Stingy defense, new quarterback aim to take Michigan to new heights
Connor Mulvena | Friday, August 31, 2018
After a disappointing year for Michigan’s football program, which ended ranked No. 27 nationally and below the S&P+ ranking projected for the Wolverines at the start of the season, head coach Jim Harbaugh and his largely veteran squad are looking to bounce back with force, starting with a trip to South Bend.
The Wolverines, who were defeated by South Carolina in the Outback Bowl last season, faced a number of obstacles from the start of 2017. Michigan entered the year with a largely new defensive makeup and receiving corps, an obstacle to overcome for any young program. But, on top of this challenge, Harbaugh’s starting quarterback, Wilton Speight, who has since transferred to UCLA, suffered a serious back injury one month into the season. The Wolverines sustained a loss to then No. 15 Michigan State and were left without a key team leader. This year, Harbaugh looks to turn things around behind a new quarterback in junior transfer Shea Patterson and a stingy defensive unit led by senior captain and defensive back Tyree Kinnel.
Michigan’s defense heading into the 2018-2019 season is among the top in the nation, and the unit is led by a respected veteran in defensive coordinator Don Brown. Brown served as head coach at Plymouth State, Northeastern, and UMass in years past, and he’s served as defensive corrdinator for a number of respectable division I programs. His defensive schemes are marked most notably by an aggressive front and a unique implementation of the nickleback position. And this year, Brown certainly has the weapons to put that scheme to use. Returning at linebacker is junior Khaleke Hudson, who, in 2017, managed to top 2016 Heisman finalist Jabril Peppers’ 15 tackles for loss with a sterling 17. Plus, junior Rashan Gray and fifth year Chase Winovich will be returning at defensive end. The dynamic combo combined for 30.5 TFLs, 14 sacks, and three fumbles last season, and experience should only help this season. With many more returning defensive players ready to take on leadership roles, Harbaugh expressed his confidence in the defensive unit in his press conference on Monday.
“I think it is a well rounded defense,” Harbaugh said. “We have good players, and we have an excellent scheme, and players understand it and know it. And then that hustle. They hustle to the ball, guys on the ground are not on the ground long — they’re getting up and pursuing and tackling. That’s what you want to see out of your defense. I feel like it’s going to be a stingy defense.”
Harbaugh similarly seemed confident in junior transfer and starting quarterback Shea Patterson, of whom much is expected this season by the Wolverine faithful. It was originally unclear whether or not Patterson, who transferred in from Ole Miss in the offseason, would be able to play this year, but the NCAA announced his eligibility for the 2018 season in April of last year. This was huge news for a Wolverine team which struggled at the quarterback position in 2017, and Harbaugh has said that Patterson has put on an impressive performance in offseason training.
“Shea Patterson, he’s really been good,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really been intense and focused in practice. And you expect that out of a quarterback, you expect that out of someone who plays that position, and you expect that from all the players. But his level of focus and intensity during practice and execution has been really good. He’s the one who’s playing the best and gives our team the best chance of winning.”
However, amidst this confidence, key wide receiver sophomore Tarik Black is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Last season, Black recorded 11 receptions for 149 yards and three touchdowns in only three games before sustaining a season ending foot injury.
Overall, Harbaugh remains confident in Michigan’s receiving corps.
“I like the way our receivers have been coming along. It’s been a good camp. They’ve come so far in training camp and spring practice … They’ve done a great job learning and working hard everyday to improve. I’ve seen real tangible improvement from our entire receiver group” Harbaugh said.
Lastly, the Wolverines as a unit are led by senior captains Tyree Kinnel and Karan Higdon, of whom Harbaugh spoke highly.
“Senior captains Tyree Kinnel and Karan Higdon, both fourth year seniors that played in their freshman, sophomore, junior and now going into their senior year. Both great guys,” Harbaugh said. “Both starters. Both have taken a leadership role, and they’re the best of the lot. They’ve invested a lot, like all seniors have. Like all seniors and fifth years, they’ve invested the most. They’ve had the best attitude, along with the rest of our senior class, I feel really good about our leadership.”