5 Defensive Players to Watch in Michigan’s Spring Game

5 Defensive Players to Watch in Michigan’s Spring Game

March 31, 2016
Mike McCray 792x

LB Mike McCray II

Michigan held some open practices in Florida and another at Ford Field last Saturday, but for many, the spring game will be the first opportunity to see the Wolverines in person or at least in action. I posted some notes on the defense earlier this week (LINK), and here are the top five defensive players I’ll be watching at 6:00 p.m. on Friday night:

LB/S Jabrill Peppers
It’s no surprise that Peppers would be first on my list. He might not be Michigan’s best defensive player, but his athletic abilities outstrip those of everyone else on the team. Peppers spent most of his time doing drills at SAM linebacker last Saturday at Ford Field, but when the Wolverines lined up for scrimmage action, he also played safety. The 6’1″, 208-pounder will line up at the line of scrimmage in a 9-technique, over slot receivers, or back deep in coverage. There’s reason to believe he will be a big-time playmaker, so prepare to be impressed when things go live.

Hit the jump for four more players to watch.

LB Mike McCray II
McCray’s shoulder is supposedly healed up, at least enough for him to play football again. The 6’4″, 240 lb. linebacker should be the starting WILL, and he has played well so far this spring. Michigan’s inside linebackers struggled last year, and this will be the first extended look at McCray to see whether he might be an improvement over Desmond Morgan and/or Joe Bolden. I was initially reticent simply because he has missed so much time due to injury, but I think we will enjoy watching him play when he’s healthy.

LB Ben Gedeon
Like McCray at WILL, Gedeon is the new starter at MIKE linebacker. He looked impressive during his freshman and sophomore seasons as a backup, but he faced some of the same struggles as the starters in 2015 and seemed to regress a bit. New defensive coordinator Don Brown likes big, thick inside linebackers, and Gedeon has bulked up to carry 248 lbs. on his 6’3″ frame. He’s a better athlete than either Bolden or Morgan was last season, so hopefully Brown – who doubles as the position coach for the inside linebackers – can harness that athleticism for some improved play in the middle.

CB Channing Stribling
Stribling makes this list because of the considerable hype he has produced this spring. Some practice observers in Florida suggested Stribling looked like the best defensive player on the team, and he has reportedly reeled in numerous interceptions during 7-on-7 and team scrimmages. He didn’t have a stellar practice when I saw the team last Saturday, but that may have simply been a bad day. Either way, teams are going to test the guy who lines up opposite All-American Jourdan Lewis, so the 6’2″, 181 lb. Stribling should have plenty of opportunities to make plays. One thing to remember when watching Michigan’s defensive backs, though: the lack of depth at wide receiver might make Michigan’s corners look more dominant than they are.

DE Chase Winovich
The linebacker-turned-tight end-turned-defensive end has found a home, I think. At 6’3″, 245 lbs., Winovich isn’t the biggest defensive end around, but has been getting a lot of snaps and showed surprisingly good technique last weekend. He still has some things to work on, but the Wolverines are lacking quick-twitch guys on the outside, and Winovich has a chance to provide some speed on the line. I expect him to be a backup this fall, but for now, he should start for one squad. Depending on which tackle(s) he matches up against on Friday night, he might be wreaking a bit of havoc in the backfield.

Who are you looking forward to seeing in action?

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