The freshmen on the defensive line have done a lot of screwing up in fall camp. At least, if you ask Aidan Hutchinson.
But it’s not entirely a bad thing.
“Obviously, they’re screwing up a lot in practice, which is expected, and you gotta let them learn from their mistakes,” the sophomore defensive end said. “But you can also ease that transition into helping them with some little things, but for the most part they just gotta learn from what they do, you gotta do the things, you do them wrong and that’s how you learn.”
For Hutchinson, the difference between last year’s fall camp and this year’s is night and day. In 2018, the linemen were led by star ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Now, they’re gone to the NFL. Previous starters Lawrence Marshall and Bryan Mone graduated. And the guy presumed to take one of the interior spots, Aubrey Solomon, transferred to Tennessee.
Last year, Hutchinson was the freshman who didn’t quite know what he was doing, looking up to the established starters. Now, Hutchinson, along with fellow defensive end Kwity Paye and senior lineman Michael Dwumfour, has to be one of the leaders. The switch flipped for Hutchinson in spring ball, when he realized he was the next man up and was capable of making the step forward that came with such a designation.
“It is weird,” Hutchinson said. “Looking back at last year and then looking at where I’m at now, it’s really amazing how far I’ve come.”
Hutchinson prefers to let the young guys screw up so that they can learn from their mistakes. He adds a few words of encouragement here and there, but he saw the way Gary and linebacker Devin Bush eased him in as a new lineman, letting him figure things out for himself, and he wants to do the same for the next generation.
It’s not just him, either. The loss of Bush, Gary and Winovich has impacted the defense, prompting the upperclassmen to take on a bigger role and the freshmen to show everyone else what they’re made of.
“It goes on and on through our position groups and mindsets have changed and everybody’s just taking a bigger step in their role,” said senior linebacker Devin Gil, who named senior Carlo Kemp as a lineman who’d taken on a big leadership role.
Much has been made of Michigan’s lack of depth on the defensive line this year, but Gil and Hutchinson believe that won’t last long. Fifth-year senior defensive end Mike Danna, a grad transfer from Central Michigan, has added leadership and explosiveness to the pass rush, and some of the true freshmen have started to come on after learning from those early mistakes.
Freshmen Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton both got mentions from coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday, and Hutchinson pointed to Smith as a player who stood out because of his drive. The players have all started to gel, too, growing in skill and confidence. And that, more than the personnel losses, is what the linemen hope comes to define the season.
“This D-Line, we’re fast, I think we’re bonded, too, just everything we do,” Hutchinson said. “All of us are starting to adopt that attitude of not caring what anyone says and we’re just gonna go out there and do what we gotta do.”