The 2019 co-recipients of the Dick Katcher Award given to the Wolverines’ best defensive lineman) junior Aidan Hutchinson and senior Kwity Paye are expected to be key pieces for U-M’s defense this season.
Hutchinson had 68 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and six pass breakups in 2019 while starting all 13 games for the Wolverines. Expectations for the 6-6, 278-pound defensive lineman are extremely high for the 2020 season, as he is a projected first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I remember the first time I saw Aidan Hutchinson was during warmups, and I was just like ‘Who is this man?’” said former U-M quarterback and Michigan media analyst Devin Gardner. “It reminded me of when Joey Bosa was a freshman, and it was just like there is no way this man is a freshman in college. He is so put together. He’s just this large human, so that was my first glimpse of him.
“After getting a chance to see him perform as a freshman and then again last year, I think the future is very bright for him. He is going to be a big contributor for us, but I don’t think his stats will show it because he is going to get some double teams, he’s going to get chipped and opponents will try a lot of different things to stop him from being as successful as he could be.”
Gardner believes Hutchinson’s stats may not show how important and productive he actually will be for Michigan’s defense.
“But, those things like we talked about with Rashan Gary... he’s going to create havoc and opportunities for other guys not just on the defensive line but also in the linebacking corps,” Gardner said. “Hutchinson will also help our defensive backs because they will be able to cover for a shorter amount of time, as we are going to create so much pressure on the quarterback.”
Paye accounted for 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for Michigan last season. Paye, who started 11 games for the Wolverines last season, decided to return for his senior year instead of entering the NFL Draft.
“Kwity is a different type of pass rusher than Hutchinson, he’s a guy who can get on that edge and rush the passer a ton,” Gardner said. “I’m sure he is putting on weight and getting stronger, as he has had a lot of time to himself and with the strength staff, maybe not directly, but I’m sure they are still putting him through things.
“Paye is a worker, so he doesn’t need to be in the presence of the strength staff to make sure he gets done what he needs to get done.”
Gardner believes that Paye is set up to have an amazing season rushing the passer for the Wolverines.
“For him to improve would be insane because he was very talented last year. He could have gone to the NFL early, but he decided to come back because he knew he could do more.
“I think that he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Even though he is recognized as a freak, I don’t think he believes he is getting the recognition he deserves. That's who we want. Michigan wants guys with chips on their shoulder, who are essentially pissed off that they aren’t getting what they think they deserve and will go out there and earn it.”