The Wolverine

January 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 22 of 67

JANUARY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 23 ter hire coaches who are dynamite recruiters in addition to being great teachers of the game. If there are any weak recruiters on his staff, Har- baugh needs to find them. 4. BEEF UP THE FRONT SEVEN, ESPECIALLY THE DEFENSIVE LINE The Wolverines were lacking this year, both in numbers of linemen and in size, and that's not an area in which teams can get away with being weak in the tough Big Ten. There are some big guys on the ros- ter, but not all 300-pounders are cre- ated equal, and the program needs some big men who can play low and get underneath offensive linemen's shoulders. The Michigan line was blown off the ball or controlled in many games this year, most obvi- ously in contests against Wisconsin and Penn State, in large part because they played too high. The defense surrendered an aver- age of 178.8 rushing yards in its six games, a mark that ranked 79th of the 127 FBS teams that played this fall (as of Dec. 28). Along the interior, four-stars Don- ovan Jeter, a redshirt junior, and redshirt freshman Mazi Smith have shown potential, as has Hinton, the former five star — but none has im- pacted as hoped. Moreover, three is simply not enough. "They've really emphasized speed, I think to a fault in that it's hurting them," Van Bergen said. "It's always a good thing to have and they say speed is dangerous, and I agree with that, but football is a combination sport of finesse and power. "I feel like they need to evaluate especially by position — 'Who do we have that's speedy, and who do we have that's a big, dominant, forceful presence?'" There aren't many, and there really haven't been the last few years. The Wolverines got pushed around up front by Wisconsin and Ohio State in particular last year; this season, just about every team got the better of U-M up front, including the worst ones on the schedule (Michigan State in a loss, Rutgers in a win). "There are different positions on the field they need to evaluate if they have a good enough balance or if they need to change that balance, one which we talked about all year — the defensive line," Van Bergen said. "Even last year, it just appears to me they don't have the size other people have on the inte- rior of the defensive line. "I feel like that's a recipe for not being able to be successful, especially in the Big Ten where you have some bigger teams. I'd say the same thing about the linebackers, too — great speed, but they also are slightly un- dersized. You can't be undersized from the front of the line to the mid- dle of your defense." 5. BECOME 'THE JACKHAMMER' AGAIN When Harbaugh first arrived at Michigan, he was non-stop on the recruiting trail and putting all of his energy into the program. From 'Signing of the Stars' recruiting cel- ebrations to satellite camps and not allowing much fun time in Florida during bowl practices, he truly was the jackhammer he professed to be. He's looked like a completely dif- ferent guy the last few years, and nobody can really explain why. His infamous sideline outbursts are few and far between, and fair or not, he just doesn't seem as invested. "I'm energized as a coach," Har- baugh insisted the Monday after the Wolverines' blowout loss to Wiscon- sin. "Hopefully you can tell; I don't know if you can with the glasses. It's in my eyes. I'm cheerful, excited to go coach the day. "As I said before, I'm never going to stop, never going to quit, never going to slow down. We're just going to keep attacking and coaching guys. I don't think I could live without that. That's darn sure what I'm going to do." But there are words and there are actions, and again, something appears to be missing. Michigan's comeback probably starts with the man at the top setting the tone and surrounding himself with like-minded people. "I'm not stopping, not slowing down," he insisted. "We talk about confidence. Confidence really is faith, faith that you can find a way and you get the job done. You go forward, you push through and with enthusiasm, with a bounce in your step. That's the objective." Part of it could be his age, of course. Harbaugh, who turned 57 Dec. 23, isn't the guy he was 10 years ago. Few are, especially those who played 15 years in the NFL. But if he sticks around, he owes it to himself and his team to channel his inner jackhammer and bring the edge he once had back to his position. ❏ Teams like Penn State, which rushed for 254 yards and scored all three of its touchdowns on the ground, found far too much running room against the Wolverines' front seven in 2020. Many have hypothesized U-M lacks the adequate size needed up front on defense. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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