Michigan D-line the reel deal

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

On the field, Michigan's Terrance Taylor is a disruptive nose tackle with a fondness for dropping ball carriers in the backfield.

In the film room, Taylor is a 319-pound peanut gallery.

When Michigan's defensive linemen get together to review tape from practices and games, coach Bruce Tall's voice isn't the only one bouncing off the walls. Taylor always chimes in.

"If a coach yells at me for missing a play," defensive end Tim Jamison said, "[Taylor will] try to reiterate, like, 'Yeah, man, you did mess up on that play,' and ask coach to keep rewinding it, try to make us mad."

Taylor admits he never misses a chance to jokingly prod his linemates. But he's not the only one.

"Especially if somebody gets put on their back or misses a tackle, the running back makes 'em look stupid, I definitely want to see it over again," Taylor said. "They do the same thing for me when I do something like that."

Fortunately for the Wolverines defensive linemen, film-room humiliation has been at a minimum so far this season. After a poor showing in the first half of the opener against Utah, the front four has looked like the strength of a transitioning Michigan team, as many expected it would be.

Michigan has racked up 7 sacks in its last six quarters of play and ties for second nationally with 9 sacks on the season. Seven sacks have come from the front four of Taylor, Jamison, end Brandon Graham and tackle Will Johnson -- all of whom are returning starters. The group isn't too shabby against the run, ranking fourth nationally in fewest yards allowed (41.5 ypg).

"Because we do have a lot of experience that came back this year, we're looked upon as being the leaders of this defense," Jamison said.

Michigan expects another strong performance from the defensive line Saturday when it visits Notre Dame. Both teams are struggling on offense, and the game could be won at the line of scrimmage.

Last year's meeting with the Fighting Irish turned into a highlight reel for Michigan's defense, which manhandled a new-look Notre Dame offensive line.

Graham had a career-high 3.5 sacks in the 38-0 win, and Jamison also dropped Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen behind the line.

"It was a pretty good memory," Jamison said, "but I'm sure Notre Dame is remembering it as well and they're going to be prepared."

Though the Wolverines expect to see an improved Irish offensive line in South Bend, their own expectations haven't changed.

"We're conditioned and we're ready to play four quarters hard, and run around and hit people," Taylor said. "We know what we need to do, and we're not going to let anything stand in our way."

No position group on Michigan's team comes close to matching the defensive linemen in terms of experience.

Taylor will make his 27th career start at nose tackle Saturday and has played alongside Johnson and Jamison since 2005. Graham, the only non-senior, led the team in sacks last fall (8.5) in his first season as a starter.

"I really think of them as my brothers," Taylor said. "We're probably the closest group on the team."

And arguably no Wolverines position group made greater strides during the offseason. Strength coach Mike Barwis' work with the whole team is extremely well documented, but quite possibly his biggest impact came with the defensive linemen.

"We got most of the records on the board, the squat and the bench press and the clean, stuff like that," Taylor said. "You want to be the best."

A chest injury limited Taylor in the bench press, but he increased his squat to about 700 pounds. Johnson did two bench-press repetitions of 545 pounds and improved in other areas, including speed work.

"When Barwis first came in, the power clean, I had like no technique," Johnson said. "I'm a lot more explosive now. My speed's also getting better, I feel, balance-wise and going in and out of movements."

The results are showing so far, but there's room for growth. Jamison said Tall wants greater consistency from the front four, starting Saturday in South Bend.

"We want to do everything that's needed to be the best defensive line in the nation," Taylor said, "which I think we are."