The annual Michigan spring football game is upon us and with the return of semi-competitive football in the Big House, it is time to scout, speculate and wildly overreact to what we are about to witness.
Who can forget the revelation of watching Mikey Sainristil seamlessly adapt to a new position in last year’s game? A revelation that was supported by a season of success and the pass break-up of the century against Ohio State in Columbus.
But for every Sainristil, there are the Luij Vilain flash-in-the-pan players that implore you to buy up all the available stock only to leave you bankrupt during the actual season.
The player variance and margin for error are what make the spring game one of my favorite weekends of the year. Here are three things I will be watching and overreacting to on the Michigan defense this weekend.
Josaiah Stewart’s Impact
The Coastal Carolina edge transfer exploded onto the scene as a freshman in 2021 when he recorded 43 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. His sack total ranked No. 5 nationally, first among freshmen, and set a school record.
Stewart comes to Michigan looking to take the leap he missed out on as a sophomore, but there are concerns surrounding the Sun Belt conference transfer. Namely, his size. He is undersized for an edge rusher and is currently listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. For comparison, Michigan safety RJ Moten is 6-foot, 223 pounds and linebacker Junior Colson is 6-foot-2, 235 pounds.
Dominating against Georgia Southern is one thing, but can Stewart hold up week in and week out against Big Ten offensive linemen and future NFL players? It is safe to assume Stewart will add size and strength under strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, but I am still anxious to see how his skills translate in the spring game against the two-time Joe Moore Award winners.
Who will start opposite Will Johnson in the fall? Head coach Jim Harbaugh has already spoken publicly about receiver-turned-corner Amorion Walker claiming the role a of now, but a lot can change between now and the season opener.
The spring game will be the first opportunity for fans to assess the competition for themselves. Is Walker a lock? Where is Ja’Den McBurrows on the depth chart? Will Mikey Sainristil play in the slot and on the boundary this season? Could one of the dynamic sophomore safeties — Zeke Berry and Keon Sabb — find time at nickel?
With so much talent on the backend, the hypotheticals are endless. Finally, on Saturday, we will have a glimpse into the future of the position.
What are reasonable expectations for the Nebraska transfer linebacker? Starting linebacker? The best linebacker on the team? Conference? Country? A freak hybrid between an F-16 jet and Ray Lewis?
247Sports ranked Hausmann as the No. 2 transfer in the country based on his freshman season at Nebraska. He racked up 54 tackles (10 against Michigan) and became only the fifth true freshman to start at linebacker for the Cornhuskers in the last 30 years.
The noise surrounding Hausmann has only continued to grow louder the more the staff sees him in practice. However, if he is going to start, he will have to earn it within Michigan’s best linebacker room in the last 15 years.
Colson is the anchor and leader of the room; Michael Barrett is the savvy veteran who started alongside Colson in every game last season; Nikhai Hill-Green was injured last season but was projected to be a starter next to Colson after being a rotational starter in 2021; rising sophomore Jimmy Rolder has only been ascending since arriving in Ann Arbor.
During the 2017 spring game, it was evident that Devin Bush was going to be a star. Will Hausmann’s rise have a similar trajectory?
Who is bringing the rush for the Michigan Wolverines? Michigan’s pass rush approach last year was designed to be by committee because the team lacked a true No. 1 guy.
Overall, this approach was statistically more productive than the alternative but when the team needed an answer for one-on-one situations against high caliber opponents, there were no standouts.
This issue is certainly not lost on defensive line coach Mike Elston, and you can expect he and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter to challenge the edges and interior defensive linemen to step up.
Here’s a best guess/power rank of the defensive line in terms of strictly pass rushing:
- Jaylen Harrell
- Mason Graham
- Josaiah Stewart
- Derrick Moore
- Braiden McGregor
- Kris Jenkins
- Rayshaun Benny
- TJ Guy