Early Monday afternoon, what had previously seemed like an endless parade of good news for Michigan football came to a brief halt when longtime Michigan football veterans wide receiver A.J. Henning, safety R.J. Moten and linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green all entered the transfer portal within hours of each other.
Henning and Moten’s names do not entirely come as a surprise, but what perhaps is a bit more surprising is the transfer of Hill-Green. The senior seemed poised to take the mantle as one of the Wolverines’ rotational pieces, which seems fair considering his lengthy absence due to injury in 2022.
What also seems entirely possible is Hill-Green found himself in a positional battle of his own. Most that follow Chris Partridge and this year’s linebacker room would probably guess this season’s rotation projected as a Junior Colson, Michael Barrett and Ernest Hausmann triumvirate, with Hill-Green running clean up.
Clearly that’s not the case, but this of course raises some questions: What’s next for Michigan’s depth at linebacker, and who are some players who might have already earned an uptick in playing time?
Rolder seems like the most-likely option. The sophomore from Illinois appeared in 13 games last season, including nine at linebacker. He flashed in limited time, but it’s not surprising to think the former four-star prospect could be challenging in a big way this offseason.
Pollard is another name to watch here. Like Rolder, Pollard is a member of the 2022 class who earned most of his stripes on special teams last year. We’ve yet to see what he can really do at the position in non-garbage minutes, but there’s no doubt he still has the in-game experience after appearing in big contests on special teams, such as Ohio State, Purdue and TCU.
An interesting option here is Hood. The junior was one of Michigan’s better hauls of the 2021 recruiting class, but has had a relatively quiet role in Ann Arbor so far.
That being said, it was a welcomed-sight to see him zipping around the field during the spring game. Hood tallied seven tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup. With his lack of in-game experience, we’re not sure how much he’s destined to see the field this year, but the improvement is undoubtedly there.
Last week, when defensive coordinator Jesse Minter appeared on the “In The Trenches” podcast, he listed all three of the aforementioned names right behind those of Colson, Barrett and Hausmann.
“And then there’s Jimmy Rolder, Micah Pollard, Jayden Hood. Those guys are all developing, progressing, trying to get to that, OK, who’s going to be the fifth guy?” Minter said. “Who can we give some snaps to? Tremendous competition. And so just overall, I would say a weakness of ours last year — not the way Junior and Mike played — but the lack of depth at that position throughout the course of the year. And in truth be told, it probably came back to bite us late in the year.”
All in all, you could still summarize Michigan’s linebacker corps as the perfect melting pot of experience and youth. And with the 2023 schedule tiered perfectly for a little bit of development early, it seems likely Michigan is destined to field a monstrous linebacker corps despite Hill-Green’s departure.