Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 114 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 113 DEFENSIVE BACKS the deep ball, because those guys need to be center fielders. They must be able to make a play on a ball that is thrown over the top of your corners." Wilson has the most experience of the bunch, appearing in 36 games with 18 starts, but the 6-2, 210-pounder has recorded just four pass breakups, two interceptions and three tackles for loss during the past two seasons. "He came in with a lot of athleticism and showed us a lot of promise, but you have to understand, he's been safe since he's been at Michigan," said former U-M safety and The Wolverine analyst Marcus Ray. "He hasn't been asked to make a lot of plays. He hasn't been asked to make 100 tackles and get five interceptions. He's asked to get everyone lined up. And he's been asked to play in Michigan's bend- don't-break defense. "He's done the bare minimum because that's what the coaching staff required of him, but if he wants to be big time, he has to elevate his game. He has NFL size. He can run. "Hopefully Greg Jackson gets him to the point where he can an- ticipate better and make plays on the ball. A great coach knows how to get the best out of his players. "We're all waiting for Jarrod to become what he has the potential to become, and you hope that he has that sense of urgency driving him because time is running out." The 6-0, 204-pound Hill may have had the most productive spring of any defensive back, and he's motivated to make Jackson's decision on whom to start a difficult one. He's been so impressive, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin might have to rethink the best personnel formations for his unit this fall. "There are opportunities to get three safeties on the field," said Jackson. "Delano is playing other positions besides safety. We have him covering the tight end a lot. "He's such an athletic player. He's big and he's fluid. He is the type of guy that is hard to keep on the sideline — he has so much talent and ability. And he's very instinctive, and he wants it badly. "We have different packages where we'll use three safeties." Michigan has three capable safeties competing for two spots, but it may only have two competing for one because Peppers should never come off the field, Ray argues. While he did not use the same word- ing, Jackson seems to agree. "I love him as a player because he brings everything to the table that you want and need," said Jackson, who won out over cornerbacks coach Michael Zordich to tutor Peppers. "There is no doubt he could play corner, but we thought he would be so much more of an impact inside. He's very instinctive and he PRESEASON ANALYSIS: SECONDARY Starters ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ Michigan's projected starters at safety — senior Jarrod Wilson and redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers — have 19 career starts between them (though Wilson has accounted for 18). Fifth-year senior cornerback Wayne Lyons and junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis have 29 combined starts. Three of the four potential starters have significant experience, and what Peppers lacks in game play, he makes up for with incredible physical ability that has left seasoned NFL veteran coach Greg Jackson in awe. This starting four should be one of the Big Ten's best, and could be one of the nation's best units if Wilson, Peppers and Lewis realize their immense potential, and Lyons is a capable No. 2 corner. Depth ✪ ✪ ✪ At safety, Michigan is loaded. Junior Delano Hill is a bona-fide contender to compete with Wilson and Peppers for a starting job, while both redshirt junior Jeremy Clark and junior Dymonte Thomas have had enough of a run in game situations that they could slide in for a starter if needed for a short time. Cornerback, however, is concerning. After Lyons and Lewis, U-M is looking at a quartet of unproven players, in redshirt junior Terry Richardson, redshirt sophomores Reon Daw- son and Ross Taylor-Douglas, and redshirt freshman Brandon Watson. Out of those four, Watson has shown the most promise and will likely compete with true freshman Keith Washington to be the third corner. But in most situations, when the coaches want to put a fifth DB on the field, they will likely utilize a safety because both Peppers and Hill could play nickel. X-Factor The only real known about grad-transfer Lyons is the coaches wanted him, but the 6-1, 193-pounder has never played for head coach Jim Harbaugh or defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, nor played in the Big Ten. He must adapt to his new surroundings, his new coaches and his new teammates while being counted on to start for the Maize and Blue. If Lyons struggles, the loss of Blake Countess (grad-transfer to Auburn) becomes magnified. If he thrives, then U-M could rival Michigan State for the top cornerback tandem in the league. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ An optimist would look at this group and drool with anticipation. Every teammate and every coach that has seen Peppers in practice raves about his ability to impact like no safety Michigan has put on the field in a decade. Wilson is playing with a sense of urgency he has not embraced before, and Hill had the best spring of the three, giving coaches reason to design packages where all three play together. At cornerback, Lewis could be a breakout star after a season of learning what weak- nesses he needed to fix, and Lyons was a sought-after transfer the coaches eagerly coveted. A pessimist might caution, however, that Wilson has never been more than an average safety, and that neither Hill nor Clark could unseat him a year ago. That Peppers, for all his talent, will be a redshirt freshman with three games of experience and much to learn. And at cornerback, U-M is one injury away from a really big problem. Every position group encounters 'what-if ' questions. Ideally, everything would go right, but everything would have to go completely wrong for this group to be average or worse. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Greg Jackson (first season overall, first season as safeties coach); Michael Zordich (first season overall, first season as cornerbacks coach). Returning Starters: S Jarrod Wilson (18 career starts), CB Jourdan Lewis (7). Departing Starters: CB Blake Countess (30). Projected New Starters: S Jabrill Peppers (1), CB Wayne Lyons (22 starts at Stanford). Top Reserves: S Jeremy Clark (6) S Delano Hill (5), S Dymonte Thomas (3), CB Channing Stribling (1), CB Brandon Watson. Newcomers: S Tyree Kinnel, CB Keith Washington. Moved In: Ross Taylor-Douglas from running back. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: Keith Washington. Most Improved Player: Delano Hill. Best Pro Prospect: Peppers. FYI: Ross Taylor-Douglas has constantly been on the move — he played cornerback as a freshman, moved to running back for his redshirt freshman season and is now back at defensive back …In 2014, Jabrill Peppers became U-M's first true freshman to start in a defensive back role in a season opener (Appalachian State) since Marlin Jackson started at nickel back against Miami (Ohio) in 2001 …The secondary, including incoming cornerback grad-transfer Wayne Lyons, has recorded six interceptions during the length of its players' careers thus far — departing seniors Blake Countess and Ray Taylor had accounted for 12 combined picks … Lyons instantly becomes the top tackler among Michigan's defensive backs with 127 in his career, supplanting senior safety Jarrod Wil- son, who has 108 …This marks the first time since the start of the 2012 season (safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd) that the Wolverines will begin a year with two defensive backs who have 100 career tackles or more. Yards TD Year Yards Per Game Allowed 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 Yards TD Year Yards Per Game Allowed 2009 2,657 221.4 18 2008 2,760 230.0 19 2007 2,325 178.8 14 2006 2,924 224.9 19 2005 2,494 207.8 14 Year-By-Year Pass Defense

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