Lon Horwedel/special for Land of 10
Defensive ends Chase Winovich, left, and Rashan Gary, right, return to anchor a Michigan defense that could one of the best in program history.

Michigan’s defense can be as scary good as it wants to be

Kevin Goheen

During the week, Land of 10 reporters following the Wolverines answer questions on the minds of Michigan fans. Submit a question or suggest a topic by sending a tweet here to Rachel Lenzi or here to Kevin Goheen. Check back Monday through Friday as we answer the Michigan Question of the Day. Go here to see our previous answers.

Michigan returns 9 of 11 starters on defense. How scary is this defense this year? — Travis Meyer via Facebook

Michigan’s 2017 defense was one of the best in the country. It ranked No. 1 nationally in third-down conversions allowed, No. 3 in total yards allowed and No. 4 in pass efficiency amongst several statistical categories that proved how good it was.

Defensive tackle Mo Hurst and linebacker Mike McCray are the only two starters gone from that unit. Michigan’s 2016 defense was No. 1 in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and No. 2 in points allowed. Eight players from that defense were selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Don Brown’s 2018 Wolverines defense can be better.

Those are lofty expectations but there is championship-caliber talent at every level of the defense and the roster has more depth than last season. Eleven players made their first career starts last season, and all eleven of those players are back. The recruiting classes of 2016 and 2017 that were ranked No. 8 and No. 5, respectively, by the 247Sports composite are the heart of this defense.

Chase Winovich returns for his fifth season at end and will line up opposite junior Rashan Gary, who could be a top-five pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Sophomore Aubrey Solomon will play a bigger role inside after starting four games last season, and junior Michael Dwumfour had an eye-opening spring taking over Hurst’s role on the defensive line. Sophomore Kwity Paye and junior Carlo Kemp will be the first off the bench but Michigan can get a boost from redshirt freshmen Luiji Vilian and Donovan Jeter if they are healthy after missing last season with injuries.

Improved depth will show up most at linebacker and in the secondary. Junior middle linebacker Devin Bush gets to the ball fast and with purpose, epitomizing how Brown wants the defense to play. Junior Khaleke Hudson filled the void at viper after Jabrill Peppers was drafted. The secondary relied heavily on six players for most of last season in cornerbacks Lavert Hill, David Long, Brandon Watson, Ambry Thomas and safeties Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel. Add in sophomores J’Marick Woods, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and Brad Hawkins this season.

There was a lot to like about last season’s defense. There’s more to like this season. The Wolverines have motivation to go with all this talent. They gave up second-half leads to Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina to close out last season. Elite defenses don’t do that, regardless of what does or does not happen on offense.

This defense has a chance to be elite.

Read more answers to questions about the Michigan Wolverines here.