Position Preview: Defensive End

Ryan Van Bergen moves back to end after spending the 2009 season at defensive tackle.

Today the position previews continue with a look at Michigan’s defensive ends, as well as the rush linebacker-ish position (honestly, we’ve changed defensive formations/schemes enough where I’m not overly concerned with getting all the terminology right) spearheaded by Craig Roh:

Returning Contributors: Ryan Van Bergen (RS Jr.), Adam Patterson (RS Sr.), Steve Watson (RS Jr.), Craig Roh (So.), Brandon Herron (RS Jr.)
Ready to Contribute: Anthony LaLota (RS Fr.)
Incoming Freshmen: Jibreel Black, Jordan Paskorz, Davion Rogers, Kenny Wilkins
Key Departures: Brandon Graham

Returning Player Stats:

[table id=117 /]

The Projected Starters: After playing at defensive tackle in 2009, redshirt junior Ryan Van Bergen will slide back over to his natural defensive end position after Brandon Graham’s graduation. Van Bergen recorded five sacks in his first season as a starter, and he will be relied upon to pick up some of the pass rushing slack left by Graham’s departure. At 6-6, 283 pounds, Van Bergen has the size and strength to hold up against the run, and he is a solid all-around player at defensive end. He won’t put up Graham-like numbers, but Graham was a one-of-a-kind player.

At rush linebacker, sophomore Craig Roh will once again be the starter, and he should have a breakout year after adding 30 much-needed pounds since the 2009 season. Roh managed to put up decent numbers as a freshman despite being undersized and inexperienced, and his stats should see a big jump now that he can shed blocks and hold up better against the run game. Roh is a former four-star and Under Armour All-American, and his strong play early in his career indicated he will live up to that potential — he should be a dangerous threat as a pass-rusher and all-around playmaker in 2010.

The Competition: The Wolverines will be without one of their primary backups for the foreseeable future as defensive end Will Heininger recovers from a torn ACL suffered in spring practice. In his stead, true freshman Jibreel Black has made a very strong push to be Van Bergen’s primary backup, displaying a great ability to make plays in the backfield so far in fall camp. Former four-star Anthony LaLota should also push for playing time after adding 35 pounds since arriving on campus last year — he is still a very raw prospect, but he has all the physical tools to be an impact player. Redshirt senior Adam Patterson is listed at defensive end on the official roster, but recently has seen more time at nose tackle. He could back up a number of positions along the defensive line for the team this fall.

At rush linebacker, redshirt junior Brandon Herron will likely reprise his role as Roh’s backup — he is also a good pass-rusher, although at just 220 pounds he has had difficulties holding up against the run. Herron managed to record 20 tackles last season, but with Roh’s added weight he might not see the field as much in relief in 2010.

Others: Redshirt junior Steve Watson switched over to defense from tight end in 2009, playing mostly special teams while practicing at Roh’s hybrid position. Watson has moved down to defensive end this season, and should once again see most of his time on special teams while playing behind Black and Patterson on the depth chart. True freshman Kenny Wilkins arrived on campus with great size at 6-3, 262 pounds, but with Black’s emergence as a freshman who can play immediately he will likely take a redshirt year in 2010.

Michigan brought in two other true freshmen who project to play Roh’s hybrid spot down the road in Jordan Paskorz and Davion Rogers. Both will likely redshirt, as Paskorz is still a bit of a project at linebacker and Rogers — who at 6-6, 200 pounds closely resembles a broomstick in pads — will spend at least the next year packing on pounds before he can get in the mix for playing time.

Outlook: Although it’s impossible to replace a player with the talent and leadership of Brandon Graham, Michigan has a very capable and promising player in Ryan Van Bergen taking over at defensive end. He should see a spike in production this season after spending 2009 at defensive tackle, as should Craig Roh, who is much more prepared to handle the pounding of Big Ten football after adding 30 pounds of muscle to his frame. Jibreel Black has the chance to be an impact player right away as a situational pass-rusher, and the depth at both DE and rush linebacker is solid. While there will inevitably be a drop-off from the outstanding play of Graham, the team is still in good shape at the positions tasked with getting to the quarterback.

Previous Position Previews: Quarterback, Running Back, Outside Receiver, Slot Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Tackle, Interior Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle

For every position preview, click here or hit the “2010 Position Previews” tag at the bottom of the post.

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