Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison expects leadership from his linebackers this season. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — There was plenty not to like when Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison reviewed film from last season.
And in these early days of spring practice, which concludes April 5 with the public spring scrimmage at Michigan Stadium, Mattison's goals are clear.
"We have to be a better blitzing team," Mattison said Thursday during a news conference before the second spring practice. "Everybody says, 'You didn't seem like you were as aggressive as you were the first year (in 2011).' Well, as a coordinator, I'm going to call pressures as long as the pressures get there."
Blitzing puts players in a one-on-one situation, and the Wolverines clearly struggled a good deal of the time with that.
"You're trying to ensure somebody in this group that's coming is going to be one-on-one," Mattison said. "You've got to beat somebody on-on-one, and that's something, at times, we didn't do a very good job.
"Because when you send people and don't beat somebody one-on-one, that secondary — now everybody goes, 'Why is the secondary so poor?' Maybe they aren't poor. Maybe the blitzing didn't get home. That's a big emphasis now."
Mattison was not pleased with the number of big plays allowed last season, and that's among the reasons changes were made in the staff. Michigan coach Brady Hoke recently announced a reshuffling of the coaching responsibilities of the defensive staff, and the Wolverines will now have Curt Mallory coaching safeties and Roy Manning leading the cornerbacks.
The objective in the secondary is the same as it is for the front seven, and that is to be more aggressive.
"That's where we're at now in our defense," Mattison said. "As you become more experienced, as our philosophy may change a little more as we feel like we can get more pressure, we've got to play more aggressive on receivers, tighten the coverage up. That's a big emphasis for us this spring and as we go into fall."
Blake Countess, who was voted All Big Ten second team by the coaches and first team by the media last season after he had six interceptions, and Raymon Taylor, who had a team-high 86 tackles last season, return experience at the corners.
But looking ahead to the fall, how will highly recruited and lauded incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers fit into the mix? Mattison said he's not sure whether Peppers will play corner, safety, or nickel. They're more than aware of his versatility.
"The key would be to put him in the position where he can make the most impact," Mattison said "Whatever that is, we'll figure that out as we get close to that time.
"He's a talented young man, and he's so versatile and he's been really coached at his high school. He's played safety, he's played corner, he's played what would be a nickel. So there's a lot of places where a very talented young man could help that team."
Among the staff changes is Mattison's move to coaching the linebackers.
He has moved Jake Ryan, a captain last season during his junior year and considered the team's best linebacker, to middle linebacker. And generally speaking, Mattison expects the linebackers to lead this defense in every sense.
"I expect from all the linebackers to be the leaders, to communicate, to get the defense set, to do everything way above the bar," Mattison said. "Forever at Michigan, linebackers have led the defense. This group has played a lot of football. And now it's time for this group of linebackers to lead this team in every way. They're embracing that."