2011 Countdown: #15 William Campbell

2011 Countdown: #15 William Campbell

August 16, 2011
Teric Jones (gone), Thomas Gordon (here), William Campbell (here), Boubacar Cissoko (jailed)

Name: William Campbell
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 322 lbs.
High school: Cass Technical High School in Detroit, MI
Position: Defensive tackle
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #73
Last year: I ranked Campbell #29 and said he would be the backup nose tackle.  He was a backup NT (1 tackle, 1 pass breakup) for the first half of the season before switching to offensive guard and sitting on the bench.

Now for the curious case of William Campbell, the former 5-star defensive tackle who has made two position switches and barely played at either one.  As a freshman in 2009, Campbell inexplicably played defensive tackle despite a) not being very good at it and b) having upperclassmen around him who could have just as easily taken those snaps.  But there he was, getting pancaked or walled off and making a whopping 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 pass breakups throughout the year.  He should have been a redshirt freshman in 2010, when he had a lone tackle before being planted on the bench as a 6’5″ offensive guard.  Campbell had a hard time playing with leverage, which is admittedly a tough thing to do when you’re a 6’5″ nose tackle (notice that the new coaching staff recruited the 6’3″ Ondre Pipkins for NT and continue to pursue the 6’2″ Danny O’Brien), which is yet another reason that the switch to a 3-3-5 was ridiculous.

So here we are in 2011.  Campbell is a junior (instead of a redshirt sophomore).  He’s been playing nose tackle (instead of 3-tech defensive tackle) for 1.5 years and offensive guard (instead of 3-tech defensive tackle) for half a year.  When the new coaching staff was hired, they immediately put him back at defensive line and said, “This is what you’re going to do, and we’re going to coach you up until you do it well.”  Campbell was 342 lbs. in the spring and, according to Brady Hoke, slimmed down to 316-319 by August.  At times he looked dominant in the spring, and at other times he just looked okay.  Facing single blocking from opposing offensive guards (who are likely lighter and less athletic than Campbell) he ought to be able to disrupt opponents’ backfields on a regular basis.  With the pass rushing ability of Craig Roh on one side, the quick and strong Mike Martin on the other, and the well rounded Van Bergen at strongside end – not to mention improved coaching, focus, and conditioning – Campbell seems poised for a breakout season in 2011.

Prediction: 40 tackles, 3 sacks


  1. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    I hope you're right! While you need to score points to win, i think the success of the season depends primarily on the success of the defensive line. I should probably rephrase this, the most important position group is the defensive line. If Will Campbell has a breakout season, then the defense is in for a surprising year.

  2. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    I hope RJS does better than the average Cass Tech recruit of the past few years. 🙂 Gordon (perhaps due to that high school QB gig) is the best of the bunch so far.

  3. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    I agree, but even if he doesn't have a great "breakout" season but performs at the level that a starting DT/NT should and make opposing offenses account for him it will be a solid move. In other words, RVB isn't a "great" player but he gets the job done. Plus it doesn't appear that we have anyone else better that can put into that spot.

  4. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    @ Anonymous 8:19 a.m.

    I'm telling you, high school quarterbacks are where it's at. A lot of times they're a high school's best athlete, but they also learn to understand the game. I'm not saying every single one will turn into a star, but they're a notch above the rest.

  5. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    @ Anonymous 8:28 a.m.

    I think the mere fact that we'll be running a 4-3 will be an improvement. Not that the 3-3-5 can't work, but we just didn't have the personnel. Demens looks like a star in the making. And frankly, if Campbell can simply hold his ground against single blocks, then we ought to be okay against the run. I really think this defense is going to surprise some people with how much of a jump they make. It's not going to be a top 10 defense, but top 40 isn't out of the question (which is a huge leap when you consider they were in the 100s last year).

  6. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    I have a lot more faith that the current coaches can get more out of Campbell than the previous staff did.

  7. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    Thunder says, "With the pass rushing ability of Craig Roh on one side, the quick and strong Mike Martin on the other, and the well rounded Van Bergen at strongside end – not to mention improved coaching, focus, and conditioning – Campbell seems poised for a breakout season in 2011.

    I say, "From your keyboard to God's screen."

  8. Comments: 21386
    Painter Smurf
    Aug 16, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    I wonder if Campbell feels the pressure. His ability to play well may be the single biggest unknown that determines how good this defense will be. If he is competent, that gives Mattison a lot of flexibility in the front and should free up Martin somewhat. If he is still not up to the task, the back-up situation is weak and the coaches will have to shift guys around.

    Call me skeptical that he is turning into a good player. He just has not shown the aggressive mentality for the position from what little I have seen in games. But insiders insist that he is making strides, so hopefully they are right. One area I hope he can improve is getting out of his stance quicker at the snap.

  9. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    Great work as always Magnus…I've tried to predict how your top 20 would turn out here and I have to admit (while I'm trying to not be "that" guy that questions your rankings), I'm completely shocked Hagerup is higher up than Big Will. Not that I'm saying the punter isn't important, but more important than Big Will for this season? Campbell is the missing piece to having an excellent D-Line…if he can be solidly good, it should have a huge trickle down effect to the rest of the defense.

  10. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 10:14 a.m.

    I'm not expecting Campbell to be Ndamukong Suh at any point, but I do think he has improved. He has good coaches now who are using him in a position where "pad level" isn't quite as important as it was when he was playing NT. I think that's going to make a big difference. I thought he looked better in the spring and in August practice videos than he did at any point previously.

    I think the whole weight thing is overblown. He tends to get fat during/after the season and then lose weight from April to August. That's been S.O.P. for him so far in his career, so there's no reason to expect he won't balloon to 330-340 again by this coming April.

  11. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:15 a.m.

    I think you'll find that Hagerup isn't much higher than Campbell.

    Regardless, the drop-off from Hagerup to his backups is potentially precipitous. That's why Hagerup is (was?) so important. Last year Broekhuizen averaged 28 or 29 yards a punt, while Hagerup averaged almost 44. If we punt 4 times a game, that's a difference of about 60 yards. Wile is a wild card. Who knows how he'll respond to the pressure of punting?

    So Hagerup's absence could cost us 60 yards a game. Somehow I don't think Campbell's absence would be the difference between giving up, say, 300 and 360 yards a game.

    That's the way I see it, anyway.

  12. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    And I thought I was being optimistic…

    A top 40 defense would be a historic turnaround. I think, if everything goes well, we're talking a team in the 60s. Aside from Demens and Martin, not many guys appear capable of being above average starters in the conference. Also, you're dealing with a coaching and scheme change that will leave the defenders playing tentative, at least through the early season.

    I love the direction the coaching staff is taking the program. I love the massive improvement in outlook compared to last year. But in the big picture, this is still a limited squad with walk-ons playing a prominent role.

    I hope you're right on Campbell but the guy has just been SO inept that it's hard to see him as anymore than a liability, even after making dramatic strides and being put in a better position for his abilities. His upside seems to be "not awful". I still worry teams will just run it straight at and over him. I think the chances of Washington or even Ash turning into plus starters are better than Campbell.

    The above may sound negative, but I actually think this team can win 9 games this year. An average defense, a talented offense, and a very favorable schedule combine for a successful season. But that doesn't change the reality that Campbell may see less time than Heininger and Brink.

  13. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    Like I said before, this D-line could kill people if things work out.

  14. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    @ Lankownia 12:04 p.m.

    I'm not saying that Michigan WILL have a top 40 defense. I'm simply saying that I don't think it's out of the question.

    I think Carvin Johnson, Troy Woolfolk, Kenny Demens, Mike Martin, and Craig Roh all have the ability to be "above average" to "very good." The rest are probably average, and there's not much depth. But if injuries stay away (hopefully), good things could happen.

    I think Campbell was playing out of position, as I said above. I don't think judgment should be passed on him until he sees some time at the 3-tech and gets a chance to beat single blocks. He wasn't a nose tackle, just like Craig Roh wasn't a linebacker. Things ought to get better from here.

  15. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 8:03 PM


    I don't think the schedule is so favorable. Early in the season the offense and defense will be learning new systems, and the coaches will be learning the players — a good opportunity for someone to upset us. Notre Dame is likely better than we are at this point and SD State is much tougher than most people think — Yahoo/Rivals ranks them one spot below us (35th and 36th, IIRC).

    Eventually we'll get in sync, but our last six games are: MSU, Purdue, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, OSU. We'll probably be underdogs in four of those games, and playing OSU right after NE will be tough. And let's not forget the Big Ten Championship the following week!

  16. Comments: 21386
    Aug 16, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    I hear you Thunder, but I think it IS out of the question. No way, no how. Not with this personnel and not this year (first in new system).

    I'm not as high on Roh. He seems like a rush end who isn't that good at rushing. I doubt his ability against the run and his attempt to play at 270 lbs. I'd rather he was at 260-265 since1 adding a lot of weight in such a short time can be detrimental. He has talent and potential, but I don't think he's going to put it all together till 2012.

    I think Campbell, Jones, Gordon, Avery, Kovacs, and Johnson will be below average this year. For the sophomores above, I like them long-term, but its about age and experience – they should be backups this year. For Campbell and Kovacs, I just think what they can do is limited. I'll be rooting for both though.

    The depth issue doesn't seem to be as bad as I anticipated. Still, can't afford to lose any of the three seniors or we're in trouble…

    I hope switching positions means as much as you think it can with Campbell and Roh. I'm just a little burnt out on hearing how position switches are going to change anything. Way too many in the last few years. Different show now, I know, but I'm still leery of seeing a great deal of gains from it.

    What I AM excited about is the potential of them moving Martin around. However, I don't think that's possible with Campbell. I think they need someone like Washington there who is at least functional as a NT. (or thats the hope anyway).

  17. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    I have a theory about BWC playing as a true freshman. I had heard from several sources that sometimes Rich Rod would promise some of the big recruits that he would play them as true freshman and he largely kept his word. It's possible BWC would have transfered had he been forced to redshirt. We'll never know.

    BTW, great content on here the last two weeks. You have been really pumping it out.

  18. Comments: 21386
    Painter Smurf
    Aug 17, 2011 at 2:57 AM


    That's likely. I think coaches are under pressure to play kids who do not want to redshirt. Many kids make this plain during the recruiting process. Fans constantly complain about burning redshirts but a lot of recruits just don't want them. And you see it happen in most programs. I imagine there is additional motivation to play a kid who sacrificed his last semester of high school to enroll early and get beat up by 22 year olds. In general, playing a lot of young kids keeps morale high. So a strategy to redshirt everyone is not feasible, unless you are at a place like Northwestern and bringing in lower level recruits.

  19. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    I can understand the issue of a new system with the offense but I find that claim questionable for the defense as they're going to a 4-3 (which many had played previously) and not something complicated like a 46 defense.

    Also, in regards to Campbell specifically, most DT's struggle in college as true freshmen. Even Suh was nnot wwhat he'd become during his first 2 years, not that I'm comparing Campbell to him.

  20. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    @ Lankownia 4:43 p.m.

    I don't think you're giving Roh enough credit. He had 2 sacks as a freshman. Brandon Graham had a total of 3 tackles and 1/2 a sack as a freshman. Last year Roh was playing out of position on a team that had 18 total sacks in 13 games. A new defensive philosophy might be all he needs to break out. I'm not prediction 12 sacks or anything, but he hasn't really had a chance to shine yet.

  21. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 4:45 PM


    Graham hardly played as a freshman, while Roh was a mainstay. Obviously, I don't have the difference in snaps available, but I'd guess that Roh saw at least 10 times more.

    According to ESPN, Graham had zero sacks his freshman year and then 8 his sophomore year. Roh had 2 as a freshman and 0.5 as a sophomore.

    Now, he may not have been used correctly, but 0.5 sacks is awful for a starting edge player, no matter what scheme you're running. Especially with how many snaps he saw on the awful '10 defense.

    Back to the main point and the discussion of Campbell – I just don't think defensive philosophy matters as much. I think GERG's incompetence, while significant, is overstated somewhat. Big time players make pl…show up regardless of the system. Martin did. Demens did (when he was freed from the bench shackles).

    Scheme can (and i think will) help, but its not going to turn unproductive players into beasts. Again, I'll be very happy to be wrong.

  22. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    @ Lankownia 12:45 p.m.

    You're right that Graham hardly played as a freshman. I don't see that as a notch on Graham's belt. He didn't play because he wasn't good enough and Michigan had other guys who were better at that point. He still played in 11 games, though.

    Meanwhile, if "big time players make big time plays" or "show up regardless of the system" and you use Mike Martin as an example…

    …why did he make only 37 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks? Those are marginally worse than Roh's freshman numbers (37 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception).

    I realize they have different circumstances (Martin was hobbled by ankle injuries, Roh was a DE and not a NT, etc.), and I'm not making the argument that Martin is a bad player. He's clearly good. But if good players are good regardless of the system, then why did Martin fail to put up impressive numbers?

    I understand your point, which is essentially "It's Jimmy's and Joe's, not X's and O's." And I agree with that to an extent. But if you take a 250 lb. "weakside end" (which almost everyone agrees Roh was) and put him at LB or a 4-tech DE, good things just aren't going to happen. You can't say, "Hey, Charles Woodson. You're a great player, so why don't you hop in there at nose tackle?" A coaches job is to put his players in the best positions for them to succeed, and I don't think Rodriguez/Robinson did that.

    You'll notice that a lot of nose tackles in the world are shorter than 6'5". Albert Haynesworth (who's 6'6") got moved to NT and absolutely hated it. The first two NT's to come to mind in the NFL are Kelly Gregg (formerly of the Ravens and now of the Chiefs) and Casey Hampton (from the Steelers). They're 6'0" and 6'1", respectively, and two of the best in the game. I don't think that's a coincidence.

  23. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 7:09 PM


    Freshman production is primarily a function of opportunity. Graham and Martin were behind quality veteran players, while Roh was not. That's why Roh played a lot more (and therefore put up more stats. (That and NT and DE are very different statistically).

    In short, freshman production isn't meaningful once we have more data available. Graham is a great example of that.

    If you want to argue that Roh's playing time was because of talent or ability, then that shouldn't have disappeared by sophomore year. Roh's soph year produced little while Martin and Graham elevated their games and their production corresponding to a bigger role. I don't think you can blame that all away on scheme.

    My point about production vs scheme was that both Martin and Graham managed to produce regardless if they were coached by Ron English, Scott Schafer, or Greg Robinson. Roh hasn't shown that same ability.

    Roh was misused. That I won't debate. But he still got plenty of opportunities to rush the passer from the edge and failed to get sacks. Circumstances may have played a role in that, but they shouldn't eradicate his production totally.

    We've seen people like Cato June used at the wrong position before and remain productive. OTOH, we've also seen people like Stevie Brown go from struggling to excelling. I think the latter case is far more rare.

    Put yet another way – I think Charles Woodson would have been a half-decent safety or OLB. Craig Roh wasn't asked to play CB, it was OLB.


    As for the NT height thing – I think it's a great point. But I don't think you need double teams on the interior to shove Campbell backwards. I've seen single blockers do it too. Furthermore, the Ravens defense liked to move around their DT/NT and wants them to be at least somewhat interchangeable. So if they're serious about moving around Martin, Campbell's got to get a lot better.

  24. Comments: 21386
    Aug 17, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    I actually almost said the Jimmy's and Joe's line earlier. Woulda been more succinct.

    I guess I just think Roh is more RVB than BG. Not meant as a diss, it just limits my expectations. On top of that, I think the coaching change combined with physical change will make for a bit of an uphill transition for him.

    As for Campbell, I HOPE he can be a decent contributor and a non-liability in the DL rotation. To me, he's more like Greg Banks or Adam Patterson, who, despite their recruiting hype, don't have what it takes to be impact players…but maybe he can help out without costing the team too much. Certainly playing beside quality guys like Roh and RVB and an elite player like Martin should give him a chance.

  25. Comments: 21386
    Aug 18, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    @ Lankownia 3:09 p.m.

    You're missing the point about Martin. You say that big-time players make big-time plays, but here are Martin's stats in his three years:

    2008: 20 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks
    2009: 51 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks
    2010: 37 tackles, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks

    I'm not making the argument that Martin is bad…but statistically, he's no better than Gabe Watson or Terrance Taylor. Both of those guys turned into 4th round picks; Watson hasn't had a good NFL career and Taylor never played in the NFL. Isn't there a chance that if Martin is indeed a "big time player" then his production was negatively impacted by the defensive philosophy? I mean, if Martin has 60 tackles and 7 sacks this year, doesn't that provide evidence that the coaching sucked?

    Being a 6'5", 251 lb. outside linebacker in a 3-3-5 didn't suit Roh. You keep knocking his production but don't take into account that he was completely mismatched out there. You're right that he wasn't asked to play cornerback. He was asked to play linebacker, a position he never played in high school and one for which he was too big and stiff.

    We'll just have to see how Campbell's position change shakes out during the season.

  26. Comments: 21386
    Aug 18, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    Disagree with your point regarding Martin's stats. For an interior lineman, 6-9 TFL and 2-3 sacks is fine. Interior linemen are often tasked with soaking up blockers and not moving backwards. Their job isn't to accumulate stats, that's gravy. But we shouldn't read too much into stats for an interior linemen. Obviously, a guy like Suh put up crazy stats, but an impact player like Gilbert Brown did not. That said, my takeaway from those numbers is that the relative consistency of Martin's stats shows that he produced regardless of system.

    An increase in production from Martin could be the result of a scheme change, or him playing better, or him being used better, or some combo of the above. It's hard to say just based on statistics.

    While I agree that a change in scheme results in a change in role for some players. (i.e. Kovacs may have far fewer tackles this year, that doesn't mean he'll have played any worse.) The change in stats depends on the situation and the position.

    Can the same logic be applied to Roh? I don't think so, at least not to the same degree. An edge rusher is a different story, statistically. If you're not getting after the QB, you're not doing your job.

    I understand that Roh was misused frequently, but my argument is that he was still an edge rusher on most plays. I don't think it mattered that he was called a LB or a DE. His job, more often than not, was to get the QB. He didn't do it. When asked to cover he looked incompetent, but reportedly this staff is going to ask their WDE to do the same. Maybe less often, but it's still part of the job description.

    I guess I just don't see the previous coaching staffs incompetence as a complete excuse. It was an issue, but it doesn't explain everything. 0.5 sacks from an end rusher is woeful.

    This whole conversation may be moot if Roh doesn't get over whatever illness he has. Hope he gets better because, as much as I like J.Black, we need more than 1 DE, especially if RVB is going to be moving back inside at times.

  27. Comments: 21386
    Aug 19, 2011 at 1:45 AM

    @ Lankownia 11:37 a.m.

    You're right that Martin's stats are "fine" for a nose tackle. He's supposed to eat up blocks.

    And yet "big time players make big time plays." So which is it? Do big time players make big time plays? Or do big time players eat up blocks? As I said before, Mike Martin is no more of a "big time" player than Terrance Taylor or Gabe Watson, and his numbers show that. And if you're saying that Martin IS better than those two guys, then you have to admit that the coaching/defensive philosophy had something to do with it.

    You're right that 1/2 a sack from an end rusher is woeful. It's too bad he wasn't rushing from the edge, or else that stat would actually mean something.

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