The Wolverine

2022 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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96 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW A NEW BREED Linebackers Have The Size And Speed To Be One Of U-M's Best Groups In Recent Memory BY CHRIS BALAS [ L I N E B AC K E R S ] W hen Devin Bush left Michigan in 2019 as a first-round NFL Draft pick, going to Pittsburgh with the No. 10 overall selection, many Wolverines fans won- dered if they'd ever see another like him. His combination of speed, contact courage and tackling ability was something often seen in the SEC, but not quite as regularly in the Big Ten. This spring when Jim Harbaugh compared both of his likely inside linebacker start- ers to the former All-American, it raised some eyebrows. He'd lauded junior-to-be Nikhai Hill-Green as an up-and-comer at the same time last year, so it wasn't all that surprising when the then-sophomore emerged as a significant contributor last season. Junior Colson, as highly ranked as he was (No. 92 overall player nationally in the Consensus), came out of nowhere to start seven games as a freshman, notching 61 total tackles in his first year with the program. Together, the duo has the chance to be one of the Big Ten's best in only their second and third years in the program, respectively. And while the Wolverines lost a pair of elite players in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo — both tech- nically linebackers in last year's defense after playing defensive end for two seasons — this group still has a chance to be very good overall if it lives up to its potential. "We have a bunch of really good, gifted, physical athletes," Harbaugh said of the linebackers after spring ball, a group led by second-year assistant coach George Helow. Some Michigan linebackers have had size, but not great speed — some, like Bush, have had the wheels but not the huge foundation. Colson seems to "have it all," Harbaugh said this spring, and he enters the summer in incredible shape. Colson stood out while teaching at the Chicago Mega Camp May 22, resembling a budding tight end as much as an elite linebacker. Now 6-2, 225, he'll be expected to man the middle of the defense, replacing graduated Josh Ross. He has All-Big Ten potential — maybe more — and should probably have been a five-star recruit in hind- sight, recruiting analyst EJ Holland has noted. Colson has the potential to be one of the best Michigan has ever had, former Michigan All-America offen- sive tackle and new U-M broadcast analyst Jon Jansen said. "I am excited about him not just as an athlete. I love his mindset, too," Jansen said. "He wants to be great. When you talk to the coaches, he's a guy that's in there studying, doing all the little things. He's put on some good weight this offseason. Now, it's a matter of whether he can keep it on." Junior linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green played in 14 games last year, starting six, and notched 50 tackles, including 2 for loss and 1 pass breakup. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL YEAR-BY-YEAR RUSHING YARDS ALLOWED Rushing Yards Rushing Yards Year Allowed Per Game Per Carry 2011 1,712 131.7 4.0 2012 1,957 150.5 3.8 2013 1,822 140.2 3.8 2014 1,412 117.7 3.2 2015 1,589 122.2 3.6 2016 1,550 119.2 3.2 2017 1,572 120.9 3.5 2018 1,656 127.4 3.7 2019 1,582 121.7 3.2 2020 1,073* 178.8 4.2 2021 1,770 126.4 3.7 *Michigan only played six games in 2020

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