Top players to watch this spring: No. 5

Spring ball starts on Feb. 25, and until then we’re going to be taking looks at different players, position groups and parts of the team to keep an eye on as the Wolverines wind through their month of spring practices. We start the players to watch section on Monday with No. 5.

No. 5: Defensive end Taco Charlton

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 270 pounds

2013 statistics: 10 games, two tackles

Charlton burst onto the scene last season as an early enrollee, and during the spring game he got through the Michigan offensive line and accidentally sacked quarterback Brian Cleary. It was a “hey everyone, I’m here” moment that definitely put coaches and fans on notice.

However, even with an extra semester and spring ball under his belt, he wasn’t able to contribute much in 2013 as a freshman. But few true freshman defensive linemen do, and Charlton could be poised for bigger things in 2014, especially with a good spring.

Currently, Brennen Beyer is penciled in as the starter at strongside defensive end, and Frank Clark is penciled in on the weak side. However, Charlton is versatile enough, athletic enough and big enough that he could play at either position. He even played a bit inside in 2013, so that’s not completely out of the question, either.

So while Michigan seems to have its starting defensive line figured out for the most part, this spring could be a deciding factor in how many game reps Charlton is able to earn next fall. And if he has enough games in which he gets to the quarterback as well as he got to Cleary during last year’s spring game, then there’s no way the coaching staff will be able to keep him off the field.

And, with a young, eager player such as Charlton nipping at the heels of Beyer and Clark, don’t underestimate how much it will push and elevate Beyer and Clark. Competition is what Michigan is looking for in each position group, and the hyper-athletic Charlton will be able to provide competition at multiple spots on the defensive line.