UM D-lineman Carlo Kemp reflects on first of what should be many starts

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan defensive lineman Carlo Kemp

Ann Arbor — During spring practices, Michigan’s Carlo Kemp juggled playing defensive end while learning tackle to make himself more versatile and have a better shot at playing this fall.

Now about 25 pounds heavier, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior is coming off his first career start against Western Michigan last Saturday and with Lawrence Marshall and Aubrey Solomon sidelined for an undetermined length of time, more starts and playing time are in the future.

Michigan faces SMU on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

The position switch has paid off.

“He’s playing really strong right now,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “Very dedicated. Had no hesitation starting Carlo and playing him a lot. Coming into his own. Physically, the strength is showing up.”

Kemp said he didn’t know until game time he was going to start.

“Basically, you go through practices and go through the warmup on game day and then as it just so happens, coach puts you in that first series,” Kemp said. “That’s kinda that first moment of realizing like, ‘OK, I guess it’s time to start this defensive series for the team.’”

He had not seen how he had graded out by the time he spoke to the media on Monday afternoon, but Kemp’s self-evaluation offered solid marks.

“It felt really good to get out there and play,” he said. “It was my first time playing and having a majority of snaps during a football game. It just felt really good to be out there running around and get to really finally play football. It’s been awhile since I got to play a lot of snaps.”

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Kemp, who arrived at Michigan as a linebacker, went to defensive-line coach Greg Mattison early this year to see what he thought of his idea to learn to play inside after previously learning as a backup to Rashan Gary at defensive end.

“Because I wanted to give it a try and help the team in any way possible, and even if meant being a backup, just letting coach Mattison know that, hey, I just want to learn it at least, just so he has that option,” Kemp said.

Mattison, he said, liked that Kemp was pro-active and suggested the move.

“It was approaching spring ball, and I said, ‘Coach, you think I could just try it out?’” Kemp said. “And I think he was OK with it. So spring ball I was just taking three-tech and anchor reps and just trying to be the best at either one of them. And it was a grind. Not everything went smooth in spring ball trying to learn that and tried to improve on those things in camp and just keep working on it.”

Kemp spent a lot of time studying the way Maurice Hurst played the position last season for the Wolverines and still watches his film now that he’s playing for the Oakland Raiders. Hurst’s burst off the ball always was mentioned among his biggest strengths. But no matter how much he has studied, learning a new position has taken time, not to mention an adjustment of approach.

“There’s a lot of different responsibilities you’ve got to do,” Kemp said, explaining the challenges of moving from end to tackle. “You’ve got to learn new footwork and new blocks. And for me, I’ve never really played inside even in high school I never really did so from the transition in spring ball and then camp and these last couple weeks of finally getting to hone in on it, it’s been pretty new and you take it one day at a time and learn different things and keep working at it.

“For me it was tough just because I’ve never really done it and it’s a whole lot faster. At the anchor position, what we call it, you’ve just got to watch that tight end and then whatever he does you just play off it. If you try to mirror anyone’s footwork inside you’re going to end up 10 yards running into your linebackers messing up the whole defensive play.”

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From working behind Gary and absorbing what he was teaching and showing his teammates, Kemp learned to play aggressively. That has translated to his new role at tackle.

“On the inside you play even more aggressive because you’ve got the guard and the tackle and you’re getting 600 pounds on you every single play and, oh, here comes the center to add a triple team on you and you’ve got to hold your ground,” Kemp said.

Like so many of his teammates who have been talking since the spring about how new strength coach Ben Herbert has helped them become stronger and quicker, Kemp also has benefitted. He said his lower body was where he had always been bigger and stronger than the rest of his body, and Herbert helped him work to improve his upper body strength.  He also started eating better, more lean proteins and making smarter food choices.

Kemp’s goal was to make certain he was strong enough to take on a double-team, more than 600 pounds at a time.

“I just feel it on the field where I feel a whole lot stronger,” he said. “And even if I’m not that much stronger, the confidence you have, if you believe you’re stronger, you’ll be stronger.

“When I was told to consider playing the three-tech, I wanted to make sure I was at the proper weight. I put on an extra 25 pounds this offseason just to get ready to play that position. And with the new weight staff and nutritionist, it wasn’t really that hard to do so. We were eating right and we were working hard and everybody was getting stronger. That thing always was, can I take on 600 pounds at a time?”

It looks like now he’ll have a chance to keep proving whether he can.