Talented and hungry, Gary appears poised for breakout season

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 8:40pm

Rashan Gary celebrates a sack against UCF at Michigan Stadium in September 2016.

Rashan Gary celebrates a sack against UCF at Michigan Stadium in September 2016. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

The Rashan Gary hype train left the station long ago. 

It may have taken off the minute he stepped foot on campus last year. Perhaps it was when he compiled 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 0.5 sacks in just his second collegiate game against Central Florida. And if those instances hadn’t caused it to leave, then Jim Harbaugh’s tweet on March 16 that listed Gary’s 40-yard dash time at 4.57 seconds — a time that would’ve been among the best at his position at this year’s actual NFL Combine — surely dropped some jaws.

Either way, Gary’s breakout has been expected for quite some time now, and this offseason hasn’t done much to change that. In fact, with Michigan looking to replace nearly all of its record-setting defense from last year, the expectations for its prized sophomore defensive end may have only increased since January’s Orange Bowl.

Now considered one of the team’s veterans, Gary is expected to play a starring role on this year’s defensive line after gaining experience as a rotational player last year. If the Wolverines hope to even come close to replicating last season’s success, it will be necessary for Gary to take the proverbial next step — a step many are predicting will come with ease.

“I think with Rashan and (redshirt senior defensive tackle) Maurice Hurst … I have to tilt my head back and think for a minute,” said defensive coordinator Don Brown last Friday. “I don’t know; I’m not sure there’s a better tandem of Anchor-tackle in the country.”

Added Hurst: (Gary) has all the ability and all the tools to be a star. I think that's something that’s going to come out now.

Gary took an apprenticeship his freshman year at the ANCHOR — or the strong-side defensive end — spot in Brown’s defense. Snaps were difficult to come by, especially as Michigan shortened its rotation and rode its more experienced players to the finish line. It was all part of the learning process for Gary, who stayed patient and was taken under the wings of former defensive ends Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton.

As those two departed seniors prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft, the message to their star pupil has remained the same: It’s Gary’s time now.  

“(They) said, ‘We got a lot of young guys coming in on the defensive line. (We) need you to take the leadership and step up the way we did with you,’ ” Gary said. “I just keep that in the back of my head because they really helped me throughout my first year.”

It’s easy to tell Wormley and Charlton have had an immeasurable impact on Gary’s approach. He cited them as the motivators behind his increased dedication to film study. When Gary is watching film, it is often of their games from last year, as he studies their pass-rushing moves and how they play the run in hopes of beefing up his own game.

And though he’s just a sophomore, Gary has tried to heed Wormley and Charlton’s advice and take on a larger leadership role — whether that means being more vocal with teammates during practice or developing relationships with younger players such as freshmen defensive ends Corey Malone-Hatcher and Donovan Jeter.

The burgeoning leadership. The vastly impressive physical tools and recruiting pedigree. The taste of game time from last year that left him desiring for more. Combine those factors, and Michigan is looking at a player with sky-high potential — something which one of Gary’s old mentors hasn’t overlooked.

I told (Rashan) if I come back here in two years and they’re not talking about him as a top-10 pick, then he didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” Charlton said last Friday at Michigan’s Pro Day. “He has all the talent. As a young guy, he’s a guy that stands out every time. I think he can be great. An NFL-caliber player. A top-10 pick.”