The Wolverine

2018 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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112 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE BACKS BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan allowed 150.1 yards pass- ing per game last fall, fewer than any team in the country. All four starters return, so what could possibly go wrong? The Wolverines in the secondary aren't in the mood to find out. They're trying to clean up the breakdowns that did allow big plays at the most inopportune times and cement themselves as a potent part of the nation's best defense. "We can be really good," cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich acknowledged this spring. "That's no secret. We really can be. That's a positive for us. We're taking those steps to continue to get better." Zordich and Chris Partridge — who made an offseason move from mentoring lineback- ers to take over Michigan's safeties — aren't going to take their foot off the gas. They know Michigan's front seven will be keeping pressure on quarterbacks all season. Their charges just need to take advantage of the mayhem and guard all the exits. That's precisely what they plan to do. "I think we grew up," observed senior safety Tyree Kinnel. "You could tell, just by the experience from last year. We know each other more on the field now. We know what to expect out of each other. "I feel like we're flying around faster. It's going to be an exciting year for us." Strong Up The Middle In baseball, everybody wants to be strong up the middle: catcher, the shortstop-second base combo, centerfield. It's no different in football, with Kinnel and junior safety Josh Metellus forming the centerfield tandem for the Wolverines. Kinnel paced Michigan's secondary a year ago, recording 70 tackles, with one sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions and seven pass breakups. He's hugely motivated heading into his final season, a trait that be- came apparent to Partridge this spring. "When you get a veteran like that, that's going into his fourth year and started for a year, and has been around, you don't really know how he's going to respond, going into his last spring," Partridge noted. "I treated Tyree and coached him the same way as Josh. I put my foot on the pedal with both of those guys, and concentrated on the little things. I nitpicked every step they took — on their breaks, on their angles. They appreciated that. We got back to the simple fundamentals, and you see success coming out of that." Metellus logged 50 tackles, with half a TFL, five pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. "He was one of those guys that I chal- lenged every single day," Partridge noted. "And he responded every single day. I'm really proud of the spring he had, because he really put in, above and beyond, the work on the little things to become a better all-around football player." Defensive coordinator Don Brown singled out Metellus as someone who took more than his share of criticism — sometimes unde- served — during the season. The third-year Wolverine impressed the big boss, though, doing whatever necessary during spring workouts. "We had a practice this year where we were a little thin in our corner situation with injury," Brown recalled. "Josh Metellus played the whole day at corner. That's really hard to do. "The physical challenge of corner is one thing, but this mental challenge is different from the safety picture. He jumped out there like, 'No big deal, Coach, I've got it.' "There's a guy that knows our system well enough that he could actually just do that and function at a high level … and he functioned at a high level." The effort didn't go unappreciated by Par- tridge, either. "Josh is a really savvy, smart football player," Partridge said. "He's a guy that can handle something like that, and he did. He's athletic enough to do that. I told him, 'When you do that for our team, it makes you more of a man to me.' "He did it, took it in stride, competed, had a great day. It just shows him what he can do and what he's capable of." Kinnel and Metellus demonstrated what their new position coach sought in the spring. "Both of those guys really had good springs for us," he said. They exceeded ex- pectations." The Wolverines continue to build depth at the safety spots. Word about the hitting ability of sophomore J'Marick Woods filled the offseason, and he did see the field, per- PRESEASON ANALYSIS: DEFENSIVE BACKS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ What a difference from a year ago, when the Wolverines sent out four new starters in the opener. This season, they all return, after combining with Michigan's front seven to al- low the fewest average passing yards (150.1 per game) in the nation. Barring injury, U-M should field an exceptional front-line quartet, one that will look to make more interceptions while keeping the passing yards in check. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This one depends on the position break- down. The safeties showed off substantial depth in the spring, even loaning out junior safety Josh Metellus to the cornerbacks for a time following an injury to junior starter Lavert Hill. Hill is back, but needs to stay in the lineup, keeping Michigan's depth there as depth. There are definitely challengers, though, at both spots. X-FACTOR Utah grad transfer Casey Hughes is a corner that can play some safety, according to Michi- gan defensive coordinator Don Brown. Where will he land, and how much can he help? Those are questions that won't be answered until fall camp, when Hughes mixes it up with the rest of the Wolverines. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ This group should be outstanding — expe- rienced, savvy and comfortable with Brown's defense. That doesn't mean there isn't room for some major steps forward, because there is. More interceptions and fewer breakdowns at critical moments could shift this bunch from very good to great, while helping Michi- gan to a level it has yet to reach under Jim Harbaugh. Back For More A Full Slate Of Returning Starters Leads A Strong Secondary Yards TD Year Yards Per Game Allowed 2017 1,951 150.1 11 2016 1,853 142.5 11 2015 2,060 158.5 8 2014 2,324 193.7 14 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 2008 2,760 230.0 19 YEAR-BY-YEAR PASS DEFENSE

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