Michigan Spring Game: Defensive Overview

Ron English / AP Photo / Tony Ding

Michigan lost seven starters off of last year's defense, paving the way for a lot of new faces to make their marks in 2007. Some of them got a good start in that direction in Saturday's spring game. Brandon Graham, Jonas Mouton, and Shawn Crable were the notable standouts.

Defensive Line

Despite the absence of Terrance Taylor and James McKinney, and the limitations placed on Will Johnson and Tim Jamison, the defensive line won the battle in the trenches for the day. On the inside, Brett Gallimore saw plenty of action at the one technique nose guard spot. He lacks great mobility but looked fairly solid given the quick change of positions.

Jason Kates had an up and down day. He doesn’t have the mobility of some of the other linemen and that takes him out of a lot of plays. A contingent of walk on players saw action on the 2nd and 3rd team lines throughout the scrimmage.

The most impressive defensive lineman on the day was without question, Brandon Graham. Graham was in on a lot of plays and had a great motor all scrimmage long. Adam Patterson was solid on the day as well, playing a variety of positions along the line.

Defensive coordinator Ron English really mixed up the fronts and alignments on the day. Against three wide sets, the main fronts were 4-2, 3-3, and a hybrid three man front that had the sam linebacker as a roaming blitz player. Against standard personnel (2 WRs, 1 TE, 2 RBs) the defense was a standard 4-3/under front. The defensive ends were also in very wide techniques in a variety of fronts. Overall, how the interior defensive line will shape up is still a mystery, but the unit did show a lot of upside and depth at the defensive end position.

Linebacker

Surprisingly, this group was one of the top positions of the day… even with Johnny Thompson and Chris Graham out with injuries. In my opinion the MVP of the spring game was Jonas Mouton. Mouton made plays all scrimmage long and was a ferocious hitter. Mouton looks physically strong and was able to put on the bulk needed to play the position without losing much speed. Given the fact all of the top running backs did not participate in the scrimmage, I am a little reserved to call him a sure fire starter. That said, it is safe to say he is ahead of schedule on his progress.

Austin Panter saw a lot of reps at middle linebacker and was very solid on the day. He still appears to be uncomfortable in coverage, but against the run, he was solid.

Obi Ezeh was used in a lot of ways and saw a lot of time at the strongside linebacker position. He read the tight ends well all day long and was able to complete his responsibilities on most plays. He needs to get stronger but from an athletic standpoint, he has some intriguing upside. Ezeh also played some at defensive end in pass rush situations but wasn’t able to get much penetration there. Don’t be surprised if you see Ezeh get reps at middle linebacker during fall camp.

Cobrani Mixon appears to have added more size, but may still be a year off from making the two deep.

Shawn Crable really appears on his way to a huge 2007. He was limited on the day, but everything he did, he did better than anyone at his position.

At the end of linebacker drills, the group did an old school drill called bull in the ring. Each linebacker took his turn in the middle of the circle, then calls out a player, and the two hit in the ring. After three hits, the next player gets in the circle and gets his three hits. Oddly enough, no one chose to call out Crable.

Secondary

With only two scholarship players on the field at wide receiver, the secondary didn’t have the stiffest of challenges on the day. One player that did give the secondary some problems was Greg Mathews. Mathews went deep on several plays against Johnny Sears and Morgan Trent. The sophomore wideout was able to beat Sears for a touchdown and tested Trent as well. Trent was able to stick with Mathews but was a bit sloppy finishing the play. That resulted in one pass interference call and one questionable non-call.

Doug Dutch saw playing time all scrimmage long and is still obviously transitioning to the new position. The secondary operated mainly out of two high safety look and would rotate to a one high look before the snap. The main coverages were cover 3, cover 1 and robber.

Steve Brown was beat on a touchdown during the scrimmage, but looked comfortable at the position for the day.

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