Michigan’s run of successful linebackers over the last few years has been a sight to see. From Jabrill Peppers to Devin Bush to James Ross, the Wolverines have had a ton of dudes in the linebacker room in recent memory. That will likely continue in 2020, but with three departing starters, who will those guys be?
Our spring preview series continues with the linebacker position.
Who is gone?
Departing from the Michigan football program are Khaleke Hudson, Jordan Glasgow and do-it-all linebacker/edge rusher/dude who can surprisingly cover K.J. Hamler/beast of a human being Josh Uche.
Hudson led the team in tackles in 2019 with 101. Glasgow, meanwhile, was right behind him with the second-most tackles on the team with 89. The two combined for 10.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last year.
Uche, meanwhile, was the Swiss Army Knife for Michigan. In 2019, he led the team in sacks with 8.5, to go along with 11.5 tackles for loss, 8 quarterback hurries, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbled and 1 fumble recovery.
Also leaving Ann Arbor is Jordan Anthony, as he decided to enter the transfer portal this offseason. He has yet to find a new destination.
A lot of production is lost at linebacker heading into 2020. Luckily, Michigan has some Don Brown verified dudes in the waiting.
Josh Ross returns for his redshirt junior year, and is looking to bounce back after an injury-depleted 2019. He suffered a long-term injury in the Wisconsin game that forced him out of commission until the bowl game against Alabama. He could’ve come back before then, but coaches wanted to preserve the redshirt. I would pencil him in to take over Glasgow’s linebacker spot.
One of my favorites players from the 2018 class, redshirt sophomore Cameron McGrone also returns in 2020. He broke out last year after Ross got hurt. He finished the year with 65 tackles, 9 for loss, 3.5 sacks and 5 quarterback hurries. He is expected to have a larger role in 2020 — I have him slotted to start at middle linebacker.
After those two, it’s a bunch of guys with little-to-no field experience — redshirt sophomore Michael Barrett, sophomore Anthony Solomon, redshirt freshman Joey Velazquez, redshirt freshman Charles Thomas, true freshman Kalel Mullings, true freshman Nikhai Hill-Green, true freshman Cornell Wheeler, true freshman Osman Savage and true freshman William Mohan. Also, don’t forget Ed Warinner’s kid, Edward Warinner, transferred over from Michigan State.
Who takes over at Viper?
I think the competition at Viper will be one of the most interesting to watch this offseason. As of now, the first team reps will probably be split between Barrett and Solomon. Velazquez and Mohan are probably the two next up after that.
If I had to guess who wins this battle, as of today I would pencil in Barrett. He has taken reps at Viper and SAM, so he is a pretty versatile player, especially considering he was a quarterback in high school. He has looked pretty good in his limited action, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this competition extend into fall camp.
Who takes over for Uche?
I think there’s a good chance whoever loses the competition at Viper will take over at SAM in 2020. I really believe both Barrett and Solomon are versatile enough to play either position at a good level.
Solomon played in all 13 games in 2019, but most, if not all, of that was on special teams. Most of the time, if you are a true freshman who plays every game on special teams, odds are you’ll get some run on defense the next season, which I foresee for Solomon in 2020.
Other than those guys, I wouldn’t rule out Luiji Vilain shifting over from defensive end to SAM. I think his body type is well-suited for a role like that, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see that transition this spring.
Michigan currently has him listed as a defensive lineman, but I wouldn’t rule out true freshman Jaylen Harrell in the future for this spot. His body type is similar to Vilain’s and Uche’s, so he could easily make that transition, too.
There are a ton of bodies in the linebacker room right now, but not many of these guys have experience. Despite that, I have faith in the position moving forward. McGrone had no experience at all before taking over for Ross last season, and he excelled. It has happened time and time again with this position, so I trust the coaching staff to have them ready.
The linebacker position is one that really intrigues me heading into spring practices, so it will be interesting to see how this all plays out and who separates themselves from the rest of the pack.