The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 38 of 67

MAY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 39 after the impressive opener against the Golden Gophers. He notched 44 tackles (third on the squad), but he didn't have the pass-rushing impact many thought he would after notch- ing his only sack (forcing a fumble returned for touchdown) against Minnesota. His challenge, now, is much differ- ent. He needs to get off blocks and be physical enough to get downhill runners on the ground, and it's fair to question if he's built for that. HOW MUCH WILL THIS DEFENSE RESEMBLE THE NFL BALTIMORE RAVENS'? Macdonald has never coordi- nated a defense, but he was heavily involved in play calling and every- thing else Baltimore did in 2020-21. Though there was talk initially that the Wolverines might run a 4-3 de- fense, the base is expected to be a 3-4 with a 4-2-5 sub package. Macdonald acknowledged when he first arrived there were times they'd go with different looks, as well, to keep opposing offenses on their toes. They'll be multiple, and while they might not be as aggressive as Don Brown when he first started — the former D.C.'s group played man-to-man defense almost exclu- sively when he arrived, and they had personnel better suited to do it than, say, last year — they'll get after the quarterback. The Ravens were one of the most blitz-heavy teams in the NFL, and again, Macdonald had a hand in that. "We're going to get after people, we're going to be aggressive and we're going to look like we're blitz- ing when we're not going to blitz," Macdonald said. "We're going to play man, we're going to play zone, we're going to be complementary — but it's how you play that makes the difference." In short, it's about getting every- one on the same page and playing together — one of the staples of the Ravens' defense under head coach John Harbaugh. "We watch a lot of the Ravens' tape," Ross admitted. "It has been helpful, and I'm privileged to have a coach like Mike Macdonald here — he brings a lot of energy and is easy to talk to." At the same time, they have to play to their personnel and pick their spots. One of the knocks on Brown last year was how much he blitzed without getting home, but the Ra- vens reportedly managed a pressure rate of just 29.3 percent last year. That was 18th in the league despite blitz- ing at the highest rate in the NFL. IS THERE ENOUGH TALENT AND DEPTH AT CORNERBACK? After a solid first year on the field, redshirt sophomore Vincent Gray came back to earth when thrust into the No. 1 cover corner role. He struggled in coverage after Ambry Thomas opted out, which often left Gray to cover the opponent's most talented receiver, and he lost his con- fidence in week two when Michigan State picked on him repeatedly. Redshirt sophomore Gemon Green was solid in his first taste of signifi- cant game action, though he also had his rough moments, and he'll need to be better in 2021. Thomas thinks both starters can and will be better. Redshirt freshmen DJ Turner and Jalen Perry have made moves this spring to secure backup positions, and they're going to get their playing time, too. "I'm honestly excited to see the leadership role that Gemon Green and Vincent Gray are ready to take for their group," Thomas said. "I'm ready to see them lock down No. 1 receivers like I know they can. I think it's just a mental thing with those guys." The new NFL-style defense will help them immensely, he added. "Honestly, you just make more plays on the ball sitting in zone, cover three," Thomas said. "You could re- ally go get the ball. If you see the ball, you could go get the ball. "In man, it's see the man and then read through him to get to the ball, but when it's zone, your eyes are on the quarterback. You're going off a quarterback's intentions. They're go- ing to get a whole bunch more picks this year." Time will tell, but it seems there will be a lot less pressure on this group schematically. ❏ Redshirt sophomore cornerback Gemon Green led the team with nine passes broken up in 2020, while the rest of the roster combined for just 13. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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