The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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32 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich, a defensive backs guru, has gotten the most out of his group since he arrived in Ann Arbor. He might be in line for a raise if his charges shine again this year. To be clear, it's not so much that his group is short on talent as it is lack- ing experience. Senior Ambry Thomas was officially removed from the roster in late September after opting out of the 2020 season. He was expected to be the lockdown corner U-M has al- ways seemed to find since head coach Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2015. Lavert Hill graduated and is now with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving redshirt sophomore Vincent Gray as the vet- eran of the group. "People are always asking, 'What are you going to do? You've lost both corners,'" defensive coordinator Don Brown said Sept. 30. "We did with La- vert going to the NFL, but Vince Gray rotated and played all year [in 2019]. He's playing at a very, very, very high level. I'm very happy with the way he's playing." Gray notched 20 tackles and five pass breakups in his first year of game action and was one of the defense's most pleasant surprises. U-M will need a similar showing from a few guys this season to live up to past expectations, and Brown insisted there were a number of can- didates. "[Redshirt freshmen] DJ Turner and Jalen Perry, those are probably the two I'd say are the closest," Brown said in late September. "But we really don't want to shut anybody out. We still have three solid weeks of work prior to game week." His caution to name a front-run- ner opposite Gray made sense only five days after his press conference with the media. Then, he singled out another corner while speaking with former U-M All-Amer- ican Jon Jansen on the 'Inside Michi- gan Football' show. "One day, one guy looks really good; another day, another guy looks really good," Brown explained. "… [Redshirt sophomore] Gemon Green's done a good job there. I would say he's probably the leader in the club- house right now, but that challenge is far from over." He also mentioned 5-11 redshirt freshman walk-on Keshaun Harris as another he'd been happy with, while true frosh Eamonn Dennis, can "really fly and run," though he is "raw" at the position. Fellow freshman Andre Seldon is talented but has been limited by in- jury, while sophomore Daxton Hill will be utilized at nickel back in addi- tion to safety. Brown said Hill might be one of the best cover guys in the Big Ten, and while he is expected to take over as a starting safety next to se- nior Brad Hawkins the coach ex- plained that his skill set allows him to see action all over the field. "Dax can cover the slots, and he can rush the edge," Brown said. "Is he a good internal blitzer? Yes. The guy can cover. Some guys are just always around the ball." Brown noted Hill makes it look easy at times and should be a candidate for breakout player of the year. The safety rotation seems to be in capable hands with Hill, Hawkins (the "Steady Eddie" of the group) and another up-and-comer in the mix, though a few days after Brown spoke Harbaugh noted that redshirt sopho- more Sammy Faustin moved from safety and was in the mix at corner. "Brad Hawkins plays really well," Brown said of last year 's first-team All-Big Ten selection per Pro Football Focus and the team's Most Improved Defensive Player. "Dax has a high, high ceiling … and Sammy Faustin has improved dramatically." They'll probably play more zone this year than last, when it was 51-49 (percent) zone to man-to-man, Brown noted. They are constantly adapting, and he likes his personnel. "We've still got some questions to answer," he said. "Competition breeds success, and it keeps every- body practicing the right way. "We still have some significant practice time in front of us before we have to make any decisions." ❏ SECONDARY WILL HAVE A DIFFERENT LOOK IN 2020 PLUSSES AND MINUSES ON THE BACK END Michigan's secondary prospects took a hit when senior cornerback Ambry Thomas opted out, but there's still plenty of talent here. There are also some question marks: Biggest Strength: Safety play has been solid but inconsistent the past few years, with huge breakdowns on the back end accounting for a number of big plays in big games. Senior Brad Hawkins is usually in the right place at the right time, while sophomore Daxton Hill has a chance to be one of U-M's better safeties in recent memory. He's an elite athlete. Biggest Concern: A defense that prides itself on its aggressiveness and ability to leave the corners on an island will be tested this year given its inexperience. From Jourdan Lewis to Lavert Hill and Thomas, among others, there's always been at least one lockdown corner the team could count on and a very good op- tion on the other side. This group will likely be tested early and often. — Chris Balas DEFENSIVE BACKS Redshirt sophomore Vincent Gray will be forced to take over as Michigan's top corner after senior Ambry Thomas opted out of the 2020 campaign. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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