In a moment of clarity while describing the role of the viper in Michigan’s defense, Jim Harbaugh summed up the position in a quick sound byte.
He raised his right hand and made a sound that apparently vipers make. He then curled two fingers and motioned them forward in an aggressive manner. The movement and sound effect drew laughs while Harbaugh spoke to reporters at Big Ten media days.
“It's a great, great position on our team. It's an important position on our team and it's got a great name too — viper,” Harbaugh said before hissing and motioning. “You’re attacking.”
Viper is a position Khaleke Hudson, who chose to return for his final season at Michigan because of “unfinished business” and wanting to earn his degree, embodies. So much so that people forget his unique first name.
“It’s a cool name,” Hudson said smiling. “A couple people call me ‘Viper,’ like, ‘What’s up, Viper?’”
What’s up is that Hudson is ready to make a significant mark this season as a leader on defense that lost some key starters, including linebacker Devin Bush, ends Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, and cornerback David Long. He enjoys playing viper, a role Harbaugh described succinctly.
“That's a guy that's a really good safety, but he could also have the versatility to be a really good nickel kind of cover guy, and also the abilities of a linebacker and even a pass rusher off the edge,” Harbaugh said, sharing his insights on the position. “It’s that kinda Swiss Army knife, Jim-Thorpe-type of player that can do all those different things that are really high level. (They’re) smart because they have to come from different angles, different gaps and can come from anywhere. I think a Troy Polamalu-type player, that kind of mold.”
Last season, Hudson may have been best known for his targeting ejections in back-to-back weeks. They might have been a reason for his dip in production.
During the 2017 season, Hudson had 83 tackles, including 18.5 for loss — he set a single-game record with 8.5 tackles for loss — and eight sacks. Those numbers dropped significantly last season as Hudson finished with 44 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and two sacks.
He said the targeting calls affected his overall production “a little bit.”
“When you get two targeting calls in a row, and you’re coming up to make tackles, you start second-guessing yourself,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse at all as to why things happened the way they did.”
Maybe not an excuse, but targeting ejections can make you shy away from the big hits.
“It was making me think a bit,” Hudson said. “It kind of messes with your head a little bit. But coach waned me to keep playing the way I play and stay aggressive, work on form tackling. We worked on it in practice as a team, and I’m getting better at it.”
Hudson has made the viper position his own at Michigan.
“Khaleke has a great body-build and mentality for it,” said linebacker Jordan Glasgow, who played at viper last season. “He is one of the most explosive people I’ve ever seen, which is extremely important for this position. Just look at Khaleke, and you’ll see what you need to play the Viper position in our defense, because he’s textbook for it.”
Hudson isn’t worried about rebuilding his stats line to look as it did in 2017. He is more interested in helping lead the Wolverines to wins over their rivals and earning their first Big Ten title since 2004.
“I’m not chasing those stats at all,” he said. “I’m chasing wins. Team wins. ... That’s when guys mess up. They start chasing stats and getting frustrated if you don’t get a certain amount of tackles or running a certain amount of rushing yards.
“For us, we’re just about the team. We need to focus on our team and our outcome.”
Hudson said he promised his mother he would earn his Michigan degree, so that was a major reason for is decision to return. There’s a good chance he will be a captain this season, as well. But could he be one more thing? Could he also be a running back?
Harbaugh threw out the possibility when he discussed the lack of experience at running back and said Hudson and linebacker Jordan Anthony were running backs in high school. Hudson laughed when asked if he could play running back in a pinch.
Sometimes after practice Hudson said he will grab a football starting running like he’s a running back.
“It’s still natural,” Hudson said, smiling broadly. “I’ve still got it.”