Projected DT starters: Fifth-year senior Ryan Glasgow was one of Michigan’s best starting defenders last season, and you could tell how much the defense missed him when he missed the end of the season with a pectoral injury. He finished the season with 25 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 1 sack in nine games at the nose tackle position. He is very strong, fairly quick off the ball, and uses excellent technique. Last year’s backup nose tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr. was pressed into a lot of playing time at the nose because of injuries, but his size makes him more of a 3-technique in an ideal world. Assuming Glasgow and Bryan Mone return healthy at NT, redshirt junior Hurst (35 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 3 sacks) should slide over to 3-tech and use his quickness there.
Hit the jump for the rest of the defensive line preview.
Departures: Defensive tackle/defensive end/nose tackle Willie Henry declared for the NFL Draft after his redshirt junior year, and he was at the NFL Combine this weekend trying to make his mark. Classmate Tom Strobel was a part-time nose tackle (and part-time offensive lineman) who is transferring to Ohio.
Backup battle: Redshirt sophomore Bryan Mone missed the entire 2015 season, and he’s a starter-quality player who probably would have been Glasgow’s primary backup. It will be interesting to see whether Michigan bumps him or Hurst over to 3-tech, but Mone is more of a nose tackle in the long run. Redshirt sophomore Brady Pallante was undersized for the nose tackle position before moving to fullback last year, but Michigan needs him on defense this spring. He’s one of the players who could see time on both offense and defense, but he’s not an impact contributor either way.
#1 thing to watch: What does the front look like? We have been told that Michigan will be multiple, but mostly a 4-3. From what we’ve seen in the past, new defensive coordinator Don Brown will probably run a base 4-3 Over. There’s also a chance that a couple other players could slide inside from strongside end to play defensive tackle, depending on how the coaches want to spread out the talent.
Projected DE starters: Senior Taco Charlton is moving to weakside end after having a quietly productive junior year (30 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) as a backup strongside end. He is tall and strong and has one campaign remaining to break out. On the other side, the strongside end position is called the “Anchor” and of the players available, fifth year senior Chris Wormley seems to fit best. At 6’4″ and 300 lbs., he’s big for an end, but he has shown an ability to set the edge in the past. Last season he made 43 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, and 6.5 sacks while playing inside and outside.
Departures: Michigan called its weakside end last season the “Buck linebacker,” so I’ll include that position here. Mario Ojemudia tore his Achilles and applied for a medical hardship waiver, but he played in too many games (five) and the application was denied. His backup, the repurposed Royce Jenkins-Stone, stepped in adequately but was not a standout. Michigan was not great at the position, and they lost their top two guys.
Backup battle: At the Anchor position, Michigan is pretty thin in the short term. Incoming freshman Rashan Gary could potentially start there this coming season, but he won’t arrive on campus until June. So the Wolverines may need to use fifth year senior Matt Godin there, who is not particularly quick coming off the edge. On the weak side, I have heard positive things about redshirt freshman Shelton Johnson; however, he came in weighing 212 lbs. last season and won’t be at an ideal size this season for his 6’5″ frame. I have him ahead of redshirt sophomore Lawrence Marshall, who has the skills to contribute but spent a lot of time in the doghouse last season.
#1 thing to watch: Can anyone be a game-changing pass rusher? Michigan has been looking for a game-changer off the edge for several years, but they consistently have to mix and match with guys who can’t do it based on talent alone. Charlton and Wormley both had decent sack numbers last season, but some of that was done with smoke and mirrors; some of it was done with talent; and some sacks resulted from good coverage in the secondary. Except for a short stretch of games, Wormley was pretty consistently disruptive last season, but he still wasn’t a LaMarr Woodley or Brandon Graham. Maybe we can pin our hopes on Shelton Johnson.
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