The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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162 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DB the coaches continue to mold into the athlete they need him to be. "He has the size, and he can run, jump — he just has to get the mental part of it down, the playbook part, and cut out the mistakes that occasionally he will make," Mallory said. "But he's come a long way. It will be interesting to see how he emerges." One of seven freshmen to enroll early in January, the 5-11, 185-pound Watson played both corner- back and safety in high school, and the coaches utilized him at nickel and safety in the spring. "When he arrived, we asked where could he help us," Mallory said. "He's a mature kid coming from the program that he's coming from — he's one of the few guys that I've had play two positions at this young age, and handle it. "Playing nickel for us, you have to be a corner with some cover responsibilities but you have to play the run like a safety. He will be a nickel/dime per- sonnel matchup and he'll practice with the safeties." Michigan's storyline at cornerback does not fo- cus on filling a void, but on the competition be- tween four, even five, capable athletes. Senior Raymon Taylor has started 23 games over the past two seasons, recording 10 passes broken up and six in- terceptions. Redshirt junior Blake Countess started 13 games in 2013 and six in 2011 — he missed 2012 with an ACL injury sustained in the first game — and also has 10 passes broken up and six picks in two seasons. Most years, the duo would likely feel comfort- able going into the fall knowing their hold on start- ing positions was secure, but U-M also features experienced sophomores Jourdan Lewis and Chan- ning Stribling, while senior Delonte Hollowell is eager to make a final push. "We have great competition in our room," first- year cornerbacks coach Roy Manning said. "I didn't have to be a guy in the spring that was get- ting worked up to motivate because the competition is motivation enough." Taylor and Countess both had good moments last year, but they were far from at their best consis- tently. Manning has reminded them of this, telling each that there are underclassmen fully capable of unseating them for critical roles this fall. The 5-10, 183-pound Taylor proved to be a playmaker for the Wolverines, leading U-M's defenders with 86 tackles and nine passes broken up, but he lost focus too often, peering into the offensive backfield only to turn and see his man 10 yards behind him and streaking toward the end zone. "He's getting older now and he understands that in order for us to be good he has to be locked in every snap," Manning said. "We ask our seniors to be leaders and we need our seniors to have their best year of football, and I expect Ray to do that." Countess is 5-10, 182, but plays bigger, never shying away from contact. The physical component he brings is a reason the U-M coaches like the idea of, potentially, using Countess over the slot. "We like his experience because at that nickel position there is a lot going on there," Manning said. "You have to be able to play the run if you're going to be that close to the box. You have to be a guy that is not scared of contact and sticking your nose in there. He has shown us over his career that he's a good tackler and embraces physical play. "The nickel will be on the field 75-80 percent of the time, and you want a guy that you trust and know will get it done, and he's a guy that this coaching staff has the utmost trust in." Countess led U-M in interceptions in 2013 with six, recording the most by any Wolverine since Todd Howard also had six in 2000. Whether he ends up starting at corner or nickel, the Maryland native will be afforded the chance to affect the game. "He may have an opportunity with the ball in his area, but the great ones make that play," Manning said. "And he made a bunch for us a year ago, which is great for his confidence and shows the example to younger guys that when you work hard and study the game you can make those plays, too." In Michigan's spring game, Lewis showcased an ability to make plays also, picking off a pair of passes. The 5-10, 174-pound sopho- more stands, perhaps, the best chance of bumping either Taylor or Countess to the sidelines this fall. BIG TEN RANKINGS PLAYERS 1. Kurtis Drummond, Sr., Michigan State — An All-Big Ten first-team selection in 2013, Drummond had a career-high 91 tackles, with four interceptions and six passes broken up from his safety spot. 2. Doran Grant, Sr., Ohio State — The 5-11, 193-pound cornerback had 13 passes defended in 2013, and with three OSU starters departed in the secondary he will have to shoulder a greater load. 3. Blake Countess, Jr., Michigan — Whether he lines up at cornerback or nickel back this fall, Countess is a proven playmaker with a Big Ten-best six interceptions in 2013. 4. Trae Waynes, Jr., Michigan State — After starting 14 games last year, the junior steps into the void created by Darqueze Dennard's departure while he seeks to be an- other lockdown cornerback. 5. Jordan Lucas, Jr., Penn State — Nittany Lion fans think Lucas, who had three interceptions and 13 passes broken up in 2013, is Penn State's best cornerback since Justin King (2005-07). 6. Desmond King, So., Iowa — A third-team Freshman All-American in 2013, King collected eight passes broken up and added 69 tackles, including three for loss, in his 12 starts at cornerback. 7. Ibraheim Campbell, Sr., Northwestern — Preparing for his fourth season starting at safety, Campbell had 73 tackles and four interceptions in his junior season. 8. Corey Cooper, Sr., Nebraska — The safety was one of four Huskers to start all 13 games in 2013, and he led the team with 91 tackles, including a sack among five tackles for loss. 9. Sojourn Shelton, So., Wisconsin — Relatively undersized at 5-9, 172 pounds, the cornerback still managed four interceptions and four passes broken up. 10. Tim Bennett, Sr., Indiana — The Hoosiers were awful defensively a year ago, but there is no denying Bennett's production — he led the nation in passes broken up (20) and passes defended (21). UNITS 1. Michigan State — The Spartans must replace two key departures in safety Isaiah Lewis and cornerback Darqueze Dennard, but the nation's third-ranked pass defense in 2013 should be up to the challenge. 2. Michigan — The Maize and Blue feature returning starters at both cornerback spots and at one safety, and are set to add the nation's top-ranked cornerback recruit, Jabrill Peppers, to the mix. 3. Wisconsin — The Badgers have been gutted defensively, with eight starters de- parting, but they welcome back three of four starters in the secondary, including both cornerbacks. 4. Penn State — The Nittany Lions have an emerging shutdown corner in Jordan Lucas and return an effective safety duo in Adrian Amos and Ryan Keiser. 5. Northwestern — The Wildcats must improve dramatically after allowing 255.8 yards passing per game in 2013, but with four starters back, including blossoming cornerback Matthew Harris, they should. Yards TDs Year Yards Per Game Allowed 2013 3,007 231.3 23 2012 2,203 169.5 16 2011 2,476 190.5 12 2010 3,404 261.8 21 2009 2,657 221.4 18 Yards TDs Year Yards Per Game Allowed 2008 2,760 230.0 19 2007 2,325 178.8 14 2006 2,924 224.9 19 2005 2,494 207.8 14 2004 2,435 202.9 14 Pass Defense Year-By-Year Delano Hill, a 6-0, 205-pound soph- omore, could begin fall camp as a frontrunner to start at strong safety alongside Jarrod Wilson. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 159-165.DBs.indd 162 6/19/14 1:33 PM

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