The defensive line has been a point of emphasis ever since Brady Hoke became the head coach at Michigan. Hoke was the defensive line coach of Michigan’s 1997 national championship team, serving under current defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, in 1995 and 1996. Mattison’s coaching background is on the defensive line as well as he was the position coach at Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida. Despite the focus on the position, the Wolverines haven’t produced the type of pass rush the coaching staff is looking for. Michigan only managed to get 22 sacks as a team in 2012, with only 12 coming from the defensive line. The leading sacker among the defensive line from a year ago, Craig Roh, graduated but with only four sacks so his production should be easily replaced.
Anchoring the middle of the line are elder statesmen, seniors Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black. Washington will man the nose tackle position where he started the final 10 games last season. At 6’4 305 lbs., he has the size and strength to take on blockers and be a force in the run game. Black, a former defensive end, is a little undersized at 6’2 276lbs., but he uses his athleticism and extremely quick first step to provide a pass rush from the defensive tackle position and he’ll look to build on his three sacks in 2012. The backup behind both is sophomore Ondre Pipkins, who may rotate in for Black on running downs. Pipkins, a former U.S. Army All-American, played in all 13 games as a reserve in his true freshman season and has slimmed down from 330 lbs. to 308 lbs. He carries that weight well at 6’4 and has the ability to stop the run at nose tackle as well as provide a pass rush as a defensive tackle. Providing further depth is junior Richard Ash (6’4 316 lbs.) and redshirt freshmen Willie Henry (6’2 306 lbs.) and Matt Godin (6’6 277 lbs.).
The defensive end positions will rotate often with four players seeing most of the snaps. At weak side defensive end, junior Frank Clark and sophomore Mario Ojemudia will be expected to provide most of the pass rush for the Wolverines while redshirt freshman Chris Wormley and redshirt sophomore Keith Heitzman will see action at strong side. Clark, at 6’2 277 lbs., has been described as an athletic freak by both players and coaches but has yet to put together a full season. In 2012 he played in every game, starting four, and finished second on the team in tackles for loss with nine, but only two of those were sacks. He has the ability and intangibles to be a double digit sack artist, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he puts it all together this season and becomes an All Big-Ten force. Spelling him will be Ojemudia who, as a true freshman, saw action in every game except two he missed due to injury. Known as a pure pass rusher, Ojemudia has bulked up from his 2012 playing weight of 220 lbs. to 244 lbs. which will help him withstand the rigors of the Big Ten. It wouldn’t shock me to see true freshman Taco Charlton get playing time as well. He comes in as a highly ranked recruit and is a gifted athlete. Standing 6’6 265 lbs., Charlton already looks like an NFL player and boasts a 32 inch vertical, 4.7 40 yard dash and benches 400 lbs. Also, as an early enrollee, he participated in spring practice and game. At the strong side, Wormley is returning from an ACL tear suffered last spring. Before the injury he was on the two deep and expected contribute immediately as a true freshman. Wormley should recapture the talent that made him a consensus top 150 player coming out of high school and at 6’5 290 lbs. will be an enormous presence on the line. Heitzman appeared in every game last season as a reserve defensive end. Known more as a technician with a high motor, he will see plenty of snaps as he is a sound run defender and at 6’4 277 lbs. is big and strong enough to anchor the strong side.
Though the defensive line will be young and somewhat unproven, there is finally the talent, size and depth that Hoke and Co. have gleaned for since arriving in Ann Arbor. Look for 2013 to be the year where the defensive line provides a ruthless pass rush and and is stout against the run, allowing the talented linebackers to roam free.