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Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich raves about new quarterback Shea Patterson Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

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Ann Arbor — Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich didn’t return for his final season of eligibility because he wanted to be voted a captain, but that would have been a desirable bonus.

Winovich admitted Tuesday that not earning that distinction was a disappointment — linebacker Devin Bush Jr., and safety Tyree Kinnel were voted defensive co-captains — but he is determined to continue being a leader.

“It stung a little bit, but at the end of the day when you think about it, I came back to win a national championship,” Winovich said. “I didn’t come back to win a popularity contest. My role as a leader is still the same.

“I woke up that day, was not the captain. I woke up the next day, I was not the captain, and today. Out of my hands, and I’m moving on.”

His focus, like the rest of the Wolverines, is preparing for the season opener at Notre Dame in a primetime game Saturday. The rivals are meeting for the first time since 2014.

Winovich was given the team’s “Blue Collar” award for his performance last season. He was first-team All-Big Ten by the media and second team by the coaches and had 18 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

He deliberated before and after the bowl game about his future, whether he would return to Michigan or head to the NFL, and even had his bags pack to head to southern California to prepare for the draft if that’s what he ultimately decided.

But he came back to Ann Arbor because he believed the Wolverines, coming off an 8-5 season and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh clearly indicating changes would be made, could achieve lofty goals. Winovich, during Big Ten media days, said the arrival of transfer quarterback Shea Patterson weighed on his decision, as well. Patterson, a 10-game starter at Ole Miss, is the Wolverines’ starter.

After eight months of working with new strength coach Ben Herbert, who has reshaped the physiques of the Wolverines, Winovich said he is feeling positive heading into the season.

“This is the best camp I’ve ever had, hands down,” Winovich said. “In terms of remaining focused every day, getting better, best camp I’ve ever had. Staying healthy. I felt like I made a lot of strides this camp, this past month in pass rush and just using the tools coach Herbert has provided me in the offseason. It’s going to be fun. That’s all I’m going to say about this season.”

While Winovich has expressed considerable confidence in what he has described as an improved Michigan offense, he’s also extremely high on the defense. And why wouldn’t he be? Under coordinator Don Brown, the Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in total defense in 2016 and No. 3 in 2017.

He and Rashan Gary want to be known as the best defensive ends in the country leading the best defensive line, so their goals are lofty but, they believe, attainable. What the defense does have is consistency in large part because Brown is back for the third straight season. Frankly, there aren’t many secrets to how Brown wants the defense to deliver, but the players have had more time with him to understand what he demands.

“The thing about our defense, we’ve been the same the last couple years as we are this year,” Winovich said. “There’s not a ton of surprises in that sense. We’re a physical bunch, we like to run to the ball and we like to hit people. That’s our scouting report how I view our defense. Yeah, it’s going to be fun.”

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He likes the matchup Notre Dame gives the Wolverines’ defense.

“They’ve got a lot of talent on the offense in general,” Winovich said. “They’ve got two receivers that are 6-4, and their offensive line is a veteran group for the most part. They return their left tackle and their right tackle played in a rotation basis last year. They return some veteran players and they’re a physical bunch.

“They finish blocks and that presents a matchup in itself. We like to view ourselves as people who like to finish plays and run to the ball, but you see them, they’re blocking every play to the whistle. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to this matchup. It’s going to be, for me personally, one of the best tests for our defensive line. If we had to scour the offensive lines in America and pick one game, it might have been Notre Dame.”

Despite the hype heading into the rivalry game — ESPN’s GameDay will be on site even though the network is not carry the matchup — Winovich said he approaches this the same as he does every game.

“It’s not the same. But the process doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s bigger and it’s such a huge stage, but there’s only so much you can really change. It’s not like this week I’m gonna go out and all of a sudden do stuff I didn’t do …. I can’t do anything that different. I’m going to go out and be myself during the week of practice and prepare.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

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