Walk-on Nathan Brink is true contender for starting job on Michigan's defensive line
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Although competitions remain open at several spots on the Michigan football team’s defense, things are beginning to take shape a week-and-a-half before the season opener against Western Michigan.
The biggest surprise of them all: Nathan Brink.
In a span of 12 days, the walk-on from Holland, Mich., has gone from complete unknown to a favorite to start on the Wolverines’ revamped defense.
It’s been a remarkable ascension.
“If we started playing tomorrow, he’d be the starting (defensive end),” Hoke said of Brink, a two-year varsity player at Holland Christian who did not earn any all-state honors. “He plays with a great motor, plays with a great pad level.”
Brink, a sophomore, walked-on at Michigan in 2009 weighing only 220 pounds. He redshirted that season, and played in only one game last year, a 65-21 win against Bowling Green.
He has since put on 45 pounds, but still is an undersized defensive end at 265 pounds.
“He has to be a very good technician because he’s a little slight,” Hoke said. “You’d like to have him at 285, 290, but he’s done a lot of good things.
“You feel him a lot out on the field.”
Hoke first mentioned Brink as a fall camp surprise during the team's media day Aug. 14. Two days later, he was seen getting snaps with the first-team defense at tackle, and presumed starter Will Campbell was on the second team.
Now, Hoke said Brink has been practicing at end and senior Ryan Van Bergen, a returning starter at that position, has been moved inside to defensive tackle. Nose tackle Mike Martin and end Craig Roh are the other first-teamers on the line.
“He’s going to be able to help us,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said at Michigan's media day. “There’s still a lot of competition going on and you don’t know how it’s going to end up, but he’s working extremely hard.”
Campbell, an inconsistent junior, remains on the second team, and Will Heininger is another reserve who could see time. Hoke said he could plug in the redshirt senior at any position up front.
“(Heininger) has the intelligence to do that,” Hoke said.
Redshirt freshman Richard Ash could also receive time in the rotation on the defensive line.
Hoke said he hopes to have a two-deep completed by Monday, and that he would inform the players where they stand. Jobs could still be won or loss before the season opener Sept. 3 against Western Michigan, he added.
Other positions of note on the defense:
LINEBACKER: Hoke said Kenny Demens is the likely starter at middle linebacker, but Desmond Morgan, Mike Jones and Marrell Evans also could see time either there or on the weak-side.
Hoke said Morgan was held out of Tuesday’s workout because of a sore hamstring. He’s not expected to be out for an extended amount of time.
Hoke said junior Brandin Hawthorne, sophomore Cam Gordon, redshirt freshmen Jake Ryan and true freshman Brennen Beyer have also received snaps.
SAFETY: Hoke has been pleased with the play of junior Jordan Kovacs and sophomores Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson. He has said Kovacs, a former walk-on, has become a leader of the unit.
“Kovacs has done a really nice job,” Hoke said. “No. 1, he’s smart. He understands the concepts.”
CORNERBACKS: Hoke said last week senior Troy Woolfolk has locked up a starting spot, and junior J.T. Floyd and sophomore Courtney Avery are battling to start opposite him.
“So, there’s three safeties and three corners right there that I think there’s great competition between,” Hoke said. “When we get into our nickel and dime packages, it’s basically those guys on the field at the same time.”