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Preseason positional grades: A monster one-two punch leads one of Michigan’s deepest units

This unit reloaded after losing Mazi Smith

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

With Mazi Smith, a consensus all-Big Ten first team defensive tackle last year, off to the NFL, Michigan is tasked with reloading and keeping one of their biggest strengths a strength.

But with a strong group of returning starters and a few high potential risers, the interior should be one of the deepest position groups on Michigan’s roster and the deepest defensive tackle groups in the country. Expect big things from this unit.

Defensive Tackle - Grade: A

  • Starters: Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham, Kenneth Grant
  • Rotation: Rayshaun Benny, Cam Goode
  • Depth: Alessandro Lorenzetti, Ike Iwunnah, Chibi Anwunah
  • New Faces: Trey Pierce, Brooks Bahr, Cameron Brandt

The unit last year was elite at stopping the run, but Kris Jenkins said on the In the Trenches podcast, they’re laser-focused on becoming an elite pass rush threat as well.

Jim Harbaugh said Kris Jenkins was “potentially (the) best player on the defense” back in February, and expectations have only risen from there. Jenkins was an All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2022 with 54 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, and the sky’s the limit with his potential. ESPN mocked Jenkins as a first round pick in their way-too-early mock draft last month. If Jenkins can step into Smith’s shoes and be the difference-maker he’s projected to be, the interior line won’t miss a beat.

Mason Graham is a true sophomore in his second year coming off a strong freshman campaign. Graham made 27 tackles with 2.5 sacks, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry and earned co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors from Harbaugh. Graham has the talent to be a first round pick and should only get even better in his second year as a starter.

Kenneth Grant is an absolutely massive true sophomore, at 6’3”, 339 lbs. Grant didn’t play as much as Graham his freshman season, but he appeared in all 14 games and made eight tackles. Defensive line coach Mike Elston said on the In the Trenches podcast that “Kenneth Grant is just a freak. High ceiling, long and athletic. He can run and never get tired. You watch the spring game, he was out there every single play.”

Other players to watch include UCF transfer Cam Goode, who appeared in nine games last year and made eight tackles with one tackle for loss and had one pass breakup.

"He had a really good spring, he’s very versatile, he can play a lot of positions for us." Elston said. "The area that we’ve challenged Cam to get better at is the pass-rush area, and I believe he’ll do that this fall.”

Rayshaun Benny is the last player Elston mentioned on the podcast as the foundation of the defensive tackle room. According to Elston, “he’s got a pass rush ability about him that’s pretty special.” Last season, Benny appeared in 13 games and made nine tackles, and the redshirt sophomore is another breakout candidate to watch on the interior.

Alessandro Lorenzetti, Ike Iwunnah and Chibi Anwunah are likely depth options on the line this season and could see time.

Lorenzetti took a redshirt year last year and is a converted offensive lineman. This is his first season on defense, so he is a longshot to see significant minutes but is someone to watch out for in the future.

Iwunnah is a redshirt junior who hasn’t seen game action yet in his Michigan career. He has crazy athleticism and speed as a former track athlete in high school and he earned Defensive Scout Team Player of the Week honors against Iowa last season. Anwunah also took his redshirt year last year and will be a depth piece on the line.

Freshman like Trey Pierce, Brooks Bahr and Cameron Brandt could see time next year but many will likely redshirt.