Cam McGrone isn't afraid to make headlines, because he isn't scared of scrutiny. He says what's on his mind, because he believes he'll back it up. Like last season, when he declared a week after Michigan's humbling loss to Wisconsin, "I know when we see them again, we’re going to smack them in the mouth."
Michigan never got a second shot at the Badgers, but McGrone will get his. Wisconsin comes to the Big House this season Nov. 14. He'll get another crack at Penn State and Ohio State, too, and while we're here, why not Alabama? McGrone would dive headfirst into a clash with the '01 Hurricanes if he got the chance, and he'd emerge from the fray asking for the '04 Trojans.
Call him crazy, call him confident. Call him brazen, call him bold. McGrone talks the way he plays, like he's got a point to prove and he wants you to listen. He burst into the spotlight last season after middle linebacker Josh Ross went down with an injury, and now Ross is back. It was Ross who said it first: Michigan has the best two linebackers in the country.
"I totally agree with that statement," McGrone said Thursday. "I feel like we have the best combination of speed and physicality."
McGrone and Ross have yet to line up side by side in a game. They've yet to anchor the same defense, aside from in practice this summer. But if practice is the barometer -- and it's the only one we have right now -- McGrone can't help but smile. He and Ross are like tackling clones.
"It’s been amazing," said McGrone. "It’s kind of like being out there with myself sometimes, just throw on film and we look like the same (player). We’re moving the same, taking the same steps, it’s really kind of crazy. My freshman year second semester, me and Josh were roommates and we were talking about playing together and how fun it would be, and now we finally get that chance.
"I’m just scared for everybody else, honestly. I’m scared."
There was that grin again. McGrone knew what he had said. In fact, he said it twice for good measure. He's a reflection of his defensive coordinator, who burns to play man-on-man, me versus you. And he's a reflection of his head coach, whose old mantra was as crazy and as confident as it gets: Who's got it better than us?
When it comes to Michigan's linebackers, McGrone still wants an answer.
"Both of our physical abilities with what we know mentally, me and Josh both know the MIC and WILL position. We both trained at it, played it, so I think that really is an advantage for us to know both of those positions and everything that’s going on around us. I think really no other linebacker core can say they have linebackers that have those abilities."
In McGrone's eyes, his connection with Ross has made Michigan's defense even faster.
"In terms of just practice right now and what we’ve been doing this summer, I definitely feel like it’s one of our fastest defenses," he said. "Just being out there, playing and running around, I feel like we’re faster than the years before."
That's huge, if true. Michigan's defense has never lacked aggression or physicality under Don Brown. Its relentlessness has been its calling card. But when the Wolverines have been burned -- Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin -- it's been for a lack of speed. Nothing will change unless that changes first.
Is this the year? Forgive us if we're skeptical. Certain images are hard to dismiss, like J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor ripping through the first two levels of the defense, like KJ Hamler taking the top off the third. Michigan plays the four best teams in the Big Ten this season, and the gauntlet starts right away with Minnesota. Maybe the Wolverines should be scared for themselves.
And maybe, deep down, they are. Just not McGrone, who loves his chances with Ross by his side. That date with the Gophers can't come soon enough. In the meantime, maybe we can set something up with the '05 Longhorns.
"I feel like as a defense, if the other team can’t score," said McGrone, "they can’t win."