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Michigan’s Don Brown praises several 2020 defensive signees

MLive- Flint/Saginaw/Bay City logo MLive- Flint/Saginaw/Bay City 5/23/2020 By Ryan Zuke, mlive.com

Don Brown hasn’t been able to work with Michigan’s 2020 signees much yet, but he is encouraged by what he has seen so far.

The Wolverines' defensive coordinator was asked about two in particular Thursday during a video conference call with reporters: safety Makari Paige and linebacker Cornell Wheeler -- both West Bloomfield High graduates.

"Those two guys are highly recruited guys for us, guys that I’m excited about getting the opportunity to coach," Brown said. "Again, I was able to see them in winter workouts run around and do things. Those two guys are keepers, that’s what I can tell you. They’re definitely keepers and guys to keep your eye on moving forward.”

Wheeler is a three-star linebacker who had a monster senior season for the 10-2 Lakers, finishing with 130 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles en route to earning MLive Detroit Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Paige, a four-star prospect, was one of the most sought-after players in the state, receiving offers from Ohio State, Penn State and Oklahoma, among others.

He was one of eight players in the 2020 class to enroll early at Michigan and practiced with the team leading up to its bowl game against Alabama.

While early enrollees typically gain an advantage over the rest of the true freshmen because they get the opportunity to participate in spring practice, that edge was quashed when the coronavirus pandemic prevented the Wolverines from seeing the field at all this spring.

Last season, three of the eight true freshmen to burn their redshirts were early enrollees.

With the uncertainty of when players will be able to return to campus, Brown has tempered expectations for his freshmen. He is still able to meet with every position group virtually but said it is hard to gauge where those young players will fit in without seeing them on the field.

"There’s no way you can assess it until you go out and start doing it," Brown said. "That element is really the whole thing about coaching -- trying to make the right decisions on guys that can take the material, digest it and then translate it to the practice field first and the game field second. You can’t predict it. I can give you my expectations and my thoughts -- and I think Kalel Mullings (four-star freshman linebacker) is this and I think Cornell Wheeler is that and Makari Paige is this, but until you actually put the guys through the paces, you’re really not going to know."

Andre Seldon, a 5-foot-8 four-star defensive back from Belleville, is another 2020 early enrollee who lost out on a chance to make an early impression during spring practice.

He played cornerback and safety at Belleville, but Brown believes he can compete for playing time at nickelback right away. The Wolverines have some openings in their secondary after losing safety Brad Hawkins and cornerback Lavert Hill to the NFL draft.

Last season, five-star Daxton Hill played in 13 games as a true freshman, lining up at both safety and nickel.

“With Andre, that’s one of the reasons that we signed him, because of his ability to play nickel," Obviously, we feel very strongly that he’ll be able to make a run at that position. Because that position there is not a position that requires crazy amounts of mental process. It’s really, the physical challenge is the most important piece and we think he’s up to that. Anxious to see him get on the field. I’m certainly not putting any pressure on him, but I’m excited about him. I will say he did very well academically for his first go-round here, and that’s always a good sign, because it shows the guy is making the proper adjustments to college life.”

Michigan has even more holes to fill at linebacker after losing Jordan Glasgow, Josh Uche, the team’s starting “SAM” linebacker -- a hybrid backer-defensive end primarily used as an edge rusher -- and Khaleke Hudson at “viper” -- Michigan’s hybrid linebacker-safety position.

The Wolverines added four linebackers in their 2020 class.

“I’m very excited to work with Kalel Mullings, Cornell Wheeler, Nikhai Hill-Green – those guys are gonna give us – they have tremendous skill," Brown said. "Obviously, when you can benefit from these kinds of meetings, the Zoom meetings we’ve had, so I feel really good about it. The talent is there, so we just have to get them up to speed and ready to go. Athletically, I feel very strongly about that position.”

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Read more on Michigan football:

Don Brown ‘excited’ about Ben VanSumeren’s switch to LB

How does U-M replace LB Josh Uche? It’s complicated

Michigan ahead of pace with 2021 recruiting class, Brown says

Don Brown defends U-M defense, promises better prep for Ohio State

Ty Law, five others inducted into Michigan Athletics Hall of Honor

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