Averaging just 1.5 sacks and allowing 178.8 rushing yards per game, Michigan’s defense struggled through last season. Injuries riddled it and forced players into unnatural and unfamiliar positions.
This season, the Wolverines hope their defensive line will be a strength rather than a weakness.
“This is a really important (part of the) defense, the position we play allows us to make a lot of plays,” senior defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw said. “I think it’s going to come down to a lot of games — we’re going to have to affect the game a lot.”
Under a new defensive regime, the defensive line, at least, sees some stability in Shaun Nua staying on as defensive line coach. For Upshaw and his compatriots, though, most of their coaching comes from defensive analyst Ryan Osborn.
“Honestly, Osborn is one of the best coaches I’ve had a chance to play under,” Upshaw said. “He’s young, he’s funny. He gets what it’s like, being in the position that we’re in. But, also he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a good coach. You can just tell with his passion, the things he’s getting us right with our technique. I mean, he’s legit.”
A part of Upshaw’s initial fondness for his new coaching staff comes from, simply, the vibes. The music at practice, a younger culture more in tune with that of 20 year-olds, it’s all been written and talked about. It’s part of the reason why this staff was hired in the first place — building a culture that recruits would be attracted to.
So far, it’s working with the players in the system.
But vibes will only go so far — they’re not capable of overcoming an offensive line in and of themselves. To break through and to turn a weakness into a strength, Michigan will need to find a way to turn its talent into production.
Michigan’s defensive line managed only one sack a game last season and is losing two of its most productive contributors to the NFL. While the rest of the defensive line has at least a year of experience under its belt, the unit should see others reach the next level and make an impact. However, that won’t be proven until September and might not be realized immediately either.
The scheme, as much as we know, will put the likes of Upshaw, senior defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson and more into a new position.
“It’s mainly a stand-up edge position,” Upshaw said. “For me, I’m mainly going to be rushing. But there’s also dropping, too. It’s like a pass-rush (position), but I still get in my three-point stance, I still mix it up. But it’s a stand-up edge position.”
The new defensive scheme and energy have led to the rise of an internal name for the edge rushers — “reapers.” Coined by Upshaw, the seeds are being sown for a return to dominance and strength.
Whether or not the end result is profitable, only time will tell.