Top Five Spring Game Performers: Defense

Who stood out this spring and in Michigan's spring football game on the defensive side of the ball?

Newkirk: Michigan's defense looked impressive to say the least last Saturday. Combined, the defense gave up 14 first downs, 333 total yards on offense and one touchdown. Yeah, they did pretty good.

No. 1 - Redshirt freshman Safety Jabrill Peppers: The highly anticipated spring debut of Jabrill Peppers live up to the hype. He finished with four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass break up. Peppers seemed to be everywhere on Saturday. He was barking out orders. He was leading the secondary. He made hits. He stops the runs. He played well in pass coverage. He's as advertised.

No. 2 - Senior LB Joe Bolden: Easily could've been No. 1 on this list, Bolden was that good in the spring game. He led Wolverine defenders with 14 tackles, including three tackles for loss. Bolden, along with fellow senior Desmond Morgan, looks like a staple in the middle of Michigan's linebacker core.

No. 3 - Redshirt freshman DE Lawrence Marshall: In his first game action, Marshall impressed with athleticism alone. He finished with three tackles, including a highlight real sack of Shane Morris. Marshall beat his opponent off the line and then leaped over Wyatt Shallman to bring Morris to ground. That play alone is why he is on this list.

No. 4 - Junior DE Royce Jenkins-Stone: A converted linebacker, Jenkins-Stone looked impressive in his first game action at rush end for the Wolverines. He finished with five tackles, including one sack for the game. He could add much need depth to the Michigan defensive front.

No. 5 - Fifth-year senior LB Desmond Morgan: After sitting out last season due an arm injury, Morgan looked like he was in mid-season form with his interception of Alex Malzone in the second quarter. Morgan had four tackles for the Maize defense.

Bogenschutz: The defense was the clear winner of the spring game and the entirety of the 15 practices under Jim Harbaugh based on most reports. Is this surprising? No. Will this translate to the field against opponents other than a developing Michigan offense this fall? We’ll certainly see. It appears the defensive line has a good mix of talent inside and on the edge to go with a veteran group of linebackers and a very talented but unproven secondary.

No. 1 – Senior LB Joe Bolden: Bolden looked like the inside linebacker Michigan recruited out of the state of Ohio a few years back. A tackle machine, the defense funneled ball carriers Bolden’s way and he gobbled them up to lead the team in tackles. On top of that, Bolden showed good instincts and quickness navigating his way through the line to make a handful of plays in the backfield as well. This could be a special year for the senior at a time when the Michigan defense is looking for more consistent, veteran performers at the position group.

No. 2 – Freshman S Jabrill Peppers: Had Peppers held on for that interception and possible big return for a touchdown, the do it all defensive back likely would’ve fallen at No. 1 on this list. Either way, Peppers was very good in both the run and pass game, physical and fast off the edge to go with his terrific ball skills. Peppers looks like the player coaches have raved about all spring and if healthy should provide a huge boost to a secondary looking to break out in 2015.

No. 3 – Freshman DE Lawrence Marshall: Singled out by defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin this spring for his improvement from start to finish, Marshall looks physically ready to be an impact player off the edge. Marshall’s pass rushing exploits have transferred from high school to college, showing great get off the ball to sack Shane Morris before Wyatt Shallman could even get set for a block. Michigan needs pass rushers and with months to get in the best physical condition, Marshall’s ascention could be fun to watch.

No. 4 – Sophomore DT Maurice Hurst Jr: The stat line may not stick out but Hurst Jr. was a handful on the interior of the defensive line, getting good push against the run, playing gap sound. This will be an intriguing position to watch this fall with Bryan Mone and Ryan Glasgow appearing to be plus players as well.

No. 5 – Sophomore CB Brandon Watson: With offenses seemingly looking to ignore the side of the field Jourdan Lewis occupied, Watson was tested time and time again, routinely stepping up to the challenge and making a play. His most impressive play of the day of course was the interception, snatching the football away from Amara Darboh. Watson looked physical, one of the bigger corners on Michigan’s roster, also displaying adequate enough speed to hang on an island outside.

Josh Newkirk and Kyle Bogenschutz contributed to this report.

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