Big Ten: Brandon Harrison

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As the last line of defense, Michigan's cornerbacks and safeties have a heightened sense of accountability. 

There will be times this fall when Donovan Warren or one of his secondary mates either must make a play or watch six points go up on the scoreboard. But first-year defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has crafted a scheme that minimizes the plays when a defensive back gets left alone on an island. 

After a season when Michigan's defense often felt deserted, it's a welcome change for Warren. 

"Coach Robinson's all about playing to your help and not just playing your game alone," Warren said. "You have to play to your help. That's what defense is all about."

Warren, a true junior who enters his third season as a starter, will be playing in his third defensive scheme this fall. Fortunately, Robinson's system reminds him of the one employed by former coordinator and current Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, who remains very popular with veteran Wolverines defenders.

Like the rest of the team, Michigan's back four struggled last season, finishing ninth in the league in both pass defense (230 ypg) and interceptions (nine). Warren is one of the Big Ten's most-experienced cornerbacks, but he'll be surrounded by youth this fall. Michigan loses corner Morgan Trent and safety Brandon Harrison, and safety Stevie Brown has moved down to linebacker this fall.

"We have a lot of unproven guys and guys that haven't been on the field," Warren said.

If Robinson's system works correctly, Michigan's young players won't be feeling green too often.

"It's using your leverage and knowing where your help is and what guys can do to you in certain situations," Warren said. "Coach Robinson, he breaks it down so much more mentally, so you know what to expect." 

Michigan spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan Wolverines
2008 overall record: 3-9

2008 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters

Offense: 10; Defense: 5; Special teams: 1

Top returners

RB Brandon Minor, WR Martavious Odoms, WR Greg Mathews, WR Darryl Stonum, RT Stephen Schilling, LB Obi Ezeh, DE Brandon Graham, CB Donovan Warren, P Zoltan Mesko

Key losses

QB Steven Threet, DT Terrance Taylor, DE Tim Jamison, DT Will Johnson, S Brandon Harrison, CB Morgan Trent

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Brandon Minor* (533 yds)
Passing: Steven Threet (1,105 yds)
Receiving: Martavious Odoms* (443 yds)
Tackles: Obi Ezeh* (98)
Sacks: Brandon Graham* (10)
Interceptions: Morgan Trent (3)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Western Michigan
Sept. 12 Notre Dame
Sept. 19 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 26 Indiana
Oct. 3 at Michigan State
Oct. 10 at Iowa
Oct. 17 Delaware State
Oct. 24 Penn State
Oct. 31 at Illinois
Nov. 7 Purdue
Nov. 14 at Wisconsin
Nov. 21 Ohio State
Spring answers

1. Forcier develops -- The quarterback competition resumes in August, but Michigan can feel a bit better about the most important position on the field after true freshman Tate Forcier made progress this spring. Forcier had some growing pains, but he also showed the ability to create on the move. The early enrollee impressed the crowd at the spring game, throwing for four touchdowns, including a 60-yarder to Roy Roundtree.

2. Smith emerges -- Running back could be Michigan's strongest position in 2009, and the Wolverines got an added bonus this spring with the emergence of Vincent Smith, an early enrollee. The bite-size Smith generated some buzz with his speed and elusiveness. He needs to add weight to be a significant contributor, but he could give defenses a different look.

3. Brown does it all -- Stevie Brown moved into a linebacker-safety hybrid role this spring and showed promise in new coordinator Greg Robinson's scheme. Brown will be a bigger factor in Michigan's run defense as well as covering slot receivers, fullbacks and tight ends in the middle of the field.

Fall questions

1. Flipping quarters -- Michigan still needs a starting quarterback and just as important, it needs to build depth at the position. Junior Nick Sheridan appeared to be playing well this spring before breaking a bone in his leg. If Sheridan and incoming freshman Denard Robinson can push Forcier in the summer, the Wolverines will be a lot better off this season.

2. Defensive line -- The Wolverines know what they have in senior end Brandon Graham, but the other three line spots are open entering the summer. Promising defensive end Ryan Van Bergen should be fine following minor knee surgery, and early enrollee William Campbell will be a factor right away at defensive tackle. Heralded recruit Craig Roh joins the mix in August.

3. Offensive rhythm -- Ten starters return on offense, and Michigan should be improved at quarterback. Rich Rodriguez's scheme is no longer foreign to most of these players, but establishing a rhythm in preseason camp will be vital. Rodriguez will lean heavily on the running backs and the offensive line to establish a viable ground game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It doesn't take a recruiting guru to spot the biggest need for the Michigan Wolverines. Nothing against quarterbacks Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan, but neither man has the skill set to consistently operate Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.

Quarterback undoubtedly tops Rodriguez's wish list with his first full recruiting class, and the spotlight will immediately turn to Tate Forcier, one of seven players who enrolled early. Despite being a true freshman, Forcier likely will enter spring practice as the favorite to win the starting job.

Michigan's other major area of need is the defensive line after losing starters Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson and Tim Jamison. Star pass-rusher Brandon Graham will anchor the group in 2009, but there are opportunities for young players to step in right away. Defensive tackle signee William Campbell already is generating a lot of buzz, and Michigan certainly will add more depth up front.

With the team's new defensive coordinator likely using a three-man front, the Wolverines need some help in the back half of the defense, particularly the secondary. Gone are starters Morgan Trent and Brandon Harrison, and after finishing ninth in the Big Ten in pass defense, Michigan could use some new blood in coverage.

A surplus of running backs is never bad for Rodriguez's offense, and despite returning Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Kevin Grady and Michael Shaw this fall, Michigan needs to plan for 2010 and could add a few more ball carriers. The Wolverines also lose kicker K.C. Lopata and will look for a replacement in this class.

1Q update: Ohio State 7, Michigan 0

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
12:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Michigan's defense came to play. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, so did Chris "Beanie" Wells.

For the first 10 minutes, Michigan totally shut down Wells, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense. The Wolverines registered an interception, three tackles for loss and sacks by Brandon Graham and Brandon Harrison. But with absolutely no help from the offense or the special teams, Michigan could only hold on for so long.

Eventually, Beanie broke through with a scintillating 59-yard touchdown run. This guy is clutch in November, and he'll likely continue to wear down Michigan's defense.

The Wolverines offense is horrendous. No other word can describe it. Quarterback Nick Sheridan can't get anything going, and a change seems imminent. Michigan finished the quarter with no first downs and minus-1 total yards. After a Stevie Brown interception set them up in the Ohio State red zone, the Wolverines went six yards backwards before missing a field goal. There won't be many more chances to seize momentum in this game.

Pryor looks shaky so far, but it probably won't matter. After completing his first pass, he threw the interception and three more incompletions.

Ohio State junior wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small is back in action after a two-game suspension for repeated team rules violations.

The teams had a little dustup at midfield before exiting pregame warmups. No penalties were assessed.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2008
11/09/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

By no measure was it a good Saturday for the Big Ten. But it was for these guys.

Wisconsin WR David Gilreath and RB P.J. Hill -- Gilreath is listed as a wide receiver, but he did most of his damage as a ball-carrier against Indiana. The sophomore had a 90-yard touchdown run -- the team's second longest-run in the modern era -- and finished with eight carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Hill, the real running back, had 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 19 carries.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor -- Pryor provided the perfect response to the Penn State loss, which he took especially hard. The freshman showcased his special skills against Northwestern, throwing three touchdown passes, keeping plays alive with his feet and converting several third-and-long situations. Pryor completed 9 of 14 passes for 197 yards.

Michigan defense -- After a surprising drop-off, this group regained its edge against Minnesota, holding the Golden Gophers to 46 total yards and one first down in the opening half. Minnesota finished with a measly 188 total yards and eight first downs at home. Defensive end Tim Jamison had a sack and a forced fumble, and safety Brandon Harrison had two tackles for a loss.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn -- Clayborn registered two tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble that was nearly recovered in the end zone as Iowa stunned No. 3 Penn State. The sophomore is one of the Big Ten's top young defensive linemen and was among the pass-rushers who bothered Daryll Clark all game long.

Michigan K K.C. Lopata -- Lopata went 5-for-5 on field goals against Minnesota, twice connecting from beyond 40 yards. The five field goals tied a school record and marked a career high for Lopata, who hadn't attempted a field goal since Oct. 18.

Michigan State defense -- One of the league's unsung units punished Purdue quarterback Justin Siller, dropping the redshirt freshman for five sacks. Seven players were involved in tackles for losses and freshman cornerback Johnny Adams had a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Final notes from the Big House

August, 30, 2008
8/30/08
11:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Helmet stickers are coming a bit later tonight, but before I leave Michigan Stadium, some final notes and observations:

  • Michigan sustained injuries to wide receivers Greg Mathews (ankle) and Junior Hemingway (shoulder). Safety Brandon Harrison didn't play the second half because of a groin injury. Running back Carlos Brown was limited with a shoulder injury. Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor hurt his foot and was in a walking boot after the game.
  • A road win against Michigan should never be minimized, even this season, so kudos to Utah. But if the Utes want to make a serious run at BYU, a Mountain West title and just maybe a BCS berth, they have to get better on special teams and limit silly mistakes. Blocked punts and fumbled kickoff returns will kill you in most games, and the Utes were flagged 15 times for 137 yards. "We've got to finish the game," running back Matt Asiata said. "We can't lay off. We've got to keep a swagger."
  • The Wolverines defense showed in the second half that it can be legit this fall. The line consistently put pressure on Utah's Brian Johnson, and the secondary came up with several big plays. But the Wolverines can't afford to start games like they did Saturday. Linemen Brandon Graham, Will Johnson and Tim Jamison combined for seven tackles for loss. "We were coached up on how to make those plays, we just weren't doing it," said linebacker Obi Ezeh, who had a team-high 15 tackles and an interception. "The second half we came out and executed a little bit more. Maybe a lot of the young guys out there were a little nervous [in the first half]."
  • We knew the quarterbacks would struggle, but Michigan has to generate much more from its running backs. Junior Brandon Minor showed the most promise before a fumble in Utah territory. Freshmen Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie looked good catching passes, but neither did much out of the backfield. "The running game was a huge disappointment," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Our offense didn't give the defense much chance to rest because we couldn't establish any long drives because we weren't running the ball effectively. ... There's a lot of precision involved in every offense and we didn't have that today."
  • Michigan had seven first-time starters and 15 players make their collegiate debuts today.
  • Rodriguez lost his first nonconference game since 2005, when West Virginia fell to Virginia Tech.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- I've returned to the press box after watching the Victors Walk, a new tradition at Michigan in which players and coaches walk about 200 yards past Crisler Arena and into Michigan Stadium. A lot of teams do something like it and this walk wasn't particularly unique aside from the fact that it happened at Michigan. Before this season, the Wolverines' buses would pull up right outside the stadium, so it wasn't much of a spectacle. 

Several hundred fans lined the path and the Michigan marching band greeted the team buses, which carried the 70 players and coaches who made the trip from the team hotel.

New coach Rich Rodriguez was first off the bus and walked with his son Rhett, while his wife Rita and daughter Raquel followed close behind. RichRod had his game face on, barely acknowledging the crowd as he approached the stadium. He shook some hands before entering the locker room. One fan lining the path held up a 1997 Michigan National Championship banner.

Not sure if they planned it this way, but Michigan's starting secondary -- cornerbacks Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent and safeties Stevie Brown and Brandon Harrison -- walked together at the back of the group.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The man who will take the first snap for Michigan in the Rich Rodriguez era remains a mystery. So does the guy who will take the first handoff.

Rodriguez listed no definitive starter at either running back or quarterback on his depth chart for the season opener against Utah, which was released Monday.

It's no surprise that an "OR" separates quarterbacks Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan, but true freshmen running backs Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw also have the same designation. It's significant that both true freshmen were listed ahead of veterans Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown on the depth chart, showing Rodriguez's confidence in his young skill players, who might better fit his system than the returnees.

We aren't the only ones wondering who will start under center.

"I don't know who the quarterback is," junior wide receiver Greg Mathews said Monday. "I just try in practice to go with both of them, to get my timing down with both of them because you never know. One could go in there and throw a couple interceptions and then you have to bring the next one in. You have to be prepared for everything."

Mathews said both quarterbacks have been practicing with the first-team offense, as is the case for most of Michigan's skill players. Though the offense won't be huddling nearly as much as in years past, both quarterbacks have shown different styles of leadership so far.

"Nick's definitely a comedian," Mathews said. "He's the funniest kid ever. He just likes to keep everybody loose and joke around. Steven Threet, he's more of a serious guy, but I enjoy both of them."

This is notable because Mathews isn't the first player to describe the two quarterbacks in this manner.

Sheridan is the former walk-on with no recruiting hype who most thought would never come close to having a chance to start at quarterback, but he seems loose and confident. Threet is the guy projected to win the job all along. He's got the size, received a decent amount of recruiting attention coming out of high school and has some familiarity running the spread. But an all-business approach could be a sign of nervousness.

Here's how starting right tackle Stephen Schilling described the two when we talked last week.

"Nick might be a little more relaxed, laid back, trying to find guys. Steve's a little more serious. But they both want to work hard and they both want to bring a lot of energy to the huddle."

Other Wolverines depth chart notes include:

  • The starting spots at center and right guard remain open, though David Moosman is listed at both places and should start at one.
  • Freshman Martavious Odoms is the only wide receiver to have locked up a starting spot. Mathews and freshman Darryl Stonum continue to compete at the "X" receiver, while Stonum and junior LaTerryal Savoy are listed as potential starters at the "Z" spot. Expect Stonum to play and contribute immediately.
  • Junior Carson Butler and fifth-year senior Mike Massey continue to compete for the starting tight end spot. What's somewhat surprising -- other than Butler not cementing himself is the starter -- is that freshman Kevin Koger also could start there.
  • As expected, the defense is much more defined. Obi Ezeh is listed ahead of John Thompson at middle linebacker and will be flanked by Austin Panter and Marell Evans. The starting safeties are Stevie Brown at free and Brandon Harrison at strong.
  • Harrison and Morgan Trent are the primary kickoff returners and Donovan Warren will start off returning punts, but Odoms is in the mix at both spots.

Ranking the Big Ten safeties

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
 Anthony Scirrotto (right) has led Penn State in interceptions the last two years.

The position rankings are winding down, and the safeties are up next. The league's notable departures include Michigan's Jamar Adams, Illinois' Kevin Mitchell and Minnesota's Dominique Barber. But several teams, including Penn State and Ohio State, return formidable safety tandems.

Here's a look:

1. Anderson Russell, Jr., Ohio State -- To stay on top, Russell must increase his interceptions total. A strong tackler with NFL potential, he ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season (63) and broke up five passes but failed to record a pick.

2. Anthony Scirrotto, Sr., Penn State -- The Big Ten's top playmaking safety has led Penn State in interceptions the last two years. Scirrotto is durable, making 26 consecutive starts, and the co-captain should duplicate or exceed his 2006 production after struggling with off-field issues last fall.

3. Otis Wiley, Sr., Michigan State -- Wiley sizzled as a sophomore, leading Michigan State in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10). He backslid a bit last season but should return to form as a senior. 

4. Kurt Coleman, Jr., Ohio State -- A carbon copy of Russell in productivity, Coleman collected one more tackle and had one fewer pass breakup. Like Russell, interceptions are the next step for the talented junior.

5. Shane Carter, Jr., Wisconsin -- Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions with seven last season and will continue to make plays for the Badgers. If he dramatically improves his tackling, he'll soar up the list.

6. Austin Thomas, Jr., Indiana -- Underrated junior led Indiana with 112 tackles last fall and should take another step this year. Thomas is the Big Ten's leading returning tackler among safeties. 

7. Brendan Smith, Jr., Northwestern -- Smith can be a difference-maker for a Wildcats secondary that sorely needs one. He's a natural playmaker with five career interceptions but must stay healthy after being dogged by shoulder and knee injuries.

8. Tramaine Brock, Jr., Minnesota -- I'm a little leery to include a junior-college transfer, but all indications suggest Brock will make a major impact in the Gophers secondary. A ferocious hitter, Brock locked up a starting job this spring and should set the tone for the defensive backs.

9. Brandon Harrison, Sr., Michigan -- Harrison certainly has the speed to be a star, and with added experience, he should turn in a strong final season. The versatile senior started 10 games last fall, collecting 6.5 tackles for a loss, five pass breakups and an interception.

10. Brett Greenwood, So., Iowa -- A promising young defender, Greenwood ranked second on the team in pass breakups (7) and tied for third in interceptions (2) despite starting as a redshirt freshman. The former walk-on should continue to blossom this fall alongside Harold Dalton. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

This will be the first of three parts as I break down the Big Ten defensive backs. Check back for rankings of safeties and cornerbacks. Despite losing several standout cornerbacks (Justin King, Jack Ikegwuonu, Terrell Vinson), the league returns a bunch of top-end players and teams have filled in the gaps nicely. 

Here's the rundown:

1. Ohio State -- All four starters are back, led by Thorpe Award frontrunner Malcolm Jenkins, who likely would have been a first- or second-round draft pick had he left school after last season. Fellow cornerback Donald Washington is suspended for the first two games but should make a significant impact when he returns. Ohio State would like more interceptions from safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, who had none last year but still combined to break up nine passes.

2. Penn State -- King's ability to shut down an opponent's top receiver will be missed, but Penn State still has good depth at cornerback with emerging junior A.J. Wallace, returning starter Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis, who started every game at corner in 2006 before moving to safety during an injury-plagued junior season. Anthony Scirrotto is arguably the top playmaking safety in the conference with 10 career interceptions.

3. Michigan -- The Wolverines might feature the league's best cornerback tandem in senior Morgan Trent and sophomore Donovan Warren, who combined for 93 tackles and 13 pass breakups last season. They need some help at safety after the loss of all-conference selection Jamar Adams, but Stevie Brown played well as a reserve last year and Brandon Harrison has experience and versatility.

4. Michigan State -- Safety Otis Wiley backslid a bit last year but should recapture the form of 2006, when he ranked seventh in the Big Ten in tackles and had 10 pass breakups. The Spartans ranked fourth in the league in pass defense last year and have good depth at cornerback behind veteran Kendell Davis-Clark.

5. Illinois -- Vontae Davis will push Jenkins for the title of Big Ten's best cornerback. He ranked sixth in the league in both interceptions and pass breakups last year. Dere Hicks and Miami Thomas provide depth at the other corner spot, but Illinois must replace safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison, who combined for 155 tackles, six interceptions and 24 pass breakups last season. If guys like Travon Bellamy, Nate Bussey and Bo Flowers perform, this group will move up the list. 

6. Iowa -- There's hope here despite the losses of starting cornerbacks Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada, both honorable mention All-Big Ten selections last season. Senior Bradley Fletcher received ample experience the last two years, but the Hawkeyes would like another solid corner or two to emerge. Both starting safeties return to brace the unit. 

7. Wisconsin -- Shane Carter is a budding star at safety after leading the league with seven interceptions last season, but much like other areas on the Badgers' depth chart, health has been a bugaboo. If cornerbacks Allen Langford and Aaron Henry bounce back from ACL injuries, the unit should be strong. If not, there will be plenty of pressure on young defensive backs like Mario Goins and Jay Valai.

8. Purdue -- The Boilermakers lost their best cover man (Vinson) from a unit that ranked seventh in the league against the pass last season. To avoid a drop off, they need better play from Royce Adams and continued production from David Pender. If safety Torri Williams can finally stay healthy after a rash of ailments, Purdue's secondary should be stable. 

9. Northwestern -- This unit no longer has any excuse to be a liability. Safety Brendan Smith returns from a shoulder injury to provide the playmaking punch the Wildcats sorely lacked last season. Smith and Brad Phillips form an experienced tandem at safety, while junior cornerback Sherrick McManis should benefit from an inconsistent first season as the starter. If Justan Vaughn or a redshirt freshman (Jordan Mabin, Michael Bolden) solidify the other corner spot, Northwestern should be respectable. 

10. Indiana --  Leading tackler Austin Thomas returns at strong safety, but cornerback is the biggest question on the team. The Hoosiers lost both starting corners, including all-conference performer Tracy Porter, who ranked second in the league with six interceptions. Six players are in the mix for the two jobs, including senior Chris Phillips. If the cornerback spot is stabilized, Indiana should leapfrog several teams. 

11. Minnesota -- The personnel is there for a turnaround, but it's tough to rank the Gophers much higher without seeing junior-college transfers Tramaine Brock, Trae Simmons and Simoni Lawrence. If those players perform like coach Tim Brewster thinks they will, Minnesota will be much improved. Brock brings a much-needed edge to the back four. But the Gophers can't rely much on returning players after last season's disaster.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Here's the second half of my interview with Michigan's new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer.

How would you describe your philosophy on defense, and how have the guys responded to that so far? Did it come right away or was it a while?

SS: The biggest thing we've focused on is controlling the controllables. As much as schemes are important, what's more important is the way we approach a daily practice, a daily meeting, a daily lifestyle. We always talk about controlling your attitude, controlling your effort and controlling your enthusiasm. Regardless of your ability level, those three things, those three core values within the framework of our characteristics as a football player are the things we really push hard on. At times, early on they looked at us cross-eyed because we were asking a lot of 'em. They'd do something they thought was pretty good and we'd be taking the approach that it's not as good as it can be. So really, more than anything, [we're] focused on controlling the things they can on a daily basis and understanding that we're looking for them to play the best football of their careers here. The only way to get to that point is to have your coaches push you and as an athlete, relish those opportunities that coaches throw out in front of you, to be pushed harder than you ever have.

When did you see guys responding to those expectations from you and the other coaches, or is it still to come?

SS: There were glimpses of that, that you'd look at each other as a staff and say, 'OK, that was pretty good.' And then there's other times. They say conditioning can make a coward out of anyone, and there are times where you can see that come out. But the good thing is they kept coming back day after day, wanting to be better, wanting to become a better player. They're ready for us to start coaching them the way we finished up spring. I feel like there's a real positive air about the kids that's exciting for us as coaches.

As far as the linebackers, are there some young guys in the mix there? Will there be a lot of competition there or do you feel somewhat set?

SS: If you look across the board, we have two seniors, John Thompson and Austin Panter are two kids we have high expectations for, but they're going to be competing against guys. Obi Ezeh is ready to fight for the starting Mike [middle linebacker] job with John Thompson. Marell Evans and Jonas Mouton are two kids, they're going to be battling as well for that outside linebacker [spot]. Those are the five kids that know going into it, they're going to have to fight for playing time, five for three positions. And they're going to have to learn two positions at times. There's a lot of similarity in the positions, so that's not going to be a real concern. Going into it, those are the five guys we're focused in on.

And with the secondary, I'm sure you're excited about the two cornerbacks [Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren]. Is safety a little bit less of a certainty?

SS: I think we can have a good secondary, I really do. Stevie Brown, he's a real underrated player and he's really bought into the defensive package and likes what we do. Brandon Harrison, he had a little shoulder surgery and he's fine, he's stronger than he's ever been. I'm excited to see him on the field. Charles Stewart's a senior and he's had a great summer. He just looks good. I walked by him the other day. It's his senior year, and there's something to be said for the seniors. With Harrison and Stewart, you have two guys that are in their last go-round and I think that those two kids are really looking forward to showing up. The opportunity that's in front of them hasn't been there, as far as fighting for a starting position. And then at the corners, Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent can be good corners in this conference. And then Troy Woolfolk is a guy that had some real good interceptions in the spring, especially the second half of the spring. Things started to really click for him. And then we'll see what the young kids do.

I know you guys are focused on yourselves, but in terms of being ready to go by Aug. 30, is there almost a greater sense of urgency there just because the offense will be making such a big adjustment?

SS: I know it sounds cliché, but if I were to focus on anything other than ourselves, I wouldn't be practicing what I'm preaching to the kids. The focus as a coaching staff, starting with me on the defensive side, is the same as the kids - control the controllables. Put together a great practice plan, put them in good situations that give them a chance to learn as well as they've ever learned and get as much in as we can before Utah. That will be the approach that we take every day here.

Three questions for Michigan

August, 4, 2008
8/04/08
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Michigan begins preseason practice Monday at 2:30 p.m ET, here are three questions to monitor throughout the next three and a half weeks.

1. Will Steven Threet cement himself as the starting quarterback, or will another candidate make the coaches' decision tougher?

Threet, a transfer from Georgia Tech, appears to be the man to beat. As the valedictorian of his high school, he's certainly capable of grasping Rich Rodriguez's system. But are his feet as quick as his mind? Rodriguez needs a mobile quarterback, and Threet doesn't exactly fit the mold. It will be interesting to see how freshman Justin Feagin, a more prototypical Rodriguez quarterback, performs on the practice field this month.

2. How will the team's strength and conditioning upgrades translate to the practice field, particularly for the offensive linemen?

By now everyone knows Mike Barwis is God's gift to the weight room, and Michigan appears to be a stronger and faster team than it was in 2007. The most immediate dividends must come on the offensive line, which returns only one starter [Stephen Schilling]. If players like Mark Ortmann, David Moosman and Tim McAvoy display the athleticism needed to run this offense, Michigan could survive some early growing pains under center. It also will be interesting to see if highly touted freshmen Ricky Barnum and Dann O'Neill factor into the mix this summer.

3. Who steps up at linebacker and safety?

The defense needs to be a stabilizing force early on, and a lot depends on finding capable starters in the back half. Linebacker might be the most intriguing position competition outside of quarterback, as two seniors (Austin Panter and John Thompson) try to ward off several talented sophomores (Obi Ezeh, Marell Evans, Jonas Mouton). Stevie Brown made a strong push this spring at safety, and Brandon Harrison tries to lock down the other starting spot in his final season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12