Ann Arbor — With Michigan’s defensive line depleted of its starters from last year, defensive line coach Greg Mattison must be in a tizzy as he prepares for the upcoming season.
With the recent campus arrivals of freshmen linemen Luiji Vilain and Aubrey Solomon — Kwity Paye is expected this month — along with early enrollee freshman Donovan Jeter, sophomore Michael Dwumfour, and returning experience like Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Chase Winovich and Bryan Mone, Mattison is excited about his group.
They must replace a strong starting group that featured three NFL draft picks, Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow, and Matt Godin, who signed as a free agent with the Texans.
“They already know that there may not be some people that respect them,” Mattison said last Saturday. “People may think, ‘Oh, they had all these great players that were ahead of them,’ but we happen to believe that the eight guys were why they were good, not four. Our four will tell you that, even though the (others) played more.
“They kind of have a chip on their shoulder that they’ve got to prove that.”
Mattison likes what the freshmen bring to the table.
“Those are three great looking kids already,” Mattison said, adding they all have a chance to be part of the rotation. “There’s some good, young talent. Donovan will either be an anchor defensive end or a 3-technique, Aubrey will be a nose or a 3-technique and Luiji will be an end, a Winovich type.”
Mattison said he will not allow a player’s age influence when or how much he will play.
“When we recruit somebody here in the defensive line, it’s like the NFL — you’re drafted,” he said. “Best players play. Find out where you are. It’s up to you. You’re going to have the opportunity. I don’t care if the guy’s a freshman, I don’t care if he’s a senior. Best players are going to play.”
Gary and Hurst stood out in the spring.
“They both are really, really talented,” Mattison said. “Another guy that has a chance is Dwumfour. He’s got kind of that same fast twitch that Mo Hurst has. Now, young guys have to prove that they’re mentally and physically tough enough to make it through our practices and make it through games and that’s what you don’t know until it happens.”
Defensive coordinator Don Brown slightly choked up when he spoke last Saturday about the linemen.
“I really just love our guys,” Brown said. “It’s a pleasure to get up, come in here, go to work every day. We got Aubrey in, we got Luiji in, (and) a couple other guys arrive this week. Then we’ll have everybody in. We’re excited.”
Brown credited Gary and Hurst for taking the younger players under their wings, much like Charlton and Wormley guided Gary last year as a freshman.
“They’re just good people,” Brown said of the incoming freshmen linemen. “Sometimes as a coach you’ve got to work on the social side with the guys to get them just so they formulate a way they should go about doing their business. These guys? It’s unbelievable.
“Now, I also think this — Rashan Gary is not going to let them do anything (wrong). He runs the show up there. Here’s a young guy that had older guys, and the older guys are now gone, and he’s the older guy in essence. Him and Mo Hurst. They take care of business. Those two guys know that these (younger players) need to help us. Flat out. They know that.”
Winovich and Hurst have organized summer workouts, Mattison said, and they’ve encouraged their young teammates to hit the sleds on their own, as well as work on pass drills.
“It’s just extra. It’s money in the bank,” Mattison said. “It might not help as much as what people think, but it’s always getting you to do football. That’s what Wormley and Taco and those guys all did last year. And these guys followed right along.”