As a true freshman starter on a very, very good defense last year, linebacker Junior Colson jumped right into the deep end. He joined the Michigan Wolverines with a pretty high ceiling and plenty of promise, and his raw athleticism is what got him on the field so early in his career.
Last year was a bit up-and-down though, which should not be too shocking but with all of the departures on defense, it would be nice to be able to rely a bit more on a returning starter in the middle of the formation. The Wolverines are not quite able to do that, unfortunately, unless Colson is able to show some significant progress from last season.
The story so far
To start with the good, Colson was a top-100 recruit per the 247Sports composite and saw plenty of playing time right away. He started the games that mattered most and though he did not rack up a ton of impressive stats, he made his presence known on numerous occasions with speed and physicality. Michigan could afford to have an average (or maybe below-average) starter or two because all of the overall strength of the defense, but it is no small feat to start as a true freshman against Ohio State and Georgia (and also Iowa but lol that offense).
This is all burying the lede a bit though, as it was not always pretty for Colson. His rawness was well on display due to his non-traditional background, and his athleticism could not always make up for bad decision-making. He got burned far too often or worked out of the play and while Georgia makes a lot of players look bad, it was a tough wake-up call to realize where the young linebacker is currently in his career.
Outlook moving forward
Josh Ross is gone, meaning Colson and Nikhai Hill-Green are the duo in the middle, with Michael Barrett playing a role as well. Jesse Minter’s scheme is expected to feature a bunch of different looks. The traditional linebacker role is ever-changing but regardless, Colson is going to need to improve to help an inexperienced unit.
It is easy to sour a bit on Colson and recalibrate expectations after seeing his struggles, but part of this feels a little premature. The fact the coaching staff got him on the field so quickly should not be held against him, and this was not the type of prospect that was going to be anywhere near his ceiling during his first season.
If Colson continues to struggle with making the right read and staying with running backs in coverage then maybe there is a legitimate problem, but his profile makes it worth giving him a long leash. Odds are Minter will be strategic in maximizing his strengths and covering up his weaknesses, allowing him to have a more productive sophomore season.