June 14, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Rashan Gary would’ve likely been in position to see significant snaps as a true freshman at any school on his list.
The nation’s No. 1-ranked prospect, Gary — a 6-foot-5, 290-pound versatile defensive lineman from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey — has the skill set to play just about any spot along the defensive line. And most analysts believe he can make an impact immediately.
He might do exactly that for Michigan in 2016. But, per Gary, one added benefit he gained by choosing the Wolverines is the level of experience he’ll get to learn from right away.
“We’ve got a strong unit,” Gary said last week. “I’m happy with that. We’ve got a strong unit with a lot of seniors and I know when I get in there they’ll teach me how to play the game, they’ll be able to show me little tricks that they’ve learned.
“I can’t wait. I think it’s a great thing.”
Gary will begin his time in Ann Arbor as a defensive end. He said he’ll do his best to shadow fifth-year senior Chris Wormley, the team’s returning starter at strong-side end and one of the top returning defensive linemen in the Big Ten this season.
In fact, all of Michigan’s incoming defensive linemen will have a chance to shadow some rather experienced players.
Four-star defensive end Ron Johnson Jr. said he’ll spend as much time as he can learning from senior Taco Charlton, the returning starter at weakside end. Johnson (6-3, 245) also said it’s possible that he tries his hand at outside linebacker this season.
Three-star prospect Michael Dwumfour (6-2, 310) said he’ll be following Maurice Hurst and Ryan Glasgow around, as the club wants to start him out at nose tackle.
“I’ll be with the big boys in the middle,” Dwumfour says. “I’ll be following Mo, I’ve been (watching his tape) and Glasgow, those interior guys.”
Michigan will only have to replace one major contributor up front this season, fourth-round draft choice Willie Henry.
In addition, the Wolverines will have a healthy Glasgow (shoulder) back in the rotation and they will be able to reinsert third-year sophomore nose/defensive tackle Bryan Mone — a 6-foot-4, 320-pounder who wowed the coaching staff before suffering a season-ending leg injury last August, a setback that cost him the entire 2015 campaign.
The Wolverines finished 2015 at No. 16 nationally against the run. Michigan sat near the top five for most of the season, though, experiencing problems once Glasgow went down with a shoulder injury before game nine.
If Michigan can get what it expects from Gary, and get some contribution from a few other newcomers, the Wolverines have a real chance at rotating an eight-man line — and possibly more — in 2016.
“I just want to get that first workout in, then start working with coach Mattison,” Gary said.
Mattison, of course, is the other key to all of this.
To a man, most incoming defensive recruits on Michigan’s roster had a chance to develop a relationship with Mattison during their recruiting process. Gary, for example, has known Mattison far longer than he’s known Harbaugh — as Michigan began recruiting him before Harbaugh arrived in late 2014.
The team’s longest-tenured assistant, and perhaps its best recruiter overall, Mattison has the complete trust of his defensive line room — and will have the complete trust of his incoming pupils this fall.
Which, of course, is half the battle.
“He’s a great guy and I love hanging out with him, you’ll see me with him a lot,” Gary said. “(I’ll be there next week), I love talking with him and soaking in what he has to say. He’s a great defensive line coach and I can’t wait to get under his wing.
“He’s a guy I can talk to about anything, I saw that right away. I can talk to him about anything. He keeps it 100 with you. He doesn’t try to BS you at all and that’s what I like in a coach. A lot of coaches try to tell you what you want to hear, he’ll tell you what you’re doing bad and doing good.”