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Friday, February 8, 2013
Notebook: Defense building depth

By Tom VanHaaren

As long as Greg Mattison is Michigan's defensive coordinator, he will expect perfection. He demands a lot out of his players because he knows what it takes to reach the NFL.

The 2013 class for Michigan is all about getting to the next level and bringing in players who can help Michigan get there.

Defensive line

Mattison has often spoken about getting faster and more athletic up front, and he believes the additions of Taco Charlton, Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst will help the defense as a whole.

Henry Poggi
Henry Poggi could play inside or outside on the defensive line.
"You have to have the ability to get pressure with a four-man front, that's a must. It's no negative to the guys we had, but I don't know that we were able to do that," Mattison said. "To be able to get to the quarterback once you beat somebody you have to be able to really move, and I think that's where you'll see -- the guys we redshirted and the one's we brought in this year -- you'll see that kind of group."

That is a big key in Mattison's mind in improving the entire defense. Everything starts up front and adding someone like Poggi to the mix potentially benefits Michigan in several ways.

"He'll start on the end and the one thing I like doing is, you can have a very active front four and then when you get to those passing situations be able to move those ends down inside," he said. "Then bring the faster guys on the outside. I think Henry is one of those guys that will be a really good 5-technique defensive end and then in passing situations move inside and still be a load."

Charlton enrolled early, and Mattison believes that will be a huge benefit. Getting into the weight program and building a routine will get him ready faster than his peers enrolling in the summer.

"Our defense is complex and for them to hear it in the offseason, in the senior practices and then to be here when we're doing spring practices, they're not rookies anymore," he said. "Frank Clark came here at 217 pounds and now he weighs 274. I can't wait for Taco to understand the defense, understand how a Michigan player plays, and let those physical abilities go. That's what you're looking for, and we're really excited about him."

Linebackers

Michigan added two very good linebackers in the 2013 class with Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray. Linebackers coach Mark Smith feels as though both Gedeon and McCray have the versatility to fill a few spots at linebacker, but it will be settled on the field.

"Initially when you look at Mike McCray, who is a little bit longer, I think he can play Mike, I think he can play Sam," Smith said. "When you look at Gedeon he's more of a true inside guy, a Will or Mike. I don't look at him as much of a Sam backer because he isn't as long as McCray is."

The linebacker group is starting to be one of the deeper position groups Michigan has. There are some excellent, young options for Michigan going forward so Smith and the coaches have some decisions to make on who plays and at what spots.

“They all have the opportunity to win playing time,” Smith said. “The other thing we like to sell here is the fact that we don't want one linebacker, say the Will, to play the whole game," he said. "You'd like to have two of them and they'll alternate, which we did a lot of that this year with these kids. By the fourth quarter, whoever the so-called better player is is still fresh because he hasn't had to play 60 plays."

Smith mentioned that fifth year senior Mike Jones will be returning for his final season, which adds senior leadership to the team. That means Michigan will have plenty of options for each position, but Smith says they haven't made any calls just yet.

"We haven't sat down as a staff yet and said this is what we want to do, personnel-wise. But you've still got Joe Bolden, Mike Jones coming back for a fifth year and he's going to have as much chance as anybody," he said. "Then you've got a young kid who really played well more on special teams, but Royce Jenkins-Stone is more of a Mike linebacker. When it's all said and done at the end of spring and at the start of fall camp, whoever the best guys are and whoever we have to move to get the best two players out there, we'll do."