When Michigan’s defense trotted onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, junior Devin Gil came out as the starting WILL linebacker.
It was an answer to one of the final personnel questions for a defense returning nine starters from last season. Defensive coordinator Don Brown had said Gil and sophomore Josh Ross were in a “fistfight” for the starting spot.
Both said the competition benefitted them. And in the end, though only one of the two can run out for the first defensive play, both saw the field Saturday. Ross worked at MIKE linebacker in camp too, so when junior Devin Bush went down with a leg injury in the second quarter, Ross came in for him.
Gil finished the game with four tackles, and Ross finished with five.
So maybe the “fistfight” will go a few more rounds.
On Tuesday, at the Wolverines’ media availability, Gil mentioned Ross when asked if Bush’s injury changed anything for him.
“No, because I know that I’ve got another linebacker next to me, Josh Ross,” Gil said. “And we’re both vocal enough where we both can contribute halfway and he does the other half. So I have trust in him. So we knew that we were gonna step up and do what we had to do to make sure the defense is right.”
Ross and Gil played solidly, though the most memorable play from the two may have been one that Gil says he should have made.
Late in the third quarter, he broke into the backfield, nearly sacking Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. But Wimbush spun away, scrambled, then found an open Chase Claypool for 20 yards.
It was a low point in an otherwise strong first start, which included a tackle of Wimbush with two minutes left in the game to give Michigan the ball back and a chance to tie it.
“I felt I did pretty good,” Gil said. “I mean, it’s always some plays that you feel that you could be able to make, and that’s just how it is.”
The question now is if Gil remains the starter at WILL.
While Ross played a lot when Bush went down, he also spelled Gil at times.
For his part, Gil says he’ll leave any permanent starting decision up to the coaches. Either way, it seems the two are happy to fill whatever role they’re given.
“We’re cool,” Gil said. “Like I said, we both feed off each other. No matter what, regardless if he’s in or I’m in, we’ve always got each other’s back, and if we see something that we did wrong or can help us, we’re gonna make that adjustment and help each other out.”
Added Ross: “I mean, having D. Bush and D. Gil on the team, I mean, all three of us just working together, it’s a great, great thing to have when you can really talk to guys and really get better off of each other. So to have guys like that on our team — linebackers next to me — it’s beautiful to see.”
It’s a good problem to have for Brown and Michigan. Bush is clearly the best linebacker on the team, and from all accounts his injury is minor — Gil said Bush practiced on Tuesday. But Gil and Bush both proved capable in Saturday night’s loss.
And they may have each other to thank for that.