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Michael Barrett seizes chance to become Michigan's viper on defense

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan linebacker Michael Barrett is the vision of football versatility, a role he relishes, and why he has embraced the transition to viper in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme.

As a high school player in Georgia at Lowndes High, Barrett dazzled gaining 7,293 yards during his career, passing for 4,640 and 45 touchdowns and rushing for 2,647 yards and 38 touchdowns. He completed nearly 64 percent of his 174 pass attempts as a senior and had two interceptions against 16 touchdowns. During his sophomore season, he showed off his defensive prowess with 44 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

Michigan linebacker Michael Barrett (23) wraps up Rutgers wide receiver Paul Woods on Sept. 28, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

So it came as no surprise that the 6-foot, 227-pound Barrett found yet another way to distinguish himself last season with the Wolverines.

Playing on special teams against Army, Barrett dipped into his back of tricks and delivered a 25-yard pass to Daxton Hill on a fake punt. Michigan would eventually score on that drive. Later in the season at Maryland, Barrett used his wheels and ran 14 yards on the fake punt, and the Wolverines would also eventually score.

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“I take a lot of pride in it,” Barrett said this week of his play on special teams. “There’s a lot of people who don’t realize the work of special teams. You can win and lose games from it, so just being able to go out there and have my name called and them trusting me to be able to go out there and execute those plays, I take a lot of pride in this.”

Now, the redshirt sophomore takes pride in how he looks to be the player to take over where Khaleke Hudson left off at viper, a hybrid linebacker-safety in Brown’s defense. Hudson, who took over after Jabrill Peppers moved on, had the position locked down the last few seasons and now is in the NFL.

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“There’s a pretty good battle going on at the viper between Michael Barrett and Anthony Solomon so we feel good about both of those guys’ ability, their ability to run, cover, straight-line blitz,” Brown said of the competition.

Barrett played linebacker in high school so while he was a dynamic quarterback, he had experience on defense.

“Coach Brown called me up my freshman year and he had me do some defensive drills,” Barrett said. “He saw that I could do all of those drills, I could cover, I could do all of those things. He told me I could play viper, that’s just how it was. I started learning from Khaleke and it just went from there.”

He said it wasn’t difficult learning viper after playing quarterback. While it didn’t come instantly to him, Barrett said playing on offense and having to absorb that playbook and also playing defense helped him adjust to the position faster.

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Being Hudson’s understudy last season also helped.

“Other than his work ethic, just being out there watching him go at it every day in practice and the weight room, I just really learned from watching,” Barrett said. “I watched his feet, I watched his hands, I watched how he covered. He just led by example mostly.

“He wasn’t really talkative until his senior year when he stepped up as a defensive leader. But I definitely learned more from his work ethic than anything.”

As he has prepared for this season, Barrett said he made physical improvements as well as taking the time to study the playbook even harder than he did last year.

“Learned the whole defense instead of just my position — tried to learn what everybody else has to do and learn where I fit into the scheme,” Barrett said. “Physically, I’ve just cut my body, just getting in more shape. I just feel like I’ve grown since last year both physically and mentally.”

Barrett said he will probably have a limited role on special teams this fall because of his increased role on defense, but he plans to contribute and help the younger players come along.  He’s mostly focused on being Michigan’s next viper.

“You get the best of both worlds, you could say,” Barrett said, when asked what he likes about playing this position. “I get to play a little defensive back, I get to play a little linebacker, I get to blitz, I get to cover. It’s just being able to be all over the field and make plays and always be around the ball.”

What he misses about playing offense is scoring touchdowns, he said, but the bottom line, he just likes making plays.

“Whether I’m doing it on offense, doing it on defense,” Barrett said, “as long as I’m making plays regardless of where I’m at, I feel like it’s a plus.”

Twitter: @chengelis