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How Jesse Minter will manage the competition in Michigan’s deepest defensive position groups

Competitions for starting roles at edge and in the secondary are creating a welcome challenge for Michigan’s defensive coordinator.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the number of Michigan Wolverines that went to the NFL or left through the transfer portal the past two seasons, there is something to be said with the amount of depth Michigan retained in several positions on both sides of the ball.

While we have a great idea who will be taking the majority of snaps at positions like running back and quarterback, there are several other units where an opportunity for playing time is coming down to who does the best in fall camp. But we’re not talking about a competition between two top guys — we’re talking about three to four players that could all start if given the nod. So, how do Michigan coaches decide who’s going to see the field, and how long they’ll be on it?

Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter spoke to media members Thursday and discussed some position groups that have competitions for playing time, mainly defensive backs and edge rusher.

This is how he says he’ll manage each one.

Defensive Backs

This is the group I think we’ll see the most variety from not only from the players on the field, but also from how Minter gets them on the field. We can lock in Will Johnson, Mike Sainristill and Rod Moore as players who will rarely leave the field. Makari Paige will also see a lot of snaps, but it’s unclear if he’ll get schemed out of some playing time like he did last season.

Minter said no one has yet to take that second cornerback spot and make it their own. This is where we see familiar names like Ja’Den McBurrows and Amorion Walker going head-to-head with transfer Josh Wallace. Minter said he’s handling this situation day-by-day mainly because the players just started practicing with full pads.

“We’re trying to use a method where it’s a different guy every day, so I think as you go through more and more situational things, more and more scrimmage-type opportunities, I think somebody eventually will separate themselves. Right now, it’s a whole host of guys that we’re playing,” Minter said.

However, Minter is not ruling out a situation that helped decide another key position on the other side of the ball last year.

“I think early on, that battle will continue,” Minter said. “I would imagine into the season. Maybe one guy one game, one game, the next. Similar to how coach (Harbaugh) did the quarterback competition last year — and it’s really like how you play in games and how you play, the best players will show themselves as the season goes on.”

Minter added that his defensive schemes could be as varied as the lineups he puts out. This isn’t only to keep opposing offenses on their toes, but also to rotate some his players. He said this is made a little easier because of players like Sainristil, Paige, Moore, Wallace and McBurrows, who can play several positions in the secondary.

“We’re trying to find the best combination of five DBs in a lot of our nickel-type stuff, so we’ve tried a lot of different combinations,” he said. “That could be a combination of multiple positions, corners safeties or nickels. We’re trying to find the best five combination.”

Edge Rusher

Michigan lost Mike Morris to the NFL, and Taylor Upshaw and Ayabi Oki to the transfer portal this offseason, but there doesn’t seem to be any anxiety about a void along the edge. Braiden McGregor, Jaylen Harrell, Derrick Moore and Josaiah Stewart have all had moments that make fans optimistic about what each of them can do. However, Minter explained these players don’t just perform at a high level, they also bring styles of play that complement a variety of different schemes.

“Braiden and Derrick are both having great camps like one (of them) one day, one the next, so it’s a blessing to have both of them,” Minter said. “But they push themselves — Jaylen and Josaiah have a little bit different skillset where you can kind of role play those guys both a little bit, but certainly excited about the depth.”

Minter added a fifth name who’s also earning a chance to join the crowded rotation.

“I think TJ Guy is also a guy so far in the first week and a half, roughly, that is trying to push his way in to possibly be a fifth man in that rotation.”

Get ready for a group of Wolverine edge rushers that will be a matchup nightmare no matter who’s on the other side of the ball.

Extra Point

Minter also stressed the importance of rotating players. Last season against Colorado State, Minter rolled out 22 players in the first half. He said his goal for the first half of week one this season is to have 26 players see the field.

Who do you think we’ll see set the edge or play opposite Will Johnson in week one? Let us know in the comments.