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How Junior Colson plays fast and does it all for Michigan’s defense

Colson’s had an impressive start to the season.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan linebacker Junior Colson is a player who seemed ready to roll as a true freshman in 2021. Colson turned heads at Penn State in a 21-17 Michigan victory where he put up 12 tackles. A year later the sophomore is a leader on defense and has a major role.

“Last year he had around 500 snaps, which is about half the season of plays on defense. This year he’s gotten a lot more, he’s been in there the majority of the time,” linebackers coach George Helow told the media on Wednesday. “He understands what to do a lot better than last year as a true freshman. I think him being a mid-year guy last year gave him an opportunity to be able to play as early as he did. That’s definitely a competitive advantage anytime a guy gets there sooner.”

Colson leads Michigan in tackles with 37 (14 solo), which is 14 more than Michael Barrett’s 23 tackles, which ranks second on the team. Colson has had great pre-snap diagnosis, and once the ball is snapped his speed and the angles he takes to get to the ball carrier have been impressive. There are attributes to Colson’s game that indicate he could be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft as early as 2024.

The sophomore LB isn’t a finished product, but his improvement has been noticeable this season.

“A lot of it is alignment, getting in the right spot, and playing fast,” Helow said. “He’s a willing tackler and a good tackler in the open field. He can play in space, he’s good using his hands. He can blitz, he can do a lot for us.”

Colson, 19 years old and 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, has a head coach in Jim Harbaugh who believes Colson can do whatever is required.

“Junior really has it all. He’s got a great work ethic, great attitude, all the physical skills,” Harbaugh said in May. “Really smart, a guy that you know can run the defense.”

Colson said in August that he feels a lot more confident and poised in the defense now.

“I’m just understanding it more, memorizing it some more. I’m understanding concepts like different coverages, what the o-line is doing, guys behind me. It’s making the defense a lot easier and a lot more fun.”

Colson and Michigan’s defense take on Indiana this Saturday, a team that ranks 83rd in total offense.