The Michigan Wolverines took a step defensively in 2022 that very few saw coming. First-year coordinator Jesse Minter improved upon Mike Macdonald’s implementations and took the defense to the next level.
Michigan finished last season nationally ranked in the top-10 in scoring defense (7), total defense (6), rushing defense (7), fourth down conversions (7), red zone touchdowns (T-7) and first downs allowed (9).
Famous for second-half adjustments, the Wolverines only allowed an average of 5.4 points per game to opponents during the regular season, which was the best mark in the country.
Expectations are high for Team 144, especially considering the fact that this dominant defense is returning eight starters and potentially even upgrading a few of the vacancies and incumbent roles.
Let’s predict what Michigan’s current spring defensive depth chart looks like and examine the key positional battles that will not be fully resolved until the fall.
Edge- Braiden McGregor - Derrick Moore - TJ Guy
This isn’t a positional battle, this is an all-out war between McGregor, Moore and incoming transfer Josiah Stewart (more on him later). While the pass rush by committee approach was successful in 2022, Michigan needs to establish a preeminent rusher to impact the biggest games of the season. I give the current advantage to McGregor because of his experience, but Moore’s natural talent and power could usurp the upperclassman before the summer.
DL- Kris Jenkins - Rayshaun Benny - Ike Iwunnah
Jenkins is a lock to start and is rumored to be over 300 pounds, giving the Wolverines even more beef in the middle. Benny is an excellent rotational piece and will help keep Jenkins fresh with little to no drop-off in production.
DL- Mason Graham - Kenneth Grant - Cam Goode
Graham and Jenkins will form a tremendous duo in the middle that is equally apt to stop the run and rush from the interior. Grant is a mountain of a man who will start in heavy run-stopping packages alongside Graham and Jenkins.
Edge- Jaylen Harrell - Josiah Stewart - Tyler McLaurin
Harrell is a Swiss Army Knife of production and versatility, but it would be nice to see him take an elite step as a pass rusher.
Coming back to Stewart — while he will compete for a starting job, he is too talented to keep outside of the two-deep. As a freshman at Coastal Carolina, Stewart racked up 12.5 sacks, only one off the conference record.
In order: Harrell, McGregor, Stewart and Moore is my current confidence power ranking of edge starters, but those four should be your two-deep in some order this fall.
LB- Junior Colson - Nikhai Hill-Green - Jimmy Rolder
Lock Colson in, so the biggest questions pertain to the order of the depth. Can Nikhai Hill-Green return to form? A former starter from the 2021 team, Hill-Green missed all of last season with an undisclosed injury and will now have to battle with fast-rising sophomore linebacker Jimmy Rolder for minutes.
LB- Ernest Hausmann - Michael Barrett - Kalel Mullings
Although Barrett is the returning starter, Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausmann is the most talented linebacker on the roster and his abilities will be immediately undeniable. The rotational combination of Barrett and Hill-Green is good enough to start for most Big Ten teams and will give the Wolverines their deepest and most experienced linebacker room in a long time.
CB- Will Johnson - Keshaun Harris - German Green
Will Johnson has a chance to be the best corner in the country, but the battle behind him is fascinating. Whoever loses the opposite starting corner position will presumably be the second option at either corner, but after that, Michigan desperately needs someone to step up for depth purposes. Harris and Green are aces on special teams but if an injury forces them into action, it will be an area of great concern.
Nickel- Mikey Sainristil - Zeke Berry - Kody Jones
Sainristil is a lock, but this season could give us our first real glimpse at redshirt freshman Zeke Berry — an explosive ball-hawking athlete that could be the future in the secondary.
Safety- Makari Paige - RJ Moten - Quentin Johnson
Paige and Moten seem destined to battle forever for the right to start next to Rod Moore. Paige had the advantage in 2020, Moten surpassed him in 2021, and last season, it was Moten securing more starts, but Paige coming on late to garner All-Conference recognition. This battle could go either way but because of Paige’s strong finish, he gets the nod.
Safety- Rod Moore - Caden Kolesar - Keon Sabb
“God” Moore is under All-American consideration entering the season, and I only expect that to increase as the year rolls along. Behind him, Kolesar returns from a season-ending knee injury to challenge the talented redshirt freshman Keon Sabb. Berry and Sabb are the future of the safety/hybrid nickel position, but Kolesar can never be counted out.
CB- Amorion Walker - Ja’Den McBurrows - Myles Pollard
Finally, the main event! Who starts opposite of Johnson? Early indications were McBurrows, but he did not see game action in 2022 due to injury, so there are concerns about his durability. Myles Pollard is an option, but has minimal experience.
Enter: Amorion Walker. The former wide receiver has switched positions and, per head coach Jim Harbaugh, was deemed as a starter after only two practices this spring.