DEFENSIVE LINE: I doubt there is a dedicated Wolverine fan on the planet that was not aware of the fact that the Wolverines enjoyed and employed one of the best defenses in the world of college football last season. After all, as a defense, they stood Numero Uno in the nation at the close of the 2016 season.
They had great DL depth with the likes of Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton, and Ryan Glasgow. They had Matt Godin who developed later, but was extraordinary last year. They had a football “phenom” in Jabril Peppers.
They will be missed as those listed above and others have moved on to prospective NFL careers, where many of them will prosper.
Walk on Nose Tackle Glasgow showed his worth when he was injured for a good part of a recent season. The defense struggled at the nose without his talented play, and prospered at the position again last season with Ryan returned healthy at the nose.
Barring injuries, the heirs apparent that seem to lead in the competition for starting positions at this early point of the 2017 campaign, are Fifth year Senior DT Maurice Hurst, Redshirt Junior Bryan Mone, and DE Sophomore Rashan Gary. These three will anchor a DL that could approach last year’s starting DL in effectiveness.
All three are versatile, talented athletes, and there are talented additions to the line on deck. Don Brown is confident he can weld them into a cohesive and effective group. He has publically stated that he is not afraid of the process with this group, that it is worse to have an experienced group that is less talented than the opposite.
All three named above have the experience, motor, physique, and football smarts, to lead the Wolverines to defensive line success. While I take the reported timing of a super-fast big man run by Rashan with the proverbial grain of salt, there is no question he has extraordinary football gifts, including speed and motor skills. This year he will get sufficient snaps to showcase them.
The late recruitment of big DT Aubrey Solomon in the 2017 class will play an important part in prospective defensive line depth. Newcomer Lulji Villian has the body and skills to be felt at the rush end position. Freshman Deron Irving-Bey (6’5”, 271 lbs.) will also play an important part in the defensive line depth. The depth of the DL, and defensive depth in general, are important aspects of any defense, but especially in a Don Brown defense. Also known as Dr. Blitz, Brown calls a hell for leather game, all out every play. He needs fresh players for a game as fast and rough as college football. He needs skilled back up heavies to spell the hardworking first line.
Perhaps as many as a thousand snaps for the defense per season can provide an ugly opportunity for key injuries every season. It really is a next man up game. There are already reports of some injuries, and missed snaps (none of them season ending that I know of).
While the first line will approach the class of last season’s quality, the needed depth must still be engineered. At this point it appears they have the pieces to solve the quality puzzle, but developing youngsters takes time as they build experience. The DL newcomers are prime time athletes, and they will have to learn and ripen quickly. Chances are that under the tutelage of Brown, Mattison and Harbaugh they will succeed as a prime group overall, with some outstanding players, and play.
LINEBACKERS: The linebackers need to be rebuilt again, but this time there will be more speed if less experience than last season. An improving Fifth Year Senior Mike McCray is back. He will be the man in the middle (Mike). He returned an interception for a TD in the Orange Bowl, caused and recovered fumbles, as he improved over the season.
Some of the additional speed will belong to Devin Bush, Jr. (5’11”, 232 lbs.) His name keeps popping up favorably. A large load will be layered on his young shoulders. He could excel this season. He did that on special teams this past season, making 12 tackles. An experienced Redshirt Junior, Noah Furbush will compete. They need all the experience they can get to temper the loss of Jabrill Peppers, and Ben Gedeon.
Peppers talent can’t be duplicated but they can fill the “Viper” position (SAM) with talent sufficient to minimize the impact of the loss Peppers. There may be interchangeable players at the position, perhaps situational. The Viper is a hybrid LB- Safety position. Midway through the second week of practice Bush’s name was prominently connected with the Viper position. There will be others.
Sophomore Safety Khaleke Hudson has also been favorably been mentioned at Viper.
Sophomore Josh Metellus replaced Peppers in the Orange Bowl, and another one of the Glasgows, this time Jordan, walked on last season, and into consideration for playing time, by using good special teams play for initial notice.
In the wings are three Frosh of noted talent. Drew Singleton, is super talented, and will compete. Jordan Anthony is a five star recruit out of IMG. Maybe he will press others for a slot. Named last but not least is Josh Ross, brother of the graduated James. All have sterling defensive credentials, and may compete early.
All in all, this group seems to have extraordinary talent and the desire for success. As a position group they lack in depth and experience. With experience they will be faster to the edge etc., more athletic. The future looks good, but good how soon will it look good is a realistic question?
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Once you note that Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas are graduated and gone, the future seems shakier, and less predictable, for this position group. Someone has to step up fast.
It seems likely that Junior Tyree Kinnel will step up. He played in 13 games last year at safety, and excelled defensively on special teams.
Much is expected from Sophomore Lavert Hill. He will compete for one of the two starting CB positions. He played strongly in nine games last year. Can he grab a starting CB spot now? It seems likely he has a strong chance for a hot at a CB slot.
Sophomore David Long has healed from last season. He played well in four games at CB, and needs to build his fortunes this spring.
Khaleke Hudson fortunes seem to be rising. He played at safety some last year, and keeps getting mentioned. He will likely be solid competition for a safety spot this spring.
The time is now for DB development. If this safety position group reaches the season in crisis it will be a long one. Outside of the OL, this position group constitutes the biggest area of concern on this team.
There is some prospective help in the wings. From Canada comes Frosh Benjamin St-Juste. He is a tall cornerback at 6’3”. , and needs to add some weight. Talented yes, but how quick will he adjust the Wolverine’s game? He will have a chance to prove his case.
Freshman Ambry Thomas from MLK in Detroit enrolled in January. He seems likely to compete for some playing time this year. How much depends on what he can earn for a Wolverine position of need, but it seems he will be in the fray.
Another Safety prospect, Frosh J’Marick Woods, can lay the lumber at 6’3” and 205 lbs. He may play a role this year at this position of great need.
DEFENSIVE PROSPECTUS: It seems unlikely that the Wolverine’s team defense can reach the level of effectiveness that it reached last year, but I don’t think they will be a distant second to last year. They should be good. How good or bad only the season results can show. After the opener at Florida, we will have real football facts to evaluate. As usual, we certainly will not learn much from the spring results. What happens in the spring is not always what happens in the real world of actual football team competition, when the lights come on.
Only the season’s games reveal the depth of the team’s pluses and minuses, and enable answers to questions such as: Will the offense be robust enough to mask any early season short falls the defense might display this season? To put this idea another way, will the offense consistently be able to run the ball better than last year against their better competition?
It is going to be a blast to tune in, and find out as time progresses, just how good this Wolverine work in progress can become.
Meanwhile a different kind of learning experience looms for the team as they blast off for Italy after April 15th for more football practices, and some genuine culture shock. It should be a great college experience for the Wolverines.
Hope there is a large turnout for the spring “game”. It’ll be fun! After all it will be all Wolverines on the field.