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Ranking Michigan’s defensive position groups coming out of spring ball

The Wolverines are loaded on defense.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK
Matt Hartwell Matt covers all things Michigan football related for Maize n Brew and runs the social media accounts.

While the Michigan Wolverines’ spring game provided a sample size of entertainment for those eagerly awaiting the return of college football, it also offered a small window for analysis regarding the defense’s current standing.

Some position groups certainly shined, while others potentially indicated a slight need for improvement. But one thing is certain — this defense is as talent-rich as we’ve seen in some of the program’s most formidable years.

We’ve still got some months to go before Michigan kicks off against East Carolina on Sept. 2, but based off what we’ve seen in the spring game and what we know of the returning roster, here’s where we would rank the Wolverines’ defensive position groups.

1. Edge

This position is one of the most experienced on the Michigan roster. Guys like Jaylen Harrell, who recorded 3.5 sacks in 2022, will undoubtedly flash this year. Other guys like Braiden McGregor and Derrick Moore, who didn’t put up the stats last year but still have a ton of talent, will also factor into the rotation.

In large part, the primary reason for the edge taking the top spot is a result of the potential that Josaiah Stewart flashed. The Coastal Carolina transfer had five total tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss last Saturday. He’s got a chance to be really good.

2. Linebacker

The mix of experience and depth is good enough to land the linebacker position at No. 2. It’s easy to see what all the hype is about surrounding Ernest Hausmann. The former Nebraska Cornhusker is potentially a star and showed as much during the spring game, exploding for eight total tackles, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Hausmann playing alongside returning tackle leader Junior Colson is a scary enough thought, but Michael Barrett’s production from last season is nothing to scoff at, either. Throw in the long-awaited return of Nikhai Hill-Green, as well as up-and-comers like Jimmy Rolder, and you have a linebacker room that’s deeper than most in the country.

3. Defensive Tackle

It starts to get tricky here, as the talent disparity between each of these ranks is so thin, but we’re going to award the third spot to the defensive tackles because, well, they’re scarier. Mason Graham burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and Kenneth Grant looked uncontainable during the spring game.

Additionally, Kris Jenkins is looking JACKED this offseason, with measurables that resemble that of 2022 Mazi Smith. Accompanied by other key contributors Cam Goode and Rayshaun Benny, the Wolverines will once again plan on fielding a very deep interior.

4. Safety

I almost feel sick including Michigan’s safety corps this low, but this is a solid indicator of how talented this defense is.

Returning starters Rod Moore, RJ Moten and Makari Paige headline a talented group of safeties poised to feast on passes by overzealous Big Ten quarterbacks in 2023.

So, what’s behind the first three? Well, that remains to be seen. Zeke Berry appears to be a frontrunner to play behind Michigan’s returning safeties. Quinten Johnson and Keon Sabb will also look to get in on the action a bit more this year.

5. Cornerback

It’s a bit heartbreaking that Will Johnson’s position group finds itself at the bottom of this list, but it’s not outlandish to state that Saturday’s game did little to quell any worries that spectators may have had about the position.

That said, it shouldn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers that Walker is struggling just a few short months removed from changing positions.

Michigan needs a reliable starting CB2. Both Jyaire Hill and Ja’Den McBurrows flashed during the spring game and should be looked at to receive some run in the months leading up to September, especially in the event Walker still needs time to develop.