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March 27, 2014
Competition revs up at D-tackle
Just a few years ago, when Brady Hoke first arrived in 2011, Michigan was devoid of depth and competition along much of the defensive line, especially on the interior. Three years later, the Wolverines have a surplus of tackles.
"We're four-deep at the nose position and when Ondre Pipkins comes back [from injury] he will be the fifth nose and someone will probably move back to the 3-technique, maybe myself," redshirt sophomore Willie Henry said.
Henry played the defensive tackle position in 2013 at 6-3, 306 pounds, starting six games and producing 32 tackles, including three for loss. He has slid over to the nose and has dropped nine pounds to 297, but feels comfortable at either position.
"I didn't really volunteer to move; it's more like they felt that I could play the nose because of my stature. I'm big and more agile than most nose tackles," Henry said.
The coaches may have also put him there to mentor the younger players he's competing with at the moment - redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst Jr., and early-enrolled freshman Bryan Mone (as well as redshirt sophomore walk-on Ryan Glasgow). A responsibility he feels capable of after his experience a year ago.
"It helped a lot to play as much as I did because it brought my confidence up and my leadership up," Henry said. "To bring Maurice Hurst along and Bryan Mone along - a lot of the experience from last year helped me be more confident in myself and be a better leader on the team."
The 6-2, 277-pound Hurst played running back in high school, and the athleticism, speed and stamina he utilized as a ball carrier have been assets to his progress along the defensive line.
"Mo is going to be a heck of a player," Henry said. "His ball get-off is one of the best on the team. He's very agile and quick, a hard worker. He has wind for days and it's exciting to see him come off the ball and make plays.
"He's still under the radar. A lot of people haven't seen him play so he's still got a lot to prove."
Hurst has benefited greatly during his first year from working so much with Hoke, who still makes some time during practices to coach up the interior defensive linemen after ceding official position-group responsibilities to Mark Smith this spring.
"He is still with us, working with us and making sure we are on the right path," Hurst said. "He puts us together in pods and we do a couple drills with him during practice. He really emphasizes using your hands. He always says, 'Use your hands and your feet will follow.' That's something we're trying to focus on day after day.
"He is really busy, though, going around and making sure everything else is running well, too."
Mone has also been a spring revelation. The 6-4, 315-pounder is one of seven early enrollees, and like offensive tackle Mason Cole, he has impressed his teammates.
"I've seen him mature before my eyes," sophomore strongside end Taco Charlton said. "He's real aggressive and I love the way he plays."
"He's a big boy," said redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Matthew Godin, also a big boy at 6-6, 283. "He's learning very quickly, a lot faster than I learned."
With so much competition, Pipkins has extra incentive to return to full health by the fall - he's recovering from an ACL tear suffered in week five against Minnesota - not that he needed any.
"I see a fire and a pep in his step to get better and help the team," Henry said of the junior nose tackle. "He's rehabbing hard, and working hard to become a better player than he was last year."
Check out all of our spring football coverage here.