The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 161 DB There were other times he would not play at the level we needed him to play, whether it's running to the football or playing as aggressively as he can, but then he started to play a little more consistent towards the end, and was meeting our expectations." The 6-2, 191-pound Thomas is heavily in the mix, but his transi- tion from high school linebacker to college safety has had its growing pains. Perhaps with another summer, and another fall camp, he will develop into the player the coaches envision. "He was a sideline-to-sideline player, and he played so hard and that is his strength — he plays with such aggression — but in the same sense, he has to be under control when he's playing," Mallory said. "When he can break down and make the play, he will be a really good football player. He just gets a little out of position because he goes so hard. That's a good problem to have. I'd rather have to pull him back then make him more aggressive. He goes a million miles per hour but he has to learn how to go all out and be smart about it. "He has to keep working because he has the physical skills you want." Thomas boasts the most experience of the players competing at strong safety, but he has appeared in only three games. Still, that is more than Hill (one game, at linebacker), Clark (one game), Watson and Peppers. The good news is the 6-2, 202-pound Wilson will be there to lend assistance. "He does such a great job of helping the other guys, whether it's Dymonte, Delano or Jeremy," Mallory said. "You can see when they're playing alongside him their comfort level is high because he's so in tune with what's going on. He's been real helpful." At least physically, the 6-4, 206-pound Clark is both the longest and heaviest safety on the roster, but he remains like clay, a player PRESEASON ANALYSIS: SECONDARY Starters ✪ ✪ ✪ The good news is that three starters return. The bad news is that not one of the three has put forth a consistently solid effort during their careers. Senior Raymon Taylor makes plays, grabbing four picks and recording nine passes broken up last year, but he's at times caught with his eyes in the backfield, losing sight of his own man. Redshirt junior Blake Countess was expected to emerge the closest thing to a lockdown corner U-M has had since Leon Hall in 2006, but he played six to eight yards off his man last year. Junior safety Jarrod Wilson, meanwhile, was hit or miss in his first year a starter, making a great play one snap and then ending up not in good position on the next. All three are a year older, more expe- rienced and stronger, though, and the coaches are confident they will be more consistent. Depth ✪ ✪ ✪ At cornerback, Michigan is loaded. At safety, not as much. There is a decent chance Countess is moved over to nickel back this season because sophomore Jourdan Lewis demands playing time at cornerback, and he, classmate Channing Stribling and senior Delonte Hollowell provide U-M plenty of competition and insurance if something hap- pens. At safety, if Wilson went down, the Wolverines would be in trouble because at the opposite safety spot, three players — redshirt sophomore Jeremy Clark, and sophomores Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill — are inexperienced. Michigan has bodies, but it needs those bodies to emerge. X-Factor When Michigan signed five-star prospect Jabrill Peppers, it likely envisioned him bat- tling at cornerback in his rookie season. However, there is a far greater need at safety, and it's likely the incoming freshman will receive every opportunity to win a starting job next to Wilson. If one of Clark, Thomas or Hill blossoms, Peppers would earn a look at nickel back, giving U-M a physical defensive back to cover slot receivers, aid in run support and blitz off the edge. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ With three starters returning, the Maize and Blue might seem the envy of most of the Big Ten, but maybe not after the Wolverines allowed 231.3 yards through the air per game in 2013 (ranking seventh in the conference) and finished sixth in the league in pass defense efficiency (123.8 rating). Each new year is a new team, and with the expected contribution of Lewis and Peppers, and the continued development of Taylor, Countess and Wilson, this unit should rank among the Big Ten's best. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Curt Mallory (fourth season, first as safeties coach) and Roy Man- ning (second season, first as cornerbacks coach). Returner Starters: CB Raymon Taylor (23 career starts), CB Blake Countess (20) and S Jarrod Wilson (8). Departing Starter: S Thomas Gordon (38). Projected New Starters: S Delano Hill and CB Jourdan Lewis. Top Reserves: CB Channing Stribling, S Dymonte Thomas and S Jeremy Clark. Newcomers: DB Jabrill Peppers and S Brandon Watson. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Ross Douglas (to RB). Rookie Impact: Peppers. Most Improved Player: Lewis. Best Pro Prospect: Wilson. FYI: The 43 combined starts for Taylor and Countess represent the most by a returning Michigan cornerback tandem since the advent of the cornerback position in 1965, eclips- ing the 38 starts by Brad Cochran and Garland Rivers entering the 1985 campaign … Taylor ranks exactly 100th all time in career tackles with 133 after an 86-tackle 2013 that stands as the second-best effort by a U-M cornerback all time (Rivers, 92 in 1984) … Both Taylor and Countess have returned an interception for a touchdown during their careers, accounting for two of the 12 Michigan has had since 2000 … The classmates each need six passes broken up this season to rank among Michigan's top 20 in career passes broken up with 16 … Countess' 169 return yards on six interceptions in 2013 lists second for a single season behind Tom Curtis' 182 yards in 1968 … Wilson and Taylor are two of four current Wolver- ines with both an interception and a fumble recovery, joining defensive end Frank Clark and linebacker Desmond Morgan … A native of Akron, Ohio, Wilson had six tackles and an interception against his hometown Zips in last year's matchup … With 17 and 15 tackles, respectively, in 2013, Lewis and Stribling became the first true freshman classmates to have 10 or more tackles apiece at the cornerback position since Marlin Jackson (47 stops) and Markus Curry (13) in 2001 … With five of 13 scholarship players from the state of Michigan (38.5 percent), the secondary ranks second to wide receivers (60.0 percent) in homegrown talent among the five position groups — defensive line, linebackers and offensive line are the others — with at least 10 scholarship athletes. Redshirt junior cornerback Blake Countess led U-M in interceptions in 2013 with six, recording the most by any Wolverine in a single season since Todd Howard also had six in 2000. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 159-165.DBs.indd 161 6/19/14 1:33 PM

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