Expect Michigan’s defensive linemen to rotate, and rotate some more
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — By the middle of the 2015 season, Matt Godin still felt physically fresh. Granted, he didn’t feel as fresh as he did at the start of the season, but the defensive tackle for the Michigan football team noticed that he didn’t feel as achy or as mentally worn down as he had in previous seasons.
He attributed his health and his mindset after Michigan’s first six games to strategy. He was part of a Wolverines defensive line that rotated a handful of players through the course of a game. In a renaissance year for the Wolverines, the health of the defensive line became vital in Michigan’s success.
“Depth is very important, especially being that it’s a long season,” Godin said. “When you have guys that don’t have to play every single game and every single play, it definitely shows at the end of the season. You’re healthier.”
Expect that depth to become stronger this year for the Wolverines. Michigan opens the season at noon Saturday against Hawaii, and second-year defensive line coach Greg Mattison said Wednesday that he plans to field an eight-man rotation that will include returning players Godin, DE/DT Chris Wormley, DT Bryan Mone and DT Ryan Glasgow.
Michigan was one of the nation’s top defenses in 2015, allowing an average of 280.7 yards in 13 games (fourth in FBS), including 158.5 yards passing per game (third in FBS). Michigan attributes that success directly to its depth, a defensive trend that Mattison explained is part of the recent evolution of offenses in football.
“That’s really, really important in any defense nowadays, with the way people like to run spread offenses and fast-paced offenses,” Mattison said. “They negate a good defensive line. They try to tire them out. They try to get them running from sideline to sideline and then they try to make them down to their level or average by being tired.”
As the offenses have evolved, so have the defensive linemen.
“Nowadays, the D-linemen are bigger than they used to be and they’re carrying a lot of weight,” Mattison said. “To have guys that rotate is really key. Last year, we were a better defensive team when we had rotations.”
Of Michigan’s six returning defensive linemen, DT Maurice Hurst is the “smallest” at 6-foot-2, 282 pounds. The biggest are Wormley (6-foot-6, 302 pounds) and Mone (6-foot-4, 310 pounds).
Offensive and defensive linemen share similar physical attributes — they’re almost always the biggest men on a football team’s roster — but their responsibilities are different. While the same five players almost always make up an offensive line, the wear and tear of playing on the defensive line necessitates the need for depth.
“Offensive linemen don’t run to the football sideline to sideline,” Mattison said. “Ours do. Good ones do. But if you watch a defensive line, every play, whether it’s a pass all the way downfield or a sweep wide, you expect your defensive linemen to be running as hard and as fast as they can get there.”
That constant pounding might take a certain toll on some players, unless they’re in a rotation like Michigan’s defensive line. Godin finds one more advantage in his team’s depth at defensive line.
“You’re a lot fresher, and that definitely pays off,” Godin said. “But I think the biggest thing with the rotation is that there’s more competitiveness. It makes everyone better.”
Rachel Lenzi covers Michigan sports for Landof10.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @RLenziAJC