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Could Lawrence Marshall be breaking through?

Four seasons into a roller coaster career, the Michigan defensive tackle finally has a role

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Michigan vs Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

In so many ways, May 2013 feels like decades ago in Michigan Football Time. Devin Gardner was still a promising returning starter at quarterback. Michael Ferns (remember him?) was handing out “Building a Class” T-shirts. The Brady Hoke era was looking rosy as he pulled in high-profile recruit after high-profile recruit. And Lawrence Marshall put an end to one of the weirdest recruitments ever.

He committed to Ohio State on February 10 of that year. He visited Michigan State on February 12 and Michigan on February 13 … and decommitted from the Buckeyes the same day. For most of the next three months, he was considered a strong Michigan State lean, visiting the Spartans’ campus six more times and Michigan zero. On May 11, he committed to Michigan.

At the time, he was a 6’3, 225-pound weak-side defensive end prospect with pass rush upside. Scout was most bullish on him, listing Marshall as the 89th-ranked player overall, but all the recruiting services ranked him firmly in the top 200. He was scouted as long, athletic, and a potential impact edge rusher if he could bulk up enough to get bumped down from linebacker to putting his hand on the ground. His athleticism was such that during one camp even took reps at wide receiver (!).

Marshall showed up on campus before the 2014 season and received years of spring and summer hype with almost no performance. His first career tackle came in the Citrus Bowl against Florida in Harbaugh’s first season. He made five tackles all of last season. This concludes all the information on the stat sheet for the redshirt junior. Marshall’s career has been marked by a regular drumbeat of excitement but rumors of discipline issues and few on-field contributions.

On signing day this year, as Michigan fans were bracing themselves for a 2017 football season with virtually zero backup defensive tackles if Aubrey Solomon committed elsewhere, defensive line coach Greg Mattison announced Marshall had bulked up to 280 and would be repping at three-technique during the spring. It felt a little bit like a Hail Mary for the coaching staff.

Flash forward to the opener against Florida on September 3 and here we are.

That’s Michigan’s former future edge rusher playing nose guard in the 3-3-5 Michigan unveiled against Florida. (He also recovered that fumble.) Sure, flattening Brandon Powell and recovering an early Feleipe Franks Christmas present was the highlight, but notice how Marshall disengages from his (admittedly stonewalled) pass rush on the far hash to go to the opposite sideline and get himself in position to make that play. That kind of effort is what Jim Harbaugh is looking for.

He was functionally Maurice Hurst’s only backup at that spot in the 3-3-5 for the duration of both the Florida game and the Cincinnati game. He didn’t get plowed in the run game, as some had feared he might, and you know that somewhere in there is the old pass rushing demon that he was once recruited to be.

Aubrey Solomon has mostly gotten snaps during garbage time, so it’s safe to say that Marshall is higher on the depth chart and playing better in practice. That might not continue forever - Michigan has plenty of freshman talent, after all - but if the two games so far are any indication, Marshall will be playing an important role on this team for the foreseeable future.

And for a guy whose career seemed toast this February (late-career position switches being what they are), we’ll take it.