August 25, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Greg Mattison plans on having his best defense at Michigan

Mattison and Nussmeier on the UM team
Mattison and Nussmeier on the UM team: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison on the team maturing and freshman defensive back Jiabrill Peppers; offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier on teamwork

Ann Arbor -- Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has been consistently upbeat about the prospects for his fourth defensive unit since Brady Hoke became head coach.

Mostly, Mattison likes the depth and experience, and the ability to rotate fresh bodies on the defensive line. He said there has been a selflessness among the players, and while he suspects some would hope for more playing time, no one has made that an issue.

“Everybody in this defense wants to be the best it’s been,” Mattison said. “They want this defense to be special.”

Could this be Mattison’s best defense in four years?

“That’s what I’m planning on, that’s what we’re working for,” he said. “I don’t want to say anything against Mike Martin and his group (in 2011). They did some pretty neat things. I just like this group. We really have pieces now, and it’s time we put it all together.”

There is a strong perception from outside observers, that at least during the early part of the season, Michigan’s defense will have to keep the team afloat while the offense finds its rhythm.

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier does not intend that to be the case.

“We’re going to go play the game to the best of our ability,” Nussmeier said. “I don’t ever want to say that we want another unit to carry us. We wouldn’t have a lot of pride in our room if we said that.

“We expect to play and play well.”

Gardner improving

Senior quarterback Devin Gardner has worked during preseason camp on being more consistent and understanding he must trust the system and work within its structure.

“I think him understanding throwing the ball away is a good play,” Hoke said. “I’ve seen him do that more and more, which is awesome, instead of trying to force something. I think his leadership in the huddle is 100 times better, and his leadership with the team is 100 times better.”

Injury update

Sophomore safety Delano Hill, who suffered a broken jaw toward the end of summer conditioning, has been practicing but has not been involved in contact drills. Hoke said he will know more about Hill’s availability for Appalachian State after meeting with team physicians.

End Brennen Beyer, left, and tackle Ondre Pipkins are key returning players on Michigan's defense. / John T. Greilick / Detroit News