ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There were already going to be changes for Michigan on the interior defensive line, with Mo Hurst having graduated and moved on to the NFL ranks. But, with some injuries to two of the big time contributors — Lawrence Marshall and Aubrey Solomon — Saturday’s game against Western Michigan provided new opportunities for other players to step in and step up.
Such was the case on Saturday for Carlo Kemp, who spent the past year backing up Rashan Gary at the strong-side defensive end position. This offseason, Kemp put on 25 pounds and converted from the exterior of the line inside, becoming a defensive tackle, playing the 3-technique position.
The “3-tech” is the interior defensive lineman lined up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard, and can create disruption, because he’s more difficult to block and get special teams on. For Kemp, the change was whole new territory, and there was something of a learning curve involved with his new position.
“For me, it was pretty tough, because I had never done it,” Kemp said. “And it’s a whole lot faster. At the anchor position — we call it (strong-side defensive end) — you’ve just got to watch that tight end, and then, whatever he does, you just play off of it. If you try to mirror anyone’s footwork inside, you’re going to end up 10 yards (downfield), running into your linebackers, messing up your whole defensive play.”
But, in his first go-round as a starter at the position — he played minimally in back-up in Week One at Notre Dame — Kemp played admirably, logging just two tackles, but really picking up where the defense left off. As a result, Western QB Wassink was rarely comfortable, and the Broncos only mustered 208 total yards of offense on the day.
Kemp was happy with his production, but more so, just happy he finally got a chance to really play football again.
“I felt good,” Kemp said. “It felt really good getting out there my first time playing and having a majority of snaps during a football game. It just felt really good to just be out there, run around and just to really get to finally play football. It’s been awhile since I got to play a lot of snaps.”
So, what went into the learning curve for Kemp in undertaking a new position? Quite a lot, actually.
While you might think there isn’t a big difference in moving forward and trying to attack the offensive backfield, everything is different, Kemp says. There’s a whole new set of responsibilities and techniques involved in playing the position well.
And considering that this was entirely new territory for him, it made for that much of a tougher road this offseason.
“There’s a lot of different responsibilities you’ve got to do,” Kemp said. “You’ve got to learn new footwork and new blocks. And, for me, I’ve never really played inside in high school — I never really did. So the transition in spring ball and fall camp, and then these last couple weeks of really getting to hone in on it, it’s been pretty new. You just kind of take it one day at a time, learn different things and keep working at it.”
But, Kemp was able to bring some of what he learned in the past two years to the table.
Backing up Gary, he and the former five-star spent the majority of their time learning to mirror each other, so that there was little-to-no drop off when Kemp came in to replace the standout defensive end.
Kemp says that between playing behind Gary and watching what another former Wolverine did on the interior, he’s learned to acclimate and take to his newfound responsibilities.
“(Rashan Gary) plays really aggressive, and on the inside, you’ve just gotta play even more aggressive,” Kemp said. “Because you’ve got the guard and then the tackle to worry about. You’re getting 600 pounds on you every single play. And then, oh, here comes the center to add a triple team on you. You’ve got to hold your ground.
“It really helped to watch a lot of (Mo Hurst) last year. Watching his tape really helps you prepare to play that 3-tech position.”