We’ve heard all offseason that “Michigan only returns one starter on defense.”
Technically true, but the guys next in line at the linebacker position have a bright future ahead of them. Let’s waste no time and get right into what U-M is looking at for the position in 2017.
The Leader and Best
Mike McCray – 6’4, 250 – As the only returning starter from a No. 1 ranked defense from a year ago, he wants to come out and prove that this year's defense can be as good or better. He ended up redshirting in 2013 due to injuries, playing sparsely in 2014 as a backup, losing 2015 to a shoulder injury and finally getting his shot last year. He responded by playing well enough to earn All Big Ten honorable mention.
He's gotten a bad rap in pass coverage although he does have 2 INTs and 7 PBUs to his name and has shown excellent ability to read the QB in coverage. His main issues have come when covering a running back, but I think several times Michigan may not have been in the right coverage or the correct switches weren't made. He has NFL size, is an excellent run stopper, a sure tackler and proved he could get into the backfield last year with 14 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
McCray is an essential piece to this year’s defense. No one on this team can replace his leadership ability and overall experience. There are many unknowns behind him, so if the injury bug hits again Michigan will be left with big shoes to fill. He is quietly perhaps the most important man on the defense in terms of leadership.
Prediction: 100 tackles and improved numbers in TFLs and sacks.
The Mini Torpedo
Devin Bush Jr. – 5’10 – 226 – For a sophomore with only 12 career tackles, I have a lot of confidence that his great speed and football IQ will help make the linebacker group more dynamic than it was last year. Don Brown noted Bush chiseled out his physique over the year after looking “pudgy” last year. He’s down few pounds but that’s probably a good thing overall. He’s not your prototypical size for a linebacker but he makes up for that because he plays with ZERO fear or hesitation.
The spring game showed what limited LB snaps last year didn’t always show — Bush Jr. can bring his big play ability from special teams to the defense. Don Brown’s Dudes Only defense is made for a speedy guy like Devin who seeks out violence at the point of attack. We will continue to see blitzes from everywhere and Bush’s skill set will allow Brown to use him in every situation. I don’t see him coming off the field very often.
Prediction: 90 tackles, 10 TFLs, and 6 sacks.
The Utility Man
Khaleke Hudson – 6’0, 205 - As Jabrill Peppers showed, the Viper position is of utmost importance if this defense is going to remain fluid and effective. Peppers was able to blitz, cover and tackle either starting at or near the line of scrimmage like a LB or back like a safety. The ability to change the defense on the fly relies on this position being manned by a player with these attributes because you may have to run blitz, then cover a TE then the slot WR on consecutive plays. Mr. Hudson has big shoes to fill, but I think they are his size. The only drop off we will have here is the difference in speed. That’s not to say Khaleke isn’t fast, Peppers is just on another level.
Khaleke played mostly special teams last year and blocked two punts and made several other stops. He got assorted time at safety as well and was able to rack up some stats vs. Rutgers…who didn’t though, amirite? The excitement level for this guy is through the roof. He is a hyper athletic human who is a similar size and shape to the last guy we had.
Prediction: 70+ tackles, 15 TFLs, 5 sacks, 2 INT.
Next Men Up: Returning Players
Noah Furbush – 6’5, 240 – One of the ‘old men’ on this team as a redshirt junior, Noah is likely to fill in at both LB spots and possibly some Viper when we go heavier against the MSU’s and Wisconsin’s of the world. As a veteran, he has taken the responsibility of teaching the young guys that hard work and consistency are keys to playing. With such a young team, it’s reassuring to know that the older guys are embracing these roles. His experience and knowledge will be important as the year goes on in that he can fill a few different roles for the defense and continue to help the young players develop.
Prediction: I’m going to say he triples his tackles from a year ago with around 30 and a few TFLs.
Jordan Glasgow – 6’1, 210 - The last of the Glasgow boys. SAD! I wish there were more of them coming up. The youngest brother is quite a bit smaller than his linemen older brothers and will be a back-up for Hudson at Viper. He’s definitely the S/LB hybrid that you look for in the spot and he’s shown both coverage and tackling ability in space.
Prediction: Glasgow makes an impact because he’s a Glasgow, but will rotate with at least two other players at Viper and be a situational substitute. He’ll probably be a special teams maven and add in some really solid play giving guys breathers on defense.
Mike Wroblewski – 6’2, 242 – Speaking of walk-ons, “Wrobo” earned his after joining the Michigan football team and seems to have played himself into the mix for playing time as well as landing himself a scholarship before last season. He has been hyped about as much as anyone else this spring and seems to be right behind Bush at inside linebacker.
Prediction: Wrobo pulls an Alex Murphy and says, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me,” and forces his way into playing time.
Josh Uche – 6’3, 217, Elysee Mbem-Bosse – 6’3 215, Devin Gil 6’2, 230 – I’m grouping these guys together as they are all true sophomores with limited playing time and a handful of tackles between them. All were well regarded recruits from the south and all will have a chance to get snaps on defense this year. Uche played well in the spring game with a few tackles and one for loss. Brown indicated that he was really coming along. This is a really athletic threesome that will make plays for Michigan for the next couple years.
Prediction: Based on the spring game and that Uche was one of Don Brown’s first offers, I’m going with him to play the most on defense. I think all will contribute on special teams and get their chances on defense as well.
The Next Great Crop
This looks like it will be a formidable freshman class with four consensus four stars. Rivals called it the #2 LB class in the nation. Jordan Anthony (6’0, 220) is the highest rated with Rivals calling him the #1 ILB and 26th rated player overall out of IMG Academy in FL. Drew Singleton (6’2,220) was the best linebacker in NJ last year and Chris Partridge continues to help bring in big time talent from the school he used to coach. Josh Ross (6’1, 220) is the younger brother of former Michigan LB James Ross, but is reputed to be an even better athlete than big bro. I’m looking for big things from this class but they may all have to wait a year to prove their mettle.