Michigan, as we all know, replaces a lot on defense. But the back seven is generally something where starters tend to play heavy minutes and back-ups aren’t relied on often. Some teams also trot out their defensive line starters for most of the game, but it’s good to have play-making depth up front, and Michigan has consistently gotten a lot out of its two-deep even when the starters are top-notch.
Alright, let’s get to it:
Defensive tackle: Maurice Hurst
Followed by: Aubrey Solomon/Donovan Jeter/Lawrence Marshall
Maurice Hurst has the chance to post monster numbers this season. Getting in the backfield regularly will not only show off those famous belly rubs, but also propel him into the national spotlight.
The depth here was a main concern early on, but with Aubrey Solomon stepping up to the plate, as well as Donovan Jeter and Lawrence Marshall sliding inside, the defensive tackles should be good to go.
Nose Tackle: Bryan Mone
Followed by: Michael Dwumfour/James Hudson
Bryan Mone has been one of the most talked about, and hyped players over the past few seasons in my recent memory. He has the skill set to be an elite nose tackle. If he can manage to stay healthy for the course of the season… watch out. Michael Dwumfour and James Hudson should be able to provide a steady hand as reserves as well.
Strong Side Defensive End: Rashan Gary
Followed by: Carlo Kemp/Ron Johnson
Rashan Gary… whew. The hype train is full steam ahead and rightfully so. Like Jabrill Peppers was during his Michigan career, Rashan looks to be the face of the football program. Rashan Gary is the type of athletic monster that keeps opposing head coaches and offensive assistants up at night just trying to find a way to slow him down. By all accounts, Gary is due for a huge season.
Carlo Kemp has really spent a lot of time working on his craft as well and looks to be the main man behind Rashan. It'll be interesting to see what kind of year Kemp can put together.
Weakside Defensive End: Chase Winovich
Followed by: Luiji Vilian/Kwity Paye/Rueben Jones
Going into last season, who would've thought that Chase Winovich would've put together the year that he did? I know I wasn't in that group. The tandem of Gary & Winovich is a nightmare that I wouldn't want to see coming if I was lining up across from them under center. Luiji Vilain and Kwity Paye not only look to provide above average depth for the position, they have some of the highest ceilings on the entire defense. Watching those two develop over the course of the season will be exciting for sure.
MIKE: Devin Bush, Jr.
Followed by: Mike Wroblewski/Josh Ross
I said it before and I'll say it again, Devin Bush Jr. was vastly underrated coming out of high school. He has the speed to cover sideline to sideline and the knack for getting in the backfield at the drop of a hat. Bush attacks each play with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, what else would you want from your starting middle linebacker? His weakness, in my eyes, is his susceptibility to the run. At times last year, he was moved off the ball by opposing offensive lineman when he was attacking the hole that the running back was looking to hit. Hopefully that doesn't become an issue this season. With Wroblewski’s experience and the talent of Josh Ross, this position -- from top to bottom -- should end up being better than last years.
WILL: Mike McCray
Followed by: Jordan Anthony/Josh Uche/Devin Gil
You know what you have with Mike McCray (an All-Big Ten talent). In a previous Maize n’ Brew roundtable, I predicted McCray to be an All-Big Ten and even All-American candidate this season, I stand by that. The potential that Jordan Anthony, and Josh Uche have for sure makes this an exciting group of guys to watch this season.
Viper/SAM: Khaleke Hudson
Followed by: Drew SIngleton/Noah Furbush/Jordan Glasgow
Khaleke Hudson was built to play VIPER and Jalen Kelly-Powell provides nice depth. For a more traditional SAM role, Noah Furbush & Drew Singleton are more than adequate to fill that potential need.
Strong safety: Josh Metellus
Followed by: Jordan Glasgow/J’Marick Woods
At some point, most of us probably wondered why Michigan offered Josh Metellus. Now he's showing everyone why the coaching staff put their trust in him. The 2 deep features a fan (and personal) favorite, the final warrior of the Glasgow Clan… Jordan Glasgow. Jordan showed some great tackling last season, including a clutch tackle against Ohio State, when the Buckeyes attempted a fake field goal. J’Marick Woods has shown some flashes as well. When Josh Metellus needs a breather, there's no reason to sweat when you see these reserves come in.
Free safety: Tyree Kinnel
Followed by: Jordan Glasgow/J’Marick Woods/Brad Hawkins
Tyree Kinnel will need to be the captain of the defense. That's good for Michigan because he's already taken on that task and is excelling. As far as the backups go, I believe we will see one of Glasgow/Woods rotate in behind Kinnel before we have a Brad Hawkins or Jaylen Kelly-Powell sighting. That's not to take anything away from Brad, but defensively, the aforementioned two are better suited for play.
As a side note; Although I expect to see Jordan Glasgow and J’Marick Woods rotate in at Free Safety (as previously mentioned), I left them listed under Strong Safety, since that appears to be their natural and current primary position.
Cornerbacks: LaVert Hill, David Long
Followed by: Ambry Thomas/Brandon Watson/Jalen Kelly-Powell/Benjamin St-Juste/Drake Harris
The success of the season, in my eyes, hinges on the play of the Cornerbacks. Although there will be growing pains in 2017-18 the talent and potential is there for this unit to be elite. Fortunately, the Wolverines do not face a true deep ball threat in the passing game until week 8 against Penn State, and by that time the unit should be confident and ready to go.
Kickers: Quinn Nordin
Followed by: Ryan Tice
Quinn Nordin has a bazooka for a leg. As long as the Wolverines can get around the midfield block M, Nordin can probably get it there. Jokes aside, having a player like Quinn gives Michigan a huge advantage over most teams. He can legitimately kick it 60+ yards, and that's not something the majority of collegiate kickers can say.
Punters: Brad Robbins
Followed by: Will Hart
Brad Robbins was offered for a reason, if you just watch the guys’ film you'll understand what I mean. He -- much like Nordin -- has a cannon for a leg. If his high school tape translates (and by all accounts looks like it has), Robbins, along with Quinn Nordin, can lock down two very important positions for the next 3-4 years.
Kick & Punt Returners:
Nate Johnson/Eddie McDoom/Oliver Martin/Donovan Peoples-Jones
Michigan fans were spoiled by Jabrill Peppers’ sure hands and game breaking speed nearly each and every punt return. What Michigan really wants, though, is not necessarily the fastest guy returning punts, they want the surest hands fielding them.
For now it appears that Nate Johnson and Oliver Martin are the ones with those sure hands. Kick returning is where having a guy with lightning bolt speed is going to be placed. Getting McDoom and/or Peoples-Jones in space, behind blockers is a salivating thought.
There is no shortage of talent with this squad. Team 138 certainly has the ability to make a run at the Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff in a season that critics expect to be a down year.
If they can tap into the potential and harness the talent that these underclassman possess, this team will do some special things, and if there's one staff that could do it, it's Jim Harbaugh and company.