Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School of Hard Knocks for Wolverines; Michigan Hopes Lessons Learned This Season Help Defense Make the Grade

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School of Hard Knocks for Wolverines; Michigan Hopes Lessons Learned This Season Help Defense Make the Grade

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF ELLIOTT

According to a saying, "sometimes experience is hard to get, but once you get it, it's pretty good."

If that holds true for Michigan, look for the Wolverines to have a dominant defensive unit next season.

Michigan has a proud tradition of top defenses. When the late Bo Schembechler was head coach, the Wolverines' success stemmed from their ability to shut down opponents. That trend continued during much of Lloyd Carr's tenure as head coach at Michigan.

But opposing offenses have held the upper hand in recent years, including this past season. Michigan dropped deep in the rankings, falling to 109th (out of 120 teams) in the nation in yards allowed (447.9), 111th in passing yards allowed (260.2) and 94th in rushing yards allowed (187.7). The Wolverines gave up an average of 33.8 points a game, ranking 102nd in the nation.

One of the reasons defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen selected Michigan was because of the Wolverines' defensive image, especially what he saw in 2007 when he was being recruited to come to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines' defensive unit that season featured four future NFL standouts, all of whom were among the first 50 players selected the following spring. Cornerback Leon Hall (18th overall pick) went to Cincinnati, defensive tackle Alan Branch (33rd) was selected by Arizona, defensive end LaMarr Woodley (46th) went to Pittsburgh and linebacker David Harris (47th) was taken by the Jets.

"Michigan was a dominant defense. It was a staple back then," Van Bergen said. "I came here for every home game to watch those guys. ... I was determined to play defense for Michigan."

Van Bergen said it's been frustrating not having a defense that could match those standards.

"Sure, it's been frustrating, but at the same time, it's been like a personal endeavor for me, that by the time I leave here, to try and reinstall some of that," he said. "I saw it back then, and I wanted to be a part of it. There's no reason to sit around and wait and wait for it to be re-established. …

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