Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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94 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE LINE see what he's done this spring." The Wolverines will need at least two more to step up beyond the big three, but Nua and Brown have a potentially good trio to choose from in a pair of freshmen and a junior who is just learning the position in fullback/defensive lineman Ben Mason. Frosh Mazi Smith (6-3, 303) dominated in his senior season at East Kentwood (Mich.) High, notching 81 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. The con- sensus four-star prospect (No. 174 player nationally by Rivals) and early enrollee is already one of the strongest players on the team. Now he needs to continue to learn the effort it takes to play at the collegiate level and going hard on every down. "Mazi's coming along," Brown said at the end of spring ball. "It's a learning process. He should have been going to the prom this spring, and he's here playing major college football. He has shown flashes." Fellow rookie Chris Hinton should be a familiar name to veteran Big Ten football fans. His father, Chris Sr., was a star offen- sive lineman at Northwestern in the 1980s and spent 13 years in the NFL, mostly with the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, en route to seven Pro Bowls. As for Mason — don't bet against him. He was still learning the position in late spring, but his intensity and willingness to learn have put him in position to crack the rotation this fall. Brown noted Mason had already gained nearly 15 pounds to reach "260-something" in the spring, and sources said he hit 270 in early June. He had three months to add even more, Brown said. "He's a guy that pound for pound, if he can drive your head through that wall, he's going to drive your head through that wall," Brown said. "He was in the infantile stages of learning as a defensive tackle [this spring]. "People ask, 'Why defensive tackle op- posed to defensive end for Ben?' It's because you don't have to teach a lot. It's on your mark, get set, go. There are your blocks. Go full steam." He'd been receptive and responsive, and had really shown flashes in his last few spring practices, Brown added. "He was finally starting to use hands and starting to see benefits," the coach said. "… He's definitely in the mix." Potential On The Edge Replacing a pair of ends like Gary and Winovich is no easy task, but there's more proven talent here than on the interior. The 6-2, 238-pound Uche is listed as a line- backer, but Brown noted there will be several packages for him as a pass-rushing end. It's 6-4, 260-pound end Kwity Paye, however, who earned the most eye-opening praise from his defensive coordinator. Paye — an All-Big Ten honorable mention selec- tion by the media a year ago after notching 29 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble — has elevated his game and become a force on the edge. It's been "nothing but good" with him, Harbaugh said in the spring, and Brown took it a step further. "Kwity might be, technically, the best football player in the country," Brown said. "I'm just saying. That guy, he's hard to fool. No concerns about him. It's who is going to be sharing time [with him]." There are plenty of options. Redshirt sophomore end Luiji Vilain (6-4, 255) is one of the most impressive physical specimens on the team, but he's been snake bitten with injuries in his first two seasons. Two knee surgeries set him back, but Harbaugh said this spring he's got the (healthy) leg up on backing up Paye. "He developed confidence that his body is back," Brown said. That's the key first step given the injury history. Two rookie early enrollees are also com- peting for time, and one in particular — 6-4, 252-pounder David Ojabo — has everyone's attention. Though raw, having started play- ing football only in his junior year of high school, Ojabo is a freak athlete who "can fly," Brown said, adding the freshman's de- velopment will be "interesting." "All indications are once he really learns the game and understands that part of it, he's going to be a tremendous player," Harbaugh said. "He's exceptional in terms of heavy hands, being able to knock back an offensive lineman. He has real speed, was a 100-meter guy in high school." At anchor, where Gary excelled in often taking on two or three blockers at a time when healthy, sophomore Aidan Hutchin- son has become a force. The off-the-record Senior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp (above) started 12 games last year next to departed nose tackle Bryan Mone, but has the ability to line up in Mone's old spot or at the three-technique tackle like he did last year. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL "We've always had good players on defense here, even after huge personnel losses. … We hear those things from people but don't acknowledge them. We don't play to prove them wrong, but it is a motivating factor for us." SENIOR DEFENSIVE TACKLE CARLO KEMP

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