Every time Greg Mattison takes a look at the big, golden Michigan Rose Bowl Championship ring on his finger, he thinks of the defensive linemen who earned it for him.

“I think of Buster Stanley; I think of Chris Hutchinson,” Mattison said. “I think of those defensive linemen that played with incredible technique: Jason Horn.

“It’s been 15 years since I’ve seen some of those guys. I can just picture them out there in the Rose Bowl, playing with the technique that we wanted. And that was a great night.”

All these years later, Mattison is back at Michigan looking for more rings, and nothing has changed — the defensive line will be a key ingredient to the Wolverines’ success on defense.

“You can’t have a great defense, unless you have a really good defensive line. I’ve never seen one,” Mattison said. “And in order to play really, really good defense, your defensive line has to be one of the strongest points — that’s a must.”

The names have changed — Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Craig Roh are expected to anchor the unit — and so has the scheme, with four down linemen now on the field at once instead of the three-man front Michigan employed last year under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines are expected to be more physical at the point of attack.

Leading the charge is Martin, the gem of the group at defensive tackle. When Mattison was naming the players who had impressed him through six spring practices, the first name he mentioned was Martin, followed by Roh and fellow defensive end Jibreel Black.

Mattison noted Martin’s enthusiasm to learn — as if he were an unseasoned freshman — and spoke of how willing he was to change his technique.

That eager-to-learn attitude has permeated the entire defense.

Roh sat through an entire film session “without (Mattison) saying a positive thing on his technique.”

“And when he got done, it was like, ‘Okay coach, I’ll see you tomorrow, and (I’ll) get ready to go.’ They’re all that way,” Mattison said.

As Mattison mentioned earlier this spring, Roh will play the “Terrell Suggs position” on the Michigan defense, to compare this situation to Mattison’s last stop in Baltimore. Roh entered his sophomore campaign in 2010 with high expectations to be the team’s edge-pass rusher. But he endured a midseason position change, playing eight games at outside linebacker and five games at his natural position of defensive end — and he finished with just half-a-sack in 13 games.

“Roh has had some signs of, ‘Okay, he’s kind getting to what we want him to do,’ where his hand’s on the ground,” Mattison said. “And to play the position that we want him to play, he’s got to be a very physical football player — so he’s worked on that.”

Mattison would like to develop a rotation of quality players at every position on the defensive line, and the entire defense for that matter.

Backing up Roh is Black, who Mattison expects to bring an explosion off the edge.

“Jibreel Black, some days, looks as good as (Roh), or better,” Mattison said.

Opposite Roh on the line, Ryan Van Bergen is penciled in at defensive end. And Mattison expected Will Heininger, who tore his ACL this time last year and missed most of the 2010 season, to rotate with Van Bergen at that end spot.

But the most intriguing position up front is the defensive tackle position next to Martin — Will Campbell and Quinton Washington have been battling for the spot in spring practice.

The two famously flip-flopped in the middle of the season a year ago, when Rodriguez moved Campbell to offense and Washington to defense — essentially taking each other’s spots. And Washington did see playing time on the goal line defensive unit as an extra big body. Now, the two are locked in a position battle.

“When you see Quinton Washington and Will Campbell battling for a position, that says great, because now we can roll them,” Mattison said. “I believe in that, and always have.

“(Washington has) been neck-and-neck with (Campbell). If one guy doesn’t do quite what we’re supposed to do, the other guy goes in there.”

Washington nearly matches Campbell pound-for-pound, as he is listed at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and Campbell is 6-foot-5, 333-pounds.

During the first 20 minutes of practice on Tuesday, which was open to the media, it appeared Washington was running with the first-team defense. Despite a disappointing beginning to the five-star recruit’s Michigan career, he seems to be making strides this spring.

“Will Campbell is showing signs at times of being the guy that comes off the football like we want him to, and then there’s other times when he doesn’t,” Mattison said.

“Now, he’s like everybody else and we’ve got to be more consistent doing it, play after play,” he added. “I’ve been real excited with those guys, the size in there, the strength in there and them coming off the ball. It just has to be more consistent.”

Teaching guys like Campbell has been rewarding so far, Mattison said explaining that when he corrects a player, he usually doesn’t see the same mistake the next day.

But, the unit still has work to do to get to where Mattison wants it to be.

“The entire defense has tons of work to do on basic techniques,” Mattison said. “But I would’ve said that about any team that I’ve had because unless they’re perfect with their technique, I’m not satisfied. This group has to work very, very hard on just basic, steps, punch, blow delivery, those kind of things — the very integral parts of being that kind of a player.”

Then, the rings will come.

“I assume that any Michigan player has rings,” said Mattison, who made his son dig up Mattison’s Rose Bowl ring when he took the defensive coordinator job at Michigan.

“Our goal is to get more of those.”

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