Bookended and anchored by DE Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, there was no doubting the power of Michigan’s defense in 2022. Combined, they accounted for 25 sacks, with Hutchinson leading with a single-season program record 14 QB takedowns.

The Wolverines were also strong in the trenches, and star DT Mazi Smith promises to be one of the best on the line of scrimmage this fall. They’ll have to figure out some things, but the pieces are there for the Wolverines, who have routinely had one of the top overall defenses for the better part of the past decade.

Pressuring the QB: No way it can be better

The 2021 season was historic for Michigan. Never, in school history, had it fielded a pair of dominant edge experts such as Hutchinson and Ojabo. This year’s projected pairing at edge, Taylor Upshaw and Mike Morris, should be serviceable and quite valuable — but it would be a major stretch to think that they’ll equal or better Hutchinson and Ojabo’s 2021 production.

As reserves in 2021, Upshaw had 3.5 sacks and Morris came up with a share of a sack — so 4 total sacks returning for UM’s projected edge starters.

Linebacker Junior Colson didn’t rack up the sacks in 2021, but he did find the backfield on a consistent basis. With his size and strength, the former Freshman All-American will easily add another dimension to Michigan’s QB-seeking game.

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Run defense: The same

Ranked No. 27 overall last year, Michigan’s rush defense has always been a strength of the program, oftentimes coming in as a top-10 unit at season’s end. On average, the Wolverines gave up 3.65 yards per rush. With Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith, Michigan had a solid duo up front to apply pressure, and plenty of help with LB Josh Ross and Colson, along with DL Kris Jenkins — who figures to be a pass-rushing and run-stopping force this fall.

Regardless of personnel, Michigan has rarely been gouged on the ground, so projecting the same results in 2022 is pretty easy. If anything, it might be, statistically, a little better this fall. When it comes to stats and position among rankings, a half or quarter-yard could be difference between being top 20 or top 10. If Michigan caps rushes at the same clip — or even 3.5 yards per attempt — this fall, it should have one of the top run-defenses this fall.

Pass defense: Should be better

The Wolverines weren’t exactly lit up through the air in 2021, but there were some pass-coverage issues that needed to be addressed. Without safety Daxton Hill and CB Vincent Smith, Michigan will lack some experience and leadership in the defensive backfield.

Fifth-year senior Gemon Green is expected to move up a few notches and become part of the pass-defenses backbone, while Mike Sainristil — a converted WR — could add some athleticism, speed and solid hands for a group that ranked No. 27 overall in 2021.

Giving up 204.4 yards through the air per game isn’t terrible but it’s a bit more than the Wolverines want to surrender every Saturday. Shaving off 10-15 yards per game could make a big difference. One year ago, the Wolverines gave up 17 passing touchdowns, a respectable total and something they should be able to build upon heading into camp — at least they’re not returning a group that couldn’t defend the pass/passing scoring play (see rival Michigan State for more on that).

Special teams: Hard to top No. 1

According to Football Outsiders, Michigan had the No. 1-ranked special teams defense, in terms of efficiency, during the 2021 season — so following up with another No. 1 spot seems nearly impossible. However, as long as UM’s special teams continue the trend, a top-10 finish in 2022 could be quite likely.

Overall: The same

Given the departure of Hill, DB Brad Hawkins, LB Josh Ross — and, of course Hutchinson and Ojabo — Michigan will need to reload and further develop personnel in order to get the same results as it had this past season.

Addition by subtraction? Maybe in some cases.

Michigan’s secondary should be slightly better, and the LB corps has potential — anchored by Colson — to be one of the top groups in the Big Ten.