Michigan's DL depth reminds Greg Mattison of his national title defense at Florida
Thursday, August 29, 2013 5:56 AM
ANN ARBOR -- When Greg Mattison re-joined Brady Hoke at Michigan in 2011, one of his goals was to immediately get to work on building depth along the team's front four. It only makes sense. The more depth you have up front on your defensive line, the fresher you are as the game goes on, and your chances of making explosive plays only increase. This season, Michigan's defensive coordinator believes he has a defensive line capable of rotating up to three players at each position, and not suffering much of a dropoff. It's a situation he's seen before, and one that turned out pretty well. "We did this at Florida," said Mattison, who helped Urban Meyer's Gators win a national title in 2006. "I believe that year we had six first-string guys and five of them were drafted." Obviously Mattison isn't ready to compare the polished talent on Michigan's current defensive line to his 2006 Florida group, but the system and rotation should be similar. Currently, Michigan is counting on junior end Frank Clark, senior tackle Jibreel Black, senior nose tackle Quinton Washington and sophomore end Keith Heitzman to be its true first unit. But Mattison says, in reality, they're all basically co-starters. Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton will tag out Clark at weakside end. Ryan Glasgow, Willie Henry and Tom Stobel will see time behind Black, and Ondre Pipkins and Richard Ash will both spell Washington. On the strong side, Mattison and coach Brady Hoke are looking for both redshirt freshmen Matt Godin and Chris Wormley to make plays behind Heitzman. If you're counting at home, that's 13 defensive linemen. All expected to play. And all expected to succeed. "I don't know if I've ever had (three-deep on the defensive line), but I think they can do it," Hoke said. "I've never had that much depth. At San Diego State, we had guys coming in all the time at all positions. But we'll be a little more selective in the (secondary). In the front seven, (though), there's a lot of depth. "There are guys there fighting. They're fighting to get on the bus." Mattison and Hoke are defensive line coaches at heart. In fact, both currently serve as co-defensive line coaches for the Wolverines. To that end, their shared philosophy of the defensive line being the heart and soul of the entire unit makes sense. Michigan's front four has been solid, at times, during Hoke's first two seasons. The Wolverines, for the most part, have been productive against the run -- finishing 39th nationally in 2011 before dipping to 52nd last season. But, more importantly, the sack numbers have been sparse. Michigan's defensive linemen had just 12 sacks as a group a year ago. The fewer the sacks generated by the front four, the more Mattison has to blitz. The more Mattison has to blitz, the more the secondary opens itself up to a big play. You see where this is headed. But entering Saturday's season-opener against Central Michigan (3:30 p.m., BTN), Mattison's confident the problem will be solved. "I think three deep at those positions have earned the right," Mattison said. "A veteran like Quinton, a veteran like Jibreel, those guys may be five plays to somebody else's three, but there's still going to be a rotation. "Sometimes guys earn the right to be in there longer because it shows they can go as hard as we want them to go longer. Then when they get to the point which we decide, then the next guy goes in, and he keeps it coming the same way."
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