Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 107 of 179

106 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW LINEBACKERS BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan's defense will arguably be more athletic than last year's group, one that put all 11 starters on one of the All-Big Ten teams and saw eight of them get drafted by NFL teams, including a pair of linebackers in Jabrill Peppers (first round, Cleveland) and Ben Gedeon (fourth round, Minnesota). That's likely one of the reasons defen- sive coordinator Don Brown isn't nervous about his 2017 group, noting he'd rather have young, talented guys than a more-ex- perienced-but-less-talented unit. His confidence has rubbed off on line- backers coach Chris Partridge and his play- ers, including former walk-on Mike Wro- blewski, a fifth-year senior firmly in the mix for playing time this fall. "I don't think it's different [than last year]," Wroblewski said. "There are a lot of older guys gone, but there are so many people coming up. When you know the de- fense, you can play it so much faster than even those experienced guys when they first played in it. "Everyone was hitting the ground running this spring, and everyone was playing fast." Having a leader in the group experienced both with Brown's system and on the field is ideal, and that's what fifth-year senior Mike McCray brings. McCray finally got his op- portunity last season after being injured for three years and limited by shoulder surger- ies. He responded with an honorable men- tion All-Big Ten season. McCray notched 76 tackles (39 solo) in his first season as a starter, including 12.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks in 13 starts. He also intercepted two passes and broke up seven others, forced one fumble and recovered an- other, and hurried the quarterback five times in a breakout year. "I see this guy playing in the NFL for 10 years, one of those guys who keeps playing for a long time," former Michigan All-Amer- ican linebacker Ron Simpkins said. "He's got the size and speed, and is a smart linebacker. I think he has a bright fu- ture in the NFL." His perseverance, too, is "unbelievable," Simpkins noted. The former All-American was fortunate to have stayed healthy during his career, but McCray had to bide his time. He never gave up and as a result has put himself in position to finish as one of U-M's recent greats at the position. "To not only play but to perform at the level he played at was really amazing," Simpkins marveled. "He has strength at the point of attack and the ability to get back in pass coverage. A lot of linebackers either play one or the other well, but he plays so well with his hands at the line of scrimmage. "His ability to get back in pass coverage and cover the backs man-to-man or drop back deep in the zone gives him the advan- tage over a lot of linebackers." McCray is the first option at the weakside position. Wroblewski and sophomore Devin Bush Jr., meanwhile, spilt reps at the other inside (Mike) position, and both played ex- tremely well in the spring. Wroblewski is a veteran in years, but he's only seen action in nine games during his career, all of them last season. He assisted on four tackles and had a half tackle for loss, and though he's not as athletic as the others vying for time, he makes up for it with intel- ligence. "I've never had to do this before … but he's telling the secondary what to do, mak- ing the right-and-lefts call, making the tight call, and he's making the detach call to the outside linebackers," Brown said this spring. "Finally it's like, 'Hey Wrobo — you need to shut up and let those guys make those calls themselves.' "I'm watching him in practice and can't even believe it's the same guy from last year. Talk about a self-made football player … He's a guy that knows it all." Wroblewski has competition, and even more will arrive when the freshmen get on campus, but he's put himself in position for playing time. "It's a continuation from last year, playing Mike," he said. "You get used to the checks; you get used to the defenses." Brown nearly moved McCray to the mid- dle, but his confidence in Bush won out. Bush was a special teams standout last year, providing some of the year's biggest hits. While he played in all 13 games on special teams; he saw action at linebacker in seven contests. Bush notched six solo tackles, six QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Chris Partridge (second season as LB coach and overall). Returning Starter: ILB Mike McCray (13 starts). Departing Starters: ILB Ben Gedeon (14) and OLB (viper) Jabrill Peppers (25). Projected New Starters: ILB Devin Bush and OLB Khaleke Hudson. Top Reserves: ILB Mike Wroblewski, ILB Jordan Anthony, OLB Noah Furbush and OLB Jordan Glasgow. Wait Until 2018: ILB Elysee Mbem-Bosse, ILB Devin Gil and OLB Drew Singleton. Newcomers: Singleton, Anthony and OLB Joshua Ross. Moved In: Hudson (from DB) and Jordan Glasgow (from DB). Moved Out: Ben Mason (to fullback). Rookie Impact: Anthony. Most Improved Player: Wroblewski. Best Pro Prospect: McCray. Youth MoveMent Michigan Must Reload At Linebacker, But There Are Several Viable Candidates PRESEASON ANALYSIS: LINEBACKERS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ It's probably better than this, but it's hard to say given there's only one proven player — fifth-year senior Mike McCray — in the mix. Sophomore Devin Bush Jr. appears to be a fu- ture star and fellow soph Khaleke Hudson has the potential to be great at the viper position, but they'll have to grow up quickly. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Redshirt senior Mike Wroblewski isn't the typical walk-on. He's a very smart football player, and he's in the mix (and on scholarship now). Redshirt junior Noah Furbush has some experience at the Sam linebacker position, but injuries have slowed him. Finding a few more capable bodies will be paramount this fall, and they could turn to some of the elite freshmen. X-FACTOR Can Hudson ease the transition from Jabrill Peppers' loss? Nobody expects Hudson to have the same kind of impact as Peppers, but he's got plenty of ability. Much of coordinator Don Brown's defense is predicated on viper play, so Hudson needs to be more than ser- viceable ... he needs to be good. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This unit has great talent, but not much experience. All of the starting linebackers shined in the spring, but finding a few back- ups will be the key in elevating this group from good to great. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars.

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