Lansing – Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua enters his second season knowing the situation at defensive tackle is certainly not robust.
While the Wolverines got good news in early December that Carlo Kemp would be eligible for a fifth season – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh officially confirmed Thursday night that Kemp will be back – Michael Dwumfour recently announced his plans to transfer. Michigan currently has six defensive tackles with game experience on scholarship.
“Very thin,” Nua said Thursday night at the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association clinic, referring to the situation at tackle.
Harbaugh was asked, speaking to a number of high school coaches attending the clinic, whether he and his staff would pursue graduate transfers to fill gaps on the roster. Michigan added defensive end Mike Danna from Central Michigan last year and he was an important part of the rotation.
“We’ll look at that for sure,” Harbaugh said, not being specific about which position groups he might pursue.
Nua, however, said he and the defensive staff are actively looking for transfers to shore up the interior of the line. But also cautioned this doesn’t mean he’s unhappy with the players he has. It’s simply about adding depth.
“We are (looking),” Nua said. “You always want to look, but at the same time I also still have faith in the guys that we have. So if there’s nobody out there, we’re not gonna go just get a body just to get a body. I still have faith in Mazi (Smith), (Chris) Hinton, (Donovan) Jeter, Carlo, (Jess) Speight and (Phillip) Paea.”
Hinton and Smith had valuable playing time in the Citrus Bowl against Alabama on Jan. 1. Hinton will be a sophomore this fall and appears positioned to move into a starting role. Smith will be a redshirt freshman.
“Nothing like experience, especially with good competition like Alabama,” Nua said. “I was pleased. Obviously not satisfied but very, very happy.”
Nua said he was “sad” that Dwumfour decided to transfer.
“But you always want what’s best for these young men,” he said. “I’ll still support him wherever he goes.”
Harbaugh said he and Dwumfour always had a “good relationship.”
“Sometimes a change of scenery is better,” he said. “Praying and pulling for him. Somebody will be really lucky to have him.”
Kemp was a co-captain last season, and his return is an enormous plus for the defensive tackle spot. Kemp, who had to sit out the Citrus Bowl apparently because of a lower-leg injury, converted from end to tackle before the 2018 season.
Nua also has the advantage of having returning starters Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson – known as “Salt and Pepper” – back at the ends. Paye gave brief thought to leaving for the NFL but announced before the bowl game that he would return for his final season.
“We’ve got Salt and Pepper back. We’ve just got to add Carlo in that thing,” Nua said, laughing. “I don’t know what other spices that are out there. I’ve got to find one for Carlo.”
'Great mentor' for Harbaugh
Harbaugh had not spoken at the Michigan High School Football Association’s annual clinic since his first season in 2015, but it was personal for him Thursday night.
He joked he felt like he was in the Lansing Center’s Exhibit Hall C “all the time” because that’s where the Wolverines have their walk-throughs before playing at Michigan State. He said he was happy to be back and gave a lengthy speech, following Indiana coach Tom Allen, the evening’s other speaker.
“It’s nice to be invited back,” Harbaugh said, smiling.
Harbaugh and the Michigan assistant coaches were in attendance Thursday night, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and defensive coordinator Don Brown each presented film breakdown sessions.
It is always important to be at the clinic to connect with in-state coaches, but Harbaugh was also paying tribute to his Ann Arbor Pioneer football coach, Chuck Ritter, who passed away last November. Ritter was a walk-on player at Michigan and he spent six years on Bo Schembechler’s staff. He spent 25 years as a coach at Pioneer, including 13 as head coach.
“My high school coach Chuck Ritter passed away this year, and he was always here,” Harbaugh said. “He was always at this. He gave me my start, brought me up from the JV when I was a sophomore and gave me a chance to start on the varsity. Believed in me. Was at Michigan, coached for Bo all five years I played there, as well. He was a great mentor. One of the all-time greats in the state of Michigan. Sad about that. Sad he’s not here. He loved this. This is what he loved and helped organize it for 55-60 years. It’s different not seeing him here. Great man.”