By JACK VANASSCHE, Staff Writer
Last year, the University of Michigan football team had what may be known in the history books as its renaissance season.
Old school Michigan football returned to power under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Behind Harbaugh and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, the Wolverines posted the fourth strongest defense in the country. Opposing teams were held to 281.3 yards per game.
Although Durkin left Michigan to take the head coaching job at Maryland, the Wolverines are still excited and optimistic about their defense. A big reason for that is the newest member of the Michigan coaching staff, defensive coordinator Don Brown.
Brown was the defensive coordinator for Boston College last season. His defense allowed only 254.3 yards per game in 2015, making it the best defense in the country.
Behind Brown, there will be one other new face on the Wolverine sideline in 2016. Linebacker and special teams coach Chris Partridge will coach his first full season at Michigan in 2016. Partridge was the director of player personnel in recruiting last year before being promoted to the sidelines prior to the Citrus Bowl. He was named the 2016 National Recruiter of the Year by Scout.com.
The Wolverines will have more new faces on the field as well.
With the defensive line losing seniors of 2015 like Willie Henry, who led the team with 6.5 sacks last year, the Wolverines will have to look at some new faces to step up and have an impact.
The name most of maize and blue nation is excited to hear is that of prize signee Rashan Gary.
Gary is not on campus yet, and he will not play in the spring game.
When he does take the field, however, quarterbacks will know.
The No. 1 overall recruit of his class, Gary stood out more than any other player in the country for his build, talent and execution. In his senior year of high school this past fall, Gary tallied 13.5 sacks with four forced fumbles.
For the spring game, the Wolverines will likely throw together a line including seniors Taco Charleton, Maurice Hurst, and fifth-year senior Ryan Glasgow.
In 2015, Charleton played the full season, totaling three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He also compiled 30 tackles on the year.
Nose tackle Bryan Mone will get his chance at the starting job in 2016. Last year, Mone was primed to be the starting NT before breaking the lower part of his leg in the first week of camp. Look for Mone to come back hungry following his medical redshirt season.
For the linebacker positions, the Wolverines will be seeing some new faces along with one familiar one. Replacing LB Joe Bolden, who totaled 83 tackles in 2015, will be a tough task, but the Wolverines have the depth.
Senior Ben Gedeon is no stranger to the bright lights, seeing playing time regularly over the last two seasons. He totaled 34 tackles in 2015. Junior Noah Furbush could also be a potential diamond in the rough. Furbush played only nine games in 2015, but is poised to see more playing time in 2016. Jabrill Peppers will also be joining the linebacker core in 2016, likely as a LOLB.
Rather than play as a defensive back, the Wolverines will use Peppers as their Sam LB. Peppers seems fit in perfectly, with his speed and athleticism to chase down ball carriers and cover tight ends and his balance and power will help to ward off run blockers.
Peppers moving to LOLB does mean he will stay out of the defensive backfield, but it does not mean the Wolverines will leave a crippling hole there.
Jourdan Lewis will return to play in his senior season as a defensive back after a stellar 2015 season with the Wolverines. Lewis set a school record by breaking up 20 pass attempts. He also led all underclassmen on the team with 50 tackles.
Possible partners for Lewis in the backfield come in freshmen David Long and LeVert Hill.
Like Gary, Long and Hill will not be participating in the spring game as they are not on campus yet.
However, Hill and Long hopping on board puts pressure on all active defensive backs to play for their jobs in the spring game.
Channing Stribling will be looking to earn a starting job in the defensive backfield in 2016. Stribling will likely be motivated by the competitive incoming freshmen.
Look for senior safety Delano Hill, big brother of LaVert Hill, to lead his family and team by example in 2016.