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April 05, 2019 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily

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8 — Friday, April 5, 2019
Sports
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

Position review: Linebackers

Back in 2015, the Michigan
football team landed a coup.
Devin Bush was supposed
to go to Florida State. His dad
played for the Seminoles and
was a legend for them. Bush was
a legacy, a highly-touted South
Florida kid who’d have his pick
of colleges.
But Florida State didn’t have
Jim Harbaugh or Don Brown.
And those two convinced him
to leave Hollywood, Fla. for Ann
Arbor. Along with him came two
high school teammates — now-
senior safety Josh Metellus and
now-senior linebacker Devin
Gil. The elder Bush got a job
as a defensive analyst for the
Wolverines.
And anchored by Bush, the
Wolverines’ defense began a
new era.
In
his
final
season
at
Michigan, the junior linebacker
was
electric.
Though
just
5-foot-11 and 233 pounds, Bush
finished with 79 tackles, nine
tackles for loss, five sacks and
six pass breakups. Bush was
a
consensus
All-American
and a finalist for the Butkus
Award, for the best collegiate
linebacker, and the Nagurski
Trophy, for the best collegiate
defensive player.
Though
overshadowed
by
Bush, VIPER Khaleke Hudson
was named an All-Big Ten
honorable
mention
after
a
strong junior season. Playing a
hybrid role, Hudson’s versatility
was a boon to the Wolverines’
defense.
The
graduation
of
Mike
McCray in 2018 allowed others
— including Gil and then-
sophomore Josh Ross — the
chance to show their stuff
at linebacker. Ross was also
named an All-Big Ten honorable
mention.
However, when Bush got
injured and sat out the Peach
Bowl, his absence proved that
he was the true anchor of

Michigan’s linebacking corps,
leaving the Wolverines with
a hole they struggled to fill.
How others step up to fill that
hole could determine how high
Michigan’s ceiling is in 2019.
HIGH POINT: Bush stood
in the center of the painted-
white logo at Spartan Stadium.
Headphones in one hand, he
went to work, kicking and
digging his feet into the turf,
defacing
the
once-pristine
spartan.
This was, after all, a rivalry
game — one with no dearth of
disrespect from either side. But
it wouldn’t have been a good
look for Bush to have that kind
of pregame outburst without
backing it up on the field.
So Bush went in and showed
Michigan State who was boss.
Perhaps no play was more
emblematic of the game than
one Bush made in the fourth
quarter, with the Wolverines
up 21-7 and the Spartans facing
second-and-1
at
Michigan’s
24-yard line just after the
two-minute warning. Score a
quick touchdown and recover
an onside kick, and a Spartan
comeback
would
still
be
possible.
Instead, Bush came after
Michigan
State
quarterback
Rocky Lombardi and sacked
him for an 11-yard loss. On
third-and-long, Lombardi was
sacked again. The attempted
fourth-down
conversion
fell
short, and the
Wolverines bled
out the clock on
a
much-needed
win.
In
a
game
where
the
defense
made
plays
all
day
long,
Bush’s
pregame
antics
were symbolic.
LOW POINT: In the fourth
quarter of the Peach Bowl,
Florida attempted a punt from
its own 20. Hudson came up and

blocked it in the end zone for a
safety.
Unfortunately for Michigan,
all that did was decrease the
Gators’ lead from 28 points to
26. And the linebackers were a
large reason for the deficit.
Bush had injured his hip
in
the
third
quarter of the
loss
to
Ohio
State and failed
to get medical
clearance
to
participate
in
bowl practices or
play in the game.
So he withdrew
and focused on
preparing for the
NFL draft.
The Wolverines’ first taste of
life without Bush wasn’t pretty,
to put it nicely.
Ross
started
at
middle
linebacker in his place, flanked

by Hudson and Gil. But where
Bush once sped down the field,
chasing the quarterback and
wreaking havoc on opposing
offenses,
his
replacements
looked lost.
Florida quarterback Feleipe
Franks noticed the hole and
took advantage. Franks not
only threw for 173 yards and
a touchdown, he was also the
Gators’ second-leading rusher
with 74 yards and a touchdown
— this for a quarterback not
exactly known as a dual-threat.
Without Bush there to clog the
running game, four different
Florida players had runs of 30
yards or longer.
Michigan could only watch as
the Gators sped away.
THE FUTURE: Losing a
talent like Bush — especially
one that has started for the past
two years — is always going to
hurt. But what the Peach Bowl

showed is that the Wolverines
may miss Bush even more than
they thought, for the simple fact
that he made the linebackers
around him better.
Hudson and Ross are talented,
to be clear, and another year
of experience can only help.
But
they’re
not the same
without Bush in
between them.
Ross
started
at
middle
linebacker
in
the Peach Bowl,
indicating that
he may be the
future choice at
the position —
albeit one with
a big learning curve.
Gil,
fifth-year
senior
Jordan Glasgow and redshirt
sophomore
Cam
McGrone
are others who could fill the

vacant linebacker spot, but none
incite particular excitement.
Newcomer Anthony Solomon
was a four-star recruit as an
outside linebacker, but as with
most freshmen, he is unlikely to
contribute right away.
And even if one of them does
step up, none have
the kind of talent
that Bush did, and
they won’t be the
kind of defensive
centerpiece
that
Bush was.
Only time will
tell
what
the
future holds for
the
linebackers,
but of all of the
Wolverines’
position groups, it may be the
one with the most questions
entering 2019. The way the
season ended only makes those
questions louder.

Position review: Secondary

The stats don’t jump off the
page.
Michigan’s
secondary
had
just 11 interceptions last season,
tied for 60th in the country
with
middling
teams
such
as
Minnesota
and
Nebraska.
Despite
that,
the Wolverines’
defensive backs
played at an elite
level most of the
year.
But the story
— as with many
of the Michigan
football
team’s
other units — had
a familiar ending. Secondary
play crumbled in a loss at Ohio
State in November and then
again in the Peach Bowl against
Florida, calling into question

whether the unit was really ever
that elite in the first place.
That’s not to say there weren’t
positives. Cornerbacks Lavert
Hill and David Long had their
praises sung all season long and
for good reason. Regularly rated
high by advanced stats, Hill’s
and Long’s reputations preceded
them. The pair
received
fewer
targets as other
teams
feared
their
abilities,
and when passes
did come their
way, they were
almost
always
broken up. Hill
and Long were
both
All-Big
Ten First Team
selections; Hill was also honored
as a Third Team All-American
by the Associated Press.
The safeties also got their
share of accolades. Senior safety

Josh Metellus was a Second
Team All-Big Ten selection and
then-senior safety Tyree Kinnel
garnered an honorable mention.
HIGH POINT: There was
Brandon Watson, and then there
was open space.
Maybe Penn State quarterback
Tommy Stevens overthrew the
ball,
or
maybe
he
underthrew
it.
Either
way,
Watson was the
only
player
in
the vicinity. The
then-fifth-year
senior cornerback
caught the ball,
ran
and
didn’t
stop until he was
in the end zone.
The touchdown
put the Wolverines up, 28-0, late
in the third quarter and all but
shut the door on any potential
Nittany Lion comeback. The rest
of the secondary also dazzled,

holding Penn State passers to a
collective 8-for-17 with two pass
breakups.
Then, in the fourth quarter
following a touchdown, Long
intercepted Trace McSorley on
the first play of the next drive,
giving Michigan the ball back at
the Nittany Lion 12. Four plays
later,
running
back
Chris
Evans punched
it in for a one-
yard touchdown
to
put
the
Wolverines up,
42-0.
What
had
been a much-
anticipated
matchup
against
the
No. 14 team in the country had
become a laugher.
LOW POINT: In Columbus
three weeks later, Watson was
once again the story. But this

one didn’t have a happy ending
for Michigan.
On seemingly every play,
Buckeye
receivers
targeted
Watson in coverage. And on
seemingly every play, they left
Watson in the dust.
The Wolverines’ press-man
defensive scheme meant that the
defensive line had to pressure
the quarterback as much as
possible, so as to
avoid
receivers
getting
free
against man-to-
man
coverage.
But Ohio State
was
prepared.
Its screen passes
and
crossing
routes
were
intended
to
get
the
ball
out
quickly,
matching its speedy receivers
against Michigan’s secondary.
And
the
secondary

especially
Watson

just
couldn’t keep up in a 62-39 loss.
The loss was a shock in a lot
of ways, but perhaps the biggest
was the extent to which the
secondary, which had played
at a high level all year, got
torched. It didn’t take long for
fans to tweet in despair asking
why Watson was still in the
game, begging the defense to
do anything. Of course, in all
likelihood, it wouldn’t have
made a difference.
Buckeye quarterback Dwayne
Haskins threw for 318 yards and
five touchdowns, a performance
that cemented his status as
one of the top
quarterbacks
in
the
2019
NFL draft. The
Wolverines
never
had
a
chance.
The secondary
wasn’t
put
in
a
position
to
succeed
against
Ohio
State, but that
doesn’t change the fact that in
the biggest game of the year,
a highly-touted unit came up
short again and again.
THE
FUTURE:
The

secondary enters 2019 facing a
lot of question marks, and not
just because of how the season
ended. Long decided to forego
his final year of eligibility to
declare for the draft, and Kinnel
graduated, leaving two big pairs
of shoes to fill.
The favorite to replace Long
is likely junior Ambry Thomas,
who showcased his speed as a
kick
returner
during
his
first two years.
But
Thomas’
technique
is
raw, and the fact
that
defensive
coordinator Don
Brown did not
trust him enough
to try him over
Watson
when
things started to
go sideways in Columbus isn’t
exactly a good sign.
At safety, junior J’Marick
Woods is next on the depth chart
behind Metellus, according to
Jim Harbaugh, while junior
Brad Hawkins is the favorite
at nickel. Both played backup
snaps
throughout
the
2018
season. But the X-factor here
is five-star incoming freshman
Daxton
Hill.
Hill
had
a
whirlwind
recruitment:
He
initially committed to Michigan,
but
decommitted
from
the
Wolverines and committed to
Alabama less than two months
later, only to eventually sign
with Michigan after all. The
Tulsa, Okla. native was ranked
the 14th-best prospect in the
country and the
top-rated safety.
If
Hill
proves
he’s
ready,
he
could make an
impact
right
away.
Meanwhile,
Lavert
Hill
decided
to
return and man
the
cornerback
position for one
more year. If he puts up numbers
like he did last season, he’s an
early favorite to garner All-
Big Ten and perhaps even All-
American honors again.

ARIA GERSON
Daily Sports Writer

ARIA GERSON
Daily Sports Writer

EVAN AARON/Daily
Linebacker Devin Bush entered the NFL Draft after his junior season, leaving a hole in the middle of the Wolverines’ defense that Josh Ross will try to fill.

(Bush’s)
absence proved
that he was the
true anchor.

Linebacker may
be the (group)
with the most
questions.

KATELYN MULCAHY/Daily
Senior cornerback Lavert Hill was selected for the All-Big Ten First Team and AP Third Team All-American last season, as quarterbacks regularly avoided him.

The X-factor (at
safety) is five-
star ... freshman
Daxton Hill.

(Hill is) an
early favorite to
garner All-Big
Ten ... honors.

Secondary play
crumbled in
a loss to Ohio
State ...

(Passes) were
almost always
broken up (by
Hill and Long).

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