Michigan football is a week away from taking the field in an official capacity, and one of the big questions has been who would line up along the defensive line.
While we’ve had some good ideas — Mazi Smith and Kris Jenkins were locks, but the edge rusher rotation was perhaps somewhat unclear with multiple players vying to start — we didn’t really know until Saturday. Which is a surprise, considering head coach Jim Harbaugh tends to keep things close to the vest.
On Saturday, Harbaugh joined Jon Jansen on the “In the Trenches” podcast and had something of an unprecedented breakdown of the entire depth chart. Starting with the outside linebackers (edge rushers), he revealed that there are three players who are considered starters for two positions, while four more players will be in rotation, including recent incoming transfer Eyabi Anoma and true freshman Derrick Moore.
“The outside backers right now, starting outside backers: Jaylen Harrell, Mike Morris and Taylor Upshaw — those three have had a heck of a camp and there’ll be a rotation there,” Harbaugh said. “Braiden McGregor, TJ Guy, Eyabi Anoma’s doing some really good things.
“Derrick Moore has been fantastic, we’ve talked about there before, but when that motor becomes like Chase Winovich and Aidan Hutchinson and then he learns a countermove or two, I think he’s gonna be close to unblockable. Now as soon as that happens, may take some time, but he’s ready to play and he’ll be in there.”
But there’s a surprise that he unveiled, in the form of a new starter.
While most fans and media (us included) still tend to think of the defense in terms of a 4-3 front (it was switched to a 3-4 multiple last season, but still often operated similar to how it did, with two down linemen and two ends), Harbaugh revealed that one true freshman has emerged as a starter, opposite the expected interior linemen.
”Inside, interior defensive line, Kris Jenkins, starter in the base package. Mason Graham will come out of camp as a starter, true freshman,” Harbaugh said. “Mazi Smith, starter at nose. Cam Goode is somebody that is now really surging. He’s backing up Mazi at nose tackle. Kenneth Grant is right there as well at nose tackle. George Rooks at end, backing up Kris Jenkins, has had a tremendous camp. Dom Giudice has done some really good things. And we got a true freshman, Charlie Lovell, who walked on, just turned 18 about a week ago. His dad played at Michigan, was a kicker here. He’s been great as well and he’ll be really good in the future.
“So really been happy with the interior defensive line and the guy I gotta mention is Rayshuan Benny. Rayshaun Benny is surging. He and Mason Graham are playing the tackle position in base. But he’s just coming on like gangbusters, every practice is better and better. So I’m really excited about Rayshaun.”
That’s a lot of depth, although, beyond the starters, there’s very little experience. It’s encouraging that Graham, who enrolled early, has managed to cement his starter status, especially given the surge made by players such as Benny, who entered the offseason as an expected starter. It doesn’t appear that Graham got the nod because Benny isn’t pulling his weight as much as it sounds like the Anaheim (California) Servite lineman is performing beyond expectations.
We’ll know more in a week, when Michigan football hosts Colorado State. The game will kick off at noon EDT and will be televised nationally on ABC.