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Michigan’s biggest questions for each defensive position group heading into 2023

With Jesse Minter’s scheme having had time to embed into the program, it’s time for the positional groups to take the next step in different ways.

Michigan Spring Football Game Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

Year one of defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s time with the Michigan Wolverines saw great success. Now that his scheme has had time to bake into the program, the expectations are only going up.

Here are the biggest questions for each of his position groups headed into 2023.

DL: Will the interior fix its pass rush woes from 2022?

As reported back during spring camp, Minter and defensive line coach Mike Elston have made a focus out of shoring up the unusually quiet pass rushing efforts from the interior defensive line. In 2022, the interior produced just five of the Wolverines’ 37 sacks, less than even the secondary unit’s sack production totals.

“The whole D-line, as a group, we’ve got to get better at our pass rush,” defensive lineman Kenneth Grant said in March. “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.”

DE/EDGE: Who’s gonna step up as the group’s premier pash rusher?

For the second time in as many seasons, Michigan enters the season needing to replace their top pass rusher on the edge. The question becomes, can the Wolverines keep the good times rolling like they did last season with Mike Morris?

There’s little reason to believe they can’t, but it’ll be interesting to see where the production comes from. Jaylen Harrell — who tied for second in sacks last season with 3.5 — is returning, while Josiah Stewart enters the program having recorded 16 sacks the past two seasons at Coastal Carolina. Don’t count out at least one of Braiden McGregor or Derrick Moore making a splash, either, as the edge position saw a great deal of rotation last season.

LB: Can Chris Partridge work magic in year one of his return?

The prodigal son has returned.

After five seasons at Ole Miss, Partridge has returned to his old office and his old position in Ann Arbor, once again coaching the linebackers for the Wolverines. Last season, former linebackers coach George Helow got the linebackers to arguably overperform relative to expectations, despite injuries to key players. In 2023, the expectations are high and Partridge certainly has the talent to meet them with Junior Colson, Mike Barrett and former Nebraska Cornhusker Ernest Hausmann.

CB: Who’s gonna be CB2?

Entering 2023, we know at least two players that are bona fide starters for the cornerback group — Will Johnson out wide, Mike Sainristil at the nickel. That, however, leaves one spot to fill, and there’s no real clear cut answer unlike past years — though not for lack of talent.

In Ja’Den McBurrows, you get a veteran presence with something to prove after missing all of last season with a leg injury. In Myles Pollard, you have a redshirt freshman who is noted for his competitiveness and ability to play up to competition. Then there’s Amorion Walker, the talk of spring practice who still has the hope of the coaching staff despite a rough spring game performance. There’s also UMass transfer Josh Wallace, who has the experience and leadership that Jim Harbaugh and company covet. And then finally, Jyaire Hill is a highly-touted freshman who had a solid spring game and has wowed coaches and players alike since stepping foot on campus in January.

Who will win the starting job? Only time will tell, but as you can see, there is no shortage of options for Steve Clinkscale.

S: Can Rod Moore go from valuable to elite?

The leap in production from freshman to sophomore year for Moore was extraordinary — going from a rotational piece to an out-and-out starter in the deepest part of the defensive backfield, all while earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention.

After leading the defensive backs in tackles and the entire team in interceptions last season, it’s well within logic Moore can make the leap from a valuable member of the Wolverines’ defense to one of the conference’s best safeties and a potential NFL draft selection after his junior year.