Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 93 of 179

92 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE LINE BY CHRIS BALAS I n his three years as Michigan's defensive coordinator, Don Brown has been blessed with plenty of talent in the trenches. Defensive end Taco Charlton and tackles Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow went in the first, third and fourth rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, respectively. A year later, Mau- rice Hurst Jr. became a consensus All-Amer- ican at nose tackle before he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. The ends carried the torch last year, Rashan Gary eventually going to Green Bay in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft and U-M MVP Chase Winovich in the third round to New England, but tackles Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall also received NFL looks as undrafted free agents. Replacing them won't be easy, but Brown isn't the type to shy away from a challenge. And despite the criticism he's gotten in some circles about inflexibility when it comes to change, the veteran coach said this fall he'd likely have to rely more on the linebackers this year, a position of strength, in figuring out his front seven. Whether that means more odd-man fronts remains to be seen, but Brown is confident in his group. It's rubbed off on his charges — it always seems to — to the point that the newcomers and returnees have the usual high expectations for the line heading into the 2019 season. "We've always had good players on defense here, even after huge personnel losses," senior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said, shrugging off the naysayers. "People also said we were bound to take a step back after we lost guys like Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton and Mo Hurst, and now they're saying it again about Chase and Rashan. "We hear those things from people but don't acknowledge them. We don't play to prove them wrong, but it is a motivating fac- tor for us. We all have a D-line pride we've possessed since we were freshmen, and it relates to not letting the guys down who have played here before us." Interior Design The concerns are understandable, how- ever, given the lack of both experience and depth. While the backup ends saw plenty of action last year, tackle was thin. New defen- sive line coach Shaun Nua needed bodies on the inside, and winter conditioning helped create two in Kemp and redshirt sophomore Donovan Jeter. Kemp was officially listed 6-3, 280 in the spring, but Brown boasted at an early June speaking event in New York that his senior was up to 290, having added 10 pounds of good weight since March. Once a touted linebacker recruit, Kemp has made the move from that position to defensive end to tackle, and he's happy with his progress. "I never thought I'd be playing nose here," Kemp said with a laugh after spring ball. "Once you get to college, you look at foot- ball in a completely different light and ask yourself what you were even doing in high school. "It's been fun figuring out which position is best for me, though." What he lacks in girth (compared to, say, Mone, who played at 350-plus pounds) Kemp makes up for in technique and strength. Head coach Jim Harbaugh praised him as "extremely strong" in branding him the team's starting nose, and he's still got time before the season to build even more muscle. His leadership skills, too, can't be denied. "I think he's really brought a sense of maturity to the inside position," Brown said. Nua, meanwhile, saw something in his senior during his first days on the job. "He's a great leader," Nua said. "He's very unselfish and very, very intelligent. He's putting a lot on his plate to be a leader and lead this group, because he has experience and he's very unselfish in that way. And the guys love him." Kemp could also play the three-technique (lined up on the outside shoulder of an offen- sive guard), and he takes pride in that versa- tility. He could start there, in fact, should Mi- chael Dwumfour bounce back from spring injuries to claim the starting nose job. The 6-2, 285-pound redshirt junior was one of last year's breakout players and a fall camp surprise. He played in 13 games at defensive tackle with two starts, recorded 21 tackles with one interception and three sacks, and showed his toughness in playing through a plantar fascia (foot) injury last Something to Prove U-M's Defensive Line Will Look Different, But Still Boasts Great Potential FYI Michigan tied for 34th in the nation in sacks in 2018, down from seventh the previous year, averaging 2.62 per game. The D-line accounted for 14.5 of the sacks, down from 20.5 the previous year, though junior Josh Uche (a hybrid linebacker/defensive end) added seven. Graduate transfer end Mike Danna (Cen- tral Michigan) made the Pro Football Focus (PFF) first-team All-America squad last season. The outlet credited him with 54 total QB pressures and 53 total tackles with only four missed attempts. Among edge rushers with at least 250 pass rushes, Danna ranked eighth na- tionally in pass rushing productivity per PFF. To put those stats in perspective, the graduated Chase Winovich finished with 53 pressures and tied for 21st in pass rushing productivity in 2018. PFF graded U-M's pass rush at 85.4 (out of 100) last year, tying it for eighth na- tionally and ranking second in the Big Ten (behind No. 3 Ohio State's 91.1). Make it five straight seasons that Michi- gan has had a defensive lineman taken in the NFL Draft. Rashan Gary (first round, Green Bay) and Winovich (third round, New England) bring the number to nine total Wolverine linemen taken in that span. Junior end Kwity Paye stepped in and started for Rashan Gary in four games last season while appearing in all 13 contests and earning All-Big Ten honorable men- tion from the media. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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