- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players, if Michigan lost them, would be in the most trouble.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It looked like Quinton Washington’s college career was never going to happen, the one-time highly touted prospect from South Carolina languishing on the offensive line and then deep in the defensive line depth his first three years at Michigan.
Even a season ago, it didn’t appear he would play much of a factor on the defensive line. Michigan had Will Campbell (now with the Jets) and some youth it felt really good about.
By midseason, though, Washington had emerged as a consistent starter for the Wolverines alongside Campbell and Craig Roh. Both of those players are gone, leaving Washington as the most experienced defensive lineman out there.
Considering the importance in Greg Mattison’s defense of forcing pressure with the front four, Washington becomes the No. 2 most indispensable player on Michigan’s roster this season.
Last year’s stats: 32 total tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one blocked kick.
Where does he fit on Michigan’s offense/defense?
The fifth-year senior is the only player on the interior of the defensive line with a significant amount of experience. Yes, Jibreel Black has played some in there, as has sophomore Ondre Pipkins. But considering the youth movement on the rest of the defensive line, Washington is being looked at as a leader and someone who could have a breakout season this year.
Much like some of the other players on this list, it isn’t that Washington is the second-best player on Michigan’s roster or even the second-most talented defensive lineman, but his experience and the lack of it behind him makes him invaluable to Michigan this season. He is going to be the player expected to command double teams and also to make sure everyone else on the line knows what is going on.
What happens if he’s out of the lineup?
Tough to say. Michigan has options here, without a doubt, but hardly any of them have the experience necessary to make plays at this point. Pipkins would be the obvious fill-in and will likely be in a rotation with Washington most of the season. Depending where Michigan lines up redshirt freshman Willie Henry, it is possible he would slide in there as well.
Chris Wormley, if he doesn’t end up on the strong side end or winning the starting job next to Washington, is another option. Combined, that group has seven tackles and 13 games of college experience.
Bottom line, why is he critical to Michigan’s season?
It goes back to the experience and the leadership importance Brady Hoke places on his seniors. Add to that the way Washington played during the final stretch of last season, when he developed into a reasonable Big Ten starter, and there is a chance here for a breakout season.
While some might question Washington being this high, especially considering the accolades around rush end Frank Clark and freshman Taco Charlton next to him, Clark has never played consistently and Charlton has never played a down of college football at all. The same could be said at the tackle slot opposite Washington, depending who wins that job.
As Michigan saw last season, if it is unable to provide pressure with the front four, Mattison’s usually strong schemes become much more ineffective because the blitzing linebackers and safeties who would normally burst through created holes in the line all of a sudden see offensive linemen and backs as blockers waiting for them. Washington improving to the point of commanding double teams would help that issue immensely.