Robert Mathis Teaching Michigan Defensive Line Target Joe Strickland

Eric Rutter

After helping his team to a 7-3 record a season ago, Indianapolis (Ind.) Brebeuf Jesuit four-star defensive end Joe Strickland has took part in a very productive offseason. Not only is the 2022 strong-side prospect landing offers from Big Ten programs such as Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Minnesota on a seemingly regular basis, the 6-4, 245-pound player is working to further refine his craft with 14-year NFL veteran and five-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis.

Living not far from where the Colts play, Strickland has an opportunity to work out with an Indianapolis pass rushing legend over the offseason, and he is taking full advantage of the high-end training. In particular, Mathis is sharing some tricks of the trade that helped the standout log 123 sacks in his storied career.  

“A lot of stance starts,” Strickland told Wolverine Digest of their focus. “I've been working out with him weekly, so everything from getting to the edge, first step, our finish moves, our starting move, our backup move, really just speed and power is what I'm really being taught. It's becoming more of a speed game now with the athletes that are being produced in the sport. My first step is so sound, and it's going to get better, but it's so quick that I'm going right back to power, like a long arm or a bull rush, and I can use that this year because of my strength that I didn't have my freshman year.”

On the field, Strickland has the size to work as a strong-side end, a position that U-M has often described as the Anchor in recent years, but his pass rush moves are also prominent for a young player of his stature. If all goes according to plan, Strickland is hoping to add quite a few tools to his disposal by working with Mathis.  

“Mathis is not a 6-5 guy, so his demeanor and how he takes things have definitely reflected on me,” Strickland said. “Pass rushing wise, he's been one of my pass rushing mentors. For tips, one thing he sticks to all the time is if it was easy then everyone would do it, so it's just the small things. [He says] to be a razor blade instead of a sledge hammer when it comes to my moves and to be quick and don't take forever to do something or else you're going to be beat.”

Last year, Strickland did a pretty good job of following that advice and turned in a double-digit sack performance. In fact, the Michigan target logged a five-sack outing against Guerin Catholic in 2019, and that game tape was sent directly over to U-M defensive line coach Shaun Nua.

After watching the tape, Nua provided feedback to the now-junior defensive lineman and passed along a few tips to keep in mind on the field. That type of interaction is characteristic of how the two interact, and Strickland says he has develop a solid rapport and strong feel for the U-M defensive line engineer.

“He has been there for a couple years, so I think he goes about things more relaxed as I see right now,” Strickland said. “I think he gets on his guys, but I think he just coaches them really. I will send him videos of my workouts, and he will talk about some of that stuff when we are on a call. He tells me that his guys are doing the same thing that I'm doing. I think his style goes back to how Mathis' is. I think I would really like it.”

At the moment, players can't visit campuses to interact with coaches, but they can take self-guided tours on their own volition if compelled to. Several prospects have gone a similar route, including current Michigan pledge Tristan Bounds, and Strickland is looking to do the same at Ann Arbor soon.

Right now, Strickland's recruitment is predominantly comprised of Big Ten programs, but various schools across the Power Five landscape are certain to enter the mix down the line, so the fact that he's looking to visit Michigan so early on is a positive indicator for U-M.

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