5 To Watch: Wolverines Defense

GoBlueWolverine.com reporter Josh Newkirk stops by to offer Irish fans five players to keep an eye on when Michigan attempts to stop Tommy Rees and the Notre Dame offense Saturday night.

Junior defensive end No. 57 Frank Clark: Throughout spring and fall camp, Clark's name was mentioned numerous times by the Michigan coaching staff. He stands at 6-foot-2, 273-pounds, and is a super athlete for a defensive end. It only helps that he goes against All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan in practice every day. He had a quiet game in the opener against Central Michigan. But has the tools to be a special talent this season and could be make a name for himself against the Irish this Saturday night.

If Michigan is going to get pressure on Tommy Rees, Clark is going to be one the guys who needs to lead the charge. Especially with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison putting more emphasis on getting to the quarterback with four down lineman. If Clark can create issues for the Irish line, it could be a long night for Rees and Co.

Sophomore outside linebacker No. 15 James Ross: James "Biggs" Ross is a name to remember. He saw plenty of action as freshman last season and is one of the starting outside backers this season. He stands at 6-foot-1, 220-pounds, and is a physically gifted linebacker in Mattison's defense. He can take on blockers and should give the Irish offense problems in the run game.

Ross can hold his own the passing game, too. Expect him to use his speed and open field ability to give the Irish problems all night long.

5th-year senior defensive tackle No. 76 Quinton Washington: Entering his second season as a full-time starter on the defensive front, Washington will play a major role in stopping the Irish run game in week 2. At 6-foot-4, 301-pounds, Washington will need to get a good push up the middle for the Wolverines. It's been said that he can throw people around with his strength, and he should be fresher this season with the Michigan defensive front looking to rotate between 9-10 lineman throughout the game.

If Washington is able to draw double teams, look for him to open up holes for the Michigan linebackers. He will also be helped out by fellow senior DT Jabreel Black and emerging sophomore Ondre Pipkins.

Junior middle linebacker No. 48 Desmond Morgan: Morgan has been a three-year starter for the Wolverine defense. He moves to the inside this season, and is a tackling machine for the Wolverines. He had 81 tackles in 2012 and had a team-high seven in the opening win vs. Central Michigan.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 228-pounds, Morgan isn't your most athletic linebacker on the Wolverine defense. He is a great decision maker, but how he defends in open space could be exploited this Saturday. And With Notre Dame's ability to pass the ball, speedier LBs Ross and Joe Bolden may end up seeing more time if the game is close in passing situations. Michigan wants Morgan on the field, but how he matches up in the pass game will definitely affect his playing time.

Senior free safety No. 11 Courtney Avery: He might be the biggest question mark of the secondary heading into Saturday's game. He had minor knee surgery and missed the season opening win over Central Michigan. While he has 13 career starts, most of them are at cornerback. This season he has made the move to free safety. A surprising move, considering sophomore Jared Wilson was expected to take the starting spot this fall.

However, the move was justified by Mattison, as he stated he wanted the best players on the field. Avery is only 5-foot-11, 175-pounds, so how he matches up physically with the Irish offense will be the burning question this Saturday. If he struggles, look for Wilson to get in there right away. Wilson is bigger (6-foot-2, 215-pounds) and made some big hits in the win vs. Central.

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