The Wolverine

2022 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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106 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW EAGER TO SHINE Despite Turnover, The Same High Expectations Remain For A Secondary With Something To Prove BY CHRIS BALAS [ D E F E N S I V E B AC K S ] F ew knew what to expect of the Michigan defense last year when Mike Macdonald came from coaching the Baltimore Ravens' linebackers to his new role as U-M's defensive coordinator, but most knowledgeable football observers understood one thing — the Wolverines' improvement needed to begin in the secondary. A group that had led the nation in pass defense (2016 and 2017) finished second to last in the Big Ten (and 96th nationally) in 2020, allowing 255.5 yards per game. The Wolver- ines also finished 70th nationally in pass efficiency defense after ranking in the top seven each of the previous four seasons. It was a weak spot on a unit lacking synergy. Enter former U-M receiver Ron Bellamy and successful Kentucky secondary coach Steve Clinkscale. Initially slated to coach receivers, Bellamy moved to safeties coach and proved to be a great fit. While Clinkscale never played at Michigan, he might as well have given how well he meshed. He oversaw the entire secondary, bringing the same "no excuses" approach the best Michigan assistants have employed. "He loves them, and he's tough on them," head coach Jim Harbaugh said of Clinkscale this spring. "He'll be the first to tell you that's how he coaches. He's a very demanding coach in the best sort of way. He really cares about making guys the very best they can be." In short — he was a home run hire. So was Bellamy, who is now coaching wide re- ceivers, with Jay Harbaugh now having moved to safeties coach. Clinkscale has been elevated to co-defensive coordinator, adding more to his responsibilities, but he has the same high expectations of his group even after losing three starters. Though safety Daxton Hill, a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, safety Brad Hawkins and cornerback Vince Gray are gone, the secondary didn't seem to take a huge step back. There's a nice blend of upperclassmen, led by senior corner DJ Turner (6-0, 181), and extremely talented youngsters. Between Turner and true freshman Will Johnson, the Wolverines have two players who should be playing on Sundays in the future. Turner came out of nowhere to claim a starting spot midway through the season a year ago, recording 20 tackles, 6 pass break- ups and 2 interceptions over Michigan's final eight games (33 tackles overall). Per Pro Football Focus (PFF), Turner held opponents to just 22 receptions on 51 targets (43.1 percent) dur- ing those eight games, allowing just 226 passing yards (28.3 per game and 4.4 per attempt) and 2 touchdowns against 2 picks. He also committed just 2 penalties. PFF named him the No. 6 returning cornerback in college football heading into the season, and No. 1 in the Big Ten. "Turner took on a starting spot for the first time in his Michigan career in Week 8 this past season and performed at a high level from that point forward" PFF wrote. "His 80.7 coverage grade from Week 8 on was the third-best among Power Five outside corners. And Turner did that despite playing a decent amount of press man [coverage] and being picked on with the 13th-highest target rate among that group at 17.4 percent." PFF feels he has a chance to become "elite" this year, and new Michigan radio play-by- play announcer Doug Karsch agrees. "He surprised me," Karsch admitted. "And then when I talked to him, I learned who he didn't surprise was himself. He comes across as absolutely wired to be on an island at the corner spot. That kid gets by on confidence as much as anything. "He kind of comes out of nowhere last year and just blankets receivers. He took the ball Junior safety R.J. Moten started five games a year ago and tallied 34 tackles, 1 interception and 3 pass breakups. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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