Michigan’s seven early enrollees on defense earned praise for their willingness to learn. One, however, seemed to stand out for his willingness to mix it up.
Coaches told safety J’Marick Woods of Florence, Alabama, to be ready to play as a freshman, noting the numbers at the position could dictate a frosh or two in the lineup. He wasn’t able to play in the spring game, nicked up with injuries, but teammates and coaches said he was one of the more impressive players they’d seen in the spring.
“He’s the truth,” sophomore running backs Chris Evans said. “He brought that down south [mentality]. I know they hit down south, but he’s a different human. The way he’s been hitting people all spring, you’ve got to watch out for that guy. He’s really hitting people hard.”
Defensive coordinator Don Brown told reporters he wished they and the fans could have seen Woods in action during the spring game, noting he’d ‘really been showing some things.’ That echoed what safeties coach Brian Smith had said about him a week earlier.
Fellow safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell is a different kind of safety, Evans said, but he’s shown flashes, as well. He notched three tackles, one for loss, in the spring game and continues to move around in the secondary in search of the right position.
“He’s got great footwork … his footwork is outstanding,” Evans said. “I watch him every day. He doesn’t really say much or smile much; he’s all about his work. I like that.”
Brown added they’d ‘fooled around with him at nickel back and strong safety,’ adding he handled himself well in the spring game.
• Give the defensive MVP award from Saturday’s to sophomore linebacker Devin Bush. If Michigan’s defense maintains its elite level of play this year, he will likely have to play a huge role.
Though he only notched 12 tackles a year ago, Bush showed enough in practice and on special teams to prove to the coaches he could be a valuable starter. He did nothing but improve his stock this spring, thanks in large part to fifth-year senior linebacker Mike McCray.
“I think Mike has been a great role model for him,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “He’s a mature guy and it’s important to him. He’s from a football family.
“I told him at the beginning of spring, we want to divide the work of the ones. We know what he is capable of, and we wanted to make sure we saw [walk-on] Mike Wroblewski in a highly competitive situation, too and see where he’s at.”
So Bush saw action at both weakside and inside linebacker, and he thrived.
“He just welcomed the role,” Brown said. “It’s so nice when you have a young guy like that and he can play two spots. You can ask some guys to do that and they’ll say, ‘are you kidding me? But he handled it really with ease. He’s a really good player. We’re excited to see him when we’re live and in color, for sure.
“Just look at him. I teased him last year … ‘you were a short, pudgy guy.’ Now he’s chiseled and has a D-1 body now. We’re asking him to play two positions, and I’m very pleased with where he’s at.”
• Brown was happy with the play of the young secondary this spring.
“They’re all young. I thought Brandon Watson did a good job today, but he’s done a good job all spring so it’s not surprising,” he said of the redshirt junior. “Lavert Hill had been hurt a lot so him getting back and getting reps was good. David Long only made it three quarters … nothing serious, but he been fighting it, as well.”
• There are currently three linebackers between the inside and outside positions in Wroblewski, Bush and McCray, but Brown wants a fourth. Sophomore Josh Uche is in the mix there, but he has a lot to learn.
“Josh has had some good days,” Brown said. “We have a few things special for him. We let him do those things, with a few exceptions, but he has a long way to go.
“He was a defensive end in high school we absolutely loved because he was fast. Now we’re teaching him to play linebacker. It’s a huge challenge for him, so that’s a big deal.”
• Brown was pleased with the overall play of the defense this spring.
“We’ve got good young players at all three levels,” he said. “The key is the way Coach Harbaugh does it, to get enough repetitions. We just went through a season of football in spring. Now we’ll repeat it again in August then see kind of where we’re at.
“Remember, you only have to put 11 out there. Competition will be key, and we’ve got great young men that are in competition.”