Checking in with ... Michigan's Scott Shafer, Part I

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Rich Rodriguez and his dynamic spread offense is all the rage at Michigan this summer, but the team's fate, particularly early in the season, likely hinges on what takes place on the other side of the ball.

From a personnel standpoint, Michigan's defense is much more stable. All four starting defensive linemen return, as do cornerbacks Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren. A mix of seniors and young players will compete for the starting linebacker spots in camp. Though the scheme change isn't as dramatic as the one on the offensive side, the Wolverines will mainly use a four-man front under new coordinator Scott Shafer after playing the 3-4 last season.

After an extended stay at Northern Illinois, Shafer has quickly climbed the coaching ranks -- and kept realtors in business. He comes to his fourth team in the last five seasons, previously serving as defensive coordinator at Stanford. He coached a Western Michigan defense that led the nation in both interceptions (24) and sacks (46) in 2006 before joining Stanford's staff. As Wolverines practice gets underway, Shafer weighed in about the work he needs to do before the opener Aug. 30 against Utah.

Do you even buy houses anymore, or are you taking advantage of this renter's market?

Scott Shafer: [laughs] I was lucky because when I was at Stanford, I didn't have to buy one. They actually bought us one, so that was nice. It was a good deal they had, so that made it a little bit easier on my wife.

You must have the most understanding wife in the world.

SS: She is the best.

With the guys you have coming back, do you look to the line as the starting point on defense?

SS: We have some kids that have played a lot of football up front coming back. That's where it starts anyway, so it's good to have those kids. They've kind of leaned themselves out this summer. They look great, lost a little bit of weight. I'm anxious to get them on the field. Hopefully, those hard workouts, we'll see results with our ability to run to the football better.

Has any guy stood out among that group during the summer?

SS: From a weight-room standpoint, Will Johnson and Brandon Graham have really done a great job. They put up some good numbers, from what they tell me. And they just look good. Their numbers have gone up, but their body weights have gone down a little bit here and there, which is a good thing in my opinion because they all have to be able to run. Those two really look good. [Tim] Jamison looks good, [Terrance] Taylor's slimmed down a bunch, so I'm excited to see what they can do. And then we have some young guys that I'm excited about, [Ryan] Van Bergen and [Renaldo] Sagesse are two kids that were here last week and they looked good. Only time will tell, but they're feeling good about their bodies and feeling good about their conditioning and strength improvement. That's a good place to start.

I know you're still evaluating what you have, but how much do you expect to play four down?

SS: We'll be multiple. It depends on who we're playing and what warrants what front, but as a starting point, I like the four-down look. It's been good to us over the years. We sprinkle in three down when needed, and the differences between the two make us a little bit multiple.

How have those linemen adjusted to that after playing more 3-4 last season?

SS: It's been pretty smooth. We have a lot of learning to do. We have about a month to get it in. We just started to scratch the surface in the spring, which gives us a chance as coaches to just let 'em play and watch them. Now we want to take it to a new level of learning to where they understand the concepts inside and out, so we can truly pull from those concepts and have a lot more defense in than we had in the spring. That's where we have to do a great job. We have to become good students of the game across the board. That will be one of our main focal points throughout the course of this next month.

There's obviously a lot of attention on the offensive side and the adjustment Rich [Rodriguez] and [offensive coordinator] Calvin [Magee] have to make, but you mentioned the learning on defense. Is it a dramatic change for these guys, given what they were doing before?

SS: Some of the X's and O's are similar, and of course some of them are drastically different. And then fundamentals within the framework of the schemes are drastically different from the specs. By position, there's different things more or less that they're going to have to pick up, but they've done a good job. They've been in the offices, running around, watching film on their own. There's some good signs there. We're just looking forward to being able to actually put 'em in a room and meet with 'em. It seems like it's been forever since we were able to do that.