- Tom VanHaaren, ESPN Staff Writer
Michigan’s defense has been much improved under coordinator Greg Mattison, but it’s still not at the level he knows it needs to be.
Mattison has coached at all levels and knows the type of player he needs on his defense to be a national contender. Through recruiting the coaching staff has been working to get back to that talent level on defense, and a big part of those efforts have been with recruiting the right type of defensive backs.
“First thing is we always want to be a pressure team, but we want to pressure more when we want to, not because we have to,” he said. “To do that you have to be able to play zone and you have to be able to play some straight man.”
Landing six defensive backs total for the 2013 class is something the coaches believe will help get them to that level of play. If for nothing else, defensive backs coach Curt Mallory believes it immediately improves the level of competition in practice.
“Competition makes you better, it’s always been like that here at Michigan for as long as I can remember. You’re always going to have a great player coming in,” he said. “I can remember all the great running backs, it just seemed like the No. 1 running back in the country was being recruited. Those guys got better because they knew that there was someone just as good, if not better, coming up for them.”
Mallory hopes this haul has the same effect on his secondary going forward. He is expecting a full recovery for starting cornerback Blake Countess, which will be a huge boost for the defense as a whole.
Countess exemplifies what the coaches look for in their cornerbacks. He isn’t the tallest guy on the field, but he plays big. Mallory believes Countess can play the position no matter the technique. Whether it’s man coverage or zone, he can do anything and that’s what Michigan looks for.
“Whenever we looked at a lot of these guys we didn’t look at them as only a field corner, or only a boundary,” he said. “Those are guys that we felt could play the position in all techniques. They are versatile, physical and they can play both man and zone.”
Mattison believes that adding length and range to the secondary will give the defense a fighting chance. The defenders need to have the ability to matchup in one-on-one situations otherwise Mattison believes they won’t be able to compete.
The main focus for recruiting has been to get stronger, faster and bigger on all ends, a need Mattison says was apparent this past season.
“It’s anybody that you play, the bowl game showed it. To be a great defense you have to be able to match up speed with people or they’re going to find a way to spread you out and get you one on one,” he said. “You have to make sure you are always upgrading your speed and upgrading your length to cover them, and that’s been a big project of ours.”
The 2013 class has four defensive back commits 6-foot or taller, which is an immediate improvement. Probably the biggest help, though, is the depth this class provides.
“We’d like to be three or four deep at corner and that’s what this brings us. When you have that and you’re only playing with two corners you feel pretty good,” Mallory said. “When you start to get into more of your packages, your nickel package or use a fifth defensive back a lot of times that might be a nickel, so that gives you a little more flexibility. You can never have enough of those guys.”
7dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy