The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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166 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY MICHAEL SPATH F or many safeties, former Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Ed Reed has been the standard after which they have modeled their games. Michigan junior Jarrod Wilson, however, canvasses YouTube to find available footage of Sean Taylor, the former Miami Hurricane and Washington Redskin who was gunned down in his home at the age of 24. "I just grew up a really big fan of his, and the way he played is the way I want to play — someone that dominates the entire game and makes the plays that change a game's momentum," Wilson said. Wilson made a few of those plays a year ago in his first season starting, recording two interceptions, two passes broken up and two tackles for loss among 50 stops, but not enough to satisfy himself or his coaches. This season, his goal is to be a first-team all-conference performer and an All-Ameri- can, and he knows that to reach those lofty accomplishments, he has to be more than just average. "A lot of last year was learning how to be in the right position, learning how to com- municate and know where my help is, and then trying to make a play," Wilson said. "This year, I understand everything better, and my goal is just to turn it loose, because when you play aggressive you have a chance to impact a game." Michigan is counting on Wilson to in- crease his defensive touches, and provide a deterrent to offenses looking to throw over the middle or down the field. The Wolverines' brass is also looking for the Akron, Ohio, native to be a leader. In fact, that may be his most important con- tribution with the remaining U-M safeties enduring a crash course in responsibility training. Combined, the four (potentially five if true freshman Jabrill Peppers plays there) have fewer career defensive appearances (five) than Wilson has starts (eight). "Jarrod is such a key to this defense be- cause he's now the veteran at a position where we don't have much experienced depth," defensive coordinator Greg Mat- tison said. "He's the oldest guy in the room and he's only in his third year. So we have to be able to count on him. "And we do trust him. For our defense, we need that deep safety to be able to make that tackle if a receiver does break out or if a running back gets past the second level and into the open field, and Jarrod has proven to us he's a guy that will be in the right spot and get it done." The Best Of Both Worlds The 6-2, 202-pound Wilson is quiet and soft-spoken. Michigan's staff describes him as respectful, noting he's someone they never have to worry about because he's al- ways going to do the right thing, whether in the weight room, in the classroom, in prac- tice or in the community. On the football field, he has the opportu- nity to be a special player for the Wolverines because he possesses both the physical gifts and the mental acuity that separate the po- tentially great from the merely good. "The expectations for Jarrod are that he is a guy that has the ability, physically, to the best we've had since I've been here, and he has the intelligence of Jordan Ko- vacs," safeties coach Curt Mallory said. "Jordan was such a good football player, such a smart football player, and then you had Thomas Gordon who was very athletic, and now you have all those best attributes in one. "Jarrod has more range than either of those guys had, in terms of his length. He's a great athlete. He has speed, and he plays with a physicality we look for. He has two more years left, so he has a lot of football ahead of him." Though limited some athletically, Kovacs finished his career from 2009-12 with the most tackles (334) ever recorded by a Michi- gan defensive back, including an incredible 26 for loss and seven sacks. With Kovacs anchoring the secondary, the Wolverines had another coach on the field, and his maturation during his junior and senior seasons led to stunning improvements — U-M allowed 71.3 fewer yards through the air from 2010 to 2011 and lowered that mark another 21 yards in 2012, going from 112th nationally to 16th to fifth. "You want a guy back there that can be a quarterback that sets everyone up pre-snap and then can be a stopper and keep every- thing in front of him, and I always felt we had that with Jordan," Mallory said. "And that's the way I feel with Jarrod, too." The Maize and Blue tumbled to 66th in pass defense in 2013, surrendering 231.3 yards per game, up 61.8 yards from the year before. Wilson certainly played a role, and he's eager to put his unique combination of physical and mental skills to better use. "I was up and down, very inconsistent," Wilson said. "I did have a few spurts where I played really well, two or three games in a row, but then I was supposed to be the deep guy and I got caught out of position a few times, or other times where I had a chance to make a play on the ball but hesitated and didn't get there in time. "I really work hard on learning the game, and learning my responsibilities. I know now where my teammates are supposed to be, so I know where I need to offer help and where I'm getting help, and now I feel really confident mentally and feel like I can just play fast." A Vocal Leader Wilson may need to speak up during inter- views, and being loud does not come natu- rally to him, but he's not intimidated by the task of rallying teammates in the secondary or saying what's on his mind. ELDER STATESMAN Jarrod Wilson Enters His Junior Season The Veteran And Anchor At Safety With eight starts and 22 game appearances in his U-M career, Wilson will be by far the most experienced safety on the Wolverines' roster this fall. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN "Jarrod is such a key to this defense because he's now the veteran at a position where we don't have much experienced depth. He's the oldest guy in the room and he's only in his third year. So we have to be able to count on him. And we do trust him." DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG MATTISON ON WILSON 166-169.Jarrod Wilson.indd 166 6/19/14 2:04 PM

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