The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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102 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW [ L I N E B AC K E R S ] O f all of the 2020 football season's disappointments, from COVID- related stoppages to the absence of spring ball and All-Big Ten players from Michigan to the team's 2-4 record — among the worst in its history — one stood out as particularly perplexing. The Wolverines' linebackers, expected to be a team strength last season, instead were anything but. A unit ravaged by injury and inconsistency had one of the worst showings in recent memory. It didn't help that Cameron McGrone, a popular pick for all-conference honors, went down in game five with a knee injury at Rutgers that ended his season. The Wolverines were already thin at the position and turned to walk-on Adam Shibley to replace him. While Shibley was solid with eight tackles in a win over Rutgers, he struggled the following week against Penn State. But from a season-opening win at Minnesota in which the group shined to game six, a disappointing home loss to the Nittany Lions, the linebackers simply didn't meet high expectations. Even before getting hurt, McGrone wasn't the same defender, over- running plays and not playing as technically sound as he had a year prior, when he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors with 66 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and four sacks. Redshirt junior Josh Ross (6-2, 230) — who played well as a sophomore in 2018, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors — led the team with 53 tackles last year, but he also struggled at times. Even the viper linebacker position that had wreaked havoc on opposing of- fenses with a variety of blitzes under former defensive coordinator Don Brown didn't produce much after the first game, a seven-tackle performance from redshirt sophomore Michael Barrett in which his hit and sack on a blitz forced a fumble that was returned for touchdown. Former graduate assistant James Ross (2017-20), Josh's brother and now the linebackers coach at Hope College, insisted there was a reason for all the incon- sistency. "Last year was difficult. Nothing we did was in person … we didn't even know at what point we were having a season," he noted. "Emotions were going up and down, and once we got into it, things weren't what they should have been. "This year, I think everything will be clicking on all cylinders for those guys. I'm excited to see a lot of players transition into the players they're supposed to become." It's up to first-year linebackers coach George Helow to change the direction, and that's his plan. Helow replaces Brian Jean-Mary, who flirted with several jobs before leaving Michigan to join Tennessee's staff in the offseason. Brown was heavily involved in coaching the linebackers, too, so there's been a transition to new terminology and coaching styles under new coordinator Mike Macdonald. One thing hasn't changed, though — the high expectations for a position critical to the defense's success. QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: George Helow (first season) and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald (first). Returning Starters: Josh Ross (10 career starts) and Michael Barrett (6). Departing Starter: Cameron McGrone (15). Projected New Starter: David Ojabo (situ - ational). Top Reserves: Junior Colson and Nikhai Hill- Green. Wait until 2022: Kalel Mullings, Joey Velazquez and Anthony Solomon. Newcomers: Colson, Jaydon Hood and Tyler McLaurin. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Ben VanSumeren (transferred to Michigan State), William Mohan (transferred to Tennessee), Charles Thomas (transferred; destination unknown), Osman Savage (trans - ferred to Alabama A&M), Cornell Wheeler (transferred; destination unknown) and walk- on Adam Shibley (transferred to Notre Dame). Rookie Impact: Colson. Most Improved Player: Hill-Green. Best Pro Prospect: Colson. PLENTY TO PROVE Michigan's Linebackers Are A Crucial Component To The New-Look Defense BY CHRIS BALAS Redshirt junior linebacker Josh Ross has logged 136 tackles in 35 career appear- ances, including 10 starts. PHOTO COURTESY U-M ATHLETICS

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