Far too early predictions for the Wolverines’ defense in 2022

Picking up the pieces after losing program-defining defensive stars could be a major hurdle for many programs.

But that’s not a problem — and it wasn’t during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure — in Michigan. When one leaves, another takes over, running what has consistently been one of the nation’s best defenses for the past 7 years.

In 2021, Michigan had the Super Sack Bros. in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who came together for 25 sacks from the rim during the Wolverines’ run to the College Football Playoffs and Big Ten Championship. 2022 NFL Draft (Detroit) No. 2 Hutchinson had a single-season program record with 14 sacks while Ojabo had 11.

Yes, they were dynamic superstars. Yes, Michigan will miss her.

But no, the world isn’t over yet — although DC Mike Macdonald has returned to the Baltimore Ravens — for the Wolverines, who have plenty of emerging and existing power to shoulder the burden this fall.

The answer to the big question

Who will fill the void left by Hutchinson and Ojabo? Well, as of last season, the heir apparent is Mike Morris, one of UM’s most valuable reserves who has turned into a real potential star. Harbaugh has compared Morris to Hutchinson and Ojabo, stating that he believes Morris could ultimately be a similar player.

Will that happen this year?

Maybe. At least towards the end of the season when Morris is fully immersed as a starter.

“Because of Aidan, I really couldn’t do a lot of things that I wanted to do,” Morris said this week In the ditchesa UM-specific podcast run by the university’s sports department, per 247 Sports.

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“I took on every role that I got and I loved every role that I got because I could be of use to the team. But I feel like I can play more of a peripheral role in defense now and dominate in that aspect. I am really looking forward to this.”

Morris probably won’t get 14 or even 11 sacks, but he should muster at least a handful. For now, let’s plan him for 5.5 sacks this fall – which would be a great debut for the 6-6, 280-pound first starter.

Best young LB in the country?

A freshman All-American in 2021, Junior Colson was among Michigan’s leading tacklers and one of its obvious next stars. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Colson is built for speed and power. With 60 stops in 2021, he was the Wolverines’ fifth-best tackler. This fall, he should easily make the coveted sophomore jump (always mentioned by Harbaugh) and rack up at least 90 tackles.

By the end of the season, Colson should be recognized as one of the top underclassmen in the nation — and that’s not even a far too early prediction, that’s just basic logic based on his current trajectory.

2-way contributors

During the spring game, Kalel Mullings was on both sides of the ball as a linebacker and running back. In 2021, the redshirt freshman — or true freshman, since he played one game in the deleted 2020 season — joined Mullings as a linebacker and was looking pretty good as a reserve. You can count on him to do his thing both offensively and defensively; and while 2-way players aren’t all that common these days – let alone 2-way guys who really make an impact on both sides – mullings might be the exception to the rule.

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Be aware that Mullings is a valuable situational RB and a key player in the LB rotation. Given the Wolverines’ loaded backfield, Mullings is unlikely to put up any significant numbers while running the ball – but again, he could easily develop into a goal-line specialist or short-yard option.

Mike Sainristil should also show some ability on both sides of the ball this fall. Recruited as a wide receiver, he’s gotten reps as a defensive back and could end up as Michigan’s nickelback in 2022. Michigan has plenty of WRs, including Ronnie Bell, who is returning from a leg injury, to work with this season — but Sainristil could end up being a situational guy while also being a major contributor in the defensive backfield.

Michigan D won’t give up much in 2022

As a general rule, putting up 3 or more touchdowns against Michigan (unless you’re in Ohio State) during Harbaugh’s tenure was difficult. That’s unlikely to change this fall as the Wolverines are expected to have another high-profile defense. Predicting a top 15 overall defense controlled by new DC Jesse Minter wouldn’t be much of a challenge.

According to the NCAA, Michigan gave up 28 offensive TDs and 4.93 yards per game last season. Look for similar numbers this fall. A few new faces and new coaches have been the norm over the years, but results have remained relatively consistent.

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