The Michigan Wolverines have produced some really talented linebackers over the last decade, most recently with names like Devin Bush, Jordan Glasgow, ,Jake RyanJabrill Peppers and Khaleke Hudson, the latter two of which have made the VIPER position famous. Despite losing a couple of the names above to the NFL Draft this past season, there are still a lot of pieces to like in the position group in 2020.
Here is how it looks like that group will shape out:
Starters: MIKE Cam McGrone (RS SO), WILL Josh Ross (RS JR), SAM Ben VanSumeren (RS SO), Michael Barrett (RS SO. Viper)
“We’re going to be the best linebacker group in the country. (Cam McGrone) feels exactly the same way. Just the talent he has, the talent I have, just the two of us together — we could be the best.”
That is what prospective starters Josh Ross said when he spoke to the media at the end of September. The confidence will surely be appreciated, but now the pressure is on for this unit to meet the high expectations they put on themselves.
The most promising of the bunch is Cam McGrone who showed flashes of stardom in his first year as a starter in Ann Arbor. The redshirt sophomore will be the man at the helm of the defense as the middle linebacker drawing comparisons to the former first-round pick Devin Bush.
The man who was supposed to take over for Bush last season was Ross, who battled an ankle injury in 2019, will work alongside McGrone as a starter. The thought of this duo patrolling the middle of the defense had Don Brown enthused when he joined the “In The Trenches Podcast” with Jon Jansen:
“Josh Ross is a worker. Even when he was down, whatever he could do mentally to work on his craft, he was doing. Obviously, if you get the rust on, it’s hard to get it back off after you’ve missed eight weeks. But he’s had a tremendous winter. He’s a tremendous leader for our guys. And, putting him next to Cam McGrone, I think that will be a strength of our program for sure.”
After those two are some newcomers to the starting lineup, starting with Ben VanSumeren. His name may sound familiar as he was a fullback/running back who saw some carries in 2019, but he quickly dropped in the talented depth chart at the position and as the offense moved away from the fullback position. In April, the coaching staff announced he would be moving to defense to play linebacker, and it appears he could be a starter because of his size, speed, and effort. There is a lot of buzz in camp about VanSumeren as the SAM linebacker.
Looking to the VIPER position, that will be led by Michael Barrett. Barrett has seen several roles in his time in Ann Arbor. He was recruited as a quarterback and outside linebacker, transitioned to running back, and has seemed to settle on the Viper position in 2020. The position has typically gone to the most athletic and versatile player on the defense, and it is tough to argue that Barrett isn’t that.
The backups: David Ojabo (RS FR), Kalel Mullings (FR), Nikhai Hill-Green (FR), and Anthony Soloman (SO)
If anyone at the top of this group gets injured, there is going to be some very inexperienced guys filling in. Kalel Mullings and Nikhai Hill-Green were a four-star and a three-star recruit respectively, but asking them to jump in as true freshmen would be a tall task.
David Ojabo was stuck in Scotland just months ago due to the pandemic, now he returns to the team and appears to have made a quiet switch from more of a defensive lineman role to a SAM linebacker. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he is a massive linebacker, but he is also very athletic for his size and is rather fleet-footed. He may be just enough of a freak to find his way onto the field.
Sophomore Anthony Soloman will be the backup Viper after being on special teams last season. Soloman is a bit smaller, and will probably be better in coverage than Barrett as Soloman is set up more like a safety. But, projection are that he will see some playing time in some capacity this fall even as a backup.
The depth: William Mohan (FR), Joey Velazquez (SO), Cornell Wheeler (FR)
Mohan and Wheeler were each three-stars who had illustrious high school careers that will find roles as special-teamers before time on defense. Brown has named them as standout players early on in their careers.
Not much has been said about Joey Velasquez this offseason, but he will compete for a depth spot on the defense and also special teams.