Script by Inside The Huddle.
Taco Charlton is ready for a starting role. In the last three games of the 2015 regular season, Charlton seized the opportunity. The 6-6, 272-pound defensive end from Pickerington, OH started three games against BYU, Penn State, and Ohio State, rushing past linemen to record a combined 10 tackles. Charlton unleashed his frustration on the Nittany Lions in a big way, squashing Christian Hackenberg for a career-best two sacks. Charlton was the linchpin for the U-M defense, shutting down the Lion running game and holding them to 70 yards on the ground.
For three seasons, it looked like Charlton may never start a game, whether it was his place on the depth chart, or simply not being mentally-prepared enough to be ready. In looking at film of those three starts, it’s clear Charlton may have benefited the most from the coaching of Greg Mattison and D.J. Durkin.
Charlton increased his burst off the ball and got into the backfield with regularity. But his motor really ramped up on the road versus Penn State. Charlton’s best work came when used his feet to piston off the edge and collapse the pocket. Charlton’s awareness began to blossom, as he realized that pushing the pocket resulted in more tackles for his defensive teammates. With Michigan up 7-3 late in the second quarter, Charlton wasn’t fooled on a PSU misdirection, blowing past a lineman to tackle Saquon Barkley behind the line. Charlton recorded his second sack of the day in the third quarter, using his hands to find his way to Hackenberg and send him to the turf. Charlton’s 5.5 sacks and 8.5 TFL in 2015 stood out—only three starts.
Michigan football boasts a rich history along the defensive line, so narrowing the list to find Charlton’s doppelganger proved difficult. Charlton’s size, burst on the line of scrimmage, and late-career growth points to one name in particular: Juaquin Feazell.
If you lined up junior year versions of Charlton and Feazell, you’d see eerily-similar reflections. Feazell stood 6-4, 268 pounds, and Charlton slightly topped his counterpart: 6-6, 272 pounds. Feazell’s climb up the depth chart was slow, but the rise more impactful, considering he played on some of the more dominant defensive lines in school history from 1995-1998. Feazell started six games as a freshman, dropped to one as a sophomore, and three on the national championship team in 1997; he played a key role as a reserve behind Glen Steele and James Hall. Unfortunately for Feazell, playing second fiddle to All-Americans was necessary.
Feazell moved gracefully after the snap, shedding blocks to reach the ball carrier. Similar to Charlton, Feazell’s light came on near the end of his junior year.
He turned in career-changing performances on the road at Penn State, and was a disruptive force in home wins against Minnesota and Ohio State to keep the undefeated season alive.
Feazell’s first sack came practically unblocked in the first quarter in Happy Valley, following Steele’s and setting the tone for the powerful Michigan defense.
Feazell’s forward momentum continued into his senior year in 1998, racking up 41 total tackles, 9 TFL’s, and six sacks.
Despite limited opportunity earlier in the season, Charlton was the sixth-most productive defensive end in the country in 2015 with a colossal 41 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. If Charlton increases those numbers in 2016, and he should as he is expected to start at defensive end, he could be a huge component on one of college football’s best defensive lines.