Skip to main content

Mason Graham: Michigan football working hard to 'do more damage' than last year

clayton-sayfieby:Clayton Sayfie06/03/23


Michigan Wolverines football sophomore defensive tackle Mason Graham is back in Ann Arbor, after spending the last few weeks at home to Hawai’i (where his family now resides), hanging out with his family on the beach and working out with friends. The summer training cycle at Michigan began Friday, and he’s in great shape.

The Anaheim, Calif., native was listed at 6-foot-3, 317 pounds last season, but he gained some unnecessary weight this offseason, he admitted, tipping the scales at 325 at one point during spring ball. He’s already back down to 295 and hopes to get up to 305-310 by the time fall camp begins August 1.

“I’m looking forward to getting back and working out with all the guys,” Graham said Thursday.

“I feel like I’m more relaxed this summer. Even last summer, I stayed here for a little bit because I had to take in-person classes, but now I have a few online classes, so there’s a little more leeway.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh has said this could be his best Michigan team in nine seasons, and Graham believes this group will continue the Wolverines’ ascent, after winning the Big Ten championship the last two seasons.

“I feel like we’re on that same [trajectory], trending up,” Graham said. “The team is getting better and better, and we’re in hopes to do more damage than we did last year.”


Five Michigan takeaways from Wayne State camp: Jim Harbaugh on ‘cultural momentum,’ splitting up offensive touches, more

INSIDE THE FORT: Michigan recruiting success, most improved football players, more

Graham, who recorded 27 tackles with 2.5 sacks last season, is set to replace Mazi Smith — a first-round NFL Draft pick to the Dallas Cowboys — at Michigan’s nose tackle position.

“It’s a great challenge,” Graham said. “Obviously, he’s a great player and did a lot of good things when he was here. You saw the result of that — the NFL. Big shoes to fill, but I’m up for it.”

He’s not alone, either. Michigan is deep on the interior of the defensive line. Sophomore Kenneth Grant will also be in the rotation at nose, and senior Kris Jenkins and junior Rayshaun Benny are leading the way at 3-technique and end.

“There are a lot of guys who can play this year,” Graham stated.

“You know the guys — Ray, K.G., Kris. They’re all great players to play with. We’re all going to complement each other, every play.”

Smith prided himself on leading a Michigan defense that stopped the run. The Wolverines held seven of 14 opponents to less than 100 rushing yards last season, ranking seventh nationally by giving up only 97.9 rushing yards per contest.

Graham and the Michigan defensive line are looking to carry that forward, but also on a mission to boost the pass-rush production.

“Mazi, he loves stopping the run,” Graham said with a laugh. “He has a passion for it. Right when I got there, we were always just working together on that sled, working drills to stop the run. Obviously, now we’re trying to do some more pass rush stuff, too, while keeping the run game strong, so we’re doing both.”

Michigan’s interior defensive linemen accounted for only 6.5 of the team’s 37 sacks a year ago. Improving that is a big point of emphasis this offseason, and there’s one standing out above the rest in that area, though everyone has made strides, Graham opined.

“Probably out of the D-tackles right now, I would say Rayshaun,” Graham said. “That’s probably the best pass rusher right now. But we’re all pretty close to each other. We’re all trying to get better in that area. 

“All the EDGE guys are pretty good at pass rush, too. [Senior] Jay[len] Harrell], [senior] Braiden [McGregor], D-Moore [sophomore Derrick Moore], [junior] TJ [Guy], all those guys.”

Junior EDGE Josaiah Stewart — a Coastal Carolina transfer — impressed in Michigan’s April 1 spring game. He posted 5 tackles, including 2 for loss and 1 sack, in his debut in front of fans at The Big House. The 6-2, 230-pounder is a bit undersized but has proven he can get to the quarterback, having racked up 16 sacks in two seasons with his previous program.

“He’s brought a lot,” Graham said of the addition. “As you guys saw in the spring game, he was causing havoc. You would think of him as a smaller, undersized guy, but he has a lot of power behind him, and he uses it well. That’s one of his main tools.”

Michigan defensive line looking to become more cohesive

Multiple Michigan defensive linemen — both on the EDGE and tackle sides — have said the front wasn’t on the same page at times last season. For the most part, per the players, the EDGEs met with graduate assistant coach Dylan Roney, while the tackles spent their time with defensive line coach Mike Elston. That changed this spring in an attempt to build cohesiveness.

“Even in practice, you could tell in the games that we weren’t on the same page most of the time, even on third-and-long type downs,” Graham said. “Even this spring, we’re working more together, we’re doing more drills together, we’re starting to meet together in the meeting rooms, so it’s all coming together.

Personally, Graham is aiming to take the next step in his development. He’s dedicating himself more to the film room and wants to focus on the details.

“Probably just all the little things, like taking the play book more seriously, more studying the film and opponents,” Graham said of how the team can take the next step. “Me individually, I really need to step up in that area. I didn’t really watch much film or do much of that [last season], but that’s a big area where I can improve.”

Michigan kicks off the season Sept. 2 against East Carolina, after opening fall camp August 1.

You may also like