Junior rush end Frank Clark is feeling the anticipation build for Saturday's opener at Michigan Stadium. He knows that anything can happen, and he's prepared for it.
Clark, expected to be someone who can put major heat on quarterbacks off the edge, even got a little work at defensive tackle in fall camp. The 6-2, 273 pounder saw some snaps at the "three-technique," just in case Michigan needed extra depth there, or required a particularly fast-rushing line.
"I did some of that at the end of camp, just to get a feel for it," Clark acknowledged. "With guys going down every day, you never know what's going to happen during the season. We've got Quinton Washington, we've got Jibreel [Black], those guys in the middle who are going hard every play.
"There is no telling what can happen. Coach [Greg] Mattison just wanted to make sure if something did happen, he can always have somebody else to rely on, to go out there and play."
Something already did happen in the secondary, where senior Courtney Avery appeared ready to start the opener at safety prior to his knee injury. He's out a projected two weeks following arthroscopic surgery, and Clark noted the Wolverines are grateful it isn't a longer stretch.
"He's been a valuable asset to our team throughout camp, and last season, and the year before that," Clark said. "Losing Courtney was big. He'll be back, though. We're thankful for that."
In the meantime, freshman defensive backs Channing Stripling and Jourdan Lewis impressed Clark in fall camp. Those two just scratch the surface of a talented group of rookies, he pointed out.
"Channing has been shining, even though he still makes those freshman mistakes," Clark said. "Jourdan has been doing his thing as well. I believe we have a strong freshman class. There are a lot of guys in that class that can help this team."
One rookie in particular - rush end Taco Charlton - doesn't have the weight of the world on his shoulders early on. Although physically impressive at 6-6, 270, and a leg up on the other freshmen by arriving in January and going through spring practice, Charlton doesn't have to be a major contributor right away.
That's because the rush end is well armed already, with Clark and sophomore Mario Ojemudia (6-2, 250) ready to roll. Charlton will make an impact, but can grow at a reasonable pace, according to the veterans.
"He can be the best learner he can be," Clark said. "You've got two guys who have played, me and Mario Ojemudia, who basically want to step in and help this team as much as we can. Taco can learn from us, learn from our experiences, so he can be the best rush end he can be at Michigan."
That sort of depth brings a smile, two days from the opener.
"Man, this is a defense I've got a lot of confidence in, especially our defensive line," Clark said. "A lot of people in the preseason called our defensive line the weakest point of the team. I believe, honestly, it's one of the strongest points of our team.
"When your defensive coordinator has enough confidence to say I can rotate not only two groups, but three groups, that's very good. It means you can have a player in there to go hard every time. You won't have that player in there going eight snaps, nine snaps in a row, and he gets tired and he can't go as hard as he wants to go."
They all get going Saturday afternoon, and the talk stops. Clark insists this will be the best defense he's played on at Michigan, and stands ready to step up and prove it.
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