Michigan's Team of the Decade: Defense

TOTD-Defense

With Michigan’s 2009 season wrapped up, and the “aughts” now over, I thought I would steal an idea from Dr. Saturday and have my readers vote on a Team of the Decade. Now, your votes have been tallied, so it’s time for me to reveal the Michigan Team of the Decade. The offense went up yesterday; today, it’s time to reveal the defense.

For position groups with more than one winner, the players are listed in order of total votes received.

Defensive Tackles:

Alan Branch (2004-2006): Branch played both DE and DT in his Michigan career, but his best games came as a tackle. At 6-6, 331, he was a more athletic player than Watson, able to make a play in the backfield or chase a runner down past the line of scrimmage. After spending his freshman year as a backup, Branch split time between end and tackle in 2005, totaling 34 tackles (four for loss) with 2.5 sacks and earning the Dick Katcher Award as Michigan’s best defensive lineman. With the departure of Watson, Branch moved full-time to tackle in 2006, and helped anchor one of the greatest defenses in school history, tallying 25 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, an interception (against Ohio State, no less), and one bone-crushing hit on Anthony Morelli. He was a consensus All-Big Ten first-teamer, and was drafted with the first pick of the second round by Arizona in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Gabe Watson (2002-2005): Watson was a space-eating behemoth (listed at 6-4 and anywhere between 331 and 339 pounds during his career) who could move like a much smaller man, often penetrating into the backfield despite facing double-teams. He played sparingly in his first two seasons before breaking out as a junior, tallying 37 tackles (six for loss) and two sacks and earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. In his senior season, Watson put up nearly identical numbers, with 40 tackles (six for loss) and two sacks, and again was named first-team all-conference. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by Arizona.

Defensive Ends:

LaMarr Woodley (2003-2006): Remember, children, guns don’t kill people — LaMarr Woodley kills people. Woodley, a coveted recruit from Saginaw, saw the field as a freshman before breaking out in his sophomore season, recording 70 tackles (16 for loss) and four sacks as an outside linebacker. As a rush linebacker in 2005, he added 12 more TFLs and six more sacks before moving full-time to defensive end in 2006. His senior season was his finest, as he tied the school single-season record with 12 sacks and 36 tackles (15 for loss), four forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. Woodley was named first-team All-America for his performance, and took home both the Ted Hendricks Award (best defensive end in the country) and Lombardi Award (best lineman, offensive or defensive, in the country) for his efforts. Woodley is third in school history in tackles for loss and tied for fourth in career sacks.

Brandon Graham (2006-2009): The heart and soul of the past two Michigan football teams (as well as the reigning two-time team MVP), Graham fought through constant double-teams to put up some of the finest defensive numbers in school history. After playing sparingly as a freshman, Graham burst onto the scene as a sophomore, tallying 9.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In 2008, Graham took over as the focal point of Michigan’s defense, recording 46 tackles, leading the Big Ten with 20 tackles for loss, and notching ten sacks en route to being named second-team All-Big Ten and SI All-America honorable mention. His senior season was even more impressive, as Graham led the nation (through the end of the regular season) in tackles for loss with an astounding 26 among his 64 total tackles, adding 10.5 sacks and being named the Big Ten co-MVP, a Hendricks Award finalist, first-team All-Big Ten, and first-team All-American by Rivals.com and Scout.com. Graham is second in Michigan history in tackles for loss and career sacks.

Linebackers:

David Harris (2003-2006): Harris went from little-used backup in his first two seasons to one of the finest linebackers in the country in his career at Michigan. His career nearly ended when he suffered a knee injury as a true freshman which kept him sidelined for nearly two seasons. After recording ten tackles as a redshirt sophomore, Harris had a breakout year in 2005, leading the team with 88 tackles and earning the Zatkoff Award. In 2006, Harris was the heart of one of the greatest defenses in school history, tallying 96 tackles (16 for loss), three sacks, and an interception, being named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches (the media, well, were idiots), taking home another Zatkoff Award, sharing team MVP with Mike Hart, and earning second-team All-America honors from the AP, Sports Illustrated, and Rivals.com.

Larry Foote (1998-2001): Foote wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup at Michigan until his junior season, but once he did, he became a force for the Wolverines. As a junior, he recorded 84 tackles (10 for loss), broke up seven passes, and recorded two interceptions en route to being named first-team All-Big Ten. He topped those numbers in his senior campaign, tallying 82 tackles, six sacks, seven pass breakups, and tying Mark Messner for the (then-) school record in tackles for loss with 26. Foote was again named first-team all-conference, won the Roger Zatkoff Award as the team’s most outstanding linebacker, and was named first-team All-America by Football News. Foote’s 44 career tackles for loss places him seventh in school history.

Victor Hobson (1999-2002): Hobson started 39 of his 49 career games with the Wolverines, and a consistent all-conference performer at outside linebacker in his final three seasons. After getting spot duty as a freshman, Hobson started ten games as a sophomore, amassing 58 tackles (12 for loss) and three sacks to earn All-Big Ten honorable mention and the Zatkoff Award as Michigan’s most outstanding linebacker. In his junior season, Hobson tallied 80 tackles (11 for loss) and five sacks and was named second-team All-Big Ten. As a senior, Hobson had his finest season, recording 99 tackles (13 for loss) and 5.5 sacks and earning first-team all-conference honors and another Zatkoff Award. Hobson’s 47 career tackles for loss places him fifth on Michigan’s all-time list.

Cornerbacks:

Marlin Jackson (2001-2004): Yup, I’m being lazy again. A little help, Bentley?

A native of Sharon, Pa., Marlin Jackson earned first-team All-America honors from College Football News as a sophomore. Jackson has accumulated 98 tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack, six interceptions and one fumble recovery in 24 career games at U-M. His 25 career pass break-ups places him fifth on Michigan’s all-time list. He was named to the Associated Press All-America second team and the Sporting News third team during his sophomore campaign. An All-Big Ten selection in 2002, Jackson set single game (six) and single season (18) pass break-up records and ranked sixth on the team with 51 tackles. Jackson earned Freshman All-America first team honors from the Sporting News after collecting 47 tackles, seven pass break-ups and three interceptions in 2001.

After switching to the safety position for his junior season, Jackson returned to the cornerback spot in 2004 and turned in another all-American performance. He earned first-team honors on the American Football Writers Association squad. A co-captain for the Wolverines, Jackson earned All-Big Ten first team honors from the coaches and media in 2004. Teams threw away from Jackson almost 87 percent of the time during the regular season. He  contributed 38 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one interception and four pass breakups this year. Jackson is the team’s active career leader in tackles (186) and pass breakups (34), with his PBU total ranking second all-time on Michigan’s career list.

Jackson’s records for pass breakups in a single-game (six, against Washington in 2002) and season (18, 2002, now tied with Leon Hall’s 2006 season) still stand, and his career total (34) now ranks third all-time at Michigan behind Leon Hall and Todd Howard.

Leon Hall (2003-2006): Hall made an immediate impact upon reaching Ann Arbor, playing in all 13 games as a freshman and finishing the season with 26 tackles and three interceptions, earning first-team freshman All-America honors. As a sophomore, with Jackson sliding over to safety, Hall started nine games at corner, tallying 48 tackles, two interceptions, and breaking up ten passes. Hall took over the No. 1 cornerback spot as a junior, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors with 61 tackles and four interceptions. His finest year came as a senior, when Hall tied Jackson’s school record for pass breakups (18), recorded 45 tackles and three interceptions, was a unanimous choice for first-team All-Big Ten, and was named an AFCA first-team All-American. Hall holds the school record for pass breakups (43), and is tied for fourth with 12 career interceptions.

Safeties:

Ernest Shazor (2002-2004): Shazor, another blue-chip recruit out of Detroit, was a tremendous physical presence at strong safety for Michigan. In his redshirt freshman year, he appeared in 12 games as a reserve, tallying 25 tackles and four pass breakups. He took over as the Wolverines’ strong safety the next season, starting Michigan’s final 11 games and recording 57 tackles (eight for loss), three pass breakups, and two interceptions, and was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches. His best year came as a junior, when Shazor earned first-team All-American honors and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award with 84 tackles (10 for loss), two pass breakups, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and a touchdown. Shazor also delivered one of the most memorable hits in school history, sealing a 16-14 victory over 12th-ranked Purdue by forcing a fumble on the Boilermakers’ final possession. Shazor would declare for the NFL Draft after his junior season, but went undrafted and did not catch on after a tryout with the Arizona Cardinals.

Cato June (1999-2002): June, a highly-coveted recruit who chose Charles Woodson’s No. 2 jersey upon enrolling at Michigan, managed to put together a very solid collegiate career despite being plagued by injuries. As a redshirt freshman, he appeared in all 12 games, starting the final four at free safety, and recorded 27 tackles and an interception. In the summer before his redshirt sophomore season, June tore his ACL, which caused him to miss the entirety of the 2000 season. He came back as a junior, starting 11 games between both safety spots and tallying 58 tackles (five for loss), four pass breakups, and two interceptions. As a senior, June started 11 of the team’s 13 games at strong safety, but was forced to miss the greater part of three games after suffering a concussion in a frightening collision against Iowa. He still managed to record 53 tackles (four for loss) and three pass breakups, and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. June became the first Michigan safety to be drafted since Corwin Brown in 1993 when he was chosen by Indianapolis in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

The team of the decade, condensed version (including special teams, which weren’t voted upon):

QB: Chad Henne
RB: Mike Hart
FB: B.J. Askew
WR: Braylon Edwards
WR: Mario Manningham
WR: David Terrell
TE: Bennie Joppru
T: Jake Long
T: Jeff Backus
G: Steve Hutchinson
G: Adam Kraus
C: David Baas
PK: Garrett Rivas
KR: Steve Breaston

DT: Alan Branch
DT: Gabe Watson
DE: LaMarr Woodley
DE: Brandon Graham
LB: David Harris
LB: Larry Foote
LB: Victor Hobson
CB: Marlin Jackson
CB: Leon Hall
S: Ernest Shazor
S: Cato June
P: Zoltan Mesko
PR: Steve Breaston (Yes, he’s also the KR. If you think that’s a cop-out, slide Darryl Stonum to KR and keep Breaston here.)

Thanks again to everyone that voted. I might have a few nitpicks with the team — I would’ve chosen Dudley at fullback, just because you don’t really need another running threat with Mike Hart in the backfield, and having a strong blocking back would complement him, and I was torn between June and Jamar Adams at safety — but for the most part I’m very happy with how it came out. Feel free to post your thoughts/disagreements about the team in the comments.

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