When describing this year’s version of the Michigan
defense, there is, according to cornerback Marlin Jackson, one
adjective that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

“Fast, fast, fast.”

And Jackson’s fellow defenders are quick (pardon the pun)
to agree with him.

“We will be fast,” linebacker Lawrence Reid
said.

Safety Ernest Shazor agreed: “Last year we had a fast
defense, we had a good defense, but this year I think we’re
quicker than last year.”

Seems no matter whom you talk to, there’s little to
dispute the fact that — on paper, at least —
Michigan’s defenders will be able to run stride-for-stride
with any offense that they should come across.

“I’ve played on a couple of good defenses,”
lineman Pat Massey said. “But I think this is the most
athletic and fastest defense that I’ve been a part
of.”

That’s exactly what defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann is
hoping for.

Last year’s Wolverines managed just 29 sacks, constantly
struggling to penetrate the opposition’s offensive line. In
response to the somewhat paltry effort up front, Herrmann has
switched Michigan to a 3-4 defensive scheme, which should allow the
Wolverines to take advantage of their sensational talent at
linebacker.

“Anytime you come out of a season with less than 40 sacks,
you’re going to have a hard time because you’re not
creating negative plays and to me, that’s important,”
Herrmann said. “You’ve got to put guys in position to
get to the mismatches that you want.

“We’ve got to get to the quarterback.”

Leading the charge to the opposition’s signal callers will
be more than 900 pounds of muscle on the Wolverines’
defensive line. Senior Larry Harrison and 6-foot-8 Pat Massey will
bookend gargantuan junior Gabe Watson, giving Michigan a firm
foundation up front that will allow the other eight defenders to
fly around to the ball.

“I think it is the biggest defensive line (I’ve had
at Michigan),” coach Lloyd Carr said.

The move to the three-man front means that Michigan will have
four linebackers on the field. And with speedsters Roy Manning,
LaMarr Woodley and Pierre Woods holding down the outside positions,
seniors Scott McClintock and Lawrence Reid will see extended time
at the two inside linebacker positions.

“McClintock is a great athlete,” Carr said.
“If you take the running backs, wide receivers and defensive
backs (out), McClintock might be the fastest guy on our team.

“I think McClintock and Reid are two guys who have played
well — they know what is coming and they have prepared hard
and prepared well.”

And while the quickness of Michigan’s front seven is
impressive, the Wolverines’ corps of defensive backs has the
potential to make the rest of the team look like a slow-motion
replay.

Jackson will team with Shazor, fellow senior Markus Curry and a
bevy of young guns to give Michigan a defensive backfield capable
of keeping opposing quarterbacks tossing and turning all year.

“We have guys that like to get to the ball, and I like
that,” Herrmann said. “The fact that we have great
speed makes it even better.

“(Shazor) has great ability. It’s fun to see when a
young guy finally realizes, ‘Hey, this is what it takes to
play big-time college football,’ and Ernest made those
strides last year.

“You can tell just by the way he comes to practice and his
demeanor in meetings, that he knows what it takes to be a great
player.”

Shazor and the rest of the Wolverines unveiled their
“speed kills” defense approach last Saturday against
Miami (Ohio). And the RedHawks did nothing to offset the potential
the Wolverines believe they have for this season. Michigan forced
Miami into seven turnovers — five interceptions and two
fumbles — and held the RedHawks to just 60 yards rushing on
25 carries — a mere 1.3 yards per rushing attempt.

“We have the potential to be a great defense,”
Jackson said. “But potential is all words, and we have to go
out on the field and prove ourselves.”

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