Nov 27, 2023

Pass rush synergy forming for Michigan football in 2023

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It sounds like Happy learned how to putt.

Michigan football hasn’t had a dominant pass-rushing presence from the interior defensive line since Maurice Hurst was on the team in 2017. In 2023, it’s become something of a focal point.

The Wolverines lost three edge rushers from last year — Mike Morris went to the NFL while Eyabi Okie transferred to Charlotte and Taylor Upshaw transferred first to Colorado, then Arizona. Now entering 2023, it’s all hands on deck, and not just for the players on the edge.

One of the big emphases of the 2023 campaign has been developing a pass rush from anywhere on the defensive line, including the interior. Kris Jenkins has shown a proclivity toward getting into the backfield in his junior year, but defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has been focused on working the other defensive tackles into becoming pass rush machines in the middle.

Junior tackle Rayshaun Benny has seen the tackles and the edge players come together as one big unit.

“The whole D-line, the whole interior, we all got better,” Benny said. “So it’s all about us keep pushing each other. Everybody trying to be better than the next person just so it could create that camaraderie.

“It helps a lot. We put in work with the edge guys. We push out the quarterback to them, they bring the quarterback back into us. It’s a big unit.”

Asked where his group has made the biggest improvement in the offseason, Benny notes that the pass rush has been exemplary. Given the attrition, it’s something that’s definitely needed.

“The biggest thing that the whole D-line did was we progressed in pass rush,” Benny said. “So we’re looking to get after the quarterback on the interior this year.”

So, how does a group emphasize getting better in pass rush? Certainly, players are working to get into the backfield regardless, but Benny says it’s about an offseason mindset. The more you work on it, the better you get.

“Offseason work — the whole offseason that was our main focus,” Benny said. “I wouldn’t say that was our main focus, but that was a big focus of ours, just keep getting better and better and the guys that want the work, we work.”

In terms of production last year, the interior defensive line accounted for 5 sacks — 2.5 from Mason Graham, two from Kris Jenkins, and half a sack from Mazi Smith. Smith is gone to the NFL, but the others return. Benny figures to be a key part in the revamped attack, and he flashed in the Ohio State game when he forced an interception by creating pressure against quarterback CJ Stroud.

So, it’s not as if the unit wasn’t good, but Benny says that the group is aware that there’s more they can do. And they intend to in 2023.

“I wouldn’t say we wasn’t satisfied, it’s just something we know that we can improve in,” Benny said. “And if we make that improvement, it’ll put us further in the game, one step closer.”

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire

ANN ARBOR, Mich. —