We are a week removed from the Big Ten Conference announcing its return to football and with the dust settling there, the Michigan Wolverines are officially working themselves into form for the eight-game season. The team has been practicing for well over a month without pads while waiting on a resolution and now things are getting cranked up.
Last week, we took a look at what Michigan might look like offensively to start the year and now it is the defense’s turn.
Based on all of the buzz coming out practices and what we know about the team heading into the lead-up to the Oct. 24 kickoff, here is how things are set to look.
Defensive Ends: Kwity Paye (Sr.) and Aidan Hutchinson (Jr.)
“Salt and Pepper” are back for another season in Ann Arbor for one last ride, perhaps for the both of them. This has the chance to be one of the best defensive end duos in the country and their place on the defense is all but written in permanent ink. We should be seeing quite a bit of David Ojabo and Taylor Upshaw this year, as well.
Defensive Tackles: Carlo Kemp (RS Sr.) and Chris Hinton (So.)
Kemp at this point is the elder statesman of the Michigan defense and one of its best team leaders. He should have far more help next to and behind him on the depth chart this year with Hinton and Mazi Smith primed for bigger roles and Jess Speight coming along as a player that the staff really likes. I’m not ready to call this position group a strength of the team, but I see it being improved.
Middle Linebacker: Cam McGrone (RS So.)
McGrone was arguably Michigan’s breakout player on the defensive side of the ball last year and slid into the Devin Bush role pretty well. He may not have the same ceiling as his predecessor, but he checks off much of the boxes and should be primed for another big year in the middle of the defense.
Weak-side Linebacker: Josh Ross (RS Jr.)
Earlier this offseason, coordinator Don Brown raved about how he might have the two most athletic linebackers in the country on his defense in McGrone and Ross, who will finally get the chance for extended run together on the field this year.
VIPER: Michael Barrett (RS So.)
Barrett has long been seen as the leader at the VIPER spot that was made famous by Jabrill Peppers and Khaleke Hudson. He runs a near 4.50 40-yard dash at 220 pounds and that has Michigan excited about what he will bring to the defense.
Cornerbacks: Vincent Gray (RS So.) and DJ Turner (RS Fr.)
This position group might be the biggest concern on the entire roster with the loss of Lavert Hill to graduated and Ambry Thomas opting out of the season. All of the sudden, Gray is somewhat thrust into the No. 1 role with a lot of young surrounding him. There have also been rumblings that Dax Hill has been repping with the corners in practice.
Free Safety: Daxton Hill (So.)
Hill has a chance to be a versatile star for the Michigan defense and be fully unleashed as a true sophomore. He should be able to pull off whatever the staff asks of him, whether he is a true safety, getting reps at corner, playing inside as a big nickel, etc.
Strong Safety: Brad Hawkins (Sr.)
From beginning to end of career, the progress that Hawkins has made has been impressive and he should wind up being one of the better safeties in the conference.