Ann Arbor — A year ago at this time, when discussing what the Michigan defense might achieve, the names bandied about were Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich.
Those were the spotlight players.
Bush, Gary, Winovich are gone, along with cornerback David Long and nose tackle Bryan Mone. As the Wolverines prepare for the start of the season Aug. 31 against Middle Tennessee State, household defensive player names aren’t rolling off the tongue. And that’s OK with this group.
“We’ve got a bunch of ‘us’ guys. There’s no ‘me’ guys,” linebacker Josh Uche said recently when asked if this is sort of a no-name defense. “Everybody has a job they have to do. They have to do their job, focus on that job solely, and help the defense — not even the defense — help the team win as a whole.
“There’s no me guys. There’s no spotlight guys. There’s just us as a corps and the whole plan is to succeed as a defense and be the best in the nation.”
Uche is one of those players who could very easily become the focus of the spotlight. After two injury-riddled seasons, he was an All-Big Ten honorable mention last season and had seven sacks. He will play a major role at the SAM linebacker, a linebacker/defensive end mix, and is lauded for his pass-rush ability.
But as an “us” guy, he really only wanted to speak about the defense in its entirety.
“I think we’re a lot faster than last year,” Uche said. “Everybody can run. Not saying people last year couldn’t run, but there’s so much depth. A lot of depth. A lot more guys in the corps this year that know what they’re doing. A lot of speed.”
He said everyone is fast.
“Everybody’s running. All the guys on the defensive line are running,” Uche said. “Everybody’s just running. You’ve got safeties that are extremely fast. You’ve got Josh Metellus, one of the best safeties in the nation. Then you got Josh Ross, who people don’t give enough attention or enough credit of what he did last year in the partial role in that rotation. You’ve got (Jordan) Glasgow, we’ve got (Devin) Gil, we’ve got Khaleke (Hudson), and everybody’s running. Everyone’s in like the 4.5s. Bush is Bush. He’s special, but we’ve got guys now everybody is running, everybody is fast.”
Uche said he is taking his game to the next level by maintaining the approach he’s had all along.
“Just continue to take every snap like it’s the only snap I’ll get,” he said. “Making every snap matter. Making it as efficient as possible.”
With Noah Furbush graduated, Uche will take on a more significant role.
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown last season shared how Uche approached him after the bowl game long before the 2018 season about more playing time. Brown told him, flatly, to “go earn it.”
That’s what he’s done.
“For us, the good thing about him is that he can do a lot of stuff,” Brown said recently. “In the NFL, when he finally gets there someday, he’ll do a lot of stuff. It’s going to be the same type of scenario. He can play defensive end, he can play SAM linebacker, and that’s really his No. 1 position. He’s got all the pass-rush scenarios that we utilize him on third down. I don’t know if there’s a better substitute pass rusher in the country than this guy. He’s grown and become a very accomplished SAM linebacker.”
Uche has been described by the coaches at times as a Swiss Army knife, because of his ability to take on different roles.
“It’s a compliment,” he said. “I work hard at the two different positions. To be able to have their trust and for them to respect my versatility is definitely a compliment.”
He also has earned the right to be a mainstay in the defense.
“We don’t have any issue playing him every down in a game,” linebackers coach Anthony Campanile said Monday. “He’s a great pass-rusher, as people know, but he’s also stepped his game up as a linebacker fitting into the box.”
Now, Uche will have an opportunity to show off that versatility and pass-rush skills.