Scouting Michigan’s defense: Gary’s new look

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Rashan Gary

Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News breaks down Michigan’s defense.

He can see clearly

Defensive end Rashan Gary got some new glasses and contacts in the offseason, and that has made a world of difference for a player who expects to have a big year. But it’s not just about him. Gary declared this summer he wants Michigan’s defensive line “to be the best in the country, that’s it.” And a subset of that, he wants to be considered part of the best defensive end tandem with Chase Winovich. So focused on these goals, Gary used a Sharpie and wrote inside his locker, “Best defensive line in the nation.” Said Gary: “I just like seeing it. I have it in my head, but I open up my locker and, boom, it’s right there.”

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Fast, faster, fastest

Defensive coordinator Don Brown declared in the spring that this is one of the “fastest” groups he’s been around. Like, ever. He’s had a couple pretty good defenses here. In 2016, his first season, Michigan led the nation in total defense, yielding an average 261.8 yards a game. Last season, the Wolverines ranked No. 3 (271.0). The fact that he’s been coordinating the defense for three years means there’s stability in the staff and that means the players have most things absorbed and can move on quickly to whatever it is Brown wants to install. “A couple years ago everybody was learning,” Brown said. “It was new for everybody. I think it took us a little bit to get up to speed.”

David Long

Cornering the market

The secondary overall surprised people last year considering its success, despite the overall inexperience. The Wolverines’ corners, in particular, stood out. David Long and Lavert Hill will be counted on to lock down the corners this fall. Mike Zordich coaches the position and he said during camp he was in a “good place” because of them. He had an issue with Hill during spring, but the two are good now, as they say, and Zordich expects Long to take another step this fall and show his improvement. Brandon Watson and Ambry Thomas will see playing time.

‘Glue’ in the middle

During preseason camp, Jim Harbaugh called junior middle linebacker Devin Bush Jr. one of the fastest linebacker he’s ever seen. Bush, a junior, was voted a co-captain and is bigger and faster after working with conditioning coach Ben Herbert. Bush, an All-Big Ten first-team selection last season by the coaches, can be a dynamic force on the defense. He was the team’s leading tackler a year ago with 102 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and five sacks. He also had an interception. But he also adds a major vocal presence on the defense and players refer to him as the “glue” of the defense.

Ambry Thomas

How good can they be?

Michigan’s defense has been strong the last few years. Can it get better? Well, that’s the idea. But how? Often, the secret is in the guys backing up the starters – is there depth? Is there enough experience among the reserves that the starters can be spelled and kept fresh for late in the game? Chase Winovich thinks this defense will be better. “If we weren’t better than we were last year I think it would be a huge disappointment,” he said. “There’s always a chance. We’ll just have to wait and see.” Sure, wait and see, but this is when players like Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall and Ambry Thomas and Drew Singleton need to step up.