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Michigan DC Jesse Minter explains how this edge rusher ignites defense

Harrell’s an igniter for Michigan’s defense.

UNLV v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

It’s been a strong start to the season for Michigan edge rusher Jaylen Harrell, who leads the team with 2.5 sacks. Harrell had 3.5 sacks in 13 games of action last season and is poised to have a career year in 2023.

Defensive lineman Kris Jenkins calls Harrell a freak, head coach Jim Harbaugh calls him an “igniter, tone setter, difference maker” and “somebody who makes the magic happen when you need it to happen”.

Harrell’s now in his fourth season with the Wolverines and his veteran way of going about things is something defensive coordinator Jesse Minter notices.

“He’s to the point in his career now where he’s really confident,” Minter said. “He’s really, really detailed, He’s really disciplined in his approach. He attacks every week, every day. We talk a lot of, ‘Hey, what if, what if today was Wednesday of Ohio State week?’ That’s the mentality. He really approaches every day like that’s the most important thing. And when you do that, then you’re able to perform at a really consistent level, which I think is what sets him apart.”

What also sets Harrell apart is his ability to get past linemen at a high rate. Per PFF, Harrell’s 25 percent pass rush win rate leads all Big Ten defenders. With that type of percentage, more sacks are bound to come.

Harrell’s made big plays in big moments throughout his Michigan career, including a huge tackle for loss against Ohio State in 2021 and two sacks in the 2022 Big Ten Championship Game versus Purdue. Now it’s all about Harrell having this output in high frequency. So far so good this season.

“He has the ability like coach (Jim Harbaugh) says, who’s the guy that can make the magic happen when you need it. When you need a play, when you need a guy to cover the guy on fourth down and bat the ball down, it’s him if you need a guy to make a play,” Minter said. “He ignited us in the Big Ten Championship Game last year.”

Harrell was able to learn from Michigan passing rushing greats in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and now Harrell has a chance to become Michigan’s next great pass rusher if he continues on the upward trajectory he currently is. Harrell’s technical, has a variety of pass rush moves, and can win with power as well as speed. When the 2023 season is all said and done it wouldn’t be a surprise if a key sack by Harrell was the difference between Michigan winning and losing a game.