Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is rarely satisfied. Wednesday, on national signing day, the longtime defensive coach, in his second stint with the Wolverines, couldn't hide a slight twinkle in his eye when he met with the media to discuss his new crop of run stuffers, pass rushers, gap shooters, and pass swatters.
Maybe, just maybe, the former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens was still glowing after his former team, with some players he coached still intact, won the Super Bowl Sunday night in New Orleans. The most likely reason for Mattison’s beaming centered on the Michigan defense and 10 brand defenders ready to add depth and athleticism in Ann Arbor.
Having been in the coaching game for quite some time, Mattison see’s the growing trends offensively and Michigan finds themselves coaching and recruiting to counter punch the new age philosophy.
“The way offenses are evolving now where no huddle -- so they take away substitutions, passing a lot more than they ever did before, and then not allowing you to substitute -- you’ve got to have guys on the field that can play the run, can cover a wide receiver at a linebacker position, and still rush the passer,” said Mattison.
“That takes away the 350-pound nose guard. That takes away the iso linebacker that we all know, he’s good on the iso but if he has to walk out and cover somebody, you’re dead. We have recruited versatility now and we do have guys where we can say, we can play the base group in there and just play.”
Fresh ‘meat’ up front
Reeling in six defensive linemen in the 2012 class, Michigan had their eye on specific needs up front in the class of 2013, signing three different but impactful players, one for every coach the Wolverines have coaching the defensive front in practice on a daily basis.
Already enrolled in school at Michigan, former Pickerington Central (Oh.) defensive end Taco Charlton is the big bodied pass rushing specialist the Wolverines are looking for. Comparing him to a current Wolverine end, Mattison will be spending extra time with Charlton in spring football.
“He’s really getting strong,” said Mattison. “You’re talking about a 6’6 -- I don’t know what his weight has become but here’s a great example. I know with our strength program, Frank Clark came here at 217 and now weighs 274. And that’s our strength program and Aaron Wellman.”
“I can’t wait for Taco to be able to understand the defense, understand how a Michigan player plays, and just let those physical abilities go.”
On the interior, four-star Xaverian Brothers (Mass.) high school defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. can often fool fans and even opponents into thinking the 6’2, 300-pounder is in there to take up space and not much else -- they’re wrong. Hurst Jr. brings a quick burst off the line and athleticism that could be compared to former defensive tackle Mike Martin.
“We looked at him and we picked him ourselves,” said Mattison. “There’s an athlete. When you see a big, 275-280 pound guy that does run the football and pretty well, you know what he’s going to be as a nose guard and he played that also.”
Rounding out the group of three is Gilman (Md.) high school defensive end Henry Poggi who brings strength but also terrific pass rushing ability from the defensive line. Mattison envisions a bright future for Poggi.
“The thing that people don’t realize about Henry, first of all, is that he’s a tremendous competitor, he’s a very tough kid, and he’s as classy as they come,” said Mattison. “He’s going to be an end and if he becomes that guy that can beat a guy like he did at the under armour (game) where you moved him over a guard, then you go perfect, just move right down in here in passing situations and we’re going to turn you loose.”
Two for linebacker, please
Michigan’s young nucleus of linebacker talent will be adding two more key components to the mix this summer when Hudson (Oh.) high school’s Ben Gedeon and Trotwood Madison (Oh.) high school’s Mike McCray make their way to Ann Arbor.
Discussing the linebacker position and the growing depth, Mattison said this is what they’re looking for year in and year out.
“They’re going to fit right in with the group that we have already,” said Mattison. “You saw how our young linebackers played this year and that’s what you want to keep doing -- keep bringing the next group in and the next group in. Now you have Michigan football players.”
Mattison offered his comments on the 6’2, 220-pound McCray.
“I had a chance myself to watch him in the state championship game and what a warrior,” said Mattison. “It’s funny cause I’m sitting in the stands and you try to watch the game and I think the first eight times his name was mentioned on the tackles. He had a bad shoulder and he kept playing, kept rolling it out, and making sure it was ok to go back out there and play. That’s a Michigan football player.”
At 6’2, 200-pounds, Gedeon adds an athleticism to the linebacker position that Michigan is clamoring for.
“I think a lot of people are going to be happy when they see this guy,” said Mattison. “I heard from the people down in that all-star game he was in last night or two nights ago that again he really played well.”
Defensive back shuffle
Reon Dawson and Channing Stribling. What do they have in common? They’re both 6’2 cornerbacks with the size, range and speed to cover receivers of all shapes and sizes. Michigan’s emphasis on adding some size to the secondary, even in speedy corner Delano Hill and safety Dymonte Thomas, is as much due to the Wolverines own philosophy as it is to the style of receiver impacting college football today.
“If you’re going to play a lot more zone and you’re going to play man and zone -- the wide receivers are so tall nowadays that you have to have corners that can matchup with them,” said Mattison.
“You could be the best corner in the world and if a guy has a foot difference on you – it’s just like the basketball court. You couldn’t ask our guys to go out there and cover centers. It’s the same thing in football, so you’ve got to be able to have that kind of range to be able to cover them.”
Breaking that trend is Detroit Cass Tech (Mich.) cover corner Jourdan Lewis, a certified playmaker that could be in the rotation from the get go in Ann Arbor.
“Don’t get me wrong, you don’t take a guy just because he’s 6-foot because there are some 5’10 guys that jump out of the gym,” said Mattison. “Jourdan Lewis -- I can’t wait until he gets here. We’ve seen him at camps, we’ve seen him at everything he’s done -- he plays like he’s six something and that’s what you want.”