Spring Ball Breakdown: Power Ranking Michigan's Defensive Position Groups
The Michigan Wolverines football defense will have a new look in 2021, with new schemes, three new position coaches and a new coordinator. Change was certainly warranted after the Wolverines finished 84th in the country in total defense and 95th nationally in scoring defense.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh relieved defensive coordinator Don Brown of his duties this offseason and brought in Mike Macdonald as his replacement. Macdonald spent seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and most recently served as linebackers coach. He's now trying to build his vision into reality during spring practices, of which the Wolverines are two weeks into at this point.
We recently power ranked Michigan's offensive position groups. Here is our power ranking of Michigan's defensive positions, with special teams also included in the mix.
A former five-star recruit, sophomore safety Daxton Hill may just be the talented player on Michigan’s entire team, and he leads the top position group on the defense. He was second on the squad in tackles a year ago with 46, and added one interception and four pass breakups. He also has the ability to take an opposing receiver — usually a slot — out of the game in coverage. He allowed just 13 receptions on 24 targets all season, yielding 181 yards and no touchdowns, per PFF.
His fellow starter from 2020 is back as well, with senior senior Brad Hawkins deciding to use his blanket waiver from the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility. He totaled 39 stops and two pass breakups on the season, and will bring plenty of experience as a third-year starter.
Depth is the only issue here, with freshman Makari Paige (118 snaps) and former walk-on and fifth-year senior Hunter Reynolds (130) being the primary backups with seemingly nobody else emerging.
There was a significant drop-off when Hawkins or Hill were out of the game, and it was concerning that none of the other young players at the position emerged. It’s now in Ron Bellamy’s hands to keep things rolling with Hawkins and Hill, as well as develop some depth behind them.
2. Special Teams
Even with the departures of kicker Quinn Nordin and punter Will Hart, Michigan’s special teams should be strong this coming year.
Junior kickoff specialist and placekicker Jake Moody struggled in 2020 — and needs to get his consistency back – but he’s proven he can get it done in big spots, having skied 91 career boots for touchbacks and made 17 of his 24 kicks at U-M, with a long of 48.
Despite Hart beginning last season as the starting punter, redshirt junior Brad Robbins took control of the job and was very productive, booting it away 23 times in five games for an average of 45.3 yards, with eight punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He also flashed his big leg, posting a long of 66 yards.
Freshman Tommy Doman is not an early enrollee, but will be ready come the fall to step in if needed. At the very least, he will push for playing time at all three spots and add depth.
In the return game, Michigan has a veteran in sophomore Giles Jackson, who brought back kicks and punts last season. He was inconsistent with his decision-making at times, but he’s a natural at the position and should be at least solid. He has two career kick returns for touchdowns.
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