After looking at the offensive side of the ball after the Michigan Spring Game, let’s take a look at the defensive side of the ball. more precisely at Edge Rusher.
When considering the factors that helped propel Michigan football into its stellar 2021 season, one positional group on the defensive side of the ball stands out.
The Wolverines had arguably the best EDGE rushers/defensive ends duo in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. They collected 25 sacks combined last season and led the team on and off the field. Hutchinson and Ojabo are guys who put pressure on quarterbacks, could stifle their opponent’s running game, and were anchors for an elite Michigan defense.
The only problem is that they won’t be with the Wolverines in 2022.
Both players were selected in the top 45 in the most recent NFL draft, leaving Michigan football with a defensive dilemma. How do you replace two Star EDGE rushers, one of whom was a Heisman finalist?
Coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter have been tasked with that question throughout spring training, searching for the guys who will be the next defensive line duo for the Wolverines.
A few players stood out during their spring game based on the number of snaps played and what they did on the field. Only time will tell what Minter and Harbaugh will do in the 2022 season, but here are some players to keep an eye on at the EDGE position.
Breakdown of Michigan Football’s EDGE Rushers
One player poised to play a big role at EDGE in 2022 is Mike Morris. Morris is the only player returning to the position group to have played in more than four games in 2021 and will certainly be seen as the leader of this relatively young group.
Last season, Morris was in a rotating role for the Wolverines, but he was able to make an impact on the field with the snaps he saw (16 tackles, 0.5 sacks and an interception).
During the spring game, he played both the left and right EDGE, showing his versatility and flexibility. Morris appears to be a starting EDGE rusher for the Wolverines and someone vital to the success of Michigan’s 2022 defense.
Who will start next to Morris is still a mystery. In the spring game, Taylor Upshaw and Jaylen Harrell were paired with him for a majority of the blue team’s snaps, which could be a sign Minter wants to choose between them for the other EDGE spot. Upshaw and Harrell are both solid options but have different abilities that could complement Morris on the line and Michigan’s defense in general.
Harrell provides speed off the ball, giving the Wolverines more versatility. Upshaw is more of a power rusher that can help clog opponent lanes. Both players are talented in their own right and will be welcome additions to the starting lineup for Minter and Harbaugh.
Aside from those three, there is a lot of depth at the EDGE position that will surely be used at various points in the coming season. Players like TJ Guy, Braiden McGregor and Kechaun Bennett shone for the Maize team during the Spring Game and are sure to be in the EDGE rotation.
If you’re looking for a guy who will be an X-Factor in 2022, newcomer Derrick Moore will be an interesting player to watch. Moore was an extremely talented four-star recruit who ranked in the top ten defensive ends in his class.
His role in defending the Wolverines this season will be fascinating. It’s entirely possible that Moore will jump up the depth chart and become a starter alongside Morris. But with the depth Michigan has at EDGE, Moore will likely start the season in a limited role and work from there.
Despite losing Hutchinson and Ojabo, Michigan’s defensive line will remain a strength next season.
The Wolverines have a tremendous amount of returning talent and also nice young players who will try to make a difference. Are there stars in this group? Only time will tell, but the Wolverines will have what it takes to EDGE to have top-notch defense again in 2022.