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Predicting Michigan: The secondary

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013


(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

The final defensive position group for our Predicting Michigan series is the secondary, a group with a good blend of experienced talent and up-and-coming stars. Previously, we previewed the quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight endsdefensive line, and linebackers.

Returning Starters

Perhaps one of the biggest unknowns for the 2013 Wolverines is how the secondary will follow up an extremely strong season in defending the pass. Michigan had one of the best secondary units in the nation during the entire season, but looked lost in the bowl defeat to South Carolina. Competition is the name of the game this spring, as several of the players from that great 2012 group return to battle 10 freshman that have Brady Hoke singing the praises of his depth. Since the veterans have proven their worth, they will likely have every chance to win the starting jobs this offseason and repeat what they’ve done under Greg Mattison the last two years.

Blake Countess' return from injury will give Michigan a very talented secondary

Coming into 2012, one of the most exciting players on the defense was cornerback Blake Countess. The sophomore had won a starting job during the second half of 2011, and acquitted himself very well with 44 tackles and six pass breakups. Unfortunately, injury struck Countess in 2013, and it didn’t wait long to do so.

In the very first game of the season, against Alabama in Cowboy Stadium, Countess blew out his knee and missed the rest of the season. The 5’10″ Maryland native never got a chance to build on his impressive freshman year, as he was forced to take a medical redshirt and watch the remaining 11 games from the Michigan sideline. This season, he could be the leader of the secondary if he is able to regain the form he showed during his first full season. So far, everything has gone smoothly for Countess, who is now fully participating in training camp. He will spend the next few weeks trying to stop the freshman from doing what he did just two years ago: beating out an upperclassman for a starting spot.

On the other side of the field, Raymon Taylor was securing his own starting spot in 2012. Taylor ended up starting 11 games at cornerback after being named a backup to J.T. Floyd and Countess out of training camp. The sophomore had a nice performance to start the season, recording seven tackles in week one against the Crimson Tide. His most memorable moment was the 63-yard interception return for a touchdown during the dismantling of Purdue, which came just one week after his first career interception in South Bend.

Taylor didn’t record an interception in Michigan’s final eight games, but he continued to be a steady defender for Mattison’s battered secondary and will likely continue to start in 2013 across the field from Countess, barring a training camp setback.

When a young player takes over a starting job, that means there is a player that has to swallow his pride and take a back seat. In 2012, that player was Courtney Avery. Avery started all four of Michigan’s non-conference games, but gave way to the younger secondary players during the Big Ten season.

Avery has an interesting case for starting in 2013, as he has played in all 39 of his games in Ann Arbor but has only started 13. He made his biggest splash during the 2011 season when he picked off two passes despite starting only three games all year. As a senior, it is Avery’s last opportunity to hold onto a starting job during his college career, and it will be very difficult because of the competition. At worst, Mattison will have a backup veteran cornerback who is familiar with a role off the bench.

At safety, Thomas Gordon represents the only player who is almost assured a starting spot. In 2012, Gordon started all 13 games for the strong Wolverines secondary and seems to be the top candidate to take the reins from safety Jordan Kovacs as the leader of this unit. The redshirt senior recorded 81 tackles last season to go along with his two interceptions, and his only sack of the season came against Ohio State. Despite the absence of flashy statistics, he did his job well at strong safety. Gordon will have a tough job filling the hole that Kovacs left when he graduated, and Michigan’s defense will rely heavily on his play on the field and leadership off of it.

Career Stats – Countess
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 30 14 44 0.0 1.5 1 0 6 0
2012 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Totals 30 14 44 0.0 1.5 1 0 6 0
Career Stats – Taylor
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 1 1 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
2012 33 12 45 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 2
Totals 34 13 47 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 2
Career Stats – Avery
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2010 22 14 46 0.0 0.5 1 0 4 0
2011 17 9 26 0.5 2.0 1 2 4 2
2012 14 5 19 0.5 2.0 1 1 0 0
Totals 53 28 81 1.0 4.5 3 3 8 2
Career Stats – Gordon
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2010 13 10 23 2.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
2011 41 26 67 0.0 1.5 2 4 2 1
2012 46 35 81 1.0 4.0 1 0 2 2
Totals 100 71 171 3.0 9.5 3 4 4 3

Dark Horse Candidates

A couple of minor contributors are battling for their lives in training camp, as they try to increase their role against an even deeper group of defenders. Jarrod Wilson gained the trust of his coaches during his true freshman campaign, playing in 10 games as a reserve safety. Though his main job last season was on special teams, Wilson showed why he was ranked highly as a recruit when he did get his few defensive snaps. Coming out of high school, Wilson was ranked a four-star safety and one of the top in the country at his position. Being a talented recruit means very little in Ann Arbor these days though, and the sophomore will have to prove himself more capable than the fresh faces during training camp to increase his playing time.

Junior Delonte Hollowell is another long-shot candidate to win major minutes in the secondary. Hollowell played in three games as a reserve cornerback in 2012 and will likely have a similar role in his third college season.

Career Stats – Wilson
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2012 4 4 8 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Totals 4 4 8 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Career Stats – Hollowell
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR P Def INT
2011 5 1 6 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
2012 1 3 4 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Totals 6 4 10 0.0 0.0 0 2 0 0

The Freshmen: Who Will Stand Out?

Brady Hoke has quite the log jam on the horizon in the secondary. This season, there are six true freshman listed as defensive backs on the roster and four redshirt freshman. It’s a great problem to have, though, and Hoke has stated that this offseason he will keep an eye on everyone’s performance and let the competition decide who starts the season in which roles.

Of the five secondary players recruited in last year’s class, Jarrod Wilson was the only one who earned the chance to play as a true freshman. The other four players were all given redshirts and sat out the 2012 season because of an already-strong secondary. In 2013, three-stars Allen Gant and Jeremy Clark are the strongest candidates of the four redshirt freshman to earn major minutes, but will probably play most of their time on special teams because of a more talented 2013 class.

Three true freshman in the secondary should really interest Michigan football fans this season. At cornerback, Jourdan Lewis could be a fan favorite during his career in Ann Arbor if his knack for making big, flashy plays in high school translates to the college game. Lewis separates himself from other players because of his incredible athletic ability; and like many great cornerbacks, his play at receiver in high school makes him a threat to pick off passes on defense. The combination of playing both wide receiver and cornerback means Lewis will take a ball-hawk approach to defense, allowing his instincts and strong hands to force turnovers. Unfortunately, the freshman is very small at 5’9″, 160 pounds, which makes it hard for him to match up with some bigger receivers. Size is one hurdle Lewis will have to overcome while battling for a position in training camp.

Dymonte Thomas should be Michigan's nickel back as a true freshman (Scout.com)

Perhaps the most important secondary storyline during camp is the fight for the second starting safety spot. There is almost no chance that Mattison would start two true freshmen over senior Thomas Gordon, so Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas will battle for one spot during the next few weeks.

Though his commitment didn’t generate as much buzz around Ann Arbor as Thomas’, Cass Tech safety Delano Hill is built to play safety in the Big Ten. The scouting report on Hill is that he is a great form-tackler, and understands the game better than incoming freshman usually do.

Since his hiring two years ago, Mattison has preached damage control on the defense. Under Rich Rodriguez, the defense would often gamble and give up huge plays. Now, the defense limits gains and lives to play another down. Hill fits this mold and could play his way into the starting lineup as a result. His ability to diagnose plays and make smart reads means that Hill can prevent getting beat and allowing huge plays.

An added bonus with this young man is his ability to defend in coverage. Though he probably isn’t quick enough to cover speedy slot receivers, he can take away a tight end in man to man or zone coverage, which is an important asset to have in a physical conference. Whether he wins the starting job or not, expect Hill to play an important role in the Michigan secondary this year.

Hill’s competition is a player that likely everyone in Ann Arbor has already heard of. Thomas was one of the jewels of this year’s top-10 recruiting class, and was given a rare five-star by Scout.com. Like Hill, Thomas is 6’1″, so he can match up with big tight ends as well as smaller, quicker receivers if necessary. He also played running back and linebacker in high school, developing a punishing, physical approach to the game. Thomas will put a big hit on opponents on either side of the ball, but will focus on doing so to ball-carriers at Michigan.

The only knock on this five-star safety is his discipline in coverage, an ability in which Hill is very strong. Talent-wise, however, Thomas is the best defensive player in the recruiting class and will get every opportunity to win a starting spot as the nickel back in 2013. Awareness on defense is something that he will gain as he learns to play in the Big Ten, so the only way to get the maximum production out of Thomas is to put him on the field. Hoke and Mattison may feel the same way and give the freshman a chance to wreak havoc on the field to start the season.

Wrapping Up

During Mattison’s current tenure as Defensive Coordinator his pass defense has been effective, but it hasn’t been flashy. The turnaround that the defense showed in 2011 is a prime example of just how much one great coach can impact a college team. With essentially the same roster as Greg Robinson had the year before, Mattison turned a terrible defense into one of the top in the country. This season, Mattison will apply his legendary coaching ability to the outstanding recruits he has brought in the past two years.

It’s very difficult to win Big Ten games with freshman, so even though all these new five- and four-star players are generating excitement around Michigan Football, bounce-back seasons from Avery and Countess will be the most important factors to this year’s secondary. If Countess can bounce back from his injury and play like he did during Michigan’s Sugar Bowl run, and Avery can find some consistency as a senior, the secondary will be one of the best in the country.

Ramon Taylor and Thomas Gordon are going to be steady, as they were last season, leaving the Wolverines with four veteran defensive backs that can lead the young recruits. If a few of the freshman are able to step up during the 2013 season, this will be a deep secondary and should follow up the 2012 dominance with another great year.

National Signing Day: visualizing Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013



Stay tuned in the coming days as we profile each of the 27 members of Michigan’s 2013 class.

High school All-American games preview

Friday, January 4th, 2013


Now that Michigan’s season has drawn to a close, the second season has ramped up  to full steam. Recruiting is pretty much non-stop these days, but now that the coaching staff is able to devote the vast majority of its time to pulling in the best class possible, it’s a frantic race for the Feb. 6 finish line. That’s the day of National Signing Day, when all letters of intent have to be signed and submitted and become binding. But before we get there, several All-American games exist to showcase the top talent on the national stage. Some of the players are already committed, while some choose to make their announcements live on national television during the game. Still others opt to wait until National Signing Day to pledge their commitments. Here’s a look at the games and the current Michigan commitments that will be playing in them, as well as the targets that Brady Hoke’s staff hopes to lock in within the next month.

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 | 5pm EST
Under Armour All-America Game | St. Petersburg, Fla. | ESPN

The Under Armour All-America Game is ESPN’s version and features the Black (Highlight) team and the White (Nitro) team. Team Highlight is coached by former NFL head coach Herm Edwards, while Team Nitro is coached by Steve Mariucci.

Current Michigan commits:

#9 – LB – Mike McCray II (White)
#12 – QB – Shane Morris (White)
#17 – DT – Henry Poggi (White)*
#55 – OG – David Dawson (White)*
#57 – OG – Patrick Kugler (White)*
#72 – OT – Logan Tulley-Tillman (White)

*denotes starters

Michigan targets:

#22 – S – Leon McQuay III (Black)
#1 – WR – Sebastian LaRue (White)
#4 – WR – Laquon Treadwell (White)
#78 – OT – Cameron Hunt (White)

Other notables:

#3 – WR – Alvin Bailey (Black) – Former Michigan target, committed to Florida
#32 – RB – Ty Isaac (White) – Former Michigan target, USC commit

Rivals:

#6 – CB – Cam Burrows (White) – Ohio State commit
#7 – ATH – Jalin Marshall (White) – Ohio State commit
#7 – CB – Gareon Conley (White) – Ohio State commit, former Michigan commit
#8 – TE – Marcus Baugh (White) – Ohio State commit
#97 – DT –  Joey Bosa (White) – Ohio State commit
#34 – LB – Alex Anzalone (Black) – Notre Dame commit, former Ohio State commit
#60 – OT – Colin McGovern (Black) – Notre Dame commit
#70 – OT – Hunter Bivin (Black) – Notre Dame commit
#32 – LB – Trey Johnson (White) – Announcing commitment to either Ohio State, Florida, or Tennessee

As you can see, Team Nitro (White) has the majority of the players relevant to Michigan, so that’s the team to pay the most attention to. Of the uncommitted targets, Michigan isn’t in great position for any of them. McQuay was at the Wolverines’ Outback Bowl practice, but had this to say about where Michigan stands. He will make his decision known during the game. LaRue is an interesting one since he was committed to USC, but just decommitted. He reportedly wants to hear more from Michigan and has formed a bond with current Michigan commit Mike McCray. Hunt, a Cal commit, recently announced that he’s re-opening his recruitment and was offered by Michigan, but that was before David Dawson re-committed to the Wolverines, so it’s unclear as to whether the staff would take another offensive lineman. Treadwell seems extremely unlikely at this point. He favors Ole Miss, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, but with recruiting, you never know.

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Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 | 9pm EST
Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl | Carson, Ca. | NFL Network

The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl is considered the third-best of this weekend’s All-America games and is the Marine Corps’ version of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Current Michigan commits:

CB – Ross Douglass (East)
DT – Maurice Hurst, Jr. (East)
* Kyle Bosch and Taco Charlton chose not to play due to enrolling early at Michigan

Rivals:

DB – Devin Butler (East) – Notre Dame
WR – William Fuller (East) – Notre Dame
OT – Mike McGlinchey (East) – Notre Dame
QB – Malik Zaire (East) – Notre Dame
CB – Cole Luke (West) – Notre Dame
RB – Khalfani Muhammad (West) – Notre Dame

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Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 | 1pm EST
U.S. Army All-American Bowl | San Antonio, Texas | NBC

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is traditionally considered the nation’s premier high school all-star game and is in its 13th year. It has featured eventual Heisman Trophy winners and more than 200 eventual NFL players. This year, the West team will wear yellow and the East team will wear black.

Current Michigan commits:

#87 – TE – Jake Butt (East)
#73 – OL – Chris Fox (West)
#27 – DB – Jourdan Lewis (West)
#14 – DB – Dymonte Thomas (East)

Michigan targets:

#27 – RB – Derrick Green (East)

Other notables:

#5 – DB – Kendall Fuller – Former Michigan target, Virginia Tech commit
#10 – LB – E.J. Levenberry – Former Michigan target, Florida State commit
#21 – S – Su’a Cravens – Former Michigan target, USC commit

Rivals:

#24 – RB – Ezekiel Elliott – Ohio State commit
#9 – CB – Eli Apple (East) – Ohio State commit
#35 – K – Johnny Townsend (East) – Ohio State commit
#69 – OT – Evan Lisle (East) – Ohio State commit
#76 – DT – Michael Hill (East) – Ohio State commit
#72 – OT – Steve Elmer (West) – Notre Dame commit
#1 – RB – Greg Bryant (East) – Notre Dame commit
#74 – OL – John Montelus (East) – Notre Dame commit
#26 – LB – Doug Randolph (East) – Notre Dame commit
#88 – WR – Corey Robinson (West) – Notre Dame commit
#9 – LB – Jaylon Smith (West) – Notre Dame commit
#44 – LB – Mike Mitchell (West) – Announcing commitment to either Ohio State, Oregon, or Texas A&M
#17 – WR – James Quick (East) – Announcing commitment to either Ohio State or Louisville

Unlike the Under Armour game, Michigan’s four commits playing in this one are split between the two teams. Derrick Green is the big one to watch since he is reportedly leaning towards Michigan. He fueled speculation on Wednesday by posing for a photo with the four Michigan commits and then went on a Rivals chat and said Michigan does hold a slight lead. Ohio State and Notre Dame both have a number of commits playing in the game as well, and there are a couple that are making their announcements live during the game and have Ohio State among their finalists.

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Another thing you may notice is the complete lack of Michigan State prospects on the rosters for these three games. Of the Spartans’ 15 current commits, only two are rated four stars by Rivals and the rest are three stars.