The Wolverine

2018 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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106 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW LINEBACKERS BY JOHN BORTON D on Brown couldn't keep from smil- ing, and for good reason. Somebody asked him about the linebacking corps he's about to unleash, and Michigan's defensive coordinator didn't have to scram- ble for an answer like quarterbacks will be scrambling from his blitzers. "We've got six linebackers that are le- git players," Brown stressed. "You can give them jobs to do on third down and in passing scenarios. "I think we're loaded and ready to go with all the things that are necessary into being a solid Division I defense." In fact, Brown asserted this overall defen- sive crew is fast and plenty capable, and that the depth at linebacker jumps out. That's a good situation for new lineback- ers coach Al Washington, who worked on a staff with Brown at Boston College and is intimately aware of what he wants out of his linebackers. "A lot of times, there are agendas that aren't for the kids," Washington observed. "Donny's all about the kids. That's why they play hard for him. "As a young coach, you admire him. He treated me like that. He showed me love. He opened up to me. Donny is a friend, a men- tor. He's on my Mount Rushmore of great coaches that I want to be like one day." There's no question the linebackers are going to rush more for Brown, with feroc- ity fully anticipated by their new hands-on mentor. "I made the comparison of somebody drop- ping a steak in a tank of piranha," Washington stressed. "You see the quarterback drop back, and it's overwhelming. The speed is lighting quick, they're physical and they're smart. "That, to me, is probably the biggest thing. These guys get it. He had 10 new starters last year. A lot of these kids are coming back. They know it. They have a mastery of it. That just makes them even faster. "They're tough. They know what they're doing. It's a great group — a special group." The full-time starters from last season certainly jump off the page. Junior Mike linebacker Devin Bush Jr. is back for more, after leading the Wolverines with 102 tackles last season. A finalist for the Butkus Award (presented to the nation's top linebacker), he earned the Roger Zatkoff Award as Michi- gan's best at the position. Big Ten coaches named him to the league's first-team honor squad, his speed and hitting ability proving relentless factors in Michigan's defense. "He's just a different cut of guy," Brown said. "This is a guy that gives you everything he's got, and gives it to his teammates, above and beyond." One of his former teammates, linebacker Mike Wroblewski, backed that notion. "He's one of the most versatile players," Wroblewski asserted. "Regardless of his size, he can defend the run. He's fast, he can pass rush, he can defend passes. "With Coach Brown's defense, we do so much of everything. We want the offense to adjust to us. When you're in there, the more things you can do, the more valuable you are. That's what really makes him special on that D." Junior Khaleke Hudson enjoyed a break- out season at the hybrid viper spot, with his 18.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks, two interceptions and nine pass breakups — he at least tied for the team lead in each category. He looked perfectly suited to the all-impor- tant position on the U-M defense. Observers thought so, the Associated Press making him a second-team All-Big Ten selection and the coaches giving him a third-team nod. Now he's looking for more, insisting he wants to improve in every statistical category (after posting numbers that exceeded Heis- man Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers from the year before). "He's a strong, explosive guy," Wro- blewski observed. "He can pack a punch. He's a great kid who works hard all the time. He can rush the passer; he can cover one-on- one. He can do a ton." Hudson's biggest step forward — and it goes for all the linebackers who see signifi- cant time, Wroblewski noted — will involve eliminating any misreads. "It's cleaning up mentally," Wroblewski said. "You might have one or two plays a game where there's a missed assignment. It's not just for him, but especially those guys coming back for another year. You can always clean up those mental mistakes." That leaves one big opening in the start- ing linebacker lineup, with some very solid contenders. Redshirt sophomore Devin Gil started the opener a year ago, when cap- tain and Will 'backer Mike McCray got sick shortly prior to kickoff. Gil went on to play in all 13 U-M games, QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Al Washington (first season), Don Brown (third). Returning Starters: ILB Devin Bush Jr. (13 career starts), Viper Khaleke Hudson (12). Departing Starter: ILB Mike McCray (25). Projected New Starter: ILB Josh Ross. Top Reserves: ILB Devin Gil (1 start), OLB Noah Furbush (5 starts), ILB Drew Singleton, OLB Jor- dan Glasgow, ILB Jordan Anthony, OLB Josh Uche. Wait Until 2019: None. Newcomer: ILB Cameron McGrone. Moved In: Glasgow (from safety). Moved Out: Brad Hawkins (to safety). Rookie Impact: McGrone. Most Improved Player: Bush. Best Pro Prospect: Bush. Fast and Furious Michigan's Linebackers Set For A Huge Season PRESEASON ANALYSIS: LINEBACKERS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Don Brown calls this the deepest crew of linebackers he's had at Michigan, and one that's part of a defense as fast as any he's ever coached. Juniors Devin Bush Jr. and Khaleke Hudson lead the standout group. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Somebody — redshirt sophomore Devin Gil or sophomore Josh Ross — will win the start- ing spot at Will linebacker. Whoever doesn't capture the position becomes immediate quality depth, someone who can rotate in regularly. Add emerging redshirt freshman Drew Singleton into the mix, along with Sam linebackers such as fifth-year senior Noah Furbush and redshirt junior Jordan Glasgow, and it's a strong mix. X-FACTOR How good will Mike McCray's replacement be at Will linebacker? All indicators are he'll be very good, based on spring practice. But the mix with the returning starters — and more importantly, the results by the combina- tion on game day — will be telling. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This crew has it all — returning starters, speed, depth. Now it has to perform at its best in the biggest games. The promise of the rising youngsters must prove itself week to week on game days, and the Michigan line- backers need to get it done when it's needed the most — against Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, etc.

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