The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 63 of 275

62 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW know what you're good at, what you're OK at, and when you know what he's good at and OK at, you have a chance to win your one-on-one. "If he's good with his hands, you want to attack him from a distance. If he's really strong in his stance, you want to make him move side to side. If he likes to drop and keep his distance and just get in your way, then you need to get in close and use your hands. "It's like stepping into a boxing ring and only one is going to come out on top, and it's the guy that knows how to attack his opponent, how to defend himself, and then effectively delivers those blows." A Sack Is A Team Achievement It's no surprise that the most dominant sin- gle-season efforts — there have been nine dou- ble-digit sack campaigns since Michigan began keeping the stat officially in 1980 — coincided with outstanding overall defensive line play. In 1985, Messner set the U-M re- cord with 11 QB takedowns, a mark that would stand until 1996, but he had plenty of help. Mike Hammerstein was a 1985 All-American after racking up nine sacks and 23 tackles for loss while outside linebacker Jeff Akers added seven sacks. The defense accumulated 42 sacks overall. Messner had 10 sacks again in 1987, but then saw his tally dip to eight in 1988 due in part to the lack of help he received — teammates combined for only eight sacks on their own. Chris Hutchinson tied Messner's mark with 11 sacks during an All-American se- nior season in 1992, and he owed at least some of his success to defensive teammates that pressured the quarterback from every angle, registering another 35 takedowns. History repeated itself in 1997, when Steele had seven sacks and his teammates had 31, and 2006, when Woodley had 12 sacks and his brethren 30. Graham's success appears to be an anomaly. He had 10 sacks in 2008 while the rest of the Wolverines added only 19, and then had 10.5 in 2009 with his teammates totaling 11.5. "You're only as strong as the entire group," said Carr, who had a career-high six sacks as a junior in 1995. "If you're a nose guard like I was, you're going to get two people on you, but what you can't do is allow yourself to get blocked by one guy because you need to create an opportunity for your three teammates to be in one-on-ones. "Sometimes with max-protection schemes, or if they keep a tight end or a fullback in, you'll have two guys getting combo blocked, but on any given play, there is almost always at least one guy getting blocked one-on-one. That's why a defensive line is only as strong as its weakest link, because if someone is single blocked, he has to be the one that gets to the quarterback." Rumishek played alongside tackles Nor- man Heuer and Shawn Lazarus and across from bookend Shantee Orr. All four had ca- reer years in 2001 — Rumishek posted seven sacks, Orr six, Heuer five and Lazarus two — and it helped that linebackers Larry Foote and Victor Hobson combined for 11 quarterback takedowns. "One guy may end up getting the most sacks, but those numbers come from being surrounded by other guys that are also getting to the quarterback," Rumishek said. "It's all about working together, because if you have a nose tackle like Will Carr that is collapsing the pocket so the quarterback cannot step up, then he has to sit deep, and now I'm coming off the edge or someone like LaMarr Woodley and now you can use your speed. "The scheme can be important because sometimes it isolates one guy to just rush, but it's more important when you have all four starters doing their job because they enable each other. "I don't think it's any coincidence that I had my best year the same year that my teammates were having their best year. If you're an op- ponent, and everyone up front shows they can make a play, who do you block? Maybe one game it was me, and then Shantee made some plays and the next game it was him, and I had more freedom. "Almost always if you see one guy with a lot of stats, you'll see another guy, or two, or three that is also getting the job done." Savoring The Moment Every defender has his favorite sack. But for the fan, perhaps there is no moment that signifies what a sack means more than when Alan Branch stood over Penn State quarter- back Anthony Morelli in the third quarter of a 2006 game. Branch did not record a sack on the play, but running unblocked he unleashed his entire 6-6, 331-pound frame into Morelli, burying him into the sod. Michigan would sack the PSU quarterback seven times that evening in a 17-10 win. "It's that moment where you're truly the bully," said Rumishek, who had 11.5 sacks when his career ended in 2002. "It's that split- second when football is that violent sport, and that moment when you relish it. That's hard for me to say because, as a father, I hate bullies, but when you put those pads on, and that's your job, and you're removing yourself from just plastering some quarterback, it's just … fun." "It's like an addiction," Graham added. "Once you've had your first taste, especially in the big games because the atmosphere is dialed up, you just want to get another taste and another taste. "You don't want to hurt anyone, but I want to hit that quarterback so hard that he feels pain every snap because he feels me coming. That's the point — to make them think you're there even when you're not because then you've taken him out of his game plan." No one enjoyed that feeling more than Messner, and as his career un- folded, he began to discover the greatest form of respect. "What is most rewarding is knowing the game plans are made to prevent you from doing what you're doing," he said. "You can see it on the film, watch how a team blocks game to game and then they change their entire game plan because you're there. "And every pass rusher can attest to that. They go to all that trouble and you still are the disruptive factor, and the crowd goes nuts, there is no greater sat- isfaction than that. You may not get the sack, but you know you've done your job and it's very rewarding." Michigan has not featured a great pass rusher since Graham departed — Ryan Van Bergen's 5.5 sacks in 2011 are the most by a Wolverine in the past four seasons — but Gra- ham feels senior weakside end Frank Clark has the ability to be U-M's next great chaos maker. "He has the work ethic, he has the desire," Graham said. "He's a guy that when I come back to Michigan, I spend a lot of time talking to because he's next to keep the tradition alive on the defensive line." Clark begins the season with 6.5 career QB sacks, including 4.5 last year. "My advice is look at all the great defensive ends, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Simeon Rice, and they basically had one move but they just mastered it," Steele said. "It's good to have a couple in your back pocket, but sometimes when you start to think, that's when you get in trouble. The best pass rushers are guys that just go on instinct." "Battle," Carr said. "Whether it's rushing the passer or being a quarterback, it's always about how mentally tough you are. There will LaMarr Woodley tied a U-M record with 12 sacks en route to being tabbed as the nation's top defensive end in 2006. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN 60-63.Art Of The Pass Rush.indd 62 6/19/14 12:39 PM

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - 2014 Michigan Football Preview