Welcome back to another edition of our depth chart preview series!
Today, we focus on the deepest position on the entire team — the defensive line.
Led by ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich and interior beast Maurice Hurst, the D-line was, to say the least, a problem for offensive lines in 2017.
How will the group fare in 2018? Honestly, probably even better than last year, despite losing a should-have-been top NFL Draft pick in Hurst.
SDE: Rashan Gary, JR; WDE: Chase Winovich, RS SR
These two are the most obvious of the bunch. Returning starters, and two of the most dominant players on the team, Winovich and Gary are going to wreck some quarterbacks in 2018.
Winovich returning for his fifth year will prove to be huge for the Wolverines in 2018. His experience, play-making abilities and leadership are light years ahead of anyone else who could have replaced him if he declared for the NFL Draft. His eight sacks were tied for the most on the team with Viper Khaleke Hudson, and his 18 tackles for loss put him at second on the team behind, again, Hudson with 18.5. He found his home at defensive end, and he is going to be a huge problem for opposing offenses this season.
As will Gary, who is the definitive leader of this defense. He won’t be a team captain this year for the defense (that’ll either be Winovich or Tyree Kinnel) but he his work ethic and vocal leadership are unlike any other since I have been covering the team.
He had at least a half of a tackle for loss in all but three games last season, and recorded at least half a sack in six of the 13 games. For the amount of double teams (AND HOLDS) Gary faced all season, those numbers are damn impressive, and he’ll only be better in 2018.
Watch out, offenses.
DTs: Aubrey Solomon, SO; Michael Dwumfour, JR
Now we kind of get into some unfamiliar territory.
I was torn whether or not to include Mone here, but coach Harbaugh always says the best players will see the field, and Solomon and Dwumfour have been the best interior guys on the team in the spring and so far in the fall.
Coaches raved about Dwumfour during spring practices. So much so that defensive line coach Greg Mattison said he has “a lot of Mo Hurst in him” and he had one of the best springs Mattison could remember.
That’s way more than coach speak. Those are real comments. I’m excited to see what he can do in a starting role.
I’m also excited to see what Solomon can do in a starting role. He played in all 13 games last year, but was slow to see the field at first. He ended with 18 tackles and two tackles for loss, with one of the tackles for loss coming against Wisconsin.
A former 5-star recruit from Leesburg, Georgia, Solomon has actually lost 10 pounds this offseason, unlike most of the team, and now weighs 287 pounds.
This actually may be good news for the Wolverines. To my eye at least, it appeared he was slow off the snap and easily-winded early in the year. But as the season wore on, he did improve in that department, as his stats toward the middle and end of the season show.
If these two are indeed the starters, I am excited to see what they can do in their first year of full-time action.
Backup DEs: Luiji Vilain, SO; Kwity Paye, SO
I know both are probably slated for the WDE spot, but I can’t help but include both as the immediate backups because of A) Vilain’s upside, and B) Paye’s abilities displayed last season and his improvements he has made (*whispers* he’s put on 19 pounds this offseason.)
Vilain was a high-4-star talent while Paye was an underrated recruit from Rhode Island, AKA: Don Brown territory. Vilain missed all of last season due to injury, but Paye stepped in nicely in garbage time, recording 5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack, with 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and half a sack coming against Penn State alone.
I really like what I saw out of Paye in minimal action last year. With Vilain being one of my favorite recruits in the 2017 class, I can’t wait to see what these guys can do on a more consistent basis.
Both have the chance to be the next great pass-rushers at Michigan when Winovich and (probably) Gary are gone after next season.
Backup DTs: Carlo Kemp, JR; Bryan Mone, RS SR
Kemp played predominately on the outside last season, coming in for Gary when he needed a breather, but Don Brown told reporters last week he will play on the inside this year.
He played in all 13 games last year, but somehow only recorded 3 tackles. I have no clue how that happens, but Kemp’s 6-foot-3, 280-pound frame seems better suited on the inside anyways. I think this move will help both Kemp and the team in the long run.
As for Mone, this is his final chance to make an impact at Michigan. If it weren’t for injuries and inconsistencies over the past couple seasons, he could have been a dominant force on the inside.
But as of now, I have him slotted right behind Solomon. Do I think Mone could push Solomon for more reps? Sure, but for now I will take the higher upside, younger former 5-star over a fifth-year senior that has had chance after chance.
What do you think of my defensive line depth chart? What does your depth chart look like? Sound off in the comments below.