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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Season analysis: Defensive line

By Michael Rothstein

Connor Dietz
Frank Clark (57) got back on track after off-field problems cost him the season opener.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s defensive line entered the season as the position with more questions than any other. It had three new starters and one learning a new position in the case of Craig Roh.

With the unknown as the metric, the Wolverines’ defensive line did surprisingly well. There were some obvious flaws and holes -- the middle of the defensive line was spotty at points and the pass rush was non-existent for stretches -- but what could have been a glaring weakness turned into a serviceable group.

Considering what Michigan was working with -- mostly youth and old inexperience other than Roh -- the Wolverines held up well here.

The Good
Frank Clark missed the first game of the season due to suspension, struggled through an ankle injury and played in a platoon with Mario Ojemudia and Brennen Beyer, but when he was on the field, he became Michigan’s most productive defensive lineman. He had nine tackles for loss -- second on the team to linebacker Jake Ryan -- and two sacks.

Roh, despite not posting massive statistics, had a strong season adapting to his third position in four seasons. He was able to contain against the run and provide occasional QB pressure, which was better than his counterparts.

Quinton Washington had a surprisingly good season from a player who had rarely seen the field before September. He improved every week and became the Wolverines’ best interior lineman by the end of the season after posting 29 tackles. One of the guys behind him, freshman Ondre Pipkins, played well in limited duty spotting him and senior Will Campbell.

The Bad
Michigan’s pass rush, especially from the front four, never really materialized this season. Clark and Ojemudia were able to create pressure when he was in, but they spent much of the season in a rotation with Beyer. The line combined for 10 sacks all season -- with four of them coming from Roh.

Considering how much the Wolverines counted on the pass rush last season it was somewhat of a drop.

The run defense improved as the season went on, but the Wolverines struggled in September stopping opponents from running the ball, which is a reflection on the defensive line.

The Future
This is an area where Michigan is going to undergo more of a transition than most think. Roh, who has been a consistent starter, is gone, as is Campbell. There will be some experience returning with Washington and the three-headed Clark-Ojemudia-Beyer role at rush end. Jibreel Black also likely fits in here somewhere.

The real potential, though, comes with the youth. Pipkins will likely see an increased role next season, and both Tom Strobel and Chris Wormley could push Black for time at Roh’s old spot if he moves back outside. Depth will still be an issue for Michigan, but not nearly as worrisome as this season.