The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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just two plays going for 30 or more yards (a 38-yard rush by Notre Dame and a 30-yard pass completion by San Diego State). By comparison, the defense permitted 26 plays of 30 yards or greater in 2010 (2.0 per game). Four of those occurred in the first three weeks. ���We really harp on that as a staff ��� when big plays occur it���s because of missed tackles, missed assignments or bad angles to the football,��� Mallory said. ���It starts with missed assignments ��� we have to be communicative back there. ���And then you have to make sure you���re taking good angles to the ball, keeping it inside. When you have bad angles to the football, the end result is missed tackles.��� Kovacs credits U-M���s improvement to the experience he and his fellow defensive backs have amassed ��� Woolfolk is a fifth-year senior and fellow starting cornerback J.T. Floyd a redshirt junior ��� and the practice habits drilled into all of the Wolverines��� defenders daily. ���With some older guys back, we���ve watched a lot of film the last few years, and you get better at picking up tendencies, knowing your own weaknesses defensively and reacting to situations so that you���re not getting caught out of position,��� he said. ���And then every day, Coach [Greg] Mattison and Coach Mallory focus us on preventing big plays, and when you have success in practice, it carries over to games.��� Keeping the ball in front and inside, as the coaches preach, is only one-half of the safeties��� responsibilities, though. Michigan���s coaching staff is also counting on Kovacs and Gordon to make plays. Ray is the last U-M safety, in 1997, to record five interceptions, while Adams��� three picks in 2007 represent the decade���s most productive campaign. In 2008, the Wolverines��� safeties recorded just three interceptions while notching 10.5 tackles for loss. They had a single pick and 5.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2009, and five interceptions with 11 tackles in the offensive backfield during the 2010 campaign. Four games into the 2011 season, Kovacs and Gordon have three tackles for loss and have picked off two passes ��� one each ��� while ranking tied for first (Gordon, 30) and third (Kovacs, 28) in total tackles. 30��� the wolverine��� ������ October 2011 ���As a staff, and Coach Mattison does a great job of stressing this, we tell our kids we have to practice making plays,��� Mallory said. ���If you have an opportunity to make an interception or make an open-field tackle in practice, you do so. ���That sounds simple, but so often people take that for granted. It���s very hard to simulate open-field tackling, especially in a drill, but you can in practice where a guy breaks off and your safety has to practice bringing down a guy in space. U-M���s First-Team All-Big Ten Safeties Since 1970 Year 1970-71 1972 1972-74 1974-75 1977 1977 1978 1982 1983 1989-90 1992 1992 1996-97 1999 2004 Safety Thom Darden* Randy Logan* Dave Brown* Don Dufek* Dwight Hicks Jim Pickens Mike Harden Keith Bostic Evan Cooper Tripp Welborne* Corwin Brown Shonte Peoples Marcus Ray Tommy Hendricks Ernest Shazor* * First-team All-Americans ���And then when the ball is in the air, you have to practice making that play, because it is difficult when bodies are around and opponents want that ball, too. When your opportunity comes, you have to make that play, and it���s not about taking a risk. If you keep the ball in front of you, making a play on the football isn���t a gamble. You should never sacrifice the defense with a risk ��� that���s not what we���re about.��� The Early Returns Mallory has no idea if Kovacs will be a candidate for All-Big Ten honors in November and doesn���t care. His focus is on fine-tuning the redshirt junior into the player the Wolverines need week after week. And so far this season, he���s been very pleased. ���Jordan is a very instinctive player,��� Mallory said. ���There is no question about it. He���s very smart, very heady, and a lot of that goes with experience. Jordan has played a lot of football here, and it shows. He���s playing the way you expect a three-year starter to play. ���I���m pleased with where Jordan is. He has to continue to improve and bring some other guys along. That���s what a leader does. He���s one of our better players, and our better players have to play great.��� A first-year starter at the free safety position ��� the Detroit native started four games among nine appearances at a hybrid linebacker post in 2010 ��� Gordon had strong performances against Western and Eastern Michigan, but graded out poorly against Notre Dame. ���Thomas Gordon is continually improving, but still has a long way to go,��� Mallory said. ���What we���re looking for is consistent play.��� Gordon���s teammates, though, are convinced he is on his way to playing with the same competence play after play, citing his first career interception ��� a highlight-reel snag against EMU ��� as proof. ���Everyone wants to talk about the one-handed catch, and that was a great play, but what impressed me the most was that was a great adjustment,��� Woolfolk started. ���That was a funky formation they ran, and they passed the ball to a receiver who then threw downfield, and he could have gotten sucked in. But he did a great job sticking to what he was supposed to do, and that���s why he made the play. ���That tells me Thomas Gordon is learning, he���s staying disciplined in what he���s supposed to do, and then he made a great play at the end. He did everything our coaches teach our safeties to be successful.��� In Kovacs and Gordon, Michigan feels good about its starting pair. Mallory is still concerned about depth, and is eager for sophomores Marvin Robinson and Carvin Johnson, fifthyear senior Jared Van Slyke, and redshirt freshman Josh Furman to translate their practice habits into games, and wishes the entire unit was further along. But after a decade of ineffectiveness, there is reason to believe in a bright future. ���A lot can change in one year,��� Harden said. ���With proper coaching, a focus on fundamentals and technique, teaching guys the right angles to take to the football and how to direct the ball back to the heart of your defense ��� we can improve tremendously quickly.��� ���

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