Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 113 of 179

112 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE BACKS BY CHRIS BALAS A year ago, Ohio State replaced 16 start- ers — 12 of them drafted by NFL teams — and still made a run to the College Football Playoff, finishing 11-1 in the regular season. This year's Michigan team will have to overcome similar obstacles to follow the same path, including a complete overhaul in the defensive backfield. Two of Michigan's four secondary start- ers (not counting Jabrill Peppers because he played linebacker in his final year at U-M) went in the third round of this year's NFL Draft, plus Jeremy Clark was selected in the sixth while two others signed free agent deals. They won't be easy to replace, safeties coach Brian Smith and cornerbacks coach Michael Zordich noted, but there are a lot of capable players willing to try. Between the top four safety prospects and the quartet of new corners vying for playing time, there are zero college starts at the posi- tions they'll be playing this year, and many of their game appearances have come on special teams. It's not just learning their positions or covering their men that will be important, but how they all mesh together to form a formi- dable back four. "The chemistry has been good," Zordich said at the end of spring ball. "It's unique again in that we play man so we get the receiv- ers in bunches or they stack them, pick guys and rub guys. "Our older guys, Tyree Kinnel, Keith Wash- ington, Brandon Watson, Lavert Hill and even David Long to a point, they understand the calls and are comfortable moving from one call to another, making the adjustments." The other guys, though … they're "locked in," still going through paralysis by analysis. "They're playing their position," Zordich said. "They'll cover their guy, but then here comes another guy. We have our calls, but I tell them look across the formation and know what you're going to get into or know what you're going to get out of. You can only play one call at a time." Of the veterans, Kinnel (5-11, 206) appears primed to be the leader of the secondary, de- spite having notched only 19 tackles in 21 games over two years. The junior played in all 13 games at safety last year and was critical on special teams, earning special teams player of the game honors twice (UCF and Penn State), but his role should expand exponentially this year. Kinnel was a presence on the field during the spring game, the culmination of a very productive spring. "Tyree has got good ball skills," Smith said. "His ability to make plays on the ball is unique and special. He's just an instinctive player. He's got a nose for the ball, and he's an intel- ligent guy. "He can move around and play different positions for us, and get guys lined up. That's something you like in a safety. You can trust him back there not to make mistakes." Important, of course, because in all like- lihood, there will be some growing pains among the rest of the safeties. Only one — sophomore Josh Metellus — has played sig- nificant minutes throughout even a full game, and his experience came as the starting viper (linebacker) in the Orange Bowl after Jabrill Peppers was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Of his 15 tackles, including a sack, six of them came in the 33-32 loss to Florida State. Still, Metellus (6-0, 204) showed enough in that game to prove he had the instincts and ability to play well on the biggest stage. He's now at safety, dropped a few pounds to get to 204 and could play either safety position or, if necessary, the viper. "He's another guy with versatility who can do different things for us," Smith said. "He's a physical player who is not afraid to stick his nose in there." He's also got very good speed, which he showed in returning a blocked extra point for two points against the Seminoles. He's not Peppers and has never claimed to be, but he's similar in one sense as U-M's jack of all trades in the secondary. "He can move around and do different things," Smith said. "He can play close to the line, he can play back in the deep third, and he can play in the deep half. He can do it all. "He's not great at any one thing, but he's just solid at a number of things." Keeping both Metellus and Kinnel healthy could be one of the keys to the Wolverines' success on defense this year. Safety is one of the positions Jim Harbaugh's program is still bolstering heading into the coach's third year, and some of that still needs to be solved through recruiting. U-M was even flirting with Clemson graduate transfer Korrin Wiggins, a 6-0, 200-pounder from North Carolina slated to visit in June. Wiggins started at nickel back in 2014 before an offseason ACL injury forced PRESEASON ANALYSIS: DEFENSIVE BACKS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There's plenty of talent, but none of it is proven. There will be four new starters this year, and none of them — no matter who earns the right — has played extensively. This group is going to have to blend as the season progresses, regardless of who cracks the starting lineup — at this point it appears that will be Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus at safety, and Lavert Hill and David Long at corner. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Again, there are some players, but it's not ideal when you're relying on freshmen to provide significant minutes. Even Ty Law and Charles Woodson weren't Ty Law and Charles Woodson until their second or third seasons in Ann Arbor. The backups will be learning throughout the year, just like the starters. X-FACTOR Can the Wolverines get one of Hill or Long to become a lockdown (or close to it) corner by the time Big Ten play starts? Nobody expects the duo to be Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling in year one, but if one of them steps up as the guy nobody wants to throw against, that could really benefit a green secondary. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ No matter who starts the season opener with Florida, not one of them will have started a game at their current position. There's going to be a learning curve, and plenty of opponents will likely test the young defensive backs to see how they hold up under pressure. One mistake in the last line of defense is all it takes to score. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Michael Zordich, cornerbacks (third season); and Brian Smith, safeties (second). Returning Starters: None. Departing Starters: CB Jourdan Lewis (30 career starts), S Delano Hill (26), S Dymonte Thomas (21), CB Channing Stribling (18) and CB Jeremy Clark (16). Projected New Starters: CB Lavert Hill, CB David Long, S Tyree Kinnel and S Josh Metellus (1 at viper). Top Reserves: CB Brandon Watson, CB Keith Washington, CB Ambry Thomas, CB Benjamin St- Juste and S J'Marick Woods. Wait Until 2018: S Jaylen Kelly-Powell. Newcomers: Thomas, St-Juste, Woods and Kelly- Powell. Moved In: CB Drake Harris (from WR). Moved Out: S Khaleke Hudson (to LB) and S Jordan Glasgow (S) Rookie Impact: Thomas and Woods. Most Improved Player: Kinnel. Best Pro Prospect: Long. Into the FIre Four New Starters Will Comprise Michigan's Secondary

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