The Michigan Wolverines are in a new defensive scheme under coordinator Mike Macdonald, who just finished off his first spring on the coaching staff. All we have to lean on for what this scheme might look like is how the Baltimore Ravens line up, as well as buzz from the spring sessions.
Macdonald’s time with the Ravens saw him on a staff that routinely adapted its defensive looks to the talent on the roster. Baltimore has always been a team that has operated out of three-man fronts, but Wink Martindale (and Macdonald, by extension) threw different wrinkles into the mix depending on personnel groupings.
When looking at Michigan’s projected defense heading into the season, the lack of depth on the defensive line is jarring. Most have speculated, as a result, we will see a lot of two- and three-man fronts this year. That is about all we have to go off at the moment.
With that in mind, here’s an early attempt at guessing who might be leading for some starting jobs this fall.
Defensive Line: Chris Hinton, junior
Hinton has shown flashes of his five-star talent in his time at Michigan, but this is a huge season for him. I could see nose as an option for him this year and believe he has the versatility to move around.
Nose Tackle: Donovan Jeter, fifth year
Jeter is entering his fifth season and we are still waiting on him to put it together. There are times where he looks the player we hear dominates in practice, but he goes through too many inconsistent stretches. They need him to play like the veteran he is.
Defensive Line: Aidan Hutchinson, senior
Hutchinson might be Michigan’s best all-around player and has been hyped as a potential first-round pick in 2022. Macdonald is going to use him as a chess piece who not only can put his hand in the dirt, but also sees him rushing from a stand-up spot or dropping into coverage.
EDGE rusher: Taylor Upshaw, redshirt junior
Upshaw had some nice moments last year and showed off athleticism and potential. He may also fit the Hutchinson bill in terms of a versatile hybrid defender. He hasn’t played his best football yet.
Left Inside Linebacker: Kalel Mullings, redshirt freshman
This is a tough race to call without any information. Mike Barrett could seemingly be a fit here as he transitions out of a VIPER role. Junior Colson could factor in somewhere, as well. There’s a lot to figure out here.
Right Inside Linebacker: Josh Ross, fifth year
Ross is a veteran presence in the middle of the defense and will be looked at as a leader once again. We will see if he can clean up his mistakes. If he doesn’t, there are young guys behind him who will get an extended look.
Strong-Side Linebacker: David Ojabo, redshirt sophomore
Ojabo was raw when he got on campus and still has work to do, but he might have the most upside of this group. He has the skill-set to be a Josh Uche-type of player, and I’m pushing my chips to the middle of the table on him.
Cornerback: Gemon Green, redshirt junior
Michigan’s defense was a disaster last season without a ton of tangible progress made, but Green was the exception to that. Both he and Vincent Gray improved as the year went on after a horrendous start to the season. The Wolverines need more, and it sounds like Green took a big step forward during spring practices.
Strong Safety: Brad Hawkins, fifth year
Hawkins has quietly been one of Michigan’s better players. A fifth season throws him into a leadership role on this defense.
Free Safety: Daxton Hill, junior
Somebody needs to coach this man and put him in a better position to succeed. He is Michigan’s best all-around athlete and a tremendous talent. His coaching staff failed him the past two years. We will see if the new group can come up with a more focused plan of attack.
Cornerback: Vincent Gray, redshirt junior
The same applies here from what we said about Green. His confidence and technique cratered at the start of 2020, but the staff was able to get him back on track. Believe he is currently the CB2 on this team with DJ Turner and Jalen Perry set to make a push in the fall.