The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 97 of 163

96 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW FRONT AND CENTER All Eyes Are On Michigan's Line, A Key to The 2021 Defense BY CHRIS BALAS [ D E F E N S I V E L I N E ] C ollege football defenses have adapted over the years out of necessity, always changing to deal with the next innovative offense or new fad. Whether they're facing a run-and-shoot or a Power I, ram-it-down-your- throat attack, though, the most successful all have one thing in common — like a good infield in baseball, they're strong up the middle. Michigan was lacking in that area last year, and in 2019 to a certain extent as well. Teams like Wisconsin and Ohio State had way too easy a time mov- ing the ball on the ground — the Badgers rushed for 359 and 341 yards the last two years, respectively, and the Buckeyes for 264 in their win two seasons ago — and the Wolverines allowed 178.8 rushing yards per game a year ago, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten and 79th nationally. Since then, the defense has undergone a complete overhaul, starting with the coach- ing staff. Only line coach Shaun Nua remains on that side of the ball from last year, and his responsibilities will be focused solely on the tackles this year in new coordinator Mike Macdonald's defense. Though the Wolverines will show multiples looks, with the deployment dependent on the situation, they'll likely operate from a three-man front base, putting a lot of re- sponsibility on the tackles — and one in particular. "This defense's challenge starts with the interior defensive line. Period," former Michigan All-Big Ten offensive lineman Doug Skene said. "And since [Macdonald] sounds like he's gone to a base three-man front … if that's the case, that nose tackle has to be an absolute stud. Either one or both of those guys, [redshirt freshman] Mazi Smith or [sophomore] Chris Hinton, or a combination of those guys … those two are the names we are all expecting to be the anchor in the middle. "In a three-man front, the offensive guards are uncovered. That nose man, his job is to protect those inside linebackers and let them run, so that nose guy has got to be good. He has to require a double team on every play. That's how good he has to be." He also has to have the stamina to bring it on every play. Flash back to 25 years ago when former nose tackle Rob Renes left so much on the field that by the end of games, he'd almost collapse into his teammates' arms after a full day's work of keeping his linebackers clean. The 6-3, 305-pound Smith, a former four-star prep lineman out of west Michigan, is the Wolverines' best hope to provide that presence in the middle this year. He plays low, was one of the strongest men on the team when he first arrived as a freshman in 2019 and seems to have turned a corner. "That's my guy," said former Michigan graduate assistant coach James Ross, who is now the linebackers coach at Hope College. "I'm excited to see what he does. He can move a house. He's just one of those hard-working guys. … I just love him." QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Shaun Nua (third season). Returning Starters: DE Aidan Hutchinson (16 career starts), DT Chris Hinton (5) and DT Donovan Jeter (4). Departing Starters: DT Carlo Kemp (29) and DE Kwity Paye (20). Projected New Starter: DT Mazi Smith. Top Reserves: DE Taylor Upshaw (2), DE Mike Morris, DT Julius Welschof, DT Jess Speight (1), DT Rayshaun Benny and DE Gabe Newburg. Wait Until 2022: DT Kris Jenkins, DE Braiden McGregor, DE Jaylen Harrell and DT Jack Stewart. Newcomers: Benny, DT Jordan Whittley, DT Ike Iwunnah, DE George Rooks, DE TJ Guy, DE Kechaun Bennett and DT Dominick Giudice. Moved In: Stewart (from OL). Moved Out: Luiji Vilain (transferred to Wake Forest), Aaron Lewis (transferred to Rutgers) and Philip Paea (transferred to Utah State). Rookie Impact: Benny. Most Improved Player: Smith. Best Pro Prospect: Hutchinson. Chris Hinton — who has compiled 23 total stops, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 18 career games — will be counted on to be an anchor in the middle of U-M's defense this season. PHOTO COURTESY U-M ATHLETICS

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - 2021 Michigan Football Preview