CHICAGO — Junior defensive tackle William Campbell’s contribution to the Michigan football team can be summed up pretty simply.
In two seasons, the five-star recruit from Cass Tech High School in Detroit has just five tackles and three pass break-ups to his name. Little numbers for “Big Will.”
After flip-flopping between the offensive and defensive lines last season — something he also did in high school — Campbell will play the key role of three-technique defensive tackle in 2011.
“His attitude and his mindset has totally changed and gotten better,” senior defensive tackle Mike Martin said Friday at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “And he knows that he’s in a spot where he has to step up and be a big part of this defense — our three-technique.
“(Defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison stressed when he got here that if we don’t have a three-tech that can step up, we’re not going to be able to run the defense. If we can’t run it well, we’re not going to run it.”
During the transition from former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson’s 3-3-5 defense to Mattison’s 4-3 set, Campbell has a big spot to fill.
“He put the burden right on …. Big Will and pretty much said, ‘You gotta do what you gotta do,’ ” Martin said. “Will has really stepped up and answered the call. His work ethic is as high as I’ve seen it, and he’s got his mind right.”
Campbell becomes the defensive tackle tasked with breaking down the line of scrimmage with his big body and eliminating the risk of double teams on his linemate Martin, something the All-Big Ten nose tackle can appreciate.
“It makes it easier on us, because they can’t double everyone,” Martin said. “Someone’s going to have a one-on-one, when the pass comes around. Someone’s going to be free and has to get to the ball.”
And if all goes according to plan, opposing backs may find themselves in a world of hurt when they hit the line this fall.
“When you’ve got guys getting to the ball, it’s like, ‘Who you gonna block?’ ” Martin said.
Perhaps Campbell’s most glaring weakness is his fitness.
He’s very much a defensive lineman trapped in an offensive lineman’s body.
“I think his whole mental aspect is a defensive mind, but his athleticism puts him on the offensive line,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said this month. “I love his big body, I love his work ethic. I know he’s going to be a great football player.”
Added Martin: “He’s a brick house. That kid’s really strong. When I went against him when he was on the scout team on offense, he gave us a great look. I’m glad we got him on our side of the ball now.”
Weight training this summer has keyed on players’ conditioning. And according to Martin and Michigan coach Brady Hoke, Campbell has bought into the training regimen and is seeing it pay dividends.
The junior is listed at 6-foot-5, 333 pounds, but Hoke said Campbell has dropped 17 or 18 pounds already.
“Hopefully he doesn’t eat it all back in the 10 days,” Hoke joked.
Hoke mentioned that he would be happy to land at 320 pounds by the season opener on Sept. 3.
“Still, I think that Will Campbell will bump up our average weight on the defensive line a little bit,” Martin added.
Campbell was recruited as an explosive, bruising rusher on the line, and while that image has been somewhat marred at Michigan, Hoke knows the shine still remains somewhere underneath on this blue-chip talent.
He just needs a little polishing.
“I think Will has a tremendous ability that’s been a little bit untapped — part of that is moving back and forth on both sides of the ball and never really finding a home,” Hoke said. “I think he’s made strides, and if he continues, he’ll be a big part of our football team.”
It’s hard for a 330-pound lineman to go unnoticed. And Martin will make certain that doesn’t happen — in workouts or on the field.
“I’ve always thought, ‘Why don’t we have this guy in the game,’ ” Martin said. “(Campbell’s) got no excuses. He’s going to be playing. I’m in his ear all the time (saying) I’m counting on him. He’s next to me all the time.”