Michigan lost 3 senior starters to graduation off the defensive front, but there are some highly touted (yet still unproven) replacements are set to take over. Gabe Watson suffered a setback developmentally when he reported to fall camp prior to his freshman season overweight. As a result he didn’t get as much playing time as he had planned to going in and was publicly vocal with his displeasure. After that experience, he dedicated himself last offseason to getting in shape and subsequently saw more playing time last year. This spring is huge for Watson, who is one of the most physically talented lineman to come through Ann Arbor in quite a while. He’ll have to be just as dedicated this offseason if he is to anchor the center of the Wolverine defense next year. Larry Harrison and Alex Ofili have to get prepared for increased roles as well. Despite being hampered by a few injuries, Harrison had a successful freshman season. He and Ofili will battle it out for the other tackle spot. Redshirt freshman Will Paul could also make a move for some PT during the spring.
At defensive end, sophomore Lamarr Woodley saw significant minutes as a true freshman. That experience should help him in determining what he needs to do to take his game to the next level. Michigan needs to get a better pass rush from it’s front 4 next year and Woodley will certainly be among those counted on to help provide it. This is his first offseason in an organized strength and conditioning program and that aid him greatly in improving his game. The end opposite Woodley will probably be Pat Massey initially. However, don’t be surprised by a shuffle that would put Woodley and Jeremy Van Alstyne on the field at the same time. JVA missed a number of games do to injury last season, but before that, his tenaciousness was the talk of many of those down at Schembechler Hall. He flashed excellent pass rush ability and a great nose for the football. It would come as no surprise to see him grab a foothold on that spot coming out of the spring. Another player that showed the ability to rush the passer in limited time last year was Rondell Biggs. If he continues to display that skill this spring, his prospects for getting into the lineup will only get better.
Michigan lost defensive stalwart Carl Diggs to graduation, but the rest of the linebacking unit returns. Lawrence Reid had a strong season at weakside linebacker after returning to action last spring (once he recovered from a blood clot in his neck) and Pierre Woods made an outstanding transition to strongside linebacker and is an All-American candidate heading into next season. They along with Scott McClintok are said to be going strong. However, depth could be a concern at middle linebacker with David Harris still recovering from the ACL injury he sustained last season. Prescott Burgess showed flashes of his ability after making the move to weakside linebacker midway through the season and redshirt freshman Shawn Crable has outstanding ability and should play his way into some time on the strong side this spring. Crable has been the talk of many around the program and his size and athletic talent is amongst the best Michigan has had at that position. One of the most frequent comments about him concerns how long his arms are. With those two players ready to see more action it may allow the coaches to give one of the other backers, namely Roy Manning or Lawrence Reid, some spring snaps in the middle to shore up that spot in case Harris isn’t quite 100% at the start of the season.
The defensive backfield loses Jeremy LeSueur but Marlin Jackson returns for his final season and will move back to corner where he was once considered one of the best in the country. Word has it that Jackson has really focused on his offseason conditioning, even doing some individual sprint work to get prepared. Markus Curry is still set to man the other corner. Sophomore Leon Hall would have made a serious push for that spot this spring, but he will be out do to offseason shoulder surgery. The California native apparently sustained the injury somewhere around the Minnesota game and showed amazing will just to play through the pain. In his absence, look for Stanford transfer Grant Mason to be the next corner in line. Back when GBW broke the news of his matriculation to Michigan in the fall, Mason indicated that he was coming in as a wide receiver but that he would move to corner if the opportunity to play looked better there. He has indeed made the move and has reportedly shown well during his short time there, though he did not participate in bowl practices in California.
At safety, this is a huge spring for Ernest Shazor. After an up and down offseason last year, he showed some of the All-American ability many thought him to have coming out of high school when he made it on the field in the fall. He returns as Michigan’s best and most experienced safety and could be even better this year with a strong spring. With Jackson’s move back to corner there is an opening at free safety. Barringer is the most experienced player, but sources indicate that Ryan Mundy has made the move to this spot and that he is confident that he can win the starting position. It should be an outstanding battle. Despite Barringer’s struggles in the bowl game, he was noted as one of the most dedicated and intense athletes in the program. Coaches singled out his preparation and fearlessness last year. That said, Mundy lived through the frustration every freshman has when they don’t play as much as they would like and now has a better understanding of what it takes to get on the field. He will be one to be reckoned with. Regardless of what happens in the spring, look for freshman Jamar Adams to be in line for significant action at free safety in the fall. Mundy is versatile enough that down the line he can make the move to strong safety, teaming with Adams to make yet another formidable safety duo.
Ryan Mundy and Prescott Burgess