Everything George Helow said about Michigan football’s linebackers before the season opener

·9 min read

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Perhaps it’s the least talked about position group in Michigan football, and that may be for a good reason rather than a bad one. Though the Wolverines lost starter Josh Ross to the NFL, there’s a lot of confidence in what the linebacking corps brings in 2022.

While there may be a new defensive coordinator in Jesse Minter, George Helow returns to coach the position for a second-straight year. He has something of a ringer in Junior Colson, who was a freshman All-American a year ago. He figures to improve, as do some of the players who got significant minutes a year ago.

So what does Helow think of his position group? He shared an update on Wednesday as the Wolverines prepare to take on his old school, Colorado State, on Saturday.

What he's seen from Michael Barrett

Mike’s had a great camp, really good. He understands the defense being year two in, really runs to the ball, knows what’s going on. Really pleased with what Mike’s done and how he’s attacked fall camp.

What he's seen from the freshmen

Jimmy, Deuce, Micah Pollard, all three of them, they’ve had really good camps. They’re still continuing to learn. The defense’s complex, there’s a lot of things to learn but they’ve been coming along, bringing really good effort and energy every day.

Why move Micah Pollard from EDGE to LB?

Yeah, right now Micah’s is probably 205-207 pounds, in that range right now. And he’s got really great athletic ability so he’s done a good job coming off the edge and using him as a rusher in certain situations. He’s getting some reps in inside backer, being a guy that can kind of play behind the ball and still be able to blitz and do some stuff.

What's the defensive coordinator transition been like as a position coach?

Yeah, it’s been great. Jesse’s done a tremendous job. Mike Ellston, really good. Steve Clinkscale, another year with him, really good. Jay Harbaugh, transitioning from the offensive side to the defensive side — elite coach. The chemistry of all of us, it’s been great. It’s been great. And we’re really looking forward to game one and the rest of the games working together as a staff.

What does Jesse do this that's different?

Well, Jesse has experience as a coordinator, I think this is his seventh season doing it. He’s been in the NFL for a number of years as a coach on the back end. Back-end guys, you start from the back in your workup and he understands the pieces of the puzzle and how it all works. And he’s just really done a nice job.

What would constitute a success on Saturday?

From my perspective, in my position, I just want guys to go hard and execute the call. So alignment, assignment, technique, doing our job, flying around, playing with speed and intensity, and playing for 60 minutes from the first play of the game to the last play of the game.

How much of an asset are special teams for the defense?

Yeah, it’s great. I love going to Jay Harbaugh’s meetings every day. I mean, there’s so much teaching that goes on in his meetings, he does a tremendous job of keeping all the players engaged. And, you watch our special teams, those guys play hard. So everything that you do on offense and defense really carries over well. Yeah.

The challenge of replacing Josh Ross

Yeah, we’ve had some guys step up, like Junior and Mike Barrett, we had mentioned had a good camp — Kalel, Nikhai. We’re cross-training people to know all the spots, they learned a lot from Josh last year. And we’ve continued to take the things that we learned last year and just keep applying them to this year and we’ve gotten a lot better I think.

Expectations for Junior Colson

Yeah, he’s had an awesome camp and just like his energy. And I heard Jay talking about Caden Kolesar on special teams. He’s (Junior) a big guy, big-chested dude, he takes really good notes. He takes stuff from the classroom and applies it onto the practice field all throughout fall camp. He knows what’s going on. Just really excited for Junior and looking forward to really see what he can do this year.

On Kalel Mullings also playing offense

Yeah, well, first thing is we want what’s best for the team. And Kalel has been doing a good job. He’s been taking a lot of the reps at MIKE. And he’s really doing a great job.

Is he still taking reps at running back?

Certain times they’ll grab him for a few things, but he’s been getting a lot of reps on defense.

What are the best nicknames on the team?

Oh, man, I don’t know. They didn’t prep me for that one! Let me think, I’m going to get back to you on that.

On his time at Colorado State

Yeah. So I was there for four years and a special place, under really good leadership. Joe Parker’s a good friend of mine. He’s a true Michigan man — swam here, worked in an administrative role here. And I’ve got a lot of respect for the program.

Jay Norvell is a good head coach. We played him there when I was at Colorado State, he was the head coach at Nevada. He did a really nice job there. Matt Mumme, their offensive coordinator, does a really good job and recruited a lot of those players that are still on the team, so very familiar with them. When you play a team like that they get very hyped up to come in and play Michigan. I know that when I was there we played Alabama and you’re gonna get their best.

So we’re preparing, but it was a really special experience. Really nice state to live in, too — Colorado. Similar to Ann Arbor!

What he's seen from Mike Sainristil at cornerback

Mike, Mikey’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around — Mikey. You would think when you move from one position to another there’s gonna be a lot of growing pains and man, this is really new to him and stuff. He’s a guy that like was walking out at 10:30 the other night, like Mikey still in there, just watching tape during fall camp. So he puts in the time.

I was so happy for him when he was voted a captain because it’s just like he grasped the whole offense and they moved him over to defense. When you talk about team guys and doing what’s best for the team, Mikey checks that box.

Where is Jaydon Hood in his development?

Yeah, Jaydon — just reps and keep learning it and getting on special teams and getting the confidence and keep, keep playing.

Will Nikhai Hill-Green play on Saturday?

We don’t know.

On cross-training the linebackers

That’s a great question. So we like to explain things on defense just in terms of concepts instead of memorization. So, for example, you’re playing the MIKE linebacker position and you’re explaining a coverage. Knowing what the safeties are doing, what the corners are doing and the nickels are doing will help you to know now what the responsibility of the MIKE linebacker and the WILL linebacker is. And then when you talk about run fits, knowing whether it’s a seven or eight-man box, who your fitters are, whether you’re playing split-safety coverage or middle-of-the-field coverage. And then just getting reps giving them reps at doing both things. So, the more confident they are in doing that, the more ability they’ll have to play fast.

The focus on getting more turnovers

Yeah, before practice Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the season, just try to get work, good punches on the ball, set up some circuits and have guys move from stations to help generate turnovers. We know last year’s offense did a tremendous job controlling the clock and if you can do that and force turnovers, your chances of winning go up big time.

Linebackers in the pass rush

Yeah, when we hit a blitz, we’re going to hit it with speed and intensity and go. Jesse calls it. Other than that, I feel like we got guys that are trained and ready to roll. I know we lost some guys but there there are guys that were behind those guys last year that we lost it did really well, too. So just excited to go out there and watch these guys get an opportunity to play, go compete.

Will Junior Colson be involved in the pass rush?

Yeah, he’s a big, powerful dude that can run so, if he’s hitting the pressure he’s going

How has he grown into being a vocal leader?

He’s good, he’s comfortable with all the closing of the front rules and setting the front. And every day I feel like he’s continuing to get better and more confident. The more reps he gets in practice and in games will allow him to get better at it, but really feel good about Junior

What he's seen from the running backs

Yeah. Just throughout practice, we’ve been doing a really good job protecting each other and trying to stay up. Those guys are very dynamic, as you guys know, with the ball in their hand, and it’s it creates really good competition at practice. So we call it good-on-good when we have Michigan-on-Michigan periods and they go after each other and they compete. There’s always a strong emphasis on staying on your feet, tagging off but getting in a good football position because you see a lot of missed tackles when you go to the first games of the season. You saw it a lot last week so you’re trying to practice in a safe way, have good practice etiquette, but like we’re competing to make each other better. Iron sharpens iron, so when the linebackers and running backs have opportunities to go against each other, we’re going full speed.

Blake Corum putting on weight

Blake looks really good to me. I didn’t see the difference like in the 11-12 (pounds) just looking at him, but he’s compact as they come and real light on his feet and with what I’ve seen, he looks good.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire