The Wolverine

August 2022*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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AUGUST 2022 THE WOLVERINE 57 M ichigan is turning to senior DJ Turner to be one of its defen- sive leaders this season after the departures of starting safeties Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins and cornerback Vin- cent Gray. Yet Turner was not even supposed to be a leading contributor for Michigan last season. The Wolverines returned all four of their starters in the secondary from the prior year. Turner was not one of them. He received only 11 defensive snaps that prior season, spending most of U-M's de- fensive plays on the sideline, with Gray and Gemon Green starting at corner. That was supposed to be the case again as Gray and Green retained their promi- nent roles on the field. However, Turner had different plans. Through the first six contests of 2021, Turner flashed sparks as Green struggled. So, during the bye week before the North- western meeting, Michigan pulled the trigger and replaced Green with Turner in the starting lineup. Turner absolutely thrived. He allowed only 1 yard on six pass attempts in his di- rection by the Wildcats and added an in- terception for good measure. It was clear that Turner should be starting on defense. It did not end there. Not only did Turner prove he should start, he proved he was U-M's best corner. He blanked Indiana, kept the lid on Penn State's Jahan Dotson (only 5 yards receiving allowed) and returned a pick for a score against Maryland. By season's end, he was the best corner for a unit that tied for 10th in yards allowed per attempt and 16th in passer rating allowed. As a result, quarterbacks did not want to test Turner's side of the field too much. After he won the starting job from Green, only two teams completed more than half of their passes or threw for more than 42 yards against Turner. Those two teams were Ohio State and Georgia — two top- five programs, with the latter winning last season's national championship. Given Turner's productivity, he graded very well. He registered a 78.3 overall de- fensive grade on Pro Football Focus (PFF), which is 20th among all returning corners who played at least 20 percent of their team's snaps. He was even better in cover- age — his PFF grade of 83.3 ranks seventh among all returning corners who played at least 20 percent of their team's snaps. His productivity in coverage was fur- ther backed up by his stats on Sports Info Solutions (SIS), which ranked him 18th among all corners last season in quarter- back rating allowed (44.8). Primarily, Turner excelled when tested in man coverage (e.g., Cover 0, Cover 1 or Man Cover 2) by opposing quarter- backs last season according to SIS data. He was 12th in the nation in quarterback rating allowed (25.1) in man coverage, and teams averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt against him in man. Turner resembled the Maize and Blue corners from the earlier years of Jim Harbaugh's tenure. His skills and physical tenacity evoked Jourdan Lewis or David Long. There was no doubt that Turner was one of the key breakout players for Michi- gan's defense last season. If not for David Ojabo, Turner would have been the break- out player for the whole unit. Turner is no longer just a breakout player for Michigan's defense. He now needs to be a leader. Turner is the only returning starting member of Michigan's secondary. The Wolverines will be trying out two new starters at safety in Rod Moore and RJ Moten, and they will keep their fingers crossed that Green can return to form or converted slot receiver Mike Sainristil can make a quick transition to corner if in- coming five-star freshman Will Johnson is not ready to go. Plus, Michigan is not inexperienced only in the back of the defense. The Wol- verines' defensive unit is feeling lots of turnover from last season. Michigan also needs to find a way to re- place the incredible production provided by Heisman Trophy runner-up Aidan Hutchinson, fellow edge rusher Ojabo, defensive tackle Christopher Hinton and pivotal middle linebacker Josh Ross. All in all, the Wolverines are replacing seven of 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball. As one of the four returning starters, Turner will need to be one of Michigan's defensive leaders if the Wolverines wish to remain a fearsome defensive unit. As Michigan's new starters and contribu- tors get their feet wet, Turner will need to be the one keeping the group together. He will need to stick to his assignments, particularly in man, and knock receivers off their routes. It is one thing to do that as a new starter midway through the season with little at- tention. It is another to do that when the offen- sive coordinator is game planning around you specifically. And that is why Michigan needs Turner to turn into a defensive leader after break- ing out in 2021. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Defense Needs DJ Turner To Go From Breakout Performer To Leader In 2022 Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Turner excelled when tested in man cover- age by opposing quarterbacks last season. According to Sports Info Solutions data, he was 12th in the nation in quarterback rating allowed (25.1) in man coverage, and teams averaged only 3.2 yards passing per attempt against him in man. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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