Kris Jenkins will look to fill important holes in Michigan's lineup next season. Becca Mahon/Daily. Buy this photo.

Much of the discourse throughout Michigan football’s spring practice schedule has centered on the glaring voids on the defensive line; gone are Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, the game-wrecking All-Americans to be drafted in April. 

And while comparisons have been made — earlier in March, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made a bold claim that junior defensive end Mike Morris could become the next Hutchinson — few are viewing the task through that lens. Rather, the lost production isn’t something that can be duplicated. 

“Coaches are telling us, ‘There’s not going to be another Aidan, there’s not going to be another Ojabo,’ ” junior defensive lineman Kris Jenkins said. “They’re saying, ‘But there is going to be a Mike Morris, a Taylor Upshaw, a Mazi Smith.’ Of course, we’re going to need to step up to the plate because we lost good talent this year, but we also got good talent to build off of. So it’s one of those things where it’s like, oh, we don’t copy them, but you up your game, too.” 

Added new defensive line coach Mike Elston: “For them to go out there and say, ‘I got to play like Aidan and play like Ojabo,’ that’s just, they got to be their own type of player that they’re going to be.”

Jenkins and junior outside linebacker Jaylen Harrell — each of whom spoke to the media Thursday afternoon — will certainly be crucial to the new-look line. 

Jenkins earned four starts along the defensive line last year, making 22 tackles. He transitioned from an edge player to an interior lineman, doing so on the recommendation of then-defensive line coach Shaun Nua. And while Jenkins maintained that the transition went easier than he first expected, it still took time. 

“Compared to last year, I feel a lot more stable, a lot stronger,” Jenkins said. “I feel a lot more comfortable in that position.” 

This offseason, Jenkins is building his body to better fit the mold of an interior lineman. He has added 15 pounds of muscle from this time last year, raising his playing weight to 277 pounds; by fall camp, he hopes to add another 10 lean pounds to his frame. 

That transformation should bode well for Jenkins’s chances to make the anticipated leap in his junior season — the same leap that is expected of Harrell. 

Harrell, much like Jenkins, played sparingly last season. He earned four starts and recorded 15 tackles, two-and-a-half of which were for a loss. Late in the season, Harrell made more of an impact, notching eight tackles in the season’s final two games. 

Now, he’s hoping to funnell that momentum into something greater. 

“My goal would be to just get better as a player, and just keep building and building,” Harrell said. 

Last season, Harrell assumed a one-dimensional role, playing mainly on run downs. Early in the season, he alternated with Ojabo, swapping out during obvious passing situations on third-down. But Harrell insists that he can provide more — his versatility and coverage ability, he says, allow him to thrive in all three downs. 

“His improvement has been unreal,” Jenkins said. “He’s been a beast in the weight room, getting after it and you can see that change physically. When he’s getting on the field, his football IQ, his explosion, he’s really starting to take strides. It’s exciting to see, and I think you all are definitely gonna see a lot more out of him this year.” 

And if that happens, Michigan’s re-modeled defensive line may come together sooner rather than later. 

“We got talented guys that are willing to step up,” Jenkins reiterated. “… We’re willing to do whatever it takes to fill that role. And I think that’s definitely going to take shape from all of our guys across the board.”