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ITF EXTRA: Michigan football intel, the defense — Nikhai Hill-Green, more

Chris Balasby:Chris Balas04/09/24


Former Michigan linebacker Nikhai Hil-Green has been spotted in Ann Arbor working out, and the Wolverines could use some linebacker depth — can we expect to see him back in Ann Arbor? Plus, the latest on the secondary, more from spring practices. 

RELATED: ITF EXTRA: Michigan spring practice notes, the offense – risers, position battles, more

First, on Hill-Green … the veteran transferred to Charlotte last year to play with Biff Poggi and had a good year, the team’s second-leading tackler in his first season with the 49ers (73) and a third-Team All-American Athletic Conference selection. He’d had issues with injuries and fell behind the top three on the depth chart so transferred out, but now he’s looking to move again after initially committing to UCF. 

Sources at Michigan say there’s nothing to confirm at this time, and they’re unsure where things stand at this point. In short — our read on it — it sounds like everything needs to check out with admissions, etc., before it’s a possibility (“following the process”). 

This is one we will keep an eye on, however. 

But to say the Michigan starting linebackers have impressed during spring ball would be an understatement. One of our frequent spring practice observers chuckled when we asked if they’d been good. “They’re flying all over the field,” and as good as Jaishawn Barham has been after transferring from Maryland — and he’s been exceptional — junior Ernest Hausmann has been right there with him. 

Hausmann made an impact last year, and he’s upped his game tremendously this spring. He and Barham should be one of the Big Ten’s best tandems, and the athleticism at that position — and the instincts they both have — make them a scary duo. 

They still need others to emerge for depth in addition to Jimmy Rolder (maybe one of the reasons Hill-Green rumblings have surfaced), but these two guys are something to watch. 

It helps, of course, when you have an elite line in front of you as a linebacker, and they do. Michigan defensive tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant are “tossing people around,” and even the backups are starting to emerge. As we noted last week, we saw veteran Rayshaun Benny running and working out on the leg he injured in the Rose Bowl, and they expect him back and healthy for 2024. That will obviously help, too. 

On the edges, “Josaiah Stewart is a little bull. He has the best first five steps on the team,” and he’s continued to improve. On the other side, Derrick Moore “looks like Megatron at defensive end.” He’s continued to add to his frame and has improved as a pass rusher. 

Some strongly believe he’s the next feather in the cap for Michigan defensive ends, “a pro.” 

On the back end, the safeties are playing well in Rod Moore’s (knee) absence. There’s still been no announcement on the injury or its severity, but Moore has told people, serious or not, that he wants to be back by the Ohio State game for a fourth crack at the Buckeyes. He’s obviously 3-0 against them. 

There is nothing further to report on his injury at this time. 

There have been “no balls over the safeties’ heads” in the practices our scouts have seen. They’ve been really good. Makari Paige is playing well, and Quinten Johnson “is a rock. He’s going to be a captain on this team.” Brandyn Hillman has been playing well, too, and Zeke Berry has been “impressive.” He’s made strides this spring. 

At corner, Will Johnson is “elite,” knocks down and is on top of anything that comes his way. He’s living up to his billing as a lockdown corner. DJ Waller had emerged on the other side but has been banged up a bit (nothing serious), so others have gotten opportunities. They still need a few to emerge there. 

Overall, though, this defense appears to be special. “First downs have been a win for the offense” in ones vs. ones, and while part of that is on a banged up O-line, quarterbacks working to get better, etc., most of it is because the defense has just been lights out. 

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