ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Last year, Michigan’s defense improved greatly on the moribund 2020 campaign. And head coach Jim Harbaugh says he thinks this group can be even better.
Before you chalk that up to hyperbole, some things are starting to make sense as the Wolverines round out the first week of fall camp. As Harbaugh shared he envisions this as a ‘no-star defense,’ a star — and leader — appears to be emerging in Mazi Smith. As Smith looks to effectively galvanize the defense into a cohesive unit, it appears, at least in the camp setting, that they’re becoming just that.
“DJ Turner with the corners. I like both of our corners,” fourth-year edge rusher Mike Morris said when asked who’s leading the communication. “I like both of our safeties in Makari (Paige) and RJ (Moten). And (linebacker) Junior Colson. And honestly — I don’t want to just say names. So scratch that. I’m saying we all communicate good. So cancel out the names. I didn’t say that.
“So yeah, because when we’re doing a walkthrough, it’s like there’s literally nonstop communication throughout every level of defense, as again, we’re working as a cohesive unit, to quote Mazi Smith. And all levels of the defense is very communicative.”
Don’t just take Morris’ word for it, as tight end Luke Schoonmaker, who’s had to go up against them daily in practice, concurs with Morris’ sentiment.
“No, I think absolutely that they just go together. Everybody — that whole group (meshes) so well, and I heard (Mike Morris) talking before (about) their communication,” Schoonmaker said. “We’ll be in walkthroughs and they’re just screaming at each other, just overly communicating. Everybody — linebackers, secondary — everybody.
“And yeah, you can just tell from that, like, they’re all bought into it. And, yeah, I mean, of course, you had guys that played great last year and some new guys this year that are getting opportunities, but I think that group just meshes so well together, and it’s gonna be fun to watch.”
Looking particularly at the defensive front — which has gotten much of the offseason attention, given Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo’s departures — Schoonmaker sees a unit full of players who are explosive and adept at rushing the passer.
Schoonmaker has established himself as a high-end tight end, with the bulk of his playing time coming last year. So, when it comes to facing
“Those guys have been working hard, and have been great replacements for Aiden and David,” Schoonmaker said. ” I think Jaylen and Taylor — those guys — I mean, explosive, explosive guys. Braiden, too, and Julius — the whole room. All of them bring some different kinds of aspects.
“After each rep, you kind of go back and think to yourself, like, ‘Oh, he did that pretty well.’ Or, ‘I can be better with my steps here because he’s coming fast,’ and stuff like that. Each of them just have a different aspect that can make us better.”