3 young defensive players lead Michigan football to 2-0 start
Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson, Tyree Kinnel flourishing as defensive starters
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football flew under the radar this summer as the country expected Jim Harbaugh's team to take a step back while replacing 10 defensive starters.
Well, like most things involving Harbaugh, the 2017 team didn't go unnoticed for long. Two games into the season, Michigan's dominant defensive performance has it ranked No. 7 in both major polls.
Emergence of Devin Bush
Even though stars such as Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst returned to the defensive line, and captain Mike McCray is at linebacker, the unit has been led by a new face: Devin Bush.
Bush played in all 13 games as a true freshman, but was only a fringe member of the rotation at linebacker. He finished the year with 12 total tackles.
He's already eclipsed that mark, racking up 14 tackles in the first two games of his sophomore campaign. Bush led the Wolverines with seven tackles against Florida and matched that number against Cincinnati.
Bush hasn't become one of the leaders of the defense because of his tackle totals. It's his playmaking ability and knack for finding ball carriers that separates him.
In the opener against Florida, Bush led the team with two sacks and three tackles for losses. As a graduate of Flanagan High School in Florida, Bush looked fired up against the Gators, whose speed couldn't overcome the pursuit of Michigan's defense.
Bush picked up his third sack of the season against Cincinnati, and also knocked down a pass. His versatility and athleticism have completely revitalized a Don Brown defense that needed a shot of energy to replace a ton of NFL talent.
Khaleke Hudson replaces Jabrill Peppers
Bush isn't the only player on the second level who's making hits all over the field. Khaleke Hudson took over the viper position after Jabrill Peppers left for the NFL draft, and it's obvious he's completely embraced the role.
Hudson stuffed the stat sheet against Florida, making four tackles, one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, knocking down a pass and registering two quarterback hurries. None of those numbers would stand out individually, but together, that's exactly what Brown needs in a viper.
Hudson has already made several big plays in the backfield, and he's had to drop into coverage as well. He was listed as an athlete out of high school and might have played safety in another defensive scheme, but at Michigan, his skill set is a perfect fit for this role.
He picked up six more tackles against Cincinnati, including two sacks. Hudson's ability to tackle one-on-one in space triggers memories of Peppers, and adds to Michigan's athleticism at the center of the defense.
He's not Jabrill Peppers yet, but Hudson is already becoming a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
Tyree Kinnel leads new-look secondary
While the defensive line and linebacking core both have some level of experience, the secondary is entirely made up of new starters. Two new safeties and three new cornerbacks have taken the majority of the snaps, and so far, they've done a nice job.
It feels as if Tyree Kinnel has been lost in the excitement of Harbaugh's last two recruiting classes, but he was a highly ranked player in Michigan's piecemeal 2015 class. Since getting to Ann Arbor, Kinnel has made the most of his opportunities.
Now he's a starter and the leader of the secondary, and he's flourishing.
Kinnel led Michigan with nine tackles against Cincinnati. But more importantly, he returned his first interception for a touchdown and later picked up an important sack.
With 15 tackles on the season, Kinnel leads the Wolverines through two games. He knocked down a pass against Florida and also picked up 1.5 tackles for loss from the safety position.
Michigan had good safeties last season, but neither had the playmaking ability of Kinnel, who perfectly read the errant pass from Hayden Moore and sliced his way 28 yards to the end zone.
Lavert Hill and David Long were the high-profile cornerback commits from the 2017 class, and Josh Metellus is the hardest hitter on the defense, but Kinnel has made the greatest impact so far.
The most promising part of Michigan's defensive effort has been the impact of young players, especially the ones listed above. None of them have stopped improving under Harbaugh and Brown, and they'll be making plays in the Maize and Blue for at least another season after 2017, if not two.
Harbaugh has been tireless on the recruiting trail since arriving at Michigan, and his efforts are already starting to reap major benefits. Kinnel, Bush and Hudson weren't top 100 prospects, but Harbaugh left the state to bring them to Michigan, and now they're leading one of the best young defenses in the nation.
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