The last time Michigan football needed to find a new VIPER, it looked to Khaleke Hudson.
Now, with Hudson going to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, defensive coordinator Don Brown needs another starter at the hybrid position, and he thinks he’s got one in Michael Barrett.
“I’d seen enough out of Michael Barrett to be excited,” Brown said on a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. “Runs 4.51 — that’s fast (in the 40-yard dash). At 220 pounds. So that’s a good place to start.”
With spring football canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there hasn’t been much of a chance for competition, or in-person evaluation, at any position. To some extent, that makes any prognostication a crapshoot at this point, but Barrett projected to be the clubhouse leader to replace Hudson even last season.
He played 12 games for Michigan last year, mostly on special teams, but appeared at the VIPER spot against Notre Dame. A quarterback in high school, Barrett was recruited as an athlete, making him a strong fit for a position that Brown has made uniquely his own, in the mold of Jabrill Peppers.
“We talked Peppers into being the VIPER,” Brown said. “We get him to do this, you’re going to blitz, you’re going to play the edge, you’re going to do all these things, and we kind of tricked him into being the VIPER.”
Brown cited Barrett’s relationships with Cam McGrone and Josh Ross, who are expected to start at the other two linebacker spots. Though freshman William Mohan could push Barrett for playing time, that would be a tall ask — especially given the conditions created by the pandemic.
“(Mohan’s) a true freshman and has that kind of ability,” Brown said. “And obviously we have a number of guys at the safety position that it would be smooth as silk to drop them into the VIPER position with one of those guys.”
Anthony Solomon, a rising sophomore, may be likely to get backup VIPER reps, Brown said. Solomon is up from 195 pounds to 215, and his year of experience makes him a known commodity. Right now, that’s a luxury.
“He’s another guy that’ll give (Barrett) competition,” Brown said. “So right now, we’re trying to get our best players on the field — that’s always the initial thing, is get your best 11, 12 on the field, and we think the best thing for our defense, and for Michael Barrett, because they’re both important pieces to us, is for him to play VIPER.”
In three years starting for Michigan, Hudson missed just one game and was one of the Wolverines’ more dependable commodities. He finished his Michigan career with 225 tackles and 23 tackles for loss, along with a strong track record as a special-teamer. That kind of production wouldn’t be easy to replace, even if the Wolverines had a regular schedule of spring ball, summer workouts and fall camp.
Experience is a commodity. Barrett has it.
“Some guys can play inside linebacker, but they can’t play VIPER,” Brown said. “Most guys (who) play VIPER can move to the inside linebacker position. (Barrett’s) one of those guys … he’s been in the backup VIPER role for us. So it’s not like he’s alien to the position.”