Michigan Wolverines Football: Is There Enough Beef On The Defensive Line?
Michigan’s defensive line had great moments in 2019, dominating in wins over Iowa and Notre Dame. When push literally came to shove, however, it appeared to be outmanned in facing the best of the best.
While defensive coordinator Don Brown blamed run fits for a good chunk of Wisconsin’s 350-plus yards rushing against U-M in a blowout victory, there were still times the line was blown off the ball. Ohio State, too, used its massive offensive line to control the line of scrimmage in a 56-27 win in Ann Arbor.
Fifth-year senior Carlo Kemp played a part in all of it, including a brave performance in a win over Army in which he withstood shot after shot to his knees to help slow the Black Knights’ rushing attack. Getting him back was a critical first step in piecing together this year’s line, Brown said.
"We’re so fortunate to have Carlo Kemp come back, because not only will he provide experience, he’ll provide that essence of leadership that we desperately need there,” Brown said.
Kemp started 25 games on the interior line the last two seasons and notched 40 tackles. His quickness off the ball is his best asset, and he’s likely to be a two-time captain.
But the Wolverines need several others to emerge. Donovan Jeter was last year’s spring darling, but he struggled much of the year, often playing too high. Brown insisted he was “very confident in the guyswe have inside” heading into the 2020 season.
"When you have four down linemen, you want each one of those four guys to have the ability to run and hit people," Brown said. "There’s a degree of size in the tackle and the nose scenario, and we have that size. Jeter is a 300-pounder. [Redshirt freshman] Mazi Smith is a 300-pounder. [Sophomore] Chris Hinton is a 300-pounder. All three of those guys are very athletic. We’re excited about them.
Hinton played a lot in the Citrus Bowl against Alabama and held up relatively well in Kemp’s absence (injury).
“I’m really excited about his potential," Brown said. "We mentioned Donovan Jeter … Mazi Smith is another guy, as well. We think all of those guys, evaluating them and watching them in some of the winter workouts in the conditioning phases, I really feel like they’ve taken their game to the next level in terms of their physical ability, their ability to run."
The Wolverines were almost forced into some 3-3-5 looks last year, he said, including end Aidan Hutchinson moving inside at times. That shouldn’t be the case this year, giving him more options up front and more looks to throw at opponents.
The experience Hinton and Jeter gained last year will also help, he added.
“When they look back on it, they ended up having to play at the end of the year due to injuries at tackle and at nose," Brown said. "That’s only going to pay dividends for them moving forward. It would have been nice if we could have had the ability to work in spring practice, but everybody was in that same scenario. That’s just part of it.
“Those guys had to play in two big games. So obviously, being able to play in a big game is an important piece. Now we’ve just got to take them to play at an elite level in a big game."
They’ll get their opportunity this fall.
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