Michigan freshman DT Ondre Pipkins sees rise in snaps
ANN ARBOR -- Will Campbell and Quinton Washington are playing the best football of their respective careers.
But Ondre Pipkins is pushing them for time.
The freshman Michigan defensive tackle got the most action of his career Saturday against Purdue, and appears to becoming a regular part of the Wolverines' rotation.
That, more than anything, is due to him getting in shape after arriving on campus at 340 pounds.
"He's getting in shape," said Campbell, who, after arriving at Michigan at 356 pounds, stressed the importance of fitness to Pipkins during the preseason.
"He has the ability to play every play. He's a great player, he's coming along and him getting in shape has helped him a lot because he can play down to down."
Coach Brady Hoke has been pleased with the improvement of the defensive line, but continues to seek more pressure. Pipkins appears to be part of that equation.
Part of that success is keeping things simple for the freshman.
"He takes a couple steps forward and takes a half step back now and then," Hoke said. "He’s young. His technique is flawed to some degree, and that’s daily -- work at it. He’ll be fine.
“You don’t want to overload guys. If we started teaching him all the sub-package stuff, the dime, the nickel, whatever you want to call it, it would probably set him back a little bit. Again, I don’t like to set guys back. I want to see them keep moving forward.”
Pipkins, a five-star recruit from Kansas City, was the highest-rated prospect in Michigan's top-10 recruiting class. He was expected to be a contributor right away.
His numbers are mediocre -- four tackles in five games, none for loss -- but he's given Michigan some much-needed depth on its depleted defensive line.
The Wolverines lost three starters from a year ago in Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger, which paved the way for Campbell and Washington to enter the lineup. But the depth behind them was thin at best.
Then reserve tackle Richard Ash sustained an undisclosed injury and hasn't played since the opener against Alabama. Reserve tackle/end Nathan Brink later suffered an undisclosed injury and is out indefinitely.
Pipkins has filled that void on the second unit.
“He’s earning the right to be in there," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I don’t ever want to use the word that he’s pushing somebody. Our deal on defense is you have a first starting unit and a second starting unit. That’s what you want to get to.
"You want to get to (where) whoever gets in the game is a starter, and he needs to play at that level. That’s why we’re trying to bring the younger guys along, the first-year guys who have never played, to be in that position.”