As the final days count down until the Michigan football team opens the 2017 season against Florida in the AdvoCare Classic on Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the Daily breaks down each position group for the Wolverines this year. In this edition: linebackers.
There was one linebacker in particular that electrified the Michigan football team’s defense last year. Losing the likes of former linebackers Jabrill Peppers (and also Ben Gedeon) to the NFL ranks leaves a gap in Michigan’s defense. Nonetheless, the sole returning starter from 2016’s defense and a slew of young talent give the 11th-ranked Wolverines reason to believe they will be just fine at the linebacker position.
Here’s how the group stacks up this year:
Who’s back: First on the list is fifth-year senior Mike McCray. Elected the defensive captain this past weekend, McCray’s impact for the Wolverines is going to be crucial. He has more game experience than any other defensive player at Michigan, and he will need to display his leadership and ability to unify a young group with lots of potential.
McCray’s 2016 performance garnered an All-Big Ten honorable mention. One of his strongest performances came against Michigan State, when he had eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. If he continues to improve on his stats from last year, McCray could be well on his way to the All-Big Ten first team.
McCray’s career has been riddled with injuries — he redshirted in 2013 due to injuries and a shoulder injury kept him sidelined for all of 2015. Upon returning, he played an integral part of Michigan’s defense last year, and will play an even bigger one this season.
After McCray, the other returning players haven’t seen as much playing time.
Two names stand out: sophomores Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson. Bush exceled in the Spring Game last April, and defensive coordinator Don Brown complimented him on an improved physique. Unlike McCray’s tall figure, Bush is just 5-foot-10, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with speed and agility. Bush will fit well alongside McCray in Brown’s defense.
The other name, Hudson, will replace Jabrill Peppers at the VIPER. The thought of “replacing Peppers” is a tall task, but Hudson seems to be doing very well. This week, Michigan running back Chris Evans told media that Hudson is one of the hardest hitters on the defense. Evans described Hudson like a “rollercoaster” for opposing running backs: he might go through you, around you or somewhere else. If you’re running at Hudson, you can only hope you guess right.
Redshirt junior Noah Furbush and fifth-year senior Mike Wroblewski are also in the mix for playing time. Furbush’s experience is almost entirely on special teams, but with more experience than Hudson and Bush, he’ll definitely have a chance to prove himself a worthy linebacker. Wroblewski, a former walk-on, didn’t see any game action until his senior year. In 2017, he’ll definitely be in the rotation at linebacker.
Redshirt sophomore Jordan Glasgow is likely going to play a type of rover position that is designed to single out opposing teams’ best players. And finally, sophomores Josh Uche, Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Devin Gil all saw minimal action last season but are working their way up the ladder. McCray praised all of them this week for their improvements.
Who’s not: Peppers and Gedeon. Losing Peppers hurts Michigan not only at linebacker. The Heisman finalist was the team’s best weapon, and coach Jim Harbaugh used him everywhere he could. Gedeon’s departure leaves just as big a hole. The pair combined for 170 tackles and seven sacks last year.
Who’s new: Freshmen Josh Ross, Jordan Anthony and Drew Singleton are all exceptional young recruits for the Wolverines. They were all four-star recruits in high school, but it’s not likely they’ll see significant playing time this year. But future Michigan teams will be in very good hands when this trio steps into the spotlight.
McCray: 76 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and nine pass breakups
Hudson: 8 tackles, an assisted tackle for loss and one pass breakup
Bush: 12 tackles
Furbush: 11 tackles, one tackle for loss
Glasgow: 12 tackles, one fumble recovery
Outlook: Michigan has the talent to replace its losses. Hudson’s hard-hitting mentality and Bush’s speed are qualities that make the two more than ready to fill the linebacker roles next to McCray. And as mentioned before, McCray’s return really is crucial. Without him, there wouldn’t be a single returning starter in Michigan’s defense. His experience could prove a difference maker for a defense that has lots of unanswered questions.
Prediction: As to who’s starting: McCray, Bush and Hudson. Those three have been getting enormous praise from coaches and teammates throughout the offseason, and it seems like they’re making the largest strides in their game. If the aforementioned trio can be as aggressive as Michigan’s previous set of linebackers, Florida’s offense won’t stand much of a chance when they meet this Saturday.