Pass Defense...or lack thereof
Ron Lee served a one-and-done tenure as Michigan's cornerbacks' coach as the Wolverines' secondary often struggled during the 2006 season. While Coach Lee was scapegoated for the secondary's shortcomings, it should be remembered that wunderkind Defensive Coordinator Ron English was responsible for coaching the safeties in 2006. The whole secondary underperformed during the course of the season. Michigan's pass defense was ranked 89th in the NCAA (of 119 Div. I-A teams) in terms of pass yardage as it yielded 224.92 yards per game. Conversely, Michigan had the #1 rushing defense in the nation. Of course, part of the reason Michigan was giving up yards through the air was because teams were throwing so much as they were unable to run the ball against the Wolverines' defense. As far as Pass Efficiency defense, Michigan was #4 in the Big 10 and #25 in the nation with a rating of 111.96. In 2006, the Wolverines defensive strategy was to protect the weak secondary by getting to the quarterback with a strong pass rush from its incredibly effective front seven. However, when the Wolverines were unable to get to the quarterback (see the OSU game) the defensive secondary coverage broke down and big plays were allowed. Overall, the secondary had a tough year. Here is a closer look at the top nine (9) players who made up the defensive secondary last season:
CB Leon Hall (Senior/Senior): Hall was a consensus All-American pick in 2006 and he was the anchor of the Wolverines' secondary. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation's top defensive back and he became Michigan's all-time leader in career pass break-ups with 43. He also finished his career tied for 4th all-time in interceptions with twelve.
CB Morgan Trent (Junior/Soph.): Trent started eleven games this season at right cornerback holding down the opposite end of the field from All-American Leon Hall. He tallied 45 tackles in 2006 which tied him for 4th best on the team. He is widely regarded as the fastest player on the team. He was tested often this past season (especially in the Rose Bowl) as teams threw away from Leon Hall. The good news is that he tied for the team lead with 8 tackles in the Rose Bowl. The bad news is that the USC receivers he was "covering" picked up an awful lot of yards before he eventually tackled them.
S Jamar Adams (Junior/Junior): Adams was the defensive signal caller for the 2006 Wolverines and he was a second-team All-Big 10 selection by the conference coaches. Adams started all 13 games this past season at strong safety and he recorded 47 tackles (3rd best on team) and 7 pass break-ups.
S Ryan Mundy (Senior/Junior): Mundy started six games and played in eleven contests at free safety in 2006. He did not play in the Rose Bowl game. On the year, he tallied 25 tackles, an interception, a pass break-up, a sack and two tackles-for-loss. Mundy played a key role for the defense this past season after missing all but one game of the 2005 campaign due to a nerve injury.
S Willis Barringer (5th/Senior): Barringer started the final three games of 2006 at free safety and played in 8 games overall at safety this past season. He is a four-year letter winner and was voted co-recipient of the Robert P. Ufer Bequest as the senior football player who exhibited the most enthusiasm and love for Michigan. He was injured during the first quarter of the game vs. OSU and missed the remainder of the contest but he returned to action for the Rose Bowl where he registered six tackles and two pass break-ups.
CB/S Brandon Harrison (Soph./Soph.): Harrison played both cornerback and safety in 2006 and had six starts in secondary and saw action in all 13 games. He played cornerback in twelve of those games. Recorded 30 tackles and 3 tackles-for-loss on the year.
S Brandent Englemon (Senior/Junior): Englemon started 5 games at safety in 2006 and appeared in 12 games during the season. He registered 29 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and three pass break-ups. He played on special teams units in the Rose Bowl game vs. USC.
CB Charles Stewart (Junior/Soph.): Stewart started two games at cornerback in 2006 and played in all 13 games. He totaled 24 tackles and two pass break-ups. There was a lot of pre-season talk, particularly from Def. Coordinator Ron English, that Stewart was coming on and would challenge for a starting spot. However, Stewart faded fast and was primarily utilized as a special teams player this past year. He finished third on the team with 11 special teams tackles.
CB Johnny Sears, Jr. (Soph./Fr.): Sears played in 12 games in 2006 and earned his first varsity letter. He recorded a career-best 4 solo tackles versus Ohio State while playing cornerback and on special teams units.
Of the players listed above, all but Hall, Barringer, and Mundy are expected (for now) to be returning for the 2007 season. Stevie Brown (Fr./Fr.) was mainly a special teams contributor in 2006 but did see action at safety in four games and figures to be a major contributor next season. As far as help from incoming recruits, Donovan Warren and Artis Chambers are expected to have the biggest impact next season on the defensive secondary of any of the newcomers. Go Blue!