As George Rooks and classmate Rayshaun Benny enter their second season in Ann Arbor, the depth chart looks suddenly open along the interior defensive line. The redshirt freshmen barely got on the field last season, but there are not a ton of certainties within their position group heading into 2022.
Benny is the better prospect and likely the one who enters the season with more promise, but do not count out Rooks just yet. The Michigan Wolverines have plenty of needs across the defensive front, and even if that means becoming a rotational piece, Rooks could still make an impact in the near future.
The story so far
Rooks ended the 2021 recruiting cycle as a 247Sports composite four-star, landing 263rd overall. He did suffer an ominous fall after sitting just outside the top-100 for much of the cycle, but some of that could be due to all of the limitations Covid caused on high school seasons at that time.
The New Jersey native appeared in just three games to preserve his redshirt last year, including a Big Ten Championship cameo like Benny. There is not a ton to take away from this, though, as his snaps against Iowa came on special teams. Still, getting on the field for such a contest was a nice way to wrap up his first year on campus and could be seen as a small reward for someone who was actively improving during practice.
Outlook moving forward
Of the tackle spots, Rooks projects to be more of a 3-tech than a nose given his size and athleticism. Early recruitment had some projecting him more as an edge, but his ability to address blockers and clear lanes for linebackers made him a better fit at tackle. He does have the flexibility to move more outside if needed, and Michigan’s desire to utilize multiple defensive formations could be to his advantage.
Rooks might not have the highest ceiling, but this versatility and build should get him on the field sometime soon, and from there he will likely stay on the two-deep for the remainder of his career, even if a singular role is not 100 percent concrete. In general, the Wolverines are not going to replace two NFL defensive ends with like-for-like next men up, so instead it will have to be a group effort to get to the quarterback and cause disruption.
That likely comes in small doses from Rooks to start the year, but there is a very real path for him to play at least rotational snaps by the time the heart of the season rolls around. Aside from Benny, players like Julius Welschof, Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant could all make a bid as well, but the ball is in Rooks’ court to step up and seize the opportunity with a lot of new starters playing slightly ahead of him.