The Wolverine

October 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 32 of 67

OCTOBER 2022 THE WOLVERINE 33 seen anything like it" in his coaching career. "They have 140 players that are big, fast, strong, physical, well-coached," Mora said. "They play with violence; they play with energy. They don't miss tackles. They challenge you. … They've got speed all over the field." It starts up front. Through three games, Jenkins led the defensive line with 9 tackles. Senior tackle Mazi Smith had 8 as did edge Jaylen Harrell, one of the team's top players in the early going. Defensive line coach Mike Elston, meeting the media after his group ter- rorized Colorado State in an opener in which the Michigan defense racked up 7 sacks, was pleased to discover his group was what he thought it would be. "We've got a lot of guys who can play winning football," he said. "We rotate a lot of guys in, and I think the next step … is we're try- ing to build guys that can play championship-level football. When you go on the football field, you're going to be ex- pected to do that. "Early on, you're seeing what guys can do, and they're out there and a lot of guys played very, very well. But our goal is to be playing champi- onship-level football as we get into the rest of the season." That means more stepping up on the edges as pass rushers, too. There's no Aidan Hutchin- son or David Ojabo coming from the edge, but there have been encouraging signs. Ju- nior Braiden McGregor has yet to notch a sack among his 6 tackles, but he's shown the ability to get to the quarterback and has been in the backfield. Grad transfer Eyabi Okie (formerly Eyabi Anoma) notched a sack on his first snap on the opener and has applied pressure, and freshman Derrick Moore looks to be a future star in that role. Elston is confident his guys will con- tinue to step up. "The great thing is that there are guys here that can fill into those roles. They're going to look different … they're going to be different," he said. "There are going to become different opportunities for guys to get the production in a different way, let's say … we're doing some different things up front to create some disruption and pressure. Hopefully, that continues to carry on, and we'll continue to grow those things. "But yeah, it's a huge challenge to replace the No. 2 overall draft pick and another early second-rounder. But … I think that as a staff, we've handled it re- ally well. And the guys understand the expectations, and they've handled it well. I think it's only going to get better as we move forward." In the middle of the defense, sopho- more linebacker Junior Colson has been everything expected and more. He led the team with 17 tackles after three games and earned Harbaugh's praise for living up to the hype. Grad student Mi- chael Barrett has taken a step forward, too, in place of injured teammate Nikhai Hill-Green. Barrett is second on the team with 12 tackles and a sack, and junior Kalel Mullings (4 tackles) has been solid, too. On the back end, veteran corners Ge- mon Green (zero receptions allowed on 6 targets and a team-high 82.8 grade in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus) and DJ Turner (10 targets, 4 receptions al- lowed) have been very good in coverage, while the safeties have been outstanding. Junior Makari Paige (second-best on the squad with a 79.9 coverage grade from PFF) has made a move there, playing his best football to add to an outstanding duo of junior R.J. Moten and sophomore Rod Moore. But senior Mike Sainristil has been the epiphany there. The coaches are using the former receiver like they did All-Big Ten safety Dax Hill last year, and he's been "all over the field" three games in a row. "Mike Sainristil just seems like he's getting there just as quick as Dax Hill was last year in the same kind of pres- sure package," Harbaugh marveled after his captain notched a tackle for loss and quarterback hurry against UConn. "He's doing veteran things," second- ary coach and co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale said after the Hawai'i game. "He's out there antici- pating the issues and doing a very good job of disguising and in understanding what they're trying to do to attack us. "… He's doing his job, which makes him a really good player. But he's also doing things that make him great at times when he could do his job and do someone else's job. But he's making sure his job's taken care of. You see him do that, really, with his effort." He wants to be the best defensive back on the team, Clinkscale noted, and he's on his way. Overall, the effort through three games couldn't have been much better. Harbaugh is pleased with both sides of the ball, knowing tougher tests are on the way. "It's a good-looking team. That's come from really training and working at it," he said. "Just so many guys on the team … 101 played today [against UConn]. That's fun to go [see] every day. "The day-to-day is really good when you're around that many players where you've got to pull them back … you don't have to talk them into anything … it's cool. We'll try to keep it going, training." If all goes well, it will lead to a second straight Big Ten title in a few months. ❏ Junior Kris Jenkins led the defensive line with 9 tackles, including 1 sack, in the three nonconference matchups. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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