Previously: Offensive Line
I don't think I'm alone when I say that Michigan has a pretty good shot at having one of the better defenses in the country this year. Hoke and Mattison, and others, have assembled a bunch of talented guys to play on that side of the ball. For years the youth argument has been made to justify Michigan's struggles, but mainly…defense was just not a priority for the previous administration, and it showed. And it has taken until now for Hoke and company to populate the depth chart with the sort of talent we've all come expect at a place like Michigan.
And just as it is on offense, it all starts up front.
There are some holes to fill for the group. Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black and Richard Ash are all gone. Among those three, Black may be the most significant loss, but only by mediocre 2009-10 Rich Rod defensive recruiting standards. Qwash was largely bypassed his senior year by the depth chart and Ash was a non-factor thus his decision to transfer.
Among the new faces in the middle that could become household names in 2014 is Bryan Mone. The 6-4, 315-pound true-freshman impressed me in the spring scrimmage with his dominating presence, and of course his potential…which is all he is at this point. I think he could be the next big thing for Michigan's defense.
But he's not alone.
Ondre Pipkins is back from a blown ACL last October and is likely a presumed top spot on the depth chart. Willie Henry and Maurice Hurst will also be well in the mix at DT.
And the impressive depth continues on the ends. Returning senior Frank Clark should build off his 2nd-team All-B1G season on the weak side. He started slow last year but turned it up as the season went on. Brennen Beyer who was shuffled to DE once Jake Ryan returned last year was probably not close to being big enough to play the position, so hopefully some bulk will find itself to him this offseason because he needs it.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Wormley has the potential to be a playmaker on the strong side and possibly supplant Beyer...or be the man at the 3-tech…much of that depends on Beyer's output early this year. Wormley didn't quite emerge as a breakout star last year, but I think he will eventually. He has the tools to get there, he just needs to get there.
Then there's an abundance of young but unproven talent that may or may not become a factor on Team 135. Mario Ojemudia, Taco Charlton, Keith Heitzman, Tom Strobel, Matthew Godin and others who are good enough to probably start at some other Big Ten schools who are just laying in wait. Mattison will use his all of his depth chart along the DL, so you'll see all of these names this season.
Either way, an overall improvement is needed from this group. Michigan finished 2013 with just 25 sacks, good for 66th nationally...which is trending down since Mattison's first year in 2011. We mentioned Mone being a breakout guy this year. I think he, Pipkins, Wormley and Henry could be a dominant rotation in the middle. The size is there, and so is a ton of potential. Now it just needs to be refined and developed.
Like I said, Michigan's DL as a group is primed for substantial improvement from last year. There are always other factors at play with any position group, but talented depth is something Michigan can enjoy along the DL and that in itself makes me hopeful for a much improved season.