To say the bar is high would be an understatement. 

For the Michigan football team’s new defensive line, that bar might as well be scratching the surface of the moon.

In 2016, there weren’t many questions to be answered. Defensive line coach Greg Mattison had three fifth-year seniors and one true senior at his disposal in Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Matthew Godin and Taco Charlton, with a plethora of talent surrounding them.

Now, after their departures, things aren’t that simple.

But even though the personnel has changed, Mattison’s philosophy, as always, has remained the same. The seventh-year coach, and the Wolverines’ staff as a whole, has always been steadfast in the belief that rotations on the defensive front are necessary.

“We always talk about (how) you earn the right to rotate,” Mattison said. “Two things can happen — if you don’t earn the right to rotate, now you’ve got four guys playing the whole time and they’re never gonna play as good as if you have guys to rotate for them.

“That’s a big thing for us, that some of the guys behind them have got to close that gap fast.”

It’s easy to see why — injuries are part of the territory that come with playing in the trenches. In 2015, Bryan Mone missed his entire sophomore season after sustaining a leg injury in fall camp. Last season, Charlton missed two games against Central Florida and Colorado, while Maurice Hurst missed Michigan’s opener against Hawaii.

As the focus shifts to the Wolverines’ next season opener, establishing that rotation has become an even more pressing issue.

Mattison is already optimistic about the first unit, one that will likely feature Hurst, Mone, sophomore Rashan Gary and senior Chase Winovich. Last season, those four were staples in the second unit, accumulating valuable snaps and racking up a combined 27 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.

“(They’re) very important, because unlike them last year — when they were right there behind that first group — now they’re there as a group of guys that have played,” Mattison said. “There’s a little bigger gap, so they have to always show the right way to do it. It can’t be, ‘Now that’s OK.’

“It’s gotta be right, it’s gotta be championship-type effort, it’s gotta be championship technique. … The spotlight is on them a little bit more because there’s a real young group behind them.”

In that same young group, Michigan finds the bulk of its unknowns heading into the 2017 season.

Mattison praised sophomore defensive end Carlo Kemp and freshman defensive end Donovan Jeter for their work in spring practices thus far, while also giving credit to Lawrence Marshall, Ron Johnson, Carl Myers and Michael Dwumfour at tackle.

Still, none among them have tallied significant minutes, and while — according to Mattison — the talent has been on display, he has yet to see it on a consistent basis.

“I think the biggest thing in the depth is that these guys behind them have to move faster toward that level than the last group did,” Mattison said. “The last group had been right on that verge, and they were that.

“This group hasn’t been in the playing time — they’ve been out redshirted or they’ve been freshmen — so they haven’t really been on that field, so they’ve got to take a bigger step to get up to that level, to be able to rotate.”

Regardless, the fact remains that the days of Wormley, Glasgow, Godin and Charlton are growing farther in the rearview mirror by the day. Fortunately, for a team searching to establish depth in the coming months, their impact may last a little longer.

“I don’t know if they’ll ever appreciate as much as they should of what they had when they had Glasgow, Godin, Wormley and Charlton, in that room, leading that room,” Mattison said.  “That was a special group. For them to be part of that kind of gives them that thing that, ‘We wanna be that way too.’

“OK, well now you’ve got to work to be that way. That’s kind of the bar now, that you want to be like they were and play like they did, and that’s what we’re shooting for.” 

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