August 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

College football

Five players to watch on Michigan's defense

Frank Clark made a career-high nine tackles in the game at Michigan State last season. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

Ann Arbor ó A young Michigan defense suffered some indignities last season, yielding 43 points to Penn State, 47 to Indiana, 29 to Michigan State, 41 to Ohio State and 31 to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Only one of them, Indiana, was a win.

None, obviously, set well with a program used to having its way on defense. But things could look up this year as many Wolverines put another year under their belts.

Here are five players who could make a difference for the Wolverines this season.

Frank Clark, DE

Clark has shown so many signs of his upside ó heís played in 36 games and made 17 starts at defensive end ó but this is his final season and the one in which he must prove himself with consistency. The defense will be the strength of the team, and Clark will be counted on as a leader.

Jake Ryan, MLB

Ryan, a captain last season and two-time award winner as Michiganís top linebacker, has embraced his move to middle linebacker. He made a gutsy early return from an ACL injury last season, but now heís fully healthy and will be able to be more active in his new role.

James Ross, LB

Ross continued to improve last season after a challenging up-and-down start to the year. Ross, who has made 11 starts at linebacker, finished 2013 with 85 tackles including 5.5 for loss. He had a huge game against Northwestern with a career-high 13 tackles, including nine solo.

Blake Countess, DB

He will be wearing No. 2 this fall, the same number that a certain former Heisman Trophy-winning cornerback at Michigan used to wear. Countess missed the 2012 season after a season-ending injury in the opener, but should be fully healthy this fall. He had six interceptions last year, ranked seventh nationally.

Jabrill Peppers, DB

Yeah, weíre going there, and he hasnít played a down yet in college. While Michigan coach Brady Hoke is tempering expectations, we arenít. Peppers is supremely talented and he will get a chance to work in early. Expect to see plenty of him this fall in the secondary. His participation on offense can wait. We think.

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

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