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Updating Michigan Football’s defensive depth chart after Don Brown speaks

Some new thoughts on where things may stand as of now (without the benefit of spring football, of course).

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown spoke to the media via the ever-popular Zoom video chat platform for almost an hour on Thursday. Almost no stone was left unturned if terms of the topics covered, and while he did not exactly dish on what the depth chart looks like — it’s impossible to do given no spring football — the way he spoke about a number of guys sort of gave us a pecking order heading into whenever the team hits the field again.

So as of now, here is our latest depth chart projection for the defensive side of the ball with some thoughts and notes added at the end.

Michigan Football Defensive Depth Chart

Pos. First Second Third
Pos. First Second Third
SDE Kwity Paye David Ojabo, Taylor Upshaw Kris Jenkins, Julius Welschof
DT Chris Hinton Mazi Smith Donovan Jeter, Mike Morris
NT Carlo Kemp Jess Speight Phillip Paea
WDE Aidan Hutchinson Luiji Viliain Braden McGregor, Aaron Lewis
SLB Mike Barrett Anthony Solomon Joey Velasquez, Nikhai Hill-Green, William Mohan
MLB Cam McGrone Cornell Wheeler, Kalel Mullings Edward Warriner, Charles Thomas
WLB Josh Ross Ben VanSumeren Osman Savage
CB Ambry Thomas DJ Turner Gemon Green, George Johnson
FS Dax Hill Germon Green Makari Paige
SS Brad Hawkins Quinten Johnson Jordan Morant, RJ Moten
CB Vincent Gray Sammy Faustin Jalen Perry, Andre Seldon, Darion Green-Warren


  • The biggest change here comes in the form of David Ojabo rising up the depth chart at defensive end, as Brown brought him up unprompted a few times. Most notably so when asked how the defense planned to replace the pass rush ability of Josh Uche. Taylor Upshaw and Luiji Vilain seem as if they will have roles next season as well in a rotation that sees those two plus Ojabo rotating at the end spots with Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson.
  • Defensive tackle has been a concern among fans, especially with a lack of size, but Brown does not see it that way.

“Sometimes things get said and the reality is they’re really out of context. For example: when you have four down linemen, you want each one of those four guys to have the ability to run and hit people. Now obviously, there’s a degree of size in the tackle and the nose scenario. And we have that size. Jeter’s a 300-pounder. Mazi Smith is a 300-pounder. Chris Hinton is a 300-pounder. And all three of those guys are very athletic. We’re excited about them, and obviously we’re very excited to have Carlo Kemp come back because not only will he provide experience, he’ll provide that essence of leadership that we desperately need there.

“But I’m very confident in the guys we have inside. Now, last year, we had another set of circumstances. Well, you’ve gotta play Josh Uche. And in that respect, we needed to play in some of our three-down, 3-3 stack-type structure to get that guy on the field especially on second and third down. And in some of our four down structures, we wanted him in some of the four down guys. I still think our defensive end scenario is really blessed, because we have Aidan, we have Kwity Paye. I’m very anxious to see how Ojabo does. Upshaw – Luiji Vilain in limited reps. I go back and watch Luiji play last year at times, and obviously he was hurt because Mike Danna was there. But, the bottom line is it’s his time now and he’ll have an opportunity to prove what he can do and I think we’re gonna get productive, solid play out of him as well.”

  • Brown is excited about the linebacker group and noted that he thinks a lot of coaches around the country would want to trade places with him having both Cam McGrone and Josh Ross in the linebacker room. It stands to reason that Michigan wants them on the field at the same time. He also named Cornell Wheeler, Kalel Mullings and Ben VanSumeren (who switched to linebacker this offseason) as players he is excited to coached that could be worked in this fall.

“I think having Cam McGrone and Josh Ross to start with is an excellent place to start. I’ll bet there are many inside linebacker coaches in the country that want to trade places with me. Those two guys I think can play anywhere in America, I really do. They can play for any system. Ross is not only a physical guy, he’s an athletic guy. But he is one bright guy. McGrone, very similar, except he runs a 4.4. You don’t get many of those guys now.

“So I kinda feel like it’s 2016 revisited where Ben Gedeon hadn’t played much so we moved him to the MIKE. Mike McCray played zero and I put him at the WILL position. We talked Peppers into being the VIPER. ‘Hey, you’re gonna do this! You’re gonna blitz! You’re gonna play the edge! You’re gonna cut! You’re gonna do all these things!’ And we kinda tricked him into the VIPER. There we go, there’s our three positions to start with. Then we had Devin Bush, and we had to bring Devin along and utilize him along with Mike Wroblewski and some of those guys.

“I’m very excited to work with this Kalel Mullings, Cornell Wheeler, Nikhai Hill-Green – those guys are gonna give us – they have tremendous skill. Obviously, when you can benefit from these kinds of meetings, the Zoom meetings we’ve had, so I feel really good about it. Obviously two tremendous leaders at the forefront. And the talent is there, so we just have to get them up to speed and ready to go. Athletically, again, I feel very strongly about that position.”

  • Michigan also has to replace Khaleke Hudson at the Viper/SAM spot and the leader appears to be Mike Barrett. Brown noted how he runs a 4.51 at over 220 pounds. Anthony Solomon will provide him some competition there, but this seems like a two-horse race with Barrett out in front.
  • As far as the secondary goes, DJ Turner and Andre Seldon were among the most notable players named to get playing time at cornerback behind Ambry Thomas and Vincent Gray.

“Andre certainly is in position to do that (play nickel). DJ, if you can play corner, you can play nickel. Both of those guys have outstanding ability. I’m just very glad I’m gonna get the opportunity to coach both of those guys. Like you said, we lost spring, and I thought that was tough on DJ in particular, because he had kind of an injury-plagued fall, which held him back. But he’s another guy though, Sam, when you watch him run around and do things. Just the way he carried himself in the winter workouts, he’s come out of the freshman slump. I believe some guys go through that, especially when they get hurt. And I think he went through that. And I think we’re gonna see a guy that’s ready to compete for playing time and very anxious to see where he goes.

“With Andre, that’s one of the reasons that we signed him, because of his ability to play nickel. Obviously, we feel very strongly that he’ll be able to make a run at that position. Because that position there is not a position that requires crazy amounts of mental process. It’s really, the physical challenge is the most important piece and we think he’s up to that. Anxious to see him get on the field. I’m certainly not putting any pressure on him, but I’m excited about him. I will say he did very well academically for his first go-round here, and that’s always a good sign, because it shows the guy is making the proper adjustments to college life.”

Now, Michigan waits to find out when they are allowed to take the field again with the country slowly opening back up after the coronavirus pandemic so they can let some of these battles play on the field.