3 questions surrounding Michigan’s linebackers as spring practice nears

During the first half of the season, the linebackers were considered the weaker part of the Michigan defense—even coaches publicly acknowledged concerns about the group in pass coverage. By season’s end, Junior Colson and Michael Barrett were making plays as big as any other defender.

The group was light on depth at the start of 2022 and it only got worse with what would be a season-ending hamstring injury for Nikhai Hill-Green at the start of the year.

Now heading to 2023, depth is no concern. Colson and Barrett are back, Nikhai Hill-Green is healthy, Jimmy Rolder came on late in his freshman season, and Michigan added Ernest Hausmann to the transfer portal.

1. New old coach, old new scheme?

For the last two seasons, the linebackers have been led by George Helow. Michigan and Helow mutually decided to go separate ways and the Wolverines added a familiar face with Chris Partridge.

Patridge coached at Michigan from 2015-19, coaching linebackers in 2016 and 2017. In 2016 Michigan’s three leading tacklers were linebackers with Ben Gedeon, Mike McCray, and Jabrill Peppers. In 2017, three linebackers led the way with Devin Bush, McCray, and Khaleke Hudson. Where Partridge’s groups thrived was in tackles for loss. Each linebacker had double-digit TFL in those two seasons. Compare this to last season where Colson and Barrett combined for 11.

Now, this is at least partially a change in defensive scheme, away from Don Brown’s boom or bust to Minter’s bend don’t break. However, one topic we have discussed heading into spring is the potential for a scheme adjustment in 2023. Michigan could look to the linebacker group to create more pressure this year, and if they do Chris Partridge is the coach to make it happen.

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2. Who leads this group?

It is at least somewhat obvious that Michael Barrett is the leader of the linebackers. It would not be a shock to see him voted captain this fall. Michigan’s turnaround has been about culture as much as anything, with players like Aidan Hutchinson and Mike Sainristil leading the way. It is hard to think of a player that better represents that culture than Michael Barrett. His role on the field is more complicated this season.

Junior Colson was a freshman breakout in 2021 and moved to MIKE LB in 2022 to replace Josh Ross. It was a learning experience for Colson, who found himself out of place at times, especially in coverage. Barrett, a former Viper LB in Don Brown’s defense, became the starting WILL with the injury to Nikhai Hill-Green. Colson led the team by a significant margin in tackles with 101 to Barrett’s 72.

Colson could be poised for a big step up in his junior season, but Barrett’s experience will no doubt keep him a factor. Or, could it be someone else?

3. Limited to loaded, how does Michigan rotate?

As we said, this group was almost exclusively Colson and Barrett. Now, Michigan heads to 2023 with a significant depth upgrade.

That comes from the hopefully healthy Nikhai Hill-Green. Hill-Green is such a valuable prospect because he is able to play WILL or MIKE. In 2021 he finished only 10 tackles behind Junior Colson and is hoping to reach the expectations he had coming into last season. A player who was forced to develop ahead of schedule with Hill-Green out was freshman Jimmy Rolder. Towards the end of last season, Rolder began to earn the trust of Michigan coaches by allowing Kalel Mullings to join the running backs, a move that now looks permanent. Rolder was a fast riser in the 2022 recruiting cycle and should benefit from the sophomore bump.

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Not satisfied, Michigan went to the portal and added a freshman breakout from a rival Big Ten program in Nebraska’s Ernest Hausmann. Hausmann finished last season with 54 tackles, including 10 in a strong game against Michigan. Hausmann has the kind of speed Michigan has been lacking at linebacker the last few seasons. If Michigan is looking for a pass rush from the linebackers, Hausmann will be the player to watch.

Another name that could be added to the mix is ​​RJ Moten. With Makari Paige securing the strong safety job last season, Moten is set up to be the third safety. However, as his body has developed his skill set may be better set in the box as a linebacker. He was utilized in an almost Viper-like role in the back half of the season. With Partridge coming in, we could see Moten secure a role like that again in 2023.

Michigan did an excellent job reloading this group in the 2023 class with recruits Semaj Bridgeman, Hayden Moore, Jason Hewlett, and Breeon Ismail. They will be competing to crack the two-deep in what is now a loaded room.

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