The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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112 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ON THE CUSP Michigan's Secondary Boasts Experience And Star Power BY CHRIS BALAS [ D E F E N S I V E B AC K S ] C onsistency is key when it comes to playing defense and learning schemes, and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are hoping a fresh start will provide stability to a group that hasn't had much of it in the past few years. While cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich was a constant for six years, the back end has seen coaches come and go — six different safeties teachers, to be exact, including four in the last two years. One of them, Bob Shoop, was hired last season but never coached a down on the field for unspecified reasons the athletic department wouldn't comment on, replaced by analyst Aashon Larkins, who now serves as U-M's director of recruiting. Maurice Linguist was brought in and spent a few months in Ann Arbor this spring before ac- cepting the head coaching job at the University of Buffalo, leaving Harbaugh to replace both him and Zordich, whose contract wasn't renewed. Heading into the summer, though, it appeared the Wolverines had found their secondary coaches for the foreseeable future. Former Michigan receiver Ron Bellamy turned West Bloomfield (Mich.) High into a perennial power, leading the school to a state championship before sign- ing on to coach safeties at his alma mater in January. After Linguist left, Harbaugh had Kentucky rising star Steve Clinkscale on the line quickly and signed him to a three-year deal to coach cornerbacks and serve as the defensive passing game coordinator, in a move lauded by college football analysts. Harbaugh had pursued both before when he had openings, and more than once. For Bellamy, it's been a happy homecoming. "The biggest thing for me getting in the group and being a first- year college coach was showing [the players] I respected and trusted them, and getting that same thing from them," Bellamy said. "It happened so quickly. "But the kids looked at me as one of them. They say, 'You've been in this foxhole before. Teach us; show us how to get out of this foxhole and start striking people.' That's been the biggest testament, telling them we're brothers more than anything else. With that, you've got instant credibility." Bellamy was initially tabbed to coach receivers, but he moved to safeties at the start of spring ball. He inherited a pair some consider the best duo Michigan has had in years, a veteran in fifth-year senior Brad Hawkins and a rising star in sophomore Daxton Hill. The 6-1, 218-pound Hawkins is the stalwart, having started 16 games and played in 42 overall; nobody on the roster has more in either category. Bellamy teases him all the time that he might be the oldest man in the history of college football, but the coach wouldn't trade him for anyone. "There's talent in this secondary," Bellamy said. "I love Brad. Brad is the heart and soul of that secondary, having been there. He had a phenomenal spring, showed great leadership picking up the new defense. He did a fantastic job." He led by example, Bellamy added, and the defensive players followed his lead. QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Ron Bellamy (safeties, first season) and Steve Clinkscale (cornerbacks, first season). Returning Starters: S Brad Hawkins (16 career starts), S Daxton Hill (9), CB Vincent Gray (7) and CB Gemon Green (6). Departing Starter: CB Ambry Thomas (13). Projected New Starter: None. Top Reserves: CB DJ Turner, CB Andre Seldon, S R.J. Moten and S Makari Paige. Wait Until 2022: S German Green, S Sammy Faustin, S Jalen Perry, S Quinten Johnson, S Jordan Morant, CB Darion Green-Warren, CB George Johnson and CB Eamonn Dennis. Newcomers: S Rod Moore and CB Ja'Den McBurrows. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Walk-on S Hunter Reynolds (transferred to Utah State). Rookie Impact: None. M o s t I m p r o v e d P l ay e r : Turner. Best Pro Prospect: Hill. After posting below-average Pro Football Focus grades in each of the first three contests (with a high of 61.6), Vincent Gray logged marks of at least 65.6 in all of the final three games with a 69.8 average. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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