Defensive Line Preview: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

Tag: Will Heininger

29Dec 2011
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Defensive Line Preview: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

Defensive end James Gayle was Second Team All-ACC for the Hokies

Fifth year senior strongside end Ryan Van Bergen (6’6″, 288 lbs.) is a three-year starter and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention this past season; he finished the year with 41 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries.  Senior nose tackle Mike Martin (6’2″, 304 lbs.) is also a three-year starter and has been Second Team All-Big Ten the past two seasons; he ended the regular season with 54 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks.  Fifth year senior defensive tackle Will Heininger (6’6″, 295 lbs.) is a former walk-on who started for the first time this season; he has 23 tackles and 1 sack.  Junior weakside end Craig Roh (6’5″, 269 lbs.) is a three-year starter; he currently has 29 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
Backups: The key backups are junior defensive tackle William Campbell (6’5″, 322 lbs.), sophomore defensive end Jibreel Black (6’2″, 260 lbs.), and freshman defensive end Frank Clark (6’2″, 228 lbs.).  Campbell mostly plays behind Martin and has 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks on the season; there is a good chance Campbell will start due to a lower leg injury to Heininger.  Black is Roh’s platoon mate at weakside end and finished the regular season with 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks.  Clark also plays weakside end and plays situationally, but provides a speedy matchup and made 5 tackles on the season.  If Campbell does indeed start against Virginia Tech, that will increase playing time for redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Quinton Washington (6’4″, 302 lbs.), who has made just 1 tackle this season.

 Redshirt junior Antoine Hopkins began the year as a starting defensive tackle but tore his ACL halfway through the season.  His sophomore brother Derrick (6’0″, 301 lbs.) started every game at DT and finished with 50 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.  Freshman defensive tackle Luther Maddy (6’1″, 283 lbs.) picked up for the elder Hopkins, notching 17 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery.  Redshirt sophomore defensive end James Gayle (6’4″, 257 lbs.) was named Second Team All-ACC after making 34 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks.  Redshirt sophomore J.R. Collins (6’2″, 240 lbs.) made 50 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and 1 interception on the year and earned All-ACC Honorable Mention.
Backups: Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray (6’4″, 264 lbs.) made 14 tackles and 1 tackle for loss on the year.  Freshman defensive tackle Corey Marshall (6’1″, 253 lbs.) has made 12 tackles and 2 sacks as a frequently used reserve.  Redshirt junior defensive tackle Isaiah Hamlette (6’5″, 291 lbs.) has made 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack on the year.

Michigan definitely has an advantage in the size department, where the average Wolverines starter is about 19 lbs. heavier than his Hokies counterpart.  Virginia Tech is small, quick, and relatively young, since all four starters are sophomores or freshmen; conversely, Michigan has three seniors, and the only junior starter has been starting since his true freshman season.  Although Campbell is a mammoth backup tackle, none of the backups has been exceptional for either squad.  Size is important here, since Michigan’s small-ish offensive line matches up against Virginia Tech’s small-ish defensive line, and the Wolverines’ large-ish defensive line goes up against a large-ish Hokies offensive line.

The Hokies defensive line has helped them to rank #17 against the run (107.8 yards per game) and tie for #11 in sacks (2.92 per game), so despite the lack of size and experience, they are fairly effective.  Gayle and Collins make a formidable pass rushing duo from the edges.  Meanwhile, the Wolverines are #34 in rushing defense (129.1 yards per game) and #27 in sacks (2.33 per game).  The numbers suggest the Hokies are stronger up front defensively, and the potential loss of Heininger will be a blow to a thin defensive line.

Advantage: Virginia Tech

8Dec 2011
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Michigan vs. Ohio State Grades: Defense

Desmond Morgan struggled with Braxton Miller’s speed but otherwise looks like a solid player for the Wolverines

I once again worked out some grades for Michigan’s defense against OSU (see also: Nebraska).  Grades for each play ranged from +3 to -3 for good/bad reads, filling/missing assignments, and physical superiority/inferiority.

+10 . . . Not as dominant as in previous games, but doesn’t get beaten – ever
RVanBergen: +8 . . . More big plays than Martin, but got out of rush lane a couple times
WHeininger: +6 . . . Physically overmatched, but slanting helped him be effective
KDemens: +5 . . . Solid tackler who doesn’t give ground
JKovacs: +5 . . . Decent day but took a late hit penalty
CAvery: +3 . . . Consistently solid and then made a huge pick to seal the game
JBlack: +2 . . . Nice play near goal line to keep his feet and chase down Braxton Miller
TGordon: +2 . . . Beaten in pass coverage but made some nice tackles in open field
DMorgan: +2 . . . Usually in position but not fast enough to keep up with Miller.  Future MIKE?
WCampbell: +1 . . . Didn’t play much but held his ground when he did
CRoh: +1 . . . Had some nice pass rushes but big mistake on Miller’s TD run
JRyan: +1 . . . OSU ran away from him most of the game
BCountess: 0 . . . Got lucky on an overthrow, but mostly tight coverage
NBrink: -1 . . . Unfair to be matched up against Mike Adams but got blown off the ball
MJones: -1 . . . Just isn’t very fast or aggressive
TWoolfolk: -5 . . . Seemed to make some bad reads
JFloyd: -10 . . . Beaten deep a couple times, missed tackle on Dan Herron’s TD run

It sure seemed like defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was willing to take a lot of risks in this game, in hopes that Braxton Miller would make some freshman mistakes.  He did, but not a lot.  It looked like Mattison realized that his defensive line had been playing extremely well for the last several weeks and his game plan revolved around them dominating the game.  The starters combined for a +25 grade with Craig Roh being the weak link.

DeVier Posey is a great deal better than J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess.  There’s no way around it.  Michigan doesn’t have anyone who can handle him on the regular, so it might have been a good idea to try to force Miller to scramble and look to check down.  Miller probably played his best game of the season when it comes to throwing the ball, because they put almost the entire game on his shoulders.

OSU tried to take advantage of freshman weakside linebacker Desmond Morgan, but he held up pretty well.  Morgan was too slow in the open field to catch Miller a couple times, but it’s no surprise that an inside linebacker is going to be at a disadvantage against a guy like him.  Otherwise, Morgan made some excellent plays inside and blew up fullback Zach Boren a couple times.  He might lack the athleticism to stay at WILL for his entire career at Michigan, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slide over and replace Demens in 2013.

5Nov 2011
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Iowa 24, Michigan 16

Stay inbounds!
(image via

Well, that was boring.  I remember when Michigan was completely devoid of big plays.  The year was 2008.  That year sucked.  In two of the last three games, Michigan has been unable to create big plays offensively (MSU being the other).  That bodes unwell.

Have I mentioned that J.T. Floyd isn’t very good?  Freshman Blake Countess is the best cornerback on the roster, and it’s not even close.  Countess had 6 tackles and was credited with 1 pass breakup, although it seems to me he had at least 2 of them.  Iowa targeted star wide receiver Marvin McNutt frequently, and Countess either had tight enough coverage to prevent a completion or was close enough to tackle immediately. Floyd, not so much.  Hopefully another corner steps up in 2012, because Floyd just isn’t getting it done.

Have I mentioned that Denard Robinson isn’t very good?  Denard’s final passing numbers: 17-for-37, 194 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 1 lost fumble.  He’s throwing the ball right now like he’s just hoping that his receivers will be spectacular.  In the fourth quarter, he chucked numerous bombs down the field to receivers who were well covered . . . and even if they weren’t well covered, the passes fell harmlessly to the turf somewhere around the Nebraska border.  Roy Roundtree knocked Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater on his ass, streaked down the field wide open, and Robinson wasn’t even close to completing the pass.  We should all be hoping for a second-year bump in Robinson’s performance next year, because counting on him to win the game with his arm is like counting on Mike Sorrentino to win Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?.

On a positive note, the defensive line is coming along.  After last week’s solid performance, the defensive line once again had a good game, producing 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks.  Iowa had a good day running the ball with Marcus Coker (29 carries, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns), but the troubles stopping the run seemed to come from the linebackers.  The Hawkeyes seemed to take advantage of freshman Desmond Morgan, who looks good at times, but when it comes down to it, he’s just a true freshman.  There’s a reason that true freshman linebackers don’t often start.

The coaches have turned Denard Robinson into a divining rod for the sideline.  I want to keep Denard Robinson healthy as much as the next guy, but this whole “run out of bounds whenever you’re within spittin’ distance” thing is getting ridiculous.  Especially when nobody else is capable of making big plays because Michigan a) can’t block or b) can’t catch Robinson’s errant throws, then by golly, get upfield and stop searching for the sideline.  I know he’s being coached to do it because the coaches and Robinson have said as much, but it’s virtual nonsense.  Robinson’s most effective running play this season has been the quarterback sweep, which by definition is run toward the sideline; if he’s supposed to get out of bounds whenever he nears the sideline, then the coaches are removing a huge threat.  Robinson’s speed makes defensive players take bad angles; in other words, flowing defenders aim too far upfield.  That’s how cutback lanes develop.  Let the kid play.  If he gets hurt, Michigan is screwed.  But if he plays like a porcelain doll, Michigan is screwed, too.  At least go down swinging.

Is this a football or a Shake Weight?  I don’t understand why Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner both carry the ball away from their bodies with one hand.  Tate Forcier had this problem and Michigan paid dearly for it.  Last year Robinson always carried the ball in his inside hand, which cost Michigan dearly against Ohio State (and other games).  The fact that both Michigan quarterbacks are getting away with this behavior makes me think that it’s poor coaching.  Don’t get me wrong – this team is much better coached than the past few iterations.  But this is an area that needs to be shored up, and soon.  It’s somewhat understandable that Gardner is doing it, since he’s raw and only a sophomore/redshirt freshman, but Robinson is a junior and a two-year starter.  There’s no excuse for his lack of ball security.

Is the above picture . . . a) an excellent way to get ripped, or
b) the worst way to hold a football?  Trick question: it’s both!

Iowa is tough at home.  I predicted at the beginning of the year that Iowa would beat Michigan, and I should have stuck with that prediction yesterday.  Iowa is always a fundamentally sound team (as is Michigan State), and those kinds of teams give Robinson trouble because he’s someone who takes advantages of opponents’ mistakes.  Iowa stayed gap sound defensively and for the most part (except when Prater fell down) didn’t allow Michigan’s big-play receivers to get behind them.  Kudos to Iowa for being well coached and disciplined . . . on the field, anyway.

8Jul 2011
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2011 Countdown: #54 Will Heininger

Will Heininger (#39) along with teammates Zac Ciullo (#61) and John Ferrara (#74)

Name: Will Heininger
Height: 6’6″
Weight: 267 lbs.
High school: Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, MI
Position: Defensive end/tackle
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #39
Last year: I did not rank Heininger due to the ACL injury he suffered prior to the season.  He recovered from the injury in time for Michigan’s last three games (all losses) and to make 3 tackles.

Heininger developed into a serviceable backup for Brandon Graham by 2009, which is why his ACL tear in the spring of 2010 must have been frustrating.  Heininger had been in line for a fair amount of playing time in 2010, and frankly, he probably would have beaten out Adam Patterson for minutes along the defensive line.  Unfortunately, his injury robbed him of most of his redshirt junior year, and now he’s back for one last hurrah.

Big #39 only has 13 career tackles, but that’s not bad for a former walk-on.  This past spring he played strongside end, but he also saw some time at the 3-tech defensive tackle position.  With the shortage of interior defensive linemen on the roster, there’s a very good chance that Heininger will see some time at the 3-tech during the season.  I don’t expect him to be much of a playmaker, but he does play with good technique and holds his ground pretty well against guys who are bigger than him.  He’s just a rotation player, but you need those guys sometimes.

Prediction: Utility backup defensive lineman