Posted: Thursday November 16, 2006 1:56PM; Updated: Thursday November 16, 2006 2:39PM
The Wolverines' front seven has been dominant, leading the nation in rushing defense.
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Without question, English, the Wolverines' secondary coach the past three seasons, was fortunate to inherit a talented and experienced unit when he took over the reins in the offseason. Eight of the starters are juniors and seniors. Woodley, Branch and cornerback Leon Hall were all preseason All-Americas or on award watch lists, and they, along with Harris, will all be first-day draft picks.
But anyone who's followed Michigan football for an extended period of time will tell you that this defense plays with a fire and a swagger unlike any since the Wolverines' Charles Woodson-led 1997 team that won the national title. That intangible had to come from somewhere.
"Coach [English] is a guy that's just fired up all the time. He's always ready to go," said Woodley. "When you see him around the building, he's ready to go. He motivates you to get everything going."
Asked what kind of impact English has had, Hall said: "Well, we're 11-0, and the defense is playing great. Isn't it obvious?"
He may be the architect of the Wolverines' defensive resurgence, but for a brief period last winter, English was set to take leave Michigan. Following last season's debacle, there had been speculation in Ann Arbor that Carr would replace longtime defensive coordinator Jim Hermann, but more than a month after the Alamo Bowl loss to Nebraska, no change had been made.
On Feb. 7, English, a California native who came to Michigan in 2003 from Arizona State, accepted an offer to become the secondary coach for the Chicago Bears. Three days later, however, the Bears announced that English had "backed out of the position." By the next day, Hermann had accepted a job as the New York Jets' linebackers coach, and English -- who's also considered Michigan's top recruiter -- was the Wolverines' new defensive coordinator. To this day, it's unknown exactly how the sequence of events transpired, but it certainly seemed more than coincidental.
Schematically, English made few major changes, but the main thing he did was simplify players' responsibilities. Woodley is the prime example. In the past, he lined up as a "rush" linebacker, predominately coming to the line and rushing the quarterback but also having to play the run from time to time. English moved him to the line-full time, where he has thrived.
"Coach knows exactly what I feel comfortable doing, and I told him just put me in a position where I can help this team win, doesn't matter where," said Woodley. "And the thing that helped me improve this year is just the guys around me on the defensive line."
Indeed, whether because of Woodley's move, or because of the players' overall maturity, Michigan's front four of Woodley, Branch, Terrance Taylor and Rondell Biggs (backup Tim Jamison also plays extensively) established themselves as a dominating force nearly as soon as English took over. "They're every defensive coordinator's dream," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said of the Wolverines' line. "They're extraordinary."