Michigan Football Preview 2016

2016 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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118 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE BACKS BY CHRIS BALAS T here's no substitute for experience when it comes to playing defensive back in the Big Ten. At the same time, simply hav- ing returning starters doesn't guarantee success. It's returning and improving talent that makes the difference in shutting down the league's best receivers, and Michigan appears to have plenty at all positions in the secondary. A year after leading the conference in pass defense (allowing only 158.5 yards per game) and the nation in pass efficiency defense (94.6 rating), the Wolverines essentially return five starters at four positions, including some of the best at their craft. Departed safety Jarrod Wilson will be missed, but his replacements have played a lot of football. It was no wonder, then, that new safeties coach Brian Smith seemed to sport a perma-grin on his first day on the job during spring ball at Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy. "I was very pleased with what I saw in the spring," Michigan's first-year coach said. "I didn't really know what to expect coming into it because I knew there was not a lot of whole lot of experience back there [at safety], but with Delano Hill, he had some experience back there last year and previous years and had a great spring. "I was very happy with Dymonte Thomas in the spring as well." The two seniors will serve as the foundation of the position while Smith searches for their backups, and it's a good place to start. The 6-0, 212-pound Hill, a Detroit native playing strong safety (though like all of them, Smith noted, he'll need to know both the strong and free positions), started eight games a year ago and notched 46 tackles in 13 games played. "I was really happy with him, especially his athleticism," Smith said. "He's a very athletic guy, has got good speed and good man- to-man skills. He's really got all the tools you look for in a safety, athletically, and he was a big surprise for me." Much of the pressure in playing new defensive coordinator Don Brown's aggressive style comes on the back end, Smith noted, given how much Brown likes to blitz. "When you play a lot of man-to-man coverage like that, you've got to be able to cover your guy," Smith said. "If we're getting pres- sure up front, that definitely helps make our job easier. But Delano is learning the details of the position. It's a new system, and he's getting down the details of it. "He and everyone else had to focus on that, and he's done a nice job so far picking it up." The same could be said for Thomas (6-2, 195), a veteran who began coming into his own at the end of last season. He started five games, notched 24 tackles (seven of them in the last two games ver- sus Ohio State and Florida) and broke up seven passes, showing the instincts that made him a four-star prep out of Alliance, Ohio. "He's a smart payer, picks things up quickly," Smith said. "You tell him something once and he gets it. He has a good feel for the game and he's improved in the spring in his man-to-man coverage ability. He's got good ball skills, too … made a nice interception in the spring game. "Like Delano, he's also done a nice job learning the new system. Every day we just want him to try to get better by focusing on the little details, to continue to make strides like he has in his man cover- age ability. He's done a nice job in spring improving on that already and bringing physicality to the game that I know he has. We want to see more of that going forward." Smith also needs him — and Hill — to stay healthy. Experienced depth would be the weakness at the position; none of the projected The BesT In The BIg Ten Michigan Looks To Continue Last Year's Success In The Secondary Senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis was tabbed as a first-team All- American by USA Today after breaking up a single-season school- record 20 passes and notching a pair of interceptions in 2015. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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