Willie Henry emerged as a force on Michigan's defensive line as a redshirt freshman last season. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News identifies five developments to follow on Michigan’s defense as the season gets underway.
Can anyone say, “pass rush”? Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison talked plenty about the need for a pass rush last season, but the overall results were not all that great. Things should be different this season, and it will start with Frank Clark. This is a more seasoned group, and with depth, there will be plenty of substituting to allow for fresh legs, and that should mean more pressure.
Jabrill Peppers, the real deal: There have been a few freshman who have arrived at Michigan with hype on top of hype, but not in recent years. Jabrill Peppers is that guy in 2014. The plan all along has been to play him at nickel, and then? Expectations are high and he could very well move into the starting lineup at safety or even cornerback sooner rather than later.
Jake Ryan in the middle: Mattison wanted to take greater advantage of Jake Ryan’s abilities, and now more than a full year removed from his ACL tear, Ryan has moved to middle linebacker. The move is expected to take advantage of his athleticism and instincts. Time will tell, of course, but both coach and player believe this decision is going to be a difference-maker for the defense.
Shutting ’em down: Toward the end of last season, a defense that had overall been solid began to slip. Giving up big plays became more and more common. Eliminating those big plays has been a mantra for the defense since spring practice. That starts in the front seven, but a secondary that was tested and beaten last year will be tested again. The difference? Greater depth and more talent back there.
Ahead of the offense: It is not unusual, Michigan coach Brady Hoke has said, to see a defense ahead of the offense not only in spring practice but during preseason camp. But the Michigan defense will be ahead of the offense for a good portion of the first third of the season. The defense clearly will be expected to set the tone while the offense gets sorted out and settled.