The Wolverine

2013 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Wolverines On The Move Alan Branch From The Seahawks To The Bills The Bills are expected to play a hybrid defense this year with many different looks, but with former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine — a longtime utilizer of the 3-4 alignment — at the helm, the team looked to find a mammoth defender capable of playing at nose guard. The Bills have a strong defensive line with former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams and a pair of talented tackles in former All-Pro Kyle Williams and 2011 first-rounder Marcell Dareus, and the 6-6, 325-pound Branch gives the squad the required space eater for the middle of a 3-4 defense. However, he is also versatile after playing in Seattle's hybrid unit the past two seasons, and mentioned during his introductory press conference he could play some defensive end. After starting just three games in four years with the Arizona Cardinals, he logged 31 starts in the past two years for the Seahawks. Jake Long From The Dolphins To The Rams Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, was one of just four offensive tackles in the last 50 years to reach the Pro Bowl in each of his first four professional seasons. Although he dealt with injuries in his first three seasons, he never missed a start and some considered him one of the best left tackles in football. Then, in 2011, he battled back trouble before his season ended with a trip to injured reserve, due to a torn right biceps. Last year, he started the team's first 12 games of the season before succumbing to a left triceps injury, which also ended his campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, he was one of the league's best blockers in his first three seasons, allowing just 63 pressures (sacks, hurries and hits combined) in 3,225 LONG snaps. He has allowed 47 pressures despite logging just 1,546 snaps over the past two years. That was why the Dolphins, the team that drafted him, were not willing to match what St. Louis offered with a four-year contract worth up to $36 million, and now Long is with the Rams, protecting fellow No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford. The Rams have started seven different left tackles since 2008, and used a total of 16 different starters over the past two years up front. Charles Woodson From The Packers To The Raiders Veteran defensive back Charles Woodson was looking to play for a Super Bowl contender immediately after he was released by the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 15 with two years remaining on his contract. After visiting the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos, Woodson instead decided to bring his career full circle and ink with the Oakland Raiders, the team that drafted him fourth overall in 1998 but is coming off of a 4-12 campaign. The Raiders expect to plug the versatile Woodson in at free safety, after losing starter Michael Huff, but they also want him to help tutor first-round draftee D.J. Hayden, who plays cornerback like Woodson did up until last season. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection missed the final nine regular-season games of the 2012 campaign with a broken right collarbone, but returned to start in both playoff games. There is only one Oakland teammate left on the squad that the cornerback left in 2005 — kicker Sebastian Janikowski — and the franchise that won three straight AFC West titles and earned a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season with Woodson hasn't had a winning season since the veteran's departure. Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson Retire Two longtime Michigan stalwarts walked away from long and productive NFL careers just days apart when veteran offensive linemen Jeff Backus and Steve Hutchinson announced their retirements. Backus, a first-round selection of the Detroit Lions in 2001, set a franchise record with 187 consecutive starts, a streak that ended on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 with the tackle's only missed start of his 12-year career. Hutchinson also hung up the cleats following a 12-year career in the league. The guard also started every game he appeared in during his professional days, but he missed 11 games with injury over the final three seasons and was also limited to four starts in 2001. However, the veteran was a five-time All-Pro, in addition to a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, who played for the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans. On The Rise Which former Michigan standouts are ready for the next step in 2013? • Jake Long, OT, St. Louis Rams — There is some pressure on Long to prove the Miami Dolphins wrong after the team that drafted him first overall five years ago decided to let him test the free agent market. Long was one of the league's top young left tackles and opened his career with four straight Pro Bowl appearances, including a first-team All-Pro mention in 2010, but has ended each of the past two seasons on injured reserve. The Rams have honed in on improving their offensive front to help protect former No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford, who has been sacked 105 times in just 42 career games during his three pro seasons. Signing Long allows them to flip last year's blindside protector, Rodger Saffold, a veteran of 35 professional starts, to the right side, where he's better suited. That could pay huge dividends for the Rams' offense and second-year head coach Jeff Fisher. • Mike Martin, DT, Tennessee Titans — The third-round draft pick performed well when given the chance as a rookie for 6-10 Tennessee. In 16 appearances, including one start, Martin recorded 37 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks. He notched his first career sack and start on the same night against San Diego on Sept. 16 after he brought down Philip Rivers for a four-yard loss on third-and-four to force a field goal. Against Minnesota, he flashed his immense potential again with two tackles for loss and a sack. The 6-1, 306-pounder showed in his first year why he should be a part of the Titans' defense for a long time to come, and he is most definitely expected to be a part of their interior rotation up front in 2013, along- side some fellow promising defensive tackles such as fellow Big Ten alum Karl Klug of Iowa. • Brandon Graham, DE/LB, Philadelphia Eagles — Graham finally stayed healthy and began to show the flashes that made the Eagles trade up to pick him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 13th overall selection. Graham had a particularly memorable game against Cincinnati on Dec. 13, when he recorded a career-best 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The 25-year-old finished the campaign with 38 tackles, a team-best 5.5 sacks and played in all 16 GRAHAM games — all career highs — while he also tied career bests with six starts and two forced fumbles. He worked into the starting lineup during week 12 and collected four sacks in his six starts. Under new head coach Chip Kelly, it is expected the Eagles will at least occasionally employ a 3-4 defense, and Graham even told PhillyMag. com that he expects to play outside linebacker in 2013 and is in the process of moving down from the 270-275 pounds he played at last year to 260. The website said Graham is working out with fellow U-M alum LaMarr Woodley, a defensive end who transitioned to a 3-4 linebacker in the pros. If Graham can respond to standing up like his former teammate and come close to Woodley's career average of 8.7 sacks per season, the Eagles will be pleased with the investment they made in Graham despite just 8.5 sacks combined in his first three seasons. The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview  ■ 189

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