Deep, aggressive defense shines in open scrimmage

Terra Molengraff/Daily
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By Jake Lourim, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published August 16, 2014

The Michigan defense dialed up all kinds of pressure against the offense in Saturday’s open scrimmage at Michigan Stadium.

And just about all of it was effective.

A year removed from head coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison’s worst defense in their three-year tenure, a much more experienced, aggressive unit came out and dominated the Michigan offense.

The first-string defense had success, though much of it came against the second-string offense. The Wolverines’ depth showed when their second-string defense went toe-to-toe with the starting offense.

The defense was ahead of the offense for most of last year, and it appeared that way again Saturday.

“And to be honest with you, they should (be),” Hoke said. “There’s more veterans over there, more guys with game experience. I think defense always to some degree gets a little ahead of the offense, and it’s been like that forever. But we need to catch up offensively pretty fast.”

Michigan rotated as many as six defensive tackles at a position where it lost both of its starters from a year ago. Redshirt sophomores Matthew Godin and Ryan Glasgow started the scrimmage, but junior Ondre Pipkins and redshirt sophomore Willie Henry proved a capable duo, as did freshman Bryan Mone and redshirt sophomore Chris Wormley.

Senior defensive ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer provided pressure off the edges, forming a strong front, albeit against a young offensive line.

The Wolverines started fifth-year senior Jake Ryan at middle linebacker and rotated senior Desmond Morgan, junior James Ross III and junior Joe Bolden on the outside. Their experience made the linebacker corps the defense’s deepest unit.

The front seven stifled the running game and harassed the quarterbacks — but that doesn’t even begin to include Michigan’s newest addition on defense, freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers.

During the first two weeks of camp, Hoke didn’t overstate Peppers’ ability to provide immediate impact in the secondary. He labeled him as a nickel back and only recently said Peppers had begun to work at cornerback.

But Saturday, the talent that made Peppers’ a five-star recruit was clear.

In the Wolverines’ 4-3 scheme, Peppers started at cornerback opposite sophomore Jourdan Lewis. When they moved to a nickel scheme, Peppers moved to nickel back alongside senior cornerback Raymon Taylor.

“The evidence for making decisions is on the film,” Hoke said. “It’s evidence-based decisions, based on film, based on production. He’s playing very well. He’ll have learned some things today.”

Redshirt junior cornerback Blake Countess, who is recovering from a groin injury, intercepted fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner on the second-string defense, proving Michigan’s depth in the secondary as well.

The strong pass defense allowed Mattison to be more aggressive with his blitzes, a hallmark of the defense on the 11-2 2011 team.

“We want to (do) a lot of blitzing, want to have a lot of pressure, want to be able to play better coverage,” Hoke said. “I think we still have a really long way to go, when you talk about the front. I really believe we want to see somebody separate. Who’s the guy you’re going to count on? I felt Frank a little bit, but like I told him, this is really the first scrimmage where I’ve felt him.”

Though junior wide receiver Devin Funchess caught a touchdown late in the scrimmage over Peppers, the secondary was good enough to allow the front seven to put pressure on the quarterback.

Late in the scrimmage, with the first-team offense playing against the first-team defense in red-zone situations, the defense limited the offense to zero yards on eight plays. Ryan leveled a hit on junior tight end A.J. Williams, Clark sacked Gardner and the defense stopped sophomore running back De’Veon Smith on a goal-to-go situation from the one-yard line.

NOTES: Godin recovered a fumble by Gardner when the ball was jarred loose early in the scrimmage. … Junior Jarrod Wilson and redshirt sophomore Jeremy Clark started at safety. … Sophomore defensive back Delano Hill wore an orange no-contact jersey for the scrimmage. He is still recovering from a broken jaw. … Peppers also received most of the reps at punt returner, in addition to junior wide receiver Dennis Norfleet. … Sophomore defensive back Channing Stribling picked off sophomore quarterback Shane Morris in the end zone.