Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins have yet to reach stardom, but they're most certainly two of the most important pieces to Michigan's defensive line.
Primed to pounce, Henry could very well be one of the best-kept secrets in the Big Ten. Really, the Wolverines probably aren't entirely sure about what he can do—it's not like he's an established mainstay.
However, while relatively untapped in terms of potential, the husky, 6'2", 297-pound redshirt sophomore is coming off an incredible spring—one which promises to catapult him to the top of coordinator Greg Mattison's depth chart.
There's no real reason why he shouldn't see waves of playing time this fall.
At 6'3" and 313 pounds, Pipkins has the ideal size for a mean-streaked interior D-liner. Of course, there's a little more to go on with him—he was one of the top recruits of the 2012 class and was expected to develop into something (at least close to) special.
Prior to meeting Minnesota in 2013, he appeared to be on his way up the ladder. But an unfortunate ACL tear further delayed progress. Now a junior, there isn't much time remaining for Pipkins, who will be an invaluable asset for the Wolverines if he can remain intact.
In 2012, Henry took a redshirt. In 2013, he tallied three tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks in 12 games. Those aren't dominant numbers, but the TFLs are promising. Once in the backfield, Henry's akin to a very wild animal, running loose in a small room full of delicate, extremely breakable things.
Of course, this year's spring game was enough to erase what little doubt remained about the powerful and versatile lineman. Before the O-line knew it, they were facing their own end zone while trying to track down Henry—he burst through with ease and nearly intercepted the center-quarterback exchange.
Instead, he just showed how much work his offensive teammates have to do before the season starts. That's all.
Back in the spring, Henry, via MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, said that he was pleased with his progress and suggested that the game is slowing down to a degree:
My confidence grew (last year as the year went on), the coaches saw something in me that they thought could help the team, that helped me confidence-wise, it helped me grow. I got used to what the speed of the Big Ten is like, there was a lot of competition.
(Right now), I'm just trying to get better.
Of course, it'll take a lot more than "confidence" to make an impact. But by most accounts, Henry's far from a flash in the pan. Spring was no fluke.
But is he the real deal? Yes and no.
In practices and in spurts? Absolutely. But that doesn't compare to making a key stop to help seal a victory over a bitter rival, nor does it compare to a momentum-shifting quarterback sack—both of which he's more than capable of doing.
Ondre the Giant
In 2012, "Pee Wee" had seven tackles (two solo) and 0.5 sacks in 13 games. In 2013, he had seven tackles (one solo) and 0.5 sacks in the five games prior to his ACL tear versus the Gophers.
After a quick calculation, it would have been easy to project a 25-tackle, two-sack year for a healthy version of Pipkins, who should eclipse those numbers in 2014.
Realistically speaking, his "debut' is long overdue. But this year could be the one that he claims what's been perceived to be his rightful place on the D-line. By the sound of things back in October, he was on the doorstep of something meaningful, only for another stroke of bad luck to take its toll.
You hurt for Ondre, and I really do because I coach him and he’s in my meeting room every day. He was really starting to turn the corner on the field and become a productive football player for us. The good news is he’s young, he’s a great kid and he has a lot of great football ahead of him.
We will help him get through this.
He has all of the tools in the world; he just has to stay committed to rehabbing from his setback.
"He's coming right along according to schedule," Mattison said last week during an interview with Inside Michigan Football, per MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn. "He's working very hard at it and he wants to play."
In all likelihood, Pipkins will go head-to-head with Ryan Glasgow, a senior, and Bryan Mone, a true freshman, for most of the reps. Talent-wise, Mone can tangle with Pipkins. However, experience-wise, Pipkins has the advantage.
And perhaps his hurdle-spiked path will further motivate him to show that he's indeed the "Pee Wee" that Michigan recruited three years ago. He's a "real deal" that remains in negotiation.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.