The Wolverine

2013 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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db Step up he did, as did many others in their quest for playing time in what's becoming a much deeper defensive backfield. They still aren't where they need to be, Mallory said, but they're getting closer. Countess did everything but one-on-one drills in the spring, and he'll be a likely starter on one side when the Wolverines take the field for fall practice, while Avery and others vie for the opposite corner. All of them improved in the spring, Mallory praised. "I was pleased with the unselfishness and the competitiveness," he said. "Guys came out and competed. One day maybe Ray didn't play as well, but another guy picked up the slack — the next day it was the other way around. But there wasn't one guy hanging his head. They were all competing and helping the other guys. "We restricted Blake, so he's out there coaching those guys. He's into it and locked in whether it's the fall or the spring. He knew the game plan and helped guys on the sideline, like [freshman] Ross Douglass. Watching that bonding and camaraderie, guys being unselfish and helping their teammates, was great to see." Junior cornerback Blake Countess was a Big Ten All-Freshman performer in 2011 after making 44 stops and breaking up six passes, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening game against Alabama last year. photo by per kjeldsen Blake Countess Looks To Pick Up Where He Left Off Last year was supposed to be the breakout season for then-sophomore Blake Countess. The Maryland native had enjoyed an outstanding freshman campaign and was chosen to some preseason All-Big Ten teams last yea. He was considered one of the defenders the Wolverines could least afford to lose. It took all of a quarter and change for his season to come to a crashing halt. Countess ripped up his knee on a non-contact injury — covering a punt in the opener against Alabama, no less — and was lost for the year, spending the next several months in rehab. But he never lost his optimism. When he wasn't working on getting healthy he was helping his teammates, defensive backs coach Curt Mallory said, showing what kind of teammate he is. "He's a very mature young man," Mallory said. "The thing we talked to him about was physically, obviously you can't be out there, but mentally you've got to be out there. That's where you can make some strides. As a freshman who played in an early part of his career, mentally he still needed a lot to learn. "He took it upon himself to do that. We're never going to exclude any injured player from meetings, but he was into the meetings, asking questions, knowing the game plan. That's when you know you have someone special." Countess did everything in the spring but one-on-one drills, and he wanted to do those, too, Mallory said. He took part in all the individual drills, was close to 100 percent by the end of spring and got extra time in practice to work on getting his timing back. "There was a time Coach [Brady] Hoke and [Greg] Mattison gave us more individual time, maybe 30-35 minutes during spring, more than normal. That's where it really helped him," he said. "That was really his time to practice. In scrimmages, he was on the sidelines, watching the corners, coaching them and keeping a close eye on those guys. 154  ■  The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview "I anticipate him picking right up where he left off. I don't see him having any setbacks at all." Mallory doesn't expect perfection. Countess still needs work staying low in his backpedal, for one, and all defensive backs can improve on their eyes, footwork and tackling. He is ahead of the curve in many of those areas, though, and has one attribute that can't be taught. "He plays with a lot of confidence," Mallory said. "You have to have short-term memory when you're out there, and he's very confident in his ability. You can always count on him to play with good technique and good eyes. He's a smart football player. "Blake really came on from his freshman year, the spring after his freshman year to summer in two a days. It was just unfortunate he got hurt, but he'll be better for it." So will the secondary should Countess return to the form expected. — Chris Balas

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