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The defensive line: Michigan 2018 positional rundown

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Greg Mattison has regularly fielded lines with 7-8 player rotations since 2015. He looks to continue that tradition with 2018 unit.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There are a few constants in life.

What goes up, most come down. The chocolate Frosties at Wendy’s will always go well with salty fries.

Lastly, Michigan will always field a deep and skilled rotation on its defensive front, thanks to the coaching wizardry of Greg Mattison.

Since he joined Jim Harbaugh’s staff in 2015, the results have been bonkers. Three of the four starters in 2015 — Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow — now appear on NFL rosters. A year later, Taco Charlton joined the club, and a year after that, Mo Hurst became a Raider.

History looks to repeat itself this fall.

SDE Rashan Gary, JR

Another constant: No. 1 recruits always turn out well, at least if their head is on straight. We’re looking at you, Dorial Green-Beckham.

Gary not only excels on the field, but based on the conversations with his mom from the Amazon series, he’s definitely not a head case risk.

The No. 1 recruit in the 2016 class finds himself on the trajectory towards a monster junior season — possibly his last. After amassing 23 tackles in spot time in 2016, he broke out in 2017, finishing with 58 tackles, 11.5 TFL’s and 5.5 sacks.

The first play above highlights what makes him a physical specimen. A man with 6-foot-5, 283-pound measurables shouldn’t be able to run sideline to sideline with receivers, but Gary does it regularly.

There’s a reason Bruce Feldman named him as the nation’s biggest freak heading into this season.

His two sacks in the Ohio State game show off his closing speed, even against an elite runner like J.T. Barrett.

As reported earlier, Pro Football Focus graded him as an 84.5 in 2017, just outside their elite pro prospect rating. They also mark him with 50 pressures, which is amongst the best of returning FBS linemen.

While he wasn’t on Jadeveon Clowney’s level as a sophomore — Clowney doubled Gary’s TFL’s as a sophomore in 2012 — Gary should continue his pre-destined ascension towards a first round draft pick next year.

WDE Chase Winovich, RS SR

Gary may get the hype. Winovich simply produces.

He far outpaced Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa statistically. His 73 tackles dwarfed Bosa’s 34, and notched three more tackles for loss (though they both reached 8.5 sacks).

He always was aggressive, taking down the quarterback five times in limited 2016 snaps. He also occasionally found himself well outside running lanes, allowing the opposition to step up in the pocket and pick up chunks of yards. See: Central Florida 2016.

Right out of the gate, he bottled up his aggression in 2017. His strip-sack against Florida — where he ripped past all-SEC tackle Martez Ivey — is a thing of beauty.

Skip to 0:39.

Pro Football Focus provides an evaluation chock full of salivation.

The 87.8 grade leaves him just outside their “future Pro Bowl” ranking. At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, he may not have the prototypical size for pass rushing end.

When you’re the best at hitting the quarterback last year, it’s clear that productivity trumps height and weight. Also, he shares Thor’s haircut.

That’s Chase, right?

The backup defensive ends

Don Brown loves him some Kwity Paye, calling him “one big muscle” at last week’s media availability.

The Rhode Island native, according to Brown, can spell both Gary and Winovich.

“Kwity can play either defensive end position,” he said, “which, obviously, position flexibility is a big deal, because it gives you a chance to play at both positions.”

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Paye chipped in four tackles last season, as well as a lone sack against Penn State.

He actually acquitted himself well throughout the 42-13 loss, demonstrating good ability to disengage from his blocker on this play.

Luiji Vilain looks to be locked into weak-side end. Isaiah Hole of the Wolverine Wire indicated he “might be due for early playing time.”

The former blue-chip recruit missed all of last year with an unspecified injury, but was medically cleared to play back in June.

Despite the boo-boo, he added around 15 pounds of muscle under Ben Herbert’s strength program, now measuring at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds. The scouting services lauded his sideline-to-sideline athleticism, so with the additional power, he could mimic Taco Charlton’s solid 2015 numbers.

That should set up a true emergence in 2019.

Brown pointed to legacy Aiden Hutchinson as a freshman who will see the field.

“Can we get him ready,” he asked. “I don’t know. My lean is with coach Mattison’s tutelage, he’ll be ready to go.”

The top in-state recruit last cycle erupted in the U.S. Army All-American game, creating buzz for early playing time.

If Vilain is the heir apparent to Charlton, then Hutchinson appears to be on the Winovich path.

There was little to no mention of Ron Johnson or Reuben Jones. Both are running out of time to make big contributions on a rapidly growing defense.

Greg Mattison mentioned freshman Taylor Upshaw “gained 20 pounds” over the summer. He and Germany’s Julius Welschof seem destined for redshirts to mold themselves for future battles.

While we’re talking about our non-basketball German, here’s a 6-foot-6 man on skis.

The tackles

3-tech Michael Dwumfour, JR

Once thought as just a necessary byproduct to landing Rashan Gary, Dwumfour has received Mo Hurst comparisons ever since the final whistle blew in the Outback Bowl.

Greg Mattison said it himself during spring ball.

“He’s so quick off the football, he has a lot of Mo Hurst in him,” he said. “When it’s time and you see him come off the ball, you just go, ‘Whoa. That’s really good.’

”And he’s a little bit thicker and a little bit bigger.”

He only totaled three tackles, one TFL and a half-sack as a sophomore. However, how did Hurst perform the year before his breakout in 2015?

Three tackles and a single TFL. A year later, he multiplied that nearly 12-fold by finishing with 35 tackles, 6.5 TFL’s and three sacks.

Don Brown seems excited that he’ll take the same leap.

“Mike Dwumfour had a really exciting spring,” he said. “From a coaching standpoint, you walk away and – ‘Damn, that guy has really stepped into it!’

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

NT Bryan Mone, RS SR

Mone has been somewhat of a disappointment in Ann Arbor so far.

Injuries and conditioning have limited him to 26 tackles and a sack in his four years. According to Brown, he figures to continue his role as an early-down eater of blocks.

“I don’t want to leave out Bryan Mone, because he’s been a stalwart in the middle,” he said. “He’ll be a first and second down guy for us. And expect good things out of him. He’s like an immovable object. You just put him there and – good luck! It’s like a fence post that’s been cemented into the ground, because he’s not moving.”

The 6-foot-4, 335-pound planetoid did recently find himself on the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list.

He does seem to save himself for Ohio State, accumulating eight tackles — with two for loss — and a sack the last two games against the Buckeyes.

THE BACKUP TACKLES

Many expected Aubrey Solomon to pack on the pounds this offseason, providing him the requisite size to fully supplant Mone. The opposite happened, as Solomon lost 10 pounds to tip the scales at 287 pounds for fall camp.

The former 5-star made waves in high school for his quick-twitch athleticism on the interior, so less weight is good, right? He hit the field late in the year, earning 16 tackles with two for loss. One of those came with a powerful takedown of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.

Skip to 0:58.

Carlo Kemp looked to spell Gary at the anchor spot on the line, but the rising junior from Boulder, Colo. moved inside this summer, according to Don Brown.

He is better-sized after summer conditioning, gaining 16 pounds to now measure at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds. He made three tackles as a reserve in 2017.

Lawrence Marshall got pushed aside by Gary and Winovich on the edge, and stayed in the rotation by molding himself into a 3-tech. This weighed down his explosiveness, but he found occasional snaps through a healthy dose of grit.

Though he only mustered six tackles, he earned a fumble recovery in the opener versus Florida by plowing through a Gator receiver en route to the ball.

Skip to 1:24.

Deron Irving-Bey and Donovan Jeter return from a redshirt and an injury, respectively. Don Brown was honest that, despite a combined 40 pounds of summer gains, they both still need work.

“For those guys, it’s still trying to figure some things out,” he said, “but you’re starting to see the arrow go from flatline to turning slightly up. Obviously, we’re looking for improvement from those guys.”

Both figure to focus on the 3-tech.


Mattison and Brown have plenty of reliable pieces going into Sep. 1 in South Bend.

A year of improvement from Gary and Winovich, a potential clone of Mo Hurst and plenty of options at the nose likely makes the Wolverines one of the best fronts in the nation.