The interior of Michigan’s defensive line doesn’t have a tremendous amount of depth heading into the 2020 season. Michigan lost Michael Dwumfour via grad transfer to Rutgers, and they haven’t added a transfer to replace that loss of depth at defensive tackle.
Michigan’s interior had ups and downs to their 2019 season, receiving the brunt of the blame for their lopsided loss to Wisconsin early in the season. Whether one viewed the d-line as solid or lackluster last season, they’ll need to be better than they were then to stop the run each and every game in 2020.
Continued improvement from Kemp
Defensive tackle Carlo Kemp gained one more year of eligibility, which is a major positive for the Wolverines at the position. Kemp provides experience at the position, totaling 40 tackles in 2019 and 2 sacks.
Defensive line coach Shaun Nua was happy with Kemp’s production last season, but still sees a lot of room for improvement. “Productions gotta go up up, but more importantly his leadership, gotta continue,” Nua said last month. “He did a great job with it but I challenged him to not only be a d-line leader, but a leader of the whole defense and team leader. Very, very excited to have Carlo back, he’s the head of our snake, and he’s the guy that our guys like to listen to, follow, and it’s invaluable, especially for a coach to have someone that is just like a coach to come back.”
Kemp’s presence as a leader will be needed with other players along the interior receiving sizable snaps for the first time in their career. The likes of Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith will likely lean on Kemp to fine-tune their craft and assist with necessary in-game adjustments.
Uncertainty/Potential behind Kemp.
Redshirt junior Donovan Jeter, Chris Hinton, Mazi Smith, and Jess Speight round out the rest of the interior d-line depth chart behind Kemp, but they all have a ways to go to reach the skill and knowledge level Kemp has. “I need them to make up ground to get to the level of Carlo Kemp,” Nua said. “That’s why this spring is gonna be huge for them, so that way the gap isn’t too big once we get to fall camp.”
What makes spring ball important is, as Nua stated, closing the talent gap between Kemp and the other d-linemen. Nua wants the other options to be reliable contributors. This spring will allow the coaching staff to see where these players are at, where they can improve, and if they can be trusted to win Michigan games.
Hinton, a former five-star prospect, flashed promise when receiving extended snaps at the end of 2019, including 6 total tackles against Ohio State. Hinton’s primed to be a breakout player in 2020 based on the hype surrounding his recruitment alone. Hinton was the No. 4 rated defensive tackle in the 2019 class and No. 31 player overall. “What he sees, what he feels is kind of like the next step for him,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said in November. “But physically and mentally, he’s there. He just needs more time on task.”
Smith, a 4-star recruit and the No. 11 defensive tackle in the 2020 class, could make a major leap this season, too. Harbaugh said Smith was “already ready to break through” last November. When it comes to Donovan Jeter, a four-star recruit from 2017, it’s a make it or break it season for him at Michigan. Jeter has had plenty enough time in the program to know the intricacies of defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme, now it’s time for him to go out and execute at a high level. If Michigan is to have the proper amount of depth along the interior of the d-line, they’ll need to have at least three players from the unit be reliable contributors. The competition at d-line appears to be a fluid situation with all the players having a shot at being a starter.
No grad transfer coming?
Michigan was rumored to be interested in getting a grad-transfer at defensive tackle, but it’s looking less likely that’s actually going to happen now seeing as it’s nearly the middle of March. It would seem like Michigan’s comfortable with the players they have at d-tackle, despite not have a ton of depth at the position. Quality, not quantity perhaps?
There’s still a shot Michigan adds a grad-transfer at d-tackle, but it would have to come in the next couple of months, otherwise expect Michigan’s depth at the position to look as it is heading into spring practices.
Wait and see
We really don’t know how the interior is going to perform in 2020 as a whole, neither does Nua right now. It’s a complete pattern of wait and see. Especially from outside observers, who don’t have much of a film sample size along with the data that comes with it to determine whether the players behind Kemp can all contribute at a high level and turn the interior into a run cloggin’ behemoth. This spring will be telling and will provide at least some of the answers to questions fans and coaches both have currently.