Michigan Wolverines: Maurice Hurst

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For many months, there has been hand-wringing and consternation about the state of Michigan's offensive line. But what about the other side of the trenches?

The Wolverines' defensive line has produced at a mediocre rate, at best, since Brady Hoke's first season in 2011. That's a fact that has to eat at both Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who are both former defensive line coaches.

[+] EnlargeBrennen Beyer
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMISenior defensive end Brennen Beyer will be a key contributor for the Wolverines in 2014.
But unlike the offensive line, which exited spring with question marks remaining, there is hope that Michigan can turn this position into a strength again.

"I've been here for four years and I've seen three different defensive fronts come through here," senior defensive end Frank Clark said. "And I think it’s the best one we’ve had."

The group blends a mixture of veterans and youth, with many of the young players getting valuable exposure last season. Some of them were hyped recruits who display obvious size and athleticism, such as sophomores Taco Charlton (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), Chris Wormley (6-4, 292) and Willie Henry (6-2, 297). New position coach Mark Smith, who mentored the linebackers the previous three years, was understandably excited for a chance to mold those guys.

"I didn't inherit a bunch of plow horses, now," he said. "I inherited a bunch of thoroughbreds. We look good coming off the bus. We've just got to get the mental aspects of it and our philosophy and the mindset we want up front."

Clark epitomizes the D-line crew in many ways. Long heralded as a star in the making, he started to deliver on some of that promise last season with 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks. After briefly considering a jump to the NFL, he returned to campus determined to do even more in his last go-round.

"I’m the vet," he said. "I’m the big dog now."

Another senior, Brennen Beyer, will man the other defensive end spot. Beyer has moved around a lot in his career and sometimes is taken for granted. But Smith said Beyer is one of the best players and leaders on the defense.

Then there's Charlton, who has enough potential to make Michigan fans salivate. Given the nickname Taco from his grandmother when he was born prematurely and weighed less than three pounds, he's more like a fully loaded burrito now. Even playing last season as a true freshman, Charlton said he never felt overmatched physically.

"It wasn't really hard because of my body," he said. "But now I feel like a mature guy, and everything is coming more easily. I know what it takes to play, so I can really relax now and just play without much thinking."

"Taco has immeasurable potential," Smith said. "That kid can be as good as he wants."

How good the Wolverines' line will be this fall likely hinges on the inside spots, where the team replaces starters Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington. Henry and Wormley played a lot there in 2013 and should improve after getting a season under their belts.

"Chris Wormley is one of those guys who, when he walks in a room, you go, 'Ooh, that's what it's supposed to look like,'" Smith said. "He's come a long way, but in a lot of ways, he's still figuring out what it takes to be an every-down player here."

Redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst Jr. made a strong impression this spring at tackle, while sophomores Matthew Godin and Ryan Glasgow and early enrollee freshman Bryan Mone also saw a lot of reps. Ondre Pipkins will eventually be back from a knee injury. The coaching staff believes it has now developed depth that will allow it to comfortably rotate several bodies this fall.

The players just have to prove themselves on the field and show they can apply pressure on the quarterback without help, something that has been problematic the past couple of seasons.

"We have a multitude of pass rushers, and we've got physical guys in the middle," Clark said. "If four can rush the passer and let everybody else drop into coverage and do their jobs, that’s when you have a great defense."

Michigan hasn't reached that level in a while. The potential of the defensive line at least offers some hope of returning there.
Brady Hoke's recruiting has followed a pattern at Michigan. The Wolverines start extremely fast, pile up elite prospects, sprinkle in a few later in the cycle and finish with a nationally decorated class. This year's crop seems to be no different as Michigan, along with archrival Ohio State, has secured a spot among the nation's top classes. Hoke and his staff targeted both lines, especially the offensive line, and signed five offensive linemen ranked in the ESPN 300. Michigan made arguably its biggest splash in late January by adding standout Derrick Green, rated as the nation's No. 5 running back by ESPN Recruiting.

ESPN.com caught up with Hoke to discuss Michigan's 27-man 2013 class.

What were your primary objectives with this class and the top needs for Michigan, and how did you do in terms of meeting them?

Brady Hoke: Well, No. 1, both of our fronts, offensively and defensively, when we came in a couple years ago, we only had eight scholarship offensive linemen. So the last two years, we've been trying to built that. I think the coaches did a tremendous job. And then that was the same way on defense. We needed to make sure we were doing our job. A year ago, we took six defensive linemen, and this year, we took three. We really wanted to help ourselves up front. We had to find some tight ends in both years [2012 and 2013], because this [had been] a spread team that had only played minimally with a tight end. We were fortunate enough to have Kevin Koger our first year, who did a tremendous job. So those really were what the needs were. We wanted to get a quarterback, big running backs in this class, that was very important, and try to get some more length at the corner position, guys with a lot of range to them.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
You mentioned the offensive line and it seems like you really loaded up in the interior. What stood out to you about that group?

BH: The biggest thing is we wanted guys who could really control the line of scrimmage from a run-blocking standpoint. Those guys who could really dominate at the point of attack, the guys who would really finish well on their blocks. Having Taylor [Lewan] around with this group and the group from last year for another year, it's a big part of it.

What's the significance of Derrick Green's signing at running back?

BH: The significance will be that it's a big back. He was a nationally rated guy, obviously, which is always exciting. But we needed some big backs, and Derrick is a guy who fits that mold. He can break tackles, he runs hard, he's a downhill runner and with what we want to do in the two-back sets, it's something that we thought him and Deveon Smith and Wyatt Shallman could bring to us.

What was your reaction when you found out Derrick had committed?

BH: We were excited, obviously. That's always exciting when you compete for a young man who you really believe in your heart that this is the best place for him. And then he decides that's where he needs to go.

You've mentioned the linemen, but who are some of the guys who can help you out on the perimeter?

BH: When you look at the secondary, Ross Douglas and Dymonte Thomas both being in school now, that helps them with their development. Jourdan Lewis is an exceptional athlete that we've been able to see do a lot of things. Delano Hill will be one of those safeties who will shock you when he tackles you. And Channing Stribling and Reon Dawson are both big corners. So I think we'll have great competition, and that always makes you better.

You haven't been afraid to play young players on defense at Michigan. Do you see some of these defenders you signed today helping you as freshmen?

BH: I think that's to be seen, but there's no doubt that those guys who have that innate ability from an athleticism point of view, the mental makeup and so forth, they can possibly do that.

What type of quarterback is Shane Morris and what are you getting from a leadership standpoint?

BH: We're getting a lot as a leader. He was our first [verbal] commitment of this class. He did a tremendous job of recruiting guys and really trying to get close to potential classmates and guys who did come within the class. From a football standpoint, his demeanor on the field, his arm strength, his intelligence, his vision, we all think is very good.

You've done well in Michigan and in the Midwest. Are you looking to expand the recruiting reach more in the future?

BH: We're always going to take that 300-mile, 400-mile radius and try to do the best possible job there, but being the national brand Michigan is, when you look at it from the standpoint of the academic reputation and the history and the tradition of the football here, we're real excited about going wherever we need to and find those guys that fit the mold of what we're looking for at Michigan.

Defensive line is always top of mind for you. What do you think about the guys you brought in there?

BH: Henry Poggi is going to be a very good player here. He's got that ability, that quickness, loose in the hips. Maurice Hurst is a very powerful, great-first-step inside player. When you look at Taco Charlton, he's a 6-6 defensive end, he's got a lot of range and can create a lot of havoc. He's a very good athlete, good basketball player. We have three guys I think will be pretty good players for us.

You and Ohio State are big rivals on the field. How intense is the rivalry between you two in recruiting?

BH: You're recruiting and you're competitive, which you have to be in this business. It's always a competitive situation. Do you want to win? Yeah. We've taken nine guys out of the state [of Ohio] who we feel very good about.

What stands out to you most about this recruiting cycle at Michigan?

BH: It was a different year to some degree. Possibly having a lot of commitments early was part of it. When Shane committed early, it kind of snowballed. When Taco Charlton was here on an unofficial [visit], he committed after a basketball game. Some of it's shocking, as quickly as things went, but it was a very good year for us.

Weekly Update 

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
8:07
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The Weekly Update at WolverineNation is a sneak peak inside Michigan recruiting.

As with everything we do here, we ask that this information stays on The Den Forum.

This information is for WolverineNation subscribers only.
The Weekly Update at WolverineNation is a sneak peak inside Michigan recruiting.

As with everything we do here, we ask that this information stays on The Den Forum.

This information is for WolverineNation subscribers only.

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