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Preseason positional grades: What to make of top-heavy LB room

Colson, Barrett and Hausmann lead the way in the linebacker room.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan returns both of its starting linebackers from 2022, and added one of the best transfers available in the portal. This is one of Michigan’s most experienced position groups and should be one of its most talented with three potential All-Conference caliber players. Pro Football Focus ranked this unit fifth in the nation coming into the season.

That said, just three players have significant playing experience at the college level, and one is in his first year in Ann Arbor.

Linebackers - Grade: A-

  • Starters: Junior Colson, Michael Barrett
  • Rotation: Ernest Hausmann
  • Depth: Jimmy Rolder, Micah Pollard, Jaydon Hood, Joey Velazquez
  • New Faces: Semaj Bridgeman, Jason Hewlett, Hayden Moore

Colson was named to the Bronko Nagurski Award watch list for defensive player of the year, so it’s safe to say expectations for him are sky-high after an excellent 2022. He led the team in tackles with 101, including six tackles for loss with two sacks, and he’s going to be a huge part of the defense in 2023.

Barrett had 72 tackles in 2022, including five tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions, and was named third team All-Big Ten.

Barrett is the presumptive starter alongside Colson, but Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausmann will give him a challenge. Hausmann started seven games and appeared in 13 for Nebraska as a freshman last year, totaling 54 tackles with two tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery. He was one of the top players available in the portal this offseason and has the talent to be an All-Big Ten player. Even if he’s not a starter this year, he’ll be an important rotation piece.

Those three headline the linebacker room, and they have the talent and experience to make this one of the best groups in the country. But who else does Michigan have to rotate in?

Rolder is just a sophomore, but he appeared in 13 games last season and made 14 tackles. This year, he could see more significant minutes on defense as a rotation piece.

Pollard played linebacker in four of the 12 games he appeared in last season, making eight tackles. Both he and Rolder were true freshmen in 2022, and Jim Harbaugh’s decision not to redshirt them could speak to how far along they are in their development and how much they might see the field this year.

Velazquez is a rotation candidate with more experience than Rolder and Pollard, as a veteran who appeared in 17 games across 2021 and 2022. He has seven career tackles, including six last season, and is a depth option who could potentially see expanded opportunities this year.

Hood is another potential breakout option. The former four-star recruit is a redshirt sophomore and appeared in three games last year, with one pass breakup and three tackles.

The incoming freshman class includes Semaj Bridgeman, Jason Hewlett and Hayden Moore. Some of them could see playing time like Pollard and Rolder did last season. Bridgeman and Hewlett were the highest ranked recruits of the group, and are the likeliest bets to see the field.