There were a lot question marks on defense for the Michigan Wolverines heading into the 2022 season, and the linebacker group was certainly one of them. Nikhai Hill-Green had taken tremendous strides during the 2021 season and was a key returner on defense and expected to have a great season. He then went down with an injury before the season began and didn’t see the field in 2022.
Players with less experience needed to step up, and that’s what happened. Junior Colson and Michael Barrett set the tone early and became the leader of the group, and one of the leaders for the entire defense.
Both players got experience in 2021, but really put it all together during the 2022 season. Colson had 23 solo tackles in 2021 and nearly doubled that number with 42 this past year. Barrett had 10 in 2021 and upped that to a whopping 37 in 2022.
In total, Colson (101) and Barrett (72) were the two leading tacklers for the Wolverines this past year. Combined, they also added on 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. They showed great improvement, and both are coming back for another season in 2023.
Those two players were always in the spotlight when it came to the linebacker group, but there were some other highlights as well. One of the most interesting stories involved Kalel Mullings, who was a backup linebacker for the majority of the season before going through a position change at the end of the year.
After Blake Corum went down with a season-ending knee injury, Mullings started repping at running back, specifically in short yardage situations. For the most part, besides a fumble in the College Football Playoff, it went to Mullings deep in the red zone. He ended up scoring three touchdowns and even completed a pass against Ohio State.
Another contributor at linebacker in 2022 was true freshman Jimmy Rolder, who ended up playing in 13 games compiled 14 total tackles, with 11 of them coming in Big Ten play. He, along with Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausmann, are expected to play extensively next year.
The injury before the season to Hill-Green certainly was a roadblock for the linebacker group, and Mullings converting to running back was certainly unexpected, but this unit had a very solid season overall. With Barrett and Colson both coming back, Rolder expected to take a step in his progression and Hausmann bringing a lot of experience for just a second-year collegiate player, this unit should be really good in 2023.