross (#4 and #7 OLB in the country respectively). We'll see all three of those guys on the field this year, no doubt.
Maybe we should switch to a 2-5 defense?
I'm only kidding. Or am I?
Outgoing: RCB Tony Anderson
Returning: LCB Blake Countess (So), RCB JT Floyd (Sr), RCB Courtney Avery (Jr), LCB Raymon Taylor (So)
Incoming: Terry Richardson
We're breaking up the defensive backfield into two sections for no other reason than I feel like it. Plus I need to be able to keep it all straight in my own head. I feel like the corners and the safeties do dramatically different things in this defense.
Finally, the constant flow of suck that is our cornerback situation has finally ceased. When not leaving early for the NFL or getting kicked off the team, our cornerbacks were dropping like flies with injuries. Then, guys like Blake Countess and Courtney Avery stepped in and decided to reverse that trend. While not lockdown corners, they're pretty decent. And right now, I'll take decent.
Incoming recruit Terry Richardson will add to a nice little trend we have going at CB. JT Floyd also looked dramatically better in 2011 then he did previously. Kudos to secondary coach Curt Mallory for turning this unit around.
2012 looks bright for the corners.
Outgoing: FS Troy Woolfolk
Returning: SS Jordan Kovacs (Sr), FS Thomas Gordon (Jr), Marvin Robinson (Jr), Josh Furman (So)
Incoming: Jarrod Wilson, Allen Gant, Jeremy Clark
Losing Troy Woolfolk is not so much of a big deal since it could be argued that we kinda sorta lost him two years ago. The injury that kept him out of 2010 was still nagging him in 2011. He started the year on the corner, and ended it at free safety. We won't get into a blame game for the long passes in the Ohio game. Not gonna go there.
The leader on this year's defense will undoubtedly be Jordan Kovacs. The former walk-on has secured not just his own scholarship, but the strong safety position in general. When not blitzing, he's all over the field keeping the edge on lockdown. More of a hybrid, you could argue he and LB Jake Ryan play almost the same position, with very similar playing styles as well.
At free safety, Thomas Gordon has made a name for himself there, starting in that spot before Woolfolk bumped him in November.
Depth and experience is good at the safety spots for 2012. We add a few solid recruits, and could potentially see one or two position switches this spring. It will be very interesting to see how the depth looks at the spring game two months from today.
• 2012 Look Ahead: The Schedule
• 2012 Look Ahead: The Offense