The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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98 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW LINEBACKERS BY JOHN BORTON O ne of Michigan's starting inside line- backers wasn't a starter at the begin- ning of last season. The other had started only one Big Ten game. Now, redshirt sophomore Cameron Mc- Grone and redshirt junior Josh Ross rep- resent the centerpieces of Michigan's re- vamped defense. That's more than okay with defensive coordinator Don Brown. "Having Cam McGrone and Josh Ross is an excellent place to start," Brown as- sured. "I'll bet there are many linebacker coaches in the country that would want to trade places with me. "Those two guys can play anywhere in America, in any system. Ross is not only a physical guy, he's an athletic guy, and he's one bright guy. McGrone is very similar — except he runs 4.4. You don't get many of those guys now." The Michigan defensive coordinator lik- ened the present situation to the 2016 season, when he slotted a pair of players who hadn't seen much action — Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray — at the inside spots. He also in- serted Jabrill Peppers at the viper and came up with arguably his best Michigan defense to date. There are differences, of course. McGrone played plenty last year, taking over the start- ing job from Ross and getting the nod in the final 10 games of 2019, while Ross re- covered from injury. Ross himself has seen considerable field action, playing since the opening game his freshman season. There is also no Peppers — but Brown insists redshirt sophomore Michael Barrett provides a very strong candidate to replicate what Peppers brought to the table. "I've seen enough out of Michael Barrett to be excited," Brown said. "He runs 4.51 — that's fast at 220 pounds. That's a good place to start. He's had a tremendous role model in Khaleke Hudson that showed him the way. He's worked extremely hard, and has a very close relationship with Cam McGrone, in particular, and Josh Ross. "That chemistry, that camaraderie that you search for, that allows some groups to be exceptional, is there. That's the place you start." Former Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen indicated McGrone is indeed a confidence-building starting point. The third-year Wolverine finished fifth on the team in tackles last season, with 66, includ- ing four sacks among 9.5 tackles for loss. He proved disruptive in other ways, hurrying the quarterback five times, breaking up a pass and forcing one fumble. Given his extensive efforts against teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Alabama, he will be even more ready to step forward in the 2020 campaign, Van Bergen asserted. "He's a great piece to build your team around, as a guy that got so much time at such a critical position last year," Van Bergen said. "He's got to get some size to him. He doesn't have to be in a huge rush, but he's got to get more size to him. "Having size in front of him will help make up for some of that lack of size, as we get into the pro-style teams again. His lat- eral speed, his closing, the way he gets after guys, he's got a lot of what [former consen- sus All-American] Devin Bush used to do … it's not out of the realm of possibility to see him be at that level." Still, much of McGrone's success will hinge on what's taking place on Michigan's front defensive wall, the former Wolverine observed. "He's only going to be as good as the de- fensive tackles in front of him, especially on run downs," Van Bergen assessed. "Against the pass, he's your typical NFL linebacker nowadays. NFL linebackers are getting a little bit smaller, longer and able to defend the pass. "He's not the long guy, but he's got the speed. He's good in those spread situa- tions. He's going to be a great linebacker against any team in the spread. It's a matter of what's he going to do when it's pro style and he's got to play between the tackles and stand up to that 40 to 50 to 60 plays a game." That said, Van Bergen assured he's expect- ing greatness out of the redshirt sophomore. "I'm on everybody's boat with Cam Mc- Grone," he offered. "I feel like he's a special player, and I'm looking forward to seeing more years at Michigan for him." Ross started U-M's first three games last year, and played in the bowl against Ala- bama. That allowed him to save a season via redshirt, and he'll get a chance to step forward as a starting inside 'backer again. QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Brian Jean-Mary (first season) and Don Brown (fifth). Returning Starters: Cameron McGrone (10 career starts) and Josh Ross (4). Departing Starters: Josh Uche (9), Khaleke Hud- son (37) and Jordan Glasgow (15). Projected New Starter: Michael Barrett. Top Reserves: Anthony Solomon, Charles Thomas. Wait Until 2021: Ben VanSumeren, Joey Velazquez. Newcomers: Kalel Mullings, Nikhai Hill-Green, Cornell Wheeler, William Mohan, Osman Savage. Moved In: VanSumeren (from FB). Moved Out: Devin Gil (transferred to South Florida), Jordan Anthony (transferred, has not announced a school yet) Rookie Impact: Mullings. Most Improved Player: Barrett. Best Pro Prospect: McGrone. Back For More Michigan Builds Around Experienced Inside Linebackers FYI Michigan saw a trio of linebackers from the 2019 squad taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. Viper Khaleke Hudson went to the Washington Redskins in the fifth round, while the Indianapolis Colts grabbed in- side backer Jordan Glasgow in the sixth. Hybrid edge rusher and second-rounder Josh Uche, listed as a linebacker through- out his U-M career, was the highest de- fensive pick out of U-M in 2020. The Wolverines are losing 35 games worth of starting experience at line- backer from 2019, if Uche is included. Hudson and Glasgow started every single contest at their respective linebacker po- sitions, while Uche opened nine games with the unit aligned in a 3-4 attack. At the middle linebacker spot, redshirt junior Josh Ross started the first three games, before giving way to redshirt sophomore Cam McGrone the rest of the season. Uche finished last year as U-M's top- graded player who saw regular action, per Pro Football Focus, checking in with an overall 84.2 mark. That ranked 32nd nationally among edge players who logged at least 400 snaps. Uche's pass- rush grade of 91.4 tied for eighth among such defenders. Redshirt sophomore viper Michael Bar- rett completed a pass during the 2019 campaign. He fired a 25-yard pass to then-true freshman safety Daxton Hill, converting a fake punt that kept a TD drive alive against Army.

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