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ESPN: McCray could be difference-maker for Michigan

The Detroit News

Mike McCray is Michigan’s lone returning full-time starter on defense next season.

The linebacker, writes Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com, will be key to the unit’s success next season.

The senior is one of 12 “make-or-break” players in the country Rittenberg singled out Monday (pay site) for the upcoming college football season “whose performance could directly or indirectly impact the win-loss record.”

Rittenberg writes McCray is a “vital piece” to the Wolverines defense, which last season was among the nation’s best.

“The Wolverines recruit at a nationally elite level on defense and have a staff, led by Don Brown, that is regarded as one of the best in college football,” Rittenberg writes. “But any unit that returns only one starter will need that player to perform at peak levels to even sustain the production of the previous season.

“Michigan, by any measure, had a top-three defense in 2016. Although Michigan lost its final two games, no defender stood out more than McCray, who had nine tackles, a sack and two pass breakups against Ohio State, and then a pick-six against Florida State in the Orange Bowl.”

Rittenberg quotes an unnamed Big Ten offensive coordinator, who said McCray is “a much better player than he looked as an individual on tape. He looked a bit stiff, but he made a lot of plays.”

McCray was second on the team in tackles last season (76), and added 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He also had seven pass breakups.