Remember when the Michigan Wolverines’ linebackers under Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke, and yes, even Jim Harbaugh were a big time cause for concern?
Well fast forward to year four of the Harbaugh era and year three under defensive wizard/coordinator Don Brown and now the Wolverines might just have the top unit in the Big Ten and the nation.
Despite the linebackers being such a strength, a few questions remain. Let’s talk about them.
What is Devin Bush’s ceiling?
Devin Bush spent his sophomore campaign (his first year starting) at middle linebacker, wreaking havoc on every down firing down the line of scrimmage as fast as a missle. Opponents took notice of that, however, and started to scheme around him, attacking with double, and sometimes triple teams.
Even though the impact he had out of the gate may have been less noticeable, the defense shined in large part due to the attention he commanded. Now entering his second year as a full-time starter, Bush looks to take control as being the captain of the defense barking out assignments and making his presence known on every down. But what is his potential?
With the offseason of intense training under new strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, Bush is now reportedly up to 240 pounds and has made it known he feels as fast as ever. When you couple that with the talent he already has, it’s easy to see why Bush is on just about every preseason defensive watch list, and is listed by the majority of national pundits as a top 50 player in all of college football.
As long as Bush can fine tune his craft, especially in coverage, and on his ability to rush the passer, he might wind up with some of those defensive awards I alluded to, and could go down as one of the best linebackers to ever sport the Maize and Blue.
Is Khaleke Hudson better than Jabrill Peppers at Viper?
When Jabrill Peppers declared for the NFL Draft during the previous offseason, fans for the most part understood the decision. They just had little to no idea where Don Brown would turn to find his replacement for the jack of all trades that Peppers was.
Well, flash forward a year and now Khaleke Hudson has U of M fans saying, “Jabrill who?!” With monster stats week in and week out and the ability to do everything from cover tight ends and receivers in the slot to attacking the quarterback with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, Khaleke has truly shined in the roll of Viper in the scheme.
With the statistics and impact Hudson put up last season, there’s no doubt in my mind he is the better Viper than Jabrill. That statement takes nothing away from the impact Peppers had, but rather speaks to the level Khaleke Hudson is at.
Should Khaleke Hudson produce another outstanding year, he might just join Bush as having the potential to go down an all-time Michigan Wolverine great.
Who’s going to fill the void left by Mike McCray?
Mike McCray overcame a plethora of injuries to become a captain and leader of the defense over the course of the last two seasons. As he moves on after graduation, there is a hole at at his starting position that needs to be filled — WILL linebacker.
Who are some candidates for the position? Let’s talk about the two that are leading the race for now, Josh Ross and Devin Gil.
Josh Ross — brother of former Wolverine linebacker James Ross III is a hard-hitting, speedy linebacker in the mold of a Devin Bush type. Ross would bring a type of play to the position McCray didn’t have, as he has the ability to cover sideline to sideline with his fluid hips, quickness and agility. He doesn’t sacrifice much when it comes to run support, as he is built like a tank and can get downhill in a hurry.
Gil, on the other hand, is a slightly different player than Ross. Although Gil and Ross are roughly the same height and weight, Gil is a more traditional weak-side linebacker, molded in more of the McCray style. Though Gil is quicker than McCray was, he is the same positive in stopping the run his predecessor was.
The fact is this — Michigan is going to be in an excellent position no matter who wins the starting job between Josh Ross and Devin Gil. This very well could be the first time in recent memory every single linebacker position has not had a red flag attached with it.
Is there a place for a traditional SAM linebacker on this defense?
Despite the fact Don Brown has, for the most part, played the Viper, MIKE and WILL linebackers together, he has also used the SAM (strong-side linebacker). It has been mostly used in pass rushing situations, or when matched up against a powerful running back as was seen last year when the Wolverines played Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin.
This season, however, we might just see that SAM linebacker more than previous years.
With the offseason emergence and love the staff has for junior linebacker Josh Uche, spelled with returning fifth-year senior Noah Furbush, we could very well see Brown utilize these two more throughout the upcoming season, especially Uche as he would provide better coverage without sacrificing speed used on pass rushing downs. Yet, just another weapon for an already loaded defense.
How is the depth at linebacker?
To put it frankly, it’s the best Michigan has had since the 2006 team.
Hudson and Bush are a duo Michigan fans — and college football fans in general for that matter — will be talking about for years to come. But the buck doesn’t stop there.
True freshman athlete Michael Barrett is now rotating with the Vipers and is built exactly like Hudson from height to weight, as well as almost identical speed and agility testing.
You also have guys like former 4-star linebacker and No. 1 player in the state of New Jersey of the 2017 recruiting class, Drew Singleton. Another 4-star, Jordan Anthony also of the 2017 recruiting class, came to Michigan a raw athlete but is polishing his craft by all accounts and should see the field this year.
We also can’t leave without mentioning the third and final Glasgow brother, Jordan Glasgow. Jordan isn’t just a feel good story, he’s a student of the game who has the burst of speed and coverage ability that you want out of a backup Viper who will spell Hudson at times. And that’s exactly what he will do.
Why do I mention all of these players? Because not only are the starters the best Michigan has had in more than 10 years, but the depth is good enough to keep the position group locked and loaded for years to come.