Greg Mattison thought the Michigan defensive line had it last season. This year, it’s hard to dispute.
Before Ryan Glasgow suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in the ninth game of last season, Mattison felt like the Wolverines featured an eight-player rotation without losing much play-to-play. But Michigan’s lack of depth was exposed when Glasgow went down, and the Wolverines gave up big games to Indiana’s Jordan Howard and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.
But now, with most of that unit back, and the nation’s No. 1 prospect entering the fold, Michigan could actually plug and play two full units on the defensive line. That, in part, is why Mattison opted against naming one “starting” unit Wednesday ahead of the team’s season opener against Hawaii on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
“I really try to tell them that we have two starting lineups,” Mattison said. “And who goes out there for the very first play, we still have a couple days to decide that. But you know, Chris Wormley’s had a very, very good camp. Glasgow’s had a really good camp. (Bryan) Mone has really done well. Matt Godin’s doing very well, Taco (Charlton).”
Adding in redshirt junior Maurice Hurst Jr., true freshman Rashan Gary and redshirt sophomore Chase Winovich, that group rounds out nicely into what could be the deepest in the Big Ten.
And while those are presumably the top eight, Mattison also wouldn’t rule out others contributing.
“I think we have eight for sure, and you know, there are more and more guys that are coming on,” Mattison said. “I wouldn’t rotate probably nine or 10 guys, but you always want the ability that if something does happen, that another guy can come in and be one of those eight.”
The benefit of that depth is huge. As Mattison noted, as offenses have evolved to spread out the defense and make the big linemen go sideline to sideline, defenses have adjusted to stay fresh.
In practice, that means a lot of substituting. But rather than just divide into defensive ends and tackles, the Wolverines also have the benefit of a particularly versatile group. Wormley, for example, should see time both inside and out. Mattison said the whens and wheres will vary, but his basic rule is simple enough: “It all depends what our needs are.”
And that’s not unique to the newly named captain.
“The good thing too with having a veteran group of guys is they all can play every position,” Mattison said. “I could take our inside guys and put them outside, and I wouldn’t worry as far as them knowing the defenses and knowing what to do. And that’s the experience they have and that’s a real credit to them. Sometimes defensive linemen just learn their position and that’s all they ever learn, and that hurts them down the road when things happen.”
That means that while Michigan is staying fresh, it can also continue to throw new looks at offensive lineman. Mattison could, for example, keep Wormley exclusively on the edge until late in the third quarter, and then move him to the interior and pair him with Glasgow. If the opposing center and guards are used to blocking Mone, Glasgow and Hurst, suddenly throwing Wormley at them is a powerful secret weapon.
Now apply that same logic to an explosive youngster like Gary, or even an inside mauler like Hurst, and it’s not hard to see why Mattison is so excited about his group.
“It’s about having guys fresh, or guys that you say, ‘OK, now you go in this game, I need five of the best plays you could ever play, and then we’ll give you a rest,’ ” Mattison said. “And if for some reason, you get depleted inside where you don’t have that, that’s the bonus you have. Chris can always move in there and give you just that.”