ANN ARBOR -- Whether this still matters in a week or two remains to be seen, but Michigan's Nathan Brink is enjoying a breakthrough preseason camp.
Not familiar with Brink? You're not alone.
He is a sophomore walk-on who has seemingly exploded up the depth chart at defensive tackle, evidenced yesterday by him getting repetitions with what appeared to be the Wolverines' first-team defense.
Whether Brink is a legitimate contender to make the team's defensive rotation is unknown.
What is known, though, is Brink has played well enough in the spring and fall to grab the attention of head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. He has done it, Mattison said, by playing "like a Michigan football player."
"I hate to ever talk about a young man because I think every time I do that they go right down in the tubes," Mattison said after yesterday's practice. "He has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to [defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery] on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries to step a certain way. And he's really, really physical."
Brink's biography listed on the school's Web site is bland. He prepped at Holland Christian in Michigan where he was a two-year varsity player, earning a couple of modest postseason awards. Brink redshirted his first year on campus in 2009 and made his college debut last season in a blowout win over Bowling Green. He never played again.
This spring Brink made a positive impression on his new coaches.
"In the spring it was mentioned a number of times because his toughness stuck out like crazy," Mattison said.
Two years ago at this time a walk-on safety was becoming the buzz of camp. By the end of the preseason Clay graduate Jordan Kovacs climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart, and by the third game of the season he was starting -- a job he has yet to relinquish.
Does Brink have a chance to be this year's Kovacs? Based on yesterday's practice, of which the media was permitted to watch the first 20 minutes, the answer is yes. He joined senior Mike Martin as the interior linemen working on the first unit, with Ryan Van Bergen and Jibreel Black patrolling the ends.
One thing worth keeping in mind is starting jobs are fickle in fall camp. Coaches will move players up and down the depth chart for various reasons, sometimes for no apparent reason. Junior tackle Will Campbell, who elicited praise from his coaches early in camp for arriving in good physical condition, practiced with the second-team yesterday.
Being labeled a starter may look good but it isn't entirely necessary as Mattison plans to employ a rotation along the defensive front, relying on two waves of players to keep everyone fresh.
A drawback of Brink is his relatively small size of 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. But his weight is less of an issue now than it was at the end of spring when he checked in at 250.
That Brink is not a scholarship player is irrelevant, said Mattison, when it comes to the discussion of playing time.
"Everybody's a scholarship football player to us," Mattison said. "The best 11, the best 12, the best 17, those guys are going to play."
This walk-on may be on the brink of doing that.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.
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