Michigan D-linemen fit with scheme, staff

Ryan Van Bergen came to Ann Arbor to be a 5-technique defensive end for coach Lloyd Carr and coordinator Ron English.

Four years later, Van Bergen is finally fulfilling his original mission at Michigan.

Coaching change forces players to adjust to new schemes and personalities. But the defense Greg Mattison is installing this spring at Michigan feels familiar for Van Bergen, a fifth-year senior.

"I'm a little bit more comfortable," Van Bergen said Tuesday on a conference call. "This is the position I feel I was slotted to play."

Van Bergen isn't the only one feeling good about the new direction Michigan is taking this spring under Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke. After the defense reached historic lows under the previous regime, Hoke and his staff are trying to restore the unit.

The 4-3 alignment is back and the defensive front once again is the focal point of the scheme.

"Coach Hoke, particularly, says all the time our defensive line will be the most tested and will have to be the toughest group if we're going to be successful as a team," Van Bergen said. "I enjoy that pressure, and I think my position group enjoys that pressure."

Michigan is loading up on bulk with its line this spring. Van Bergen checks in at 6-foot-6, 283 pounds, while tackle Mike Martin (6-2, 299) and converted offensive lineman Will Campbell (6-5, 333) add to a more formidable front.

A larger line has made things easier for other units on the defense.

"There’s some much bigger bodies and a lot more weight up front than there was last year," Van Bergen said. "So the linebackers are having an easier time navigating and coming downhill and making plays."

Mattison didn't have to spend much time selling Wolverines defenders on himself or his system. His extensive coaching résumé both in college and especially his most recent stop as Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator did the trick.

"When you’re thinking of defenses, the first defense that comes to mind, for me, is the Ravens'," Van Bergen said. "When you come in with a reputation like that, everything the guy says is gold to everybody on the team. We just all bought in completely because of where he's come from and what he's done."

Hoke's track record as a longtime defensive assistant, including an eight-year stretch at Michigan from 1995-2002, also makes an impact on the players.

"Coach Hoke is more of a defensive-emphasis kind of coach," Van Bergen said. "He seems to put more pressure on us in practice situations. He's been with the D-line specifically through different drills in spring ball. Coach [Rich Rodriguez] was more of an offensive guy and he was with the offensive players and staff a little bit more. For me, personally, that's a big difference."