The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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92 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE LINE BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan's defensive ends stand to grab a lot of quarterbacks and at- tention — again. The search-and-destroy caps on the line never seem to lack sizzle the past few years. Whether the combo involves Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich from a couple of years ago, or the present "Salt and Pepper" serving of junior Aidan Hutchinson and senior Kw- ity Paye, there's always an NFL-caliber duo. Last year, the book on the Wolverines in- volved not featuring enough up the middle. Not enough girth, experience or healthy bod- ies to withstand the pounding from teams that just want to bang away. It's a stance former Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen took, and he's not backing away from it. "I don't feel like I was alone in that analy- sis," Van Bergen said. "When we got into some games, especially Wisconsin, we didn't have the size to withstand a two-tight- end, running back, fullback set with people running between the guards. "I endorse a lot of what [defensive coor- dinator] Don Brown does, and I agree that speed is lethal on defense. But you've got 11 guys out there. You need nine speedy ones and two that won't go backwards, no mat- ter what hits them. I feel like we're missing those guys." It didn't help that injuries and a key defec- tion put freshmen in key backup roles a year ago. Even then, the Wolverines featured a line that could hold its own under most cir- cumstances. "It's not apparent when you play against spread teams, but when you play a tradi- tional style, pro-style type of offense, you're going to get exposed," Van Bergen argued. "If you don't have size, there's nothing you can do. You can't sneak a 12th [man] on there. "You've got to have somebody in there that can hold and be your anchor, so your speedy linebackers don't have to navigate around 300-pound linemen. If you've got [redshirt sophomore linebacker] Cam Mc- Grone, and he has to wrong arm or put the right shoulder on a guard and still make a play, I don't give him a chance. "You've got to put your guys in position to win. We need size to do that." Brown sees a developing line in position to do just that. Supplementing fifth-year se- nior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp up the middle, the Wolverines figure to feature some aged or aging beef where it's most needed. There's redshirt junior Donovan Jeter, along with sophomore Chris Hinton and redshirt freshman Mazi Smith — each listed out of high school as at least a four- star recruit — at the tackle spots. They should all be ready to dig in and bol- ster the effort in the middle of the defense, Brown assured. "When you have four down linemen, you want each one of those four guys to have the ability to run and hit people," Brown said. "Obviously, there's a degree of size in the tackle and the nose scenario, and we have that size. "Jeter is a 300-pounder. Mazi Smith is a 300-pounder. Chris Hinton is a 300-pounder, and all three of those guys are very ath- letic. We're excited about them, and we're so fortunate to have Carlo Kemp come back, because not only will he provide experience, but he'll provide that essence of leadership that we desperately need there. I'm very confident in the guys that we have inside." Hinton and Smith, in particular, will gain from having to perform in very tough con- tests at the end of 2019, Brown indicated. "They ended up having to play at the end of the year, due to injuries, at tackle and at nose," he offered. "That's only going to pay dividends for them moving forward. It would have been nice if we could have had the abil- ity to work in spring practice, but everybody was in that same scenario. "Those guys had to play in two big games. Obviously, being able to play in a big game is an important piece. Now we've just got to get them to play at an elite level in a big game." According to teammates, Kemp played at a severely nicked-up level at the end of the regular season. While he waves the talk off and says he was healthy enough to play, he'll be looking for the chance to finish off his last season in strong fashion. Kemp recorded a pair of sacks, 4.5 tack- les for loss and a fumble recovery while making 40 stops last year. He'll likely be a captain for the second straight year as well, providing leadership both to the team and Edging Forward U-M's Defensive Line Is Strong On The Ends And Needs Bolstering In The Middle YEAR-BY-YEAR RUSHING YARDS ALLOWED Rushing Yards Rushing Yards Yards Year Allowed Per Game Per Carry 2019 1,582 121.7 3.2 2018 1,656 127.4 3.7 2017 1,572 120.9 3.5 2016 1,550 119.2 3.2 2015 1,589 122.2 3.6 2014 1,412 117.7 3.2 2013 1,822 140.2 3.8 2012 1,957 150.5 3.8 2011 1,712 131.7 4.0 2010 2,456 188.9 4.4 PRESEASON ANALYSIS: DEFENSIVE LINE STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Michigan's defensive ends will be right at the top of the Big Ten, a duo many will covet on a national basis. Senior Kwity Paye and junior Aidan Hutchinson should become an even more dominant force for the Wolver- ines than they were a year ago. But the better Michigan is up the middle, the better they'll be overall. That's where fifth-year senior Carlo Kemp — a captain last year — and U-M's other defensive tack- les come in. Kemp can hold his own, but he needs the help of redshirt junior Donovan Jeter, sophomore Chris Hinton and redshirt freshman Mazi Smith to really take a step forward and make this line special. Depth ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The depth should be very solid at the end positions. Behind the aforementioned start- ers, the Wolverines feature redshirted talents such as David Ojabo and Taylor Upshaw at the end spots, along with a hungry redshirt junior in Luiji Vilain. But again, the develop- ment up the middle is crucial. X-FACTOR Defensive coordinator Don Brown says Ojabo has a bit of Josh Uche in him. If that's the case, Ojabo could begin coming on as a pass-rushing specialist in his redshirt fresh- man season, laying a foundation for future big strides. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This should be a very good defensive line. The move from good to great depends al- most entirely on performers such as Hinton and Smith, hugely sought-after prep talents who need to make the transition to not only playing on the biggest college stage, but — as Brown says — performing in elite fashion in the big games.

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