- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- While Michigan’s offense has a bunch of questions surrounding who will play where and how much time freshmen might see, the Wolverines’ defense has other issues.
These, though, aren’t so bad.
Michigan has significant depth -- albeit some inexperience -- at every spot on its defense. This allows the Wolverines to come closer to reaching defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s goal of being able to rotate players at both defensive line and linebacker to keep them fresh for later in games and later on in the season.
As Michigan witnessed last year, depth can be fickle. Its deepest spot a season ago -- cornerback -- saw the Wolverines so depleted by the Outback Bowl they had to move Dennis Norfleet from running back to defensive back. As of now, though, no such concerns yet this season.
But there’s a long way to go between April and August.
Why? Clark had one of the better springs of any Michigan player and finally looks to be adding some consistency to the promise he has shown in small doses his first two seasons. Heitzman started the spring game and has experience over a lot of younger guys who will push him all summer and fall. This battle has yet to be decided. Washington will play a lot of snaps on the inside after looking like Michigan’s best defensive lineman for parts of the second half of last season. Henry is the surprise here, but Michigan’s seniors were really high on him, and if he has a good summer he could end up passing -- or being equal to -- Jibreel Black come the fall.
Depth: Sophomore Mario Ojemudia, freshman Taco Charlton (Rush end); redshirt freshmen Tom Strobel, Chris Wormley and Matt Godin (DE); sophomore Ondre Pipkins, senior Jibreel Black, redshirt junior Richard Ash and Wormley (DT)
Why? For now, rush end might be Michigan’s deepest position, with three guys who could see playing time depending on the situation. Defensive tackle is an interesting spot, because Black easily could be Michigan’s starter over Henry, and Pipkins has the chance to be extremely good in spurts this season, spelling either Washington or Henry/Black. Strong side end is a mystery right now.
Why? Morgan and Ross III seem to be locks at their positions. Morgan is the most experienced of all Michigan’s linebackers, and Ross III might be the most talented. Plus, the move to the middle allows Morgan to play more in a natural comfort position -- both from who he has to cover (backs and ends instead of slot receivers) and his responsibilities calling plays. Gordon would have been Jake Ryan if Ryan hadn’t torn his ACL, so while Gordon and Brennen Beyer likely will split time here, the nod goes to Gordon because of his athleticism.
Why? All of the players at the middle and weakside spots have spent either a spring or fall at both positions. It wouldn’t be shocking to see those four rotate between those positions in some capacity all season long. Gordon could hold off Beyer entering the fall, but don’t be surprised if they end up splitting time most of the season. If neither one plays well, this is a spot where a freshman could make an impact, as McCray II is the likely third-teamer here.
Why? Countess, Michigan’s top cornerback entering last season, should be healthy coming off a torn ACL in the season opener against Alabama in 2012. As long as there are no setbacks, he should be a starter. Taylor filled in for him well and now would be in his second year of starting this fall. He tied with Gordon for the team lead in interceptions last season, with two. Gordon is an almost guaranteed starter at safety considering his playmaking ability and experience. He should move more into Jordan Kovacs’ role, which will allow him to help in run support more often, where he is especially effective. Wilson should hold off senior Marvin Robinson, although much like Beyer and Cam Gordon at SLB, they could end up splitting time.
Depth: Senior Courtney Avery, junior Delonte Hollowell, sophomore Terry Richardson, freshmen Ross Douglas and Jourdan Lewis (CB); freshman Dymonte Thomas, senior Marvin Robinson, redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark, redshirt junior Josh Furman, redshirt freshman Allen Gant (S).
Why? Of all of Michigan’s non-starters at defensive back, freshman Thomas might have the best shot to play and play early. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him push if not pass Avery for the nickel position. He has enough talent that he will be on the field in some capacity this season. Michigan has some depth at corner, although other than Courtney Avery there is little experience there. The freshmen have talent but could be a little way away from playing. At safety, there is somewhat of a logjam. The loser of the Robinson/Wilson battle -- Thomas might have a say here, too -- likely still will see some time. Clark is an intriguing option, but he might be a year away from seeing significant time. Michigan’s seniors really seem to be impressed with him as well.