Notebook: Even if Mitch McGary isn’t available, defensive line depth is nearing Mattison’s vision

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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 26, 2013

Mitch McGary recently won the starting job for the Michigan basketball team, but the freshman already has another offer for a starting position. It’s just in a different sport.

“I already promised him he’d be a five-technique right away, and we’d get him a lot of sacks,” said Michigan football defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. “No question about it. I love him. It’s funny, I saw him one time the team was going to eat somewhere, I just happened to run into him when my wife and I were out. I had never stood next to him, and I just looked at him and all I kept thinking was ‘Wow, would he be good as a five-technique.’ ”

So yes, Mattison was joking – or at least dreaming – but adding McGary would fit Mattison’s theory of the more defensive lineman, the better. In the third spring under the current coaching staff, the Michigan front is getting closer to Mattison’s goal of having a full rotation of players on the defensive line.

“I’ve always wanted to do this, and at other places, I’ve been able to do this — I love having the ability to rotate,” Mattison said.

The rotation features mainstays from last year like redshirt sophomore Keith Heitzman, fifth-year senior Quinton Washington, a bulked-up junior Frank Clark and senior Jibreel Black. And the Wolverines have added more depth through younger players including redshirt freshman Tom Strobel, a healthy redshirt freshman Chris Wormley and sophomore Mario Ojemudia.

Mattison said he joked in film study that any lineman who looked tired would be watching games from the sideline with him — a luxury that Michigan hasn’t had in recent years.

“Then I made a serious comment to them,” Mattison said. “I said, ‘Guys, you have to understand that all I’m trying to ask is that you go as hard as you can go, and it’s never wrong for you to raise your hand. If you can’t go as hard as we want you to go, raise your hand and we’ll develop a guy that can come in right behind you, and now that guy goes hard.’ When we get that up front, then you can get a front that you’re going to really like watching because they’re going to go hard every snap.”

BEYER’S MARKET: Mattison is confident enough in the depth at line to move junior Brennen Beyer to strong-side linebacker. Beyer had seen action as a rush end last season.

The move comes in the wake of the injury to redshirt junior Jake Ryan, who tore his ACL last week in practice and will likely miss significant time.

Fifth-year senior Cameron Gordon is the front-runner for the starting spot at SAM linebacker, but Beyer can add depth. He’ll also provide a pass-rushing presence in the nickel package, which as Mattison explained, uses the strong-side linebacker as a rusher.

Mattison said the move is temporary, and Beyer will move back to the line when Ryan returns.

WIDER RECEIVERS: For the last several years, the wide out position has been filled by a band of Lilliputians. Roy Roundtree, who graduated last year, stood at just 6-foot. Fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, this year’s No. 1 receiver, is just 5-foot-8. And senior Drew Dileo isn’t much taller, at 5-foot-10.

Enter sophomore Amara Darboh and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson. The two have added an element of speed and size to a rather diminutive corps of receivers.

“They have some big-play ability,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “We’ve won a few jump balls. Lost a few, but we haven’t lost them all.”

Chesson redshirted last season, and Darboh played only on special teams, but each will have a chance to make significant contributions in their second year in the program. Other than Gallon and Dileo, no receiver has shown much consistency. Chesson (6-foot-3) and Darboh (6-foot-2) each have frames more in line with Borges’ preferences.

“The littler guys have done a great job for us, but we did want to get more range at the position and those two offer it to you,” Borges said.

NOTE: Former defensive lineman Chris Rock, who left the program a year ago, has walked on at Ohio State according to Tony Gerdman of