The Michigan linebacker room isn’t the same in 2019. No more Devin Bush wreaking havoc all over the field for Don Brown’s defense. The good news for Michigan is the linebackers they have this season are fast and physical, with something to prove after how Michigan’s 2018 ended.
Five questions at linebacker for Michigan football in 2019
Will Khaleke Hudson have a bounce back season?
Michigan’s VIPER, Hudson will be a team captain this season. Hudson didn’t have a bad season in 2018 by any means, but his 44 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and two sacks weren’t as eye-popping as the 77 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 2 INT’s he had in 2017.
Hudson is now a seasoned veteran and has been part of glorious victories and brutal defeats. If anyone understands the importance of this season for Michigan football, it would be a player like Hudson.
A lasting memory I have etched into my head about Hudson is him fired up on the sideline at the Peach Bowl after the defense gave up a 50-plus yard run up the gut for a TD. The score put Florida up 34-13 midway through the 4th quarter.
Tell 'em how you feel, Khaleke Hudson. pic.twitter.com/90y5th3vfq— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 29, 2018
Hudson showed passion, a hunger to win, even if some consider it an “exhibition game”. You need players like this on a good football team, players who hold their peers accountable when they don’t do their job. Michigan was without Rashan Gary and Devin Bush in the Peach Bowl, and Hudson clearly filled the leadership void then, and should continue to do so this season.
According to linebackers coach Anthony Campanile, Hudson’s work ethic has been top notch in practice. “I don’t know if I have ever been around somebody that practices that hard all the time,” Campanile said. “That is about the best compliment I could give as a coach. You can turn on that tape and that guy is running. There is no off switch. He has a motor that never stops.”
With a high motor, and a high level of skill, Hudson could be poised for a season that sees him skyrocket up NFL Draft boards.
Will Josh Uche thrive at SAM linebacker?
Uche will be a SAM linebacker in 2019, which is basically a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. After totaling 7 sacks last season, he is poised to improve on that total due to the fact he will be playing A LOT.
“He’s (Uche) there in terms of a guy who can play every down for us,” Linebackers coach Anthony Campanile said on Monday. “We don’t have any issue playing him every down of the game. He’s a great pass rusher, as people know, but he’s really stepped his game up in my opinion. As a linebacker fitting the box, playing on the tight end, doing some different things. He’s been able to move around like he did last year, but he’s really become a well rounded player for us.”
When asked about the type of player he has become, Uche said “I definitely feel like more of a complete player. I love linebacker. I’m not just a pass-rusher. I’m playing stand-up linebacker. I’m covering tight ends, all that stuff. I feel like a complete player. Of course my specialty is pass rushing, that’s what I excel at. I’ve just got to showcase the other part.”
The only thing that held Uche back from a monster season last year was his snap count, and now he will rarely be off the field. Uche has 4.6 forty speed and elite pass-rushing ability at the college level. And if Uche is able to cover tight ends in the passing game and snuff out run plays consistently, he could be a special player on D. His pass rushing ability is apparent, but let’s see how legit the rest of his game is.
Can Josh Ross fill Devin Bush’s shoes?
Khaleke Hudson believes so. “I feel like there won’t be a drop off at all, actually. I feel he’ll come in and do the same thing Devin Bush was doing – maybe even better,” Hudson said in March.
In order for Ross to be in the same stratosphere as Bush, who was drafted No. 11 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he would have to be fast, strong, and smart.
“Josh Ross has stepped up magnificently. He’s looking good,” Khaleke Hudson said at Big Ten Media Days. “Getting stronger, getting faster, getting smarter. He’s taking that role and running with it. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s gonna have a great season, I know he’s gonna have a great season, he’s a huge part of our defense this year.”
Hudson hasn’t been the only one comparing Ross to Bush, Jim Harbaugh has done it as well, saying at Big Ten Media Days that Ross and Cameron McGrone are “kind of Devin Bush type guys that can really, really run and play physical and play sideline to sideline.”
Don Brown on Ross: “He’s the brightest linebacker I’ve been around in a long time. Even when he was injured in the spring, this guy knows his stuff. You know what I’m saying? You don’t have to worry about what kind of a day’s work you’re gonna get out of Josh Ross.”
A platoon at WILL?
The likes of Jordan Glasgow, Cameron McGrone, Devin Gil, and Jordan Anthony are all vying for snaps, and these snaps would likely come at the WILL linebacker position.
Maybe one of those players have already separated themselves from the pack, but there’s a greater chance that some combination of those four will receive a majority of the snaps of this season. Last season Michigan platooned Gil and Josh Ross at WILL, so Brown could be comfortable rolling with a platoon there again. This is a situation that could go any which way.
Will LB’s play more zone coverage?
Michigan’s defense was lights out nearly the entire season, but they had their shortcomings against Ohio State and Florida. Both teams were able to have major success with shallow cross routes that led to big chunks of yards and touchdowns.
Michigan’s defense is fast, as outlined above, but at the very least there needs to be more zone coverages added into the scheme as a Plan B.
“The one thing I can tell you is that we’re more prepared versatility-wise in coverage,” Don Brown said. “But the aggressive nature will never change. In matter of fact, I’d like it to be more aggressive.”
But what kind of additions? “Just some additions, some additional pieces to make sure we have specific areas of the field covered,” Brown said. “That could be a man concept with the droppers, it could be a zone concept. We’ve gone about our due diligence and very comfortable with where I’m at right now.”
There may be just a small amount more zone coverage in 2019, but it sounds like Brown is very willing to dish out hybrid looks if they put Michigan in the best situation.