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Michigan aiming to improve pass rush from interior DL in 2023

Mike Elston is spending spring camp pushing his position group to get to the quarterback.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

In recent years, Michigan has built a reputation for being the country’s premier “Edge Rush U.” While that reputation is certainly well earned, the ability of the interior defensive line to get to the quarterback is just as much an important part of the team’s success.

But that ability has been shunted as of late. During the 2022 season, the interior defensive line produced just five of the 37 total sacks racked up over all 14 games — less than the secondary unit who produced a combined 5.5 sacks.

It’s a problem Mike Elston has made a principal area of focus during spring camp, according to sophomore defensive tackle Kenneth Grant.

“The whole D line, as a group, we’ve got to get better at our pass rush,” Grant said Thursday. “So that’s something we’re targeting right now to get better at is our pass rush. That was kind of our weakness. It was more of the edge guys getting sacks and stuff. But this year, we want to have like the whole D-line as a whole getting a lot of sacks, getting pressure from the inside and the outside.

“If you look at the statistics, the interior defensive line didn’t really get all the sacks. It was more the edge group these past couple of years. So that’s something Mike Elston wanted to stick with was getting more production out of the interior guys.”

While the departure of defensive anchor Mazi Smith is by no means a small loss, the group looks to open up a retooling of how the interior plays its game. Kris Jenkins — the season leader among the defensive tackles with 2.5 sacks — returns, while Grant and co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Mason Graham are expected to make significant strides with more playing time up for grabs.

“I kind of saw it coming,” Grant said. “(Graham)’s a big-time ball player. He played in Cali, where it’s big-time ball over there. During recruiting, me and him were everywhere together. Even here and now, we’re everywhere together. I saw me and him as the big time.”

For Grant, not only is there a focus on improving on the team level, but living up to the lofty expectations set by his freshman season.

“It’s a lot of eyes on me, and I gotta keep grinding no matter what and keep doing the best I can.”