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Michigan’s defense is again one of the best in the nation

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Happy Thursday, folks, and welcome to Morning Brews. Once again, before we get started, I just want to highlight the fundraiser we’re having this week to benefit the ChadTough Foundation. If you’re interested in supporting this worthy cause, check out our original article HERE. This morning we’re talking Michigan’s defense, and how it has once again become one of the country’s best. Don Brown and the entire defensive staff have done a remarkable job to keep last year’s success going, in spite of the fact that 10 starters from last year’s team have moved on.

As usual, there is a musical theme to this morning’s article. There are at least two clues this morning. Clues may be words, phrases, or pictures, and they may reference song lyrics, the artist, or the album. If you think you can correctly identify this morning’s song, fire away down in the comments section.

Let’s get to it:

NCAA Football: Air Force at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan’s defense might be as good last year’s

Then as it was, then it again will be. From last year’s defense, Michigan saw eight players selected in the NFL Draft. Jabrill Peppers and Taco Charlton led the way by being picked in the first round. Chris Wormley went to Baltimore, Jourdan Lewis to Dallas, and Delano Hill to Seattle in the third round. Ben Gedeon went to the Vikings, Ryan Glasgow was selected by the Bengals, and Jeremy Clark - who missed most of the year due to injury - went to the Jets. After the draft, others signed UDFA agreements and tried out with teams.

It was an historic haul. Michigan’s draft success was the exclamation point on a season that saw the Wolverines put one of the best (if not the best) defensive units in the country on the field in 2016-17. But for all the platitudinous acclamation and excitement over the enormity of Michigan’s defensive success, the page must turn - and Don Brown was faced with replacing eight NFL Draft picks, and 10 defensive starters. It would have been easy to have a down year. Success often cannibalizes itself as great players move on the NFL or graduate. Younger guys must step in, and somes they’re a little slow to get up to speed.

It would have been easy for that to happen, but it didn’t. After returning only one starter in Mike McCray, Michigan’s defense once again finds itself as a top unit - currently ranked No. 2 in the S&P+, No. 2 in total defense allowing the fewest yards per game in the nation, and conceding the fewest rush yards per game. What’s the key to Michigan’s success? Former coordinator and current DLine coach Greg Mattison says, “I appreciate all of our linemen, but we talk in terms of eight because I don't think that in today's game you can play with four.”

Despite losing so many starters, Michigan had depth. Today’s stars (Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Bryan Mone, Maurice Hurst, Devin Bush, etc.) were last year’s back ups, and - while they’re young and inexperienced - they saw the field as part of the rotation that Mattison references. He recently told MGoBlue.com, “The only way you can do that is to have a good person behind you. The four guys we started [on the defensive line] all made it in the NFL. The four behind them are the ones that are starting right now.” Behind the current crop of starters are players like Aubrey Solomon, Carlo Kemp, Kwity Paye, Lawrence Marshall, and Michael Dwumfour, who will have their chance to lead Michigan’s defense in the near future while occupying contributing roles now.

Of Mattison, Mo Hurst told MGoBlue, “His approach with us is to be the best unit possible. He brings up people in the past that he's coached, and we talk a lot about some of the players that were on our team last year and two years ago and the legacy they left. We want to try and leave our own legacy and our own mark on Michigan football as a D-line.” Rashan Gary echoed Hurst’s comments by saying, “I feel like, to be honest, when all is said and done we can be the best defensive line in the nation. ... It's great playing with the same guys as you, pushing to be the best.”

Do you think Michigan’s defense can again be the best in the country? How about in Michigan Football history? Weigh in with the poll below and down in the comments.

Poll

Where will this year’s defense rank in the history books?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    The best of all time. Better than 1997
    (115 votes)
  • 35%
    About as good as last year
    (238 votes)
  • 39%
    Better than last year, but short of the ‘97 standard
    (266 votes)
  • 8%
    Not quite as good as last year
    (57 votes)
676 votes total Vote Now

I initially missed this from last Sunday, but Grant Newsome sent out the above Tweet to mark one year since his injury during last season’s game against Wisconsin. As Newsome later disclosed, he was minutes away from losing his leg before being rushed into surgery following the injury. It took two months for him to start walking again, but Newsome has since worked his way up to running drills - and perhaps will return to the field for Michigan next season. The collective sense is growing keen that he will indeed play again; but even if he doesn’t, he’s still a Michigan Man to model one’s self on as far as I’m concerned. The young man has faced adversity that is all but inconceivable for most of us, and he has continued to fight to get back to the game he so apparently loves.