Preview 2017: Defensive End Comment Count

Brian August 30th, 2017 at 11:45 AM

Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line.

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hello [Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

Rashan Gary So. Bryan Mone Jr.* Maurice Hurst Sr.* Chase Winovich Jr.*
Carlo Kemp Fr.* Aubrey Solomon Fr. Mike Dwumfour Fr.* Luiji Vilain Fr.
Ron Johnson Fr.* James Hudson Fr. Chase Jeter Fr. Kwity Paye Fr.

On this side of the ball mass departures are more concerning, but mostly when we start talking about how defensive line spots have somewhere between 1.5 and two starters depending on how enormous the person in question is. The starters should maintain, or even improve on, last year's production despite losing two early NFL draft picks.

This would be a bold assertion except they already proved, or at least suggested, that last year.

"Rebuild or reload" ain't even a question here, at least until the freshmen roll onto the field.


Rating: 5


the unearthly glow came and went seemingly at random
later we discovered it was the fibonacci sequence [Smoothitron]

Yea, we took the glowing babe from the heavenly pod and swaddled him and put him in the barn. Every fortnight we would provide him a cistern of water and an animal from the flock—at first chickens, then goats, and finally whole cows. Every time we'd open the door we dreaded the unspeakable gore we assumed we would find; instead only neatly folded hides and stacked, gleaming bones. Six months in he started arranging the bones into heartfelt notes of appreciation for the animals he was slowly turning into more of himself.

After a year, he asked to play football.


[Bryan Fuller]

So! RASHAN GARY [recruiting profile] has completed his incubation period and will burst forth unto the world, writing very polite notes about how delicious opposing quarterbacks are and can he please have another. Last year Gary's impact was muted by the folks playing in front of him and the inevitable adaptation period as he tried to imbibe Don Brown's defense. Here he is vacating a gap because he didn't execute a stunt correctly:

Tsk, tsk, baby Godzilla. This wasn't exactly common but neither was it unheard of. Sometimes the entire defense would clearly be executing a line slant and Gary would go the wrong way or Gary would seemingly get a stunt/slant call that nobody else did, opening up a lane for the QB. That sort of thing made it hard to start him when Chris Wormley was wrecking tight ends and the defense as a whole was booting folks off the field in three snaps or fewer on the regular.

On the other hand, he did get just under 300 snaps. Here he is playing WDE at 290:

Gotdang, baby Godzilla. In the aftermath of the Colorado game this site marveled at what it had just seen:

That dip around the corner is not something many people have, let alone 290 pound guys. There's a certain depth at which your edge rush is effective and a certain depth where it's just opening up big lanes like we saw against UCF. Eight yards is about that cutoff, and Gary was productively getting around the corner at eight yards with frequency.

Gary's promise is that he is the man you get to do both. He can beef up and wreck a tight end or tackle as the anchor…

…and he can do that bend-around the corner thing as a weakside end. His physical package is not of this earth.

Gary followed up his absurd physical feats from high school—"He out-jumped a wide receiver, he out-shuttled a defensive back and he out-40'd a BCS safety commit" at the Opening, at 287 pounds, as a high school junior—with yet more this winter. Even DPJ's performance couldn't hold a candle to Gary:


He ran a 4.5 at 290 pounds and beat every cornerback in the L-drill. We don't have an updated bench number, but last year he put up 26 reps at 225, which is good at the NFL combine.

He began to turn that into production as well. Gary generated a pressure stat on 13% of his rushes a year ago, good for top 20 nationally and fifth in the league amongst returners.  PFF had him +13 for the season, which was a bit worse than Wormley on a per-snap basis. "True freshman is slightly worse than fifth year All Big Ten senior" is a good place to start from. If he improves as much as the average freshman he'll at least match Wormley.

If he lives up to the chatter he's shoot right past him. In addition to the obvious promise he showed as Wormley understudy is a veritable torrent of talk. Unreserved, rapturous talk. Mike McCray:

“He knows what he wants to do, and he wants to be the greatest defensive end to ever play the game. And you can see that every day when he comes to work. … Summer workouts, extra lifting, outside of practice doing extra work, he just wants to be great, and you can’t take that away from somebody if he wants it.” 


"There's some people that are just aspiring for greater things than just the adulation of somebody. And I think Rashan is that type of guy. You'd really like him. … He just works and I really think competing is his favorite thing to do. And he has the ability to be great. I don't know what more to say about that."

Allen Trieu talked to a source and returned saying that Gary is "just a machine with everything he does … always the first one there during film, workouts, what have you." Webb says the buzz is "palpable" and that "virtually every player and coach [he's] talked to has made mention of how dominant Gary has been."

None of this is a surprise. Gary is a #1 overall prospect. #1 prospects have a success rate of 100% when they don't malfease their way off the field:

Recruiting rankings are in fact gospel when it comes to the bluest of the blue chips. Aside from a few guys (Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Brown, Seantrel Henderson) who didn't make it for reasons other than their talent, every Rivals or Scout #1 player in the last decade has at least been good and has usually been excellent. And even Brown and Henderson stuck on NFL rosters, with Henderson starting every game as a rookie.

And Gary is not your average #1 recruit:

Whenever he showed up at a camp a trail of superlatives followed in his wake. Jamie Newberg said he was "the single most dominant player" he's seen in a decade of covering the UA game. Barton Simmons said his Opening appearance was "the best defensive line performance since the Opening's inception". Mike Farrell said he "as dominant as I've ever seen." Brian Dohn said he is "the most impressive prospect I've covered at the high school level."

Entering year two all systems are go. He's refined his body and gotten more familiar with the scheme; when the coaches reference him it is to marvel. Gary will immediately be one of the best defensive ends in the country. This isn't even controversial.

[After THE JUMP: i like him mostly for the sacks but also because i get to use my ten dollar word "ebullient"]


Based on insider talk this is the backup situation Michigan coaches have the most confidence in.


Kemp was always a high floor guy; could he be high ceiling? [Bryan Fuller]

Redshirt freshman CARLO KEMP [recruiting profile] saw sparing time early before coming down with an ailment that prevented further participation and preserved his year of eligibility. This spring he emerged into Michigan's highest-quality backup on the defensive line. It is always good when you're the first name out of Greg Mattison's mouth in response to an open-ended question:

Who’s in the group that has started to step up this spring of the younger guys?

“Yeah, Carlo Kemp has had a very, very good spring. We kind of thought that last year when he came in early, but I would say Carlo Kemp has been one who has really showed some things. He shows that he has the ability; now he’s got to do it every play, every day. That’s usually the thing that separates people. The ones that can show it but then there’s a day off where they don’t, where you’ve got to do it every, day, every play, and I think he’s understanding that."

He followed that up by telling Sam Webb that he'll be a "very, very strong person to come in for Rashan" and is the "first name" when it comes to DL depth.

Insider reports have been uniformly positive; he's "come into his own" and will be a significant contributor per confirmed insidery guy UMBig11. Isaiah Hole reported that he's "looking much more violent" as he attempts to stay in the same universe as Gary. When Lorenz surveyed three sources after winter workouts, all singled Kemp out as a guy who should break out—insofar as that is possible for Rashan Gary's backup. The only mildly negative item out there is Kemp's weight. As of April Kemp was telling reporters he weighed 265 pounds, so even if he was able to add another ten over the summer he's going to be coming in a bit light. That might not even be an issue given the chatter.

Also he broke bits of his hand in fall camp. That hasn't slowed him down—Mattison even praised his newly enhanced club move, post-injury.

One thing's for sure. Kemp has the right attitude:

"I think Carlo Kemp has done a really good job," Brown said. "Last year at this time, I might have traded him in for two used footballs (laughter), now we’ll keep him around. We feel pretty good about him. He’s all business. He wanted to fight me this morning, which is fine."

Just guys being dudes, as the man says.

Kemp will likely have the same role Gary did a year ago, getting maybe a third of the snaps and chipping in nice plays here and there. His role could expand further if backups at other spots, especially WDE, are not yet ready to go. Gary can flip to weakside end, as demonstrated above, allowing Kemp to functionally spot Winovich as well. I think this warrants a "moohaha." Moohaha.


ask again later for Johnson and Irving-Bey [Aaron Bills/Isaiah Hole]

Third in the pecking order is redshirt freshman RON JOHNSON [recruiting profile]. Johnson spent the visible bits of spring practice playing emergency three-tech, poorly. Once he moved inside that was inevitable since he arrived just a year ago as a 240-pound weakside end. Per Isaiah Hole he's now in the 275-285 range, which is plausible for a strongside end. That minus five to ten pounds is very much not plausible for any sort of DT; do not read anything into his fish-out-of-water spring.

Well, maybe one thing: Kemp didn't make that move because he was being groomed as the backup. Johnson is likely to be definitively behind Kemp and field few snaps outside of garbage time. It'll be a surprise if anyone talks about him. Next spring is going to be our first real read on whether his career is going in the right direction or not. There has not been much talk bout him this fall.

Finally, freshman DERON IRVING-BEY [recruiting profile] is a raw hunk of clay for Mattison to refine into something over the next few years. He is a lock to redshirt. If an injury blizzard befalls Michigan at this spot expect DONOVAN JETER to slide back out to SDE, where he spent most of the spring. More about him in the DTs post.


Rating: 4.5



Redshirt junior CHASE WINOVICH has the best flow and is the best quote on the team; now he seeks to maintain his productivity. Yes, maintain. Winovich was shockingly productive in his first year on the field. Check these rad thunderbolts from PFF:


Winovich is college football's third-most productive returning pass rush defensive end. It often felt like he'd get five snaps a game and do something ridiculous on two of them. While reality wasn't quite that skewed, Winovich managed to produce 5.5 sacks and 9 TFLs in almost exactly half of Taco Charlton's snaps. Charlton had 10 sacks and 13.5 TFLs and was a first round draft pick. PFF's drill-down numbers that include hits and pressures and the like also suggest that Winovich was producing at the same level Charlton was.

Most of these pressures were pure edge rush. My rough rule of thumb is that if you get around the OT at eight yards you will get a pressure. Here Winovich is around at five:

He did a fair amount of the getting around at eight as well:

When he didn't, he tended to keep going. This was problem and profit. A couple of his sacks fall in the "relentless" category where dude just keeps going and tracks the quarterback down after he breaks the pocket. This had downsides that Taco Charlton's speed-to-power routine didn't, most prominently against UCF when four QB scrambles went for 98 yards in Charlton's absence. UCF UFR:

When it wasn't simply missing assignments it was usually a defensive end refusing to give up in a detrimental way. This was usually Winovich; he got way out of his lane on the final big scramble and was pulled for Lawrence Marshall for a while after that one. On the bench they were probably telling him that sometimes you do have to give up on your edge rush, admit defeat, and turn into a boring guy who just tries to contain.

That get-ball mentality would pay off with a sack, amongst other things, but the downside was clear. When Charlton returned the pocket was a pocket that got constricted shut instead of a sieve sieve sieve sieve. Winovich did flash his own ability to go speed-to-power later; Michigan was undoubtedly working with him to reduce his wildness throughout the year.

The catch you expect when talking about an underclass DE who flipped from offense and seemed radically undersized—"he was a terrible run defender"—does not actually apply. He did get blown up on occasion, and sometimes he'd fire upfield and get kicked out a long way because his focus was on rushing the passer. But he was surprisingly able to drive OTs where he wanted to go:

DE to the bottom of the screen

Tight ends were no less vulnerable. He was a solid zone read defender, agile enough to help on both ends with some frequency. His ability to thunk a pulling guard and get around him was a consistently pleasant surprise:

For a redshirt sophomore playing a chunk of the year with his hair on fire the early returns were better than anyone had a right to expect. In addition to being Michigan's best per-snap pass rusher per PFF he was +6.5 on the ground.

The main question left for Winovich is whether he can extend his performance against minnows to the big fish. He was flat-out dominant when given extended time against meatballs:

Chase Winovich crushes bad OLs. He had a game like this earlier in the year where he was like +14 or something despite playing only half the snaps. He's been up and down since; the potential is clearly there.

He wasn't much less productive against the big boys but he acquired his positives in incredibly limited snaps. For example, PFF credited him with two hurries in six pass rushes against OSU; he racked up +1.7 in nine total snaps.

Winovich has generated an encouraging amount of chatter himself—"doing big things on the field and in the weight room" per Trieu; Webb reported that Winovich has worked nonstop to get in shape and that "he and Rashan compete at everything imaginable," which again 260 pound pug, man. He's upped his vertical by four inches as he adds weight and should be even more explosive. Hurst told the assembled press the following:

“Chase is going to have an outstanding season. I already know that. My expectations for him are huge. He’s going to be someone who ends up on some sort of list, or All-Big Ten something. ... You throw Chase in the game and he makes plays. It’s amazing. I think he’s going to have a great year.”

Just maintaining his productivity level over twice the snaps gets him to an All Big Ten level, and you know he's going to get those snaps. He's got further upside because he spent his redshirt freshman year as an H-back and could be set for another big step forward. While he's not likely to be in Charlton's league as a run defender, he should match his production as a rusher.



Paye is, like your author, a person who cannot smile on command [247]

It appears that a couple freshmen are going to slide past the veteran here. The coaches tend to talk about them as a pair. Here's Don Brown:

"I watched pass rush yesterday—pretty good. Very good start. Luiji: extremely explosive, comes off the rock. Was really impressed with how well not only does he come off the rock but how well Kwity used his hands. Those guys are very talented guys."

So. Name of the Year candidate LUIJI VILAIN [recruiting profile] ended the cycle on the verge of five star status at 247 and was penciled into the two deep by anyone who undertakes these sorts of activities. His status is a little more questionable after he was hit with some sort of injury that kept him out of the back half of fall camp and may extend a few weeks into the season.

Talk so far has been modest—"stands a good chance of making the rotation"—and that kind of thing as Michigan maintains an open competition through camp. This site is big on inferences, though, and with the veteran option at this spot barely mentioned the chances that Vilain is a two-deep contributor are high.

That's because Vilain is an ideal edge rusher. Adam Friedman:

"His ability to get off the line of scrimmage and blow past opposing offensive tackles is special. ….he can disengage from offensive linemen and set the edge when he needs to.  …a very, very athletic, solid player and is near elite rushing from the outside."

Vilain is Canadian and moved to the US for his final two years of high school, after it became apparent he was a big-time football prospect. As such he is still rapidly progressing. The recruiting sites were uniformly impressed with how far he'd come at the UA game:

…has taken his game to a new level this fall. He looks more explosive and stronger than a year ago. Athletically, he is still off the charts. He has great speed and changes directions fluidly. … refined his technique. Vilain is playing with better leverage, using his hands very well and has developed some moves.

Continue that trajectory and Michigan will have an impact player. This year an okay player would be great.

Fellow freshman and twin-type substance KWITY PAYE [recruiting profile] is a Don Brown special: an obscure New Englander to be pointed at quarterbacks and fired until they drop. Harbaugh mentioned him as a potential OLB, a statement I will ignore unless he means Don Brown's "cheetah" spot, and noted that he'd packed on a bunch of good weight since signing. Per Isaiah Hole he's just about hit 250 already, and that is nowhere near maxing out his 6'4" frame. His long term upside is tantalizing:

One source close to the team told Wolverine247 that "Paye has a crazy body type," one that should maximize his athletic talents. Without even mentioning Harbaugh's comments at media day, they proffered: "He's going to be exactly like Chase Winovich, just you watch!"

Trieu is hearing that he's been "really good," and Mattison told Sam Webb that Paye and Vilain are "almost identical":

“I never thought that Kwity would be as strong as he is. I've always known he could run, I knew he would play really, really hard. They are both the same height, they are the same weight, they both play with the same speed. I think we have two really, really good football players there."

Paye is the kind of kid Brown has made hay with in his previous stops, and if he's tracking with and established, heavily-scouted high level prospect like Vilain that's step one toward defying his ranking.

Naturally, Don Brown provides the blunt downer for both of these gents:

“Now, can they learn it all concept-wise? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute and develop confidence and then have their role broadened as we move forward.”

They won't have to as Winovich's backups; they can get certain packages down and ease themselves in. One or both should emerge into a situational pass rush threat. Neither is likely to be an adequate run defender until 2018 at the earliest. Paye has the slight edge at the moment.


Jones still doesn't look like a DE [Fuller]

The veteran is REUBEN JONES [recruiting profile]. Jones has seen scattered snaps as a backup—about 20 last year—but has generated little to no insider talk. The most recent post tagged with Jones's name on this here blog was last year's edition of this post. At the time he was being listed at around 220 pounds, and while that was out of date and no roster has been issued since it's unlikely he's much more than 250. The silence is deafening, and if the two freshmen do slide in front of him it'll be late early.


oriental andrew

August 30th, 2017 at 3:11 PM ^

I read MOST everything that is on the front page, except for the latter installments of Draftageddon and some of the pressers. Re: The Story - read the first paragraph and decided to cut my losses on something I knew I wouldn't really enjoy, or maybe even get. So yeah, missed that comment. 

That said, nice recovery, ssuarez. Love that you have a sense of humor about these things. It is, after all, only the internet. 


August 30th, 2017 at 11:59 AM ^

He appears to be that physical beast UM has never had at SDE (with apologies to Taco).

I was a bit surprised to see Dumfour listed as a backup 3 tech as it seemd he was destined for NT.


August 30th, 2017 at 12:49 PM ^

Both were, in fact, remarkable physically.

Wormley was 300 lbs and moved like he was a 240lb linebacker. He wasn't a tweener. He is legitimately big enough to play DT and athletic enough to play DE

Charlton was known to be an athletic freak from the time he started playing. Mattison molded him from a raw athlete into a 280lb monster and a 1st round draft pick. Guys his size just dont have his explosion.

The fact that Rashan Gary is more athletic than last year's DE starters is not a knock on those guys. They were AWESOME. Gary just happens to be a real life superhero.


August 30th, 2017 at 1:25 PM ^

His size in HS  would imply 3 tech but he hasn't put on weight to slide inside.  He could play multiple positions on the line but Anchor is probaby the most important in the Brown defense because of what it allows him to do with the LBs.  Don't be surprised to see Gary moved around a bit as well to get different personel groups on the field, especially in passing downs.


August 30th, 2017 at 12:05 PM ^

I half expected Brian to give his position ranking a 6, and I know the highest ranking is a 5. Maybe he's saving that for next season.


August 30th, 2017 at 12:22 PM ^

have been on their game this offseason. Maybe because there are only two real question marks on the team (CB, RT) and a bevy of talent and good coaching, but I feel like this is a team people are going to look at and realize, "Oh, they are 9-0 and the stats say they are a top-five team."

This year is going to be enjoyable because it feels like the foundations have been set and this is the year that Michigan really begins to act and play in Harbaugh's image: creative, energetic, and a little bit insane. 


August 30th, 2017 at 12:29 PM ^

I expect both defensive lines to dominate the opposing O-line on Nov. 25. That should make it another low-scoring slugfest. The same happened in last year's game, which is why not too much offense was generated. Should be similar again this year.

Oh, those poor right tackles....that will be the worst day of their lives!

Perkis-Size Me

August 30th, 2017 at 12:37 PM ^

Just curious because I'm not a real football mind, but why wouldn't Rashan play as weakside defensive end? I would've thought he's the guy you want going up against the opposing team's left tackle, who in theory should almost always be a team's best and biggest lineman since he's protecting your QB's blindside. 

Not at all questioning the coach's decisions, but I'm legitimately curious. Can anyone who considers themselves an X's and O's guy explain that? 


August 30th, 2017 at 1:06 PM ^

SDE has to take on double teams from the TE and needs to be bigger and stouter than the WDE. In Brown's defense he has to keep the viper clean becaue he's basically a safety. Flipping Gary and Winovich would be fine on the weakside and a problem on the strongside because Winovich would tend to get blown out by doubles a lot.


August 30th, 2017 at 1:15 PM ^

What about Furbush? He and Winovich have always seemed like twins to me. I know he is a SAM linebacker for the MSUs of the world, but does he offer any pass rush specialty a la SAM Linebacker JMFR? 


August 30th, 2017 at 1:21 PM ^

So assuming Jeter, Paye, and Vilain all play this year, we could have almost an entire 2 deep of seniors at DL in 2020. Hopefully (likely?) one or two breakout and are early entry NFL draft candidates.


August 30th, 2017 at 1:48 PM ^

Now that's some reassuring content right there.  Also, dang man, I recall Chase Winovich coming in for mentions here and there, but he didn't seem like Bosa levels of productive. This pleases me.  I am pleased.


August 31st, 2017 at 9:38 AM ^

I couldn't help but giggle like a school girl when reading about Gary. 4.57 40 at 287 lbs...are you kidding me?? Can't wait to watch him as a starter. Can't wait to watch the whole team! Cmonnnn Saturday!


August 31st, 2017 at 4:23 PM ^

Think about this for a second: Jadeveon Clowney ran a 4.53 40 at 266 lbs at the combine, and (in large part due to that time, although also aided by other mesurables) was labeled a super-freak. Now granted the U of M measurements are probably more favorable than the combine, but if Rashan can make that 4.57 legit by the time he declares, he'll be essentially matching Clowney's 40 at over 20 lbs heavier. That's essentially Jourdan Lewis speed (4.54). That's downright frightening.