Detroit Free Press

Michigan LBs know ‘bar was set high’ in 2023. Here’s plan to meet that standard

- Tony Garcia Contact Tony Garcia: Follow him at @realtonyga­rcia.

Michigan football had seemingly every necessary ingredient last season en route to a 15-0 record and a national championsh­ip.

A quarterbac­k who may go in the top five later this month in the NFL draft was key. A running back who rewrote the program record book didn’t hurt either. Of course, those records were all set largely because of an awardwinni­ng offensive line that had more NFL combine invites last month than available starting sports in the fall.

That’s not to mention the No. 1 defense in the nation, led by an All-American on the line (Kris Jenkins) and in the secondary (Mike Sainristil).

However, for “new” linebacker­s coach Brian Jean-Mary — a familiar name as he coached the same unit in Ann Arbor during a trying 2020 season — he believes he has as much to replace in his room as any unit on the field.

Speaking Monday for the first time since he was added to first-year head coach Sherrone Moore’s coaching staff, Jean-Mary explained that’s not a slight at anybody who will suit up for the maize and blue this season, but rather a compliment to projected draft picks in Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, who patrolled those spots for the better part of the past three seasons.

“The challenge before we started practice was we lost two big-time linebacker­s, two of the better linebacker­s to come out of Michigan in the last two decades,” Jean-Mary said to a group of reporters inside Al Glick Fieldhouse. “Having a personal relationsh­ip with both, I thought they played at as high of a level as linebacker­s as any group in the country. So we know the bar was set high and that was the challenge coming in.

“The guys are trying to get to that level, obviously we’re not there yet.”

Jean-Mary, who will also coordinate the run game defense, coached linebacker­s at Tennessee the past three seasons, and called himself a college football “junkie” who follows the game closely.

That includes U-M perhaps more than most, a place where he felt things didn’t end on the right foot in the COVID-19-affected 2020 season. During that time, he got to coach Barrett and helped recruit Colson, who a senior in high school that year.

He admired their game from afar and watched the developmen­t from defensive coordinato­r Don Brown, to Mike MacDonald, to Jesse Minter. He also knew of their accolades — how Colson led the team with 95 tackles and won the Lott Impact Trophy a season ago and that no player in U-M history has won as many games as Barrett — but once he got to Ann Arbor and broke down film further, he saw it was even another level beyond even that.

“Their ability to make adjustment­s,” JeanMary gushed. “Watching how they played the game, physical and productive, but their ability to adjust on the fly was as good as any I’ve ever seen coaching and evaluating as a coach. That’s the challenge these guys have.”

So, who’s up? The first name out of his mouth as the new face of the room will come as little surprise; it’s last year’s No. 3 and former Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausman, who finished third on the team last season with 46 tackles, including two for loss.

Hausmann turned heads last season in his first year in Ann Arbor when he became the No. 2 at both the MIKE and WILL after just one offseason with the program and now it’s been said he has taken the next step in his arc.

“Ernest Hausmann has taken over that leadership role,” Jean-Mary said. “We gotta get a couple other guys in the room to reach that level.”

At least in terms of talent, the person who would be next in mind is Maryland transfer Jaishawn Barham.

The 6-foot-3, 248-pound junior was a Big Ten honorable mention with the Terps and finished his sophomore season with 37 tackles, three for loss, three sacks, three quarterbac­k hurries, one pass breakup and one intercepti­on (J.J. McCarthy in the end zone late in the first half in November).

“Super talented young man,” Jean-Mary said. “He fits us as a young man and the way he goes about his day-to-day as a profession­al . ... watching him run around these first couple of practices, I think he’s got a chance to be a really, really good football player here.”

That said, this is not high school where the best athlete can run on the field and simply be the best athlete. There are levels that come with being an All-Big Ten linebacker, and per Jean-Mary, Barham isn’t there in every sense.

Part of it is understand­able, as he begins to try and understand the intricacie­s of an entirely new system. Part of it is simply a matter of forcing him out of his comfort zone.

“The big thing is him trying to learn the defense,” Jean-Mary said. “We’ve kind of thrown him in and we didn’t throw him in the shallow end, we threw him in the deep end . ... we’d love him to be more vocal as a linebacker because that’s the standard that’s been set here but he’s working toward it.

“He’s not the most outgoing kid, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for us to reach the levels that we need to reach, we just need him to communicat­e more and be a little more open that way.”

Ask anybody in the room last year and they would say the primary strength of U-M’s linebacker room last season was the depth; having Hausmann come off the bench allowed Barrett and Colson breaks they never had the season before.

Now, Hausmann is the top guy in the room, and U-M will have to count on the rest of the faces to cycle up after a year of developmen­t, like Jaydon Hood, Micah Pollard and Christian Boivin.

“Everybody in college football needs depth,” Jean-Mary said. “But the higher quality that you have, the better chance you have to win on Saturdays . ... I think it’s a buy-in from the whole room. It’s not just the guys who are playing now, you have to get the guys that are in the future we see are going to be players, we want them to start picking up what it’s going to take to play at a high level and what the expectatio­ns are.”

 ?? JUNFU HAN/DETROIT FREE PRESS ?? Michigan linebacker Ernest Hausmann celebrates a tackle against Iowa running back Leshon Williams during the first half of the Big Ten championsh­ip game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapol­is on Dec. 2, 2023.
JUNFU HAN/DETROIT FREE PRESS Michigan linebacker Ernest Hausmann celebrates a tackle against Iowa running back Leshon Williams during the first half of the Big Ten championsh­ip game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapol­is on Dec. 2, 2023.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States