As the final days count down until game week — starting Aug. 29 before the Michigan football team opens the 2016 season against Hawaii on Sept. 3 at Michigan Stadium — the Daily breaks down each position group heading into the upcoming season. We continue with a position of strength for the Wolverines: the defensive line.
Usually, position battles are fun because they produce a winner who presumably will play significantly more snaps than the loser. But for the Michigan defensive line, that’s not exactly the case. There’s just too much talent, and so many snaps, to go untapped.
Between Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Maurice Hurst, Taco Charlton and Matt Godin, there’s enough returning talent alone to make this unit intimidating. And then there’s that Gary guy.
Here’s how the group stacks up this year:
Who’s back: Wormley, Glasgow and Godin are all defensive tackles and fifth-year seniors, and Charlton is a senior at defensive end. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone is back after missing the entire 2015 season with a broken leg, and Hurst is a redshirt junior at defensive tackle. Other returners include sophomore end Shelton Johnson, junior ends Chase Winovich and Lawrence Marshall, senior end Michael Wroblewski, junior tackle Sam Makki and senior tackle Garrett Miller.
Who’s not: Defensive tackle Willie Henry was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, and defensive end Mario Ojemudia signed with Baltimore after going undrafted. Brady Pallante is no longer listed on the Wolverines roster, and Tom Strobel and Drew Berube finished their final seasons last year. Royce Jenkins-Stone, who replaced Ojemudia at the hybrid buck position after Ojemudia tore his Achilles on Oct. 3 at Maryland, also graduated.
Who’s new: Freshmen defensive end/tackle Rashan Gary was the nation’s No. 1 recruit out of New Jersey and is expected to contribute immediately. Joining him as freshmen are a pair of fellow New Jersey natives, defensive end Ron Johnson and defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, Colorado defensive end Carlo Kemp and Florida defensive end Josh Uche.
Stats in 2015: Defensive line statistics can be deceiving based on secondary and linebacker play, but there are some numbers that are stand out from the returners. Wormley’s 14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks jump off the page, and Charlton’s 5.5 sacks a year ago are impressive as well. Others, like Hurst with three sacks and Glasgow with only one, don’t seem to fully capture the impact both made inside.
Contenders: For as talented as this group is, there is no resounding consensus as to the starters. Wormley is all but a lock to start in the middle, and Glasgow should be in there as well. But Mone and Hurst are both starter-level for most of the Big Ten, and both are capable of pushing for the job in camp. At worst, all four are likely to see significant time on the inside, where along with Godin the Wolverines could rotate four or five perpetually fresh tackles.
Outside, Gary has apparently been as advertised, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him start opposite Charlton on the end. Wormley could see time outside, too, and Winovich should see the field as the unit rotates.
But as far as battles go, this is a spot where they don’t mean much. Rotation on defensive lines keeps bodies fresh, and with the Wolverines’ surplus of talent, the incentive to rotate early and often will be strong. It will matter how new defensive coordinator Don Brown chooses to manage this talent, but with Greg Mattison coaching the same stocked unit he did a year ago, it’s fair to expect plenty of faces in there.
At its best, this is a group that should see a bundle of interchangeable parts working to wear out offensive lines with few missteps. At its worst, it’s probably still solid.
Edge/Prediction: Rotation aside, we’ll go with popular thought and predict that the first snap has Gary, Wormley, Glasgow and Charlton starting in the trenches. But don’t be surprised if Hurst or Mone have years as good as any of them. That’s why, even though there have to be four starters, it’s hard to give an edge to any one player.
There may, however, be a distinct loser: opposing quarterbacks.