Cam McGrone, Dax Hill raise eyebrows in U-M’s shutout against Rutgers

Football

If you didn’t know their names before Saturday’s 52-point blowout, now you do.

In No. 20 Michigan’s stout defensive performance against Rutgers, sophomore linebacker Cam McGrone and true freshman defensive back Daxton Hill made their present felt.

Hill, the Wolverines’ highest-ranked recruit in last year’s cycle, seemed to stymie the Scarlet Knights from all over the field. He was in on four tackles, of which three were solo and one was for a loss.

“(Hill) is growing as a football player very quickly,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “He’s so fast. That speed shows up when it shows up. … You can probably predict that Dax Hill will be getting more and more time.”

At the beginning of the second quarter, Hill laid the boom on Rutgers’ punt returner.

Harbaugh singled out the big play as an example of Hill’s growth, noting that he’s seeing a week-to-week progression.

“Great to see, even the punt coverage,” Harbaugh said. “That’s just such a big thing from last week to this. Last week, he was a gunner, pretty much in that same similar position and he was hesitant. All you really had to do was just coach him on it, and that’s what we did. And no hesitation today — you saw him make one of those big time plays as a gunner.”

While the frosh put his raw physicality and football instinct on display, McGrone showed a toolbox at the middle linebacker position reminiscent of Devin Bush’s impact. Bush, the No. 10 overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft, was feared nationally for his elite sideline-to-sideline speed.

With linebacker Josh Ross out with an injury on Saturday, McGrone flashed a similarly impressive range and ability to pressure the quarterback in his first career start.

“I took a little bit from (Bush’s) game,” McGrone said. “I showed my speed a little bit, showed my power. Being around Devin Bush (last year) definitely helped me for this season. … I feel like I can keep playing like this. I feel really comfortable out there. I’m just going to play my game, help my teammates out and get the W.”

Added Harbaugh: “If he keeps playing like this, he’s going to be a star. The way he runs — he played really well last week, but his physicality is really, every week, going higher and higher. Really pleased with him.”

Whether or not McGrone and Hill’s instrumental roles were enough to establish themselves as mainstays remains to be seen. But in the meantime, their performances in U-M’s first shutout since 2016 are an encouraging long-term sight for a defense that needed one after last week.

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