Introducing the Two Deep: the suddenly existent options at backup cornerback

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 19: Tim Marlowe #6 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers gets tackled by Delonte Hollowell #24 of the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 45-17. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Depth at corner back? You can have that?

You'll excuse me if I am not yet comfortable with the idea that anything past the starting four secondary players is a black pit of despair and heartbreaking long touchdowns. It has been a few long years of watching Michigan lose players in the secondary, or fail to develop players in the secondary, or fail to recruit players in the secondary. Yeah, things have been a little bad.

There was a time where we were all hoping that Justin Turner would be the next great Michigan corner. We tried to talk ourselves into Boubacar Cissoko even after he spent the day playing footstool to Michael Floyd's high wire act (but before Cissoko went off the deep end off the field and began a tragic spiral). We talked ourselves into Troy Woolfolk being the answer despite his being a mid-year position switch from the previous season that looked to be an average corner at best -- then we cringed when god smote him with some old testament vengeance just to toy with our fragile hearts (and more tragically his, as anyone who followed him on twitter during the 2010 season can attest). We buried our heads in the sand as JT Floyd, James Rogers, and Courtney Avery battled for the two starting spots in 2010. In other words, a moderately regarded athlete that never saw a quick slant he couldn't bumble, a player who had switched from offense to defense so many times it was hard to keep track, and a true freshman that was 170 lbs soaking wet and had played quarterback through high school. It was a dark time and we didn't have a lot of options. You delude yourself to keep from going completely crazy.

Then last year came, Michigan's secondary was freed from the death grip of Tony Gibson, and all the sudden things weren't so bad. Troy Woolfolk returned and was solid -- if a bit slowed by the injury -- while JT Floyd's sudden emergence as a competent Big Ten corner became less and less patently absurd. Blake Countess emerged as the potential lock-down cover corner that Michigan hasn't had since Donovan Warren, and Courtney Avery established himself as a solid nickel corner. Things were good even though most of us spent the year waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And looking at 2012 things look to be getting even better. The only loss in the secondary was the aforementioned Troy Woolfolk, a guy who never looked quite the same post-injury. Both starters return in the new and improved JT Floyd and the star-in-the-making Blake Countess (plus the nickel corner, Avery, who we will cover later). On top of that Michigan will be getting a couple solid additions to the depth chart with two second year players and a junior beginning to push for time. Corner might be the deepest position on the team, something that was unimaginable two years ago.

The first name on the list is junior Terrence Talbott, a moderately regarded corner prospect out of Ohio that was solidly rated three-stars with one service -- ESPN -- nearly bumping him up to four-star range.

The story was always the same with Talbott: he was an athletic kid that looked to have the requisite skills and fluid motion to be a solid cover corner, but just wasn't big enough. If ever there was a recruit profile that screamed "redshirt" it was that of Talbott (and maybe his counterpart Courtney Avery, but again we'll get to that). Naturally, with Rich Rodriguez's knack for redshirt management and the dilapidated state of the depth chart at corner in Talbott's freshman year he was forced into action in every game of the season, appearing in 11 games as a corner and finishing with 15 tackles and a PBU. Last year as things settled down and there wasn't the need to throw available bodies on the field like pigs to the slaughter kept Talbott on the bench in all but two games.

That quiet season might have signaled something foreboding, Talbott losing ground against a younger class. However, various reports out of spring camp were high on Talbott's play and some even suggested that he might push JT Floyd for the starting spot at boundary corner. While this is a bit much to hope for, if Talbott can hold up as a solid reserve option to spell either of the starters and possibly sub in on passing downs, it would be a huge plus for a secondary that could carry a greater burden behind a weakened pass rush.

Talbott won't be alone. Raymon Taylor came to Michigan last year after originally committing to Indiana. The athlete out of Detroit was labeled as such coming out of high school because while he had speed to burn, it wasn't entirely clear if he would be suited for corner or another position. Scouting reports frequently derided his "stiffness" and "hips" (scouting reports do these things, and if you read enough I guess they make sense) and Magnus went so far as to say Taylor reminded him of James Rogers -- not stirring praise.

Despite that, Taylor made it on to the field as a true freshman as a reserve corner three times while contributing on special teams in 11 games. Taylor isn't big (just 5'10, 170 lbs), but if he can add a bit of good weight before the season and work on his coverage ability he could be a solid second option behind Blake Countess.

Also a sophomore is one of the latest corners out of Cass Tech high school, Delonte Hollowell. Like all corners from Cass Tech, Hollowell is tiny and quick. Unlike tiny corners from Cass Tech, Hollowell wasn't all that well regarded by the scouting services by the time things were said and done. He started out high to Rivals but fell to a meh three-star by the end of the recruiting cycle.

Hollowell got time in five games as a special teams player and one as a reserve corner. While he didn't get as much time as Taylor, he made it count in a big way with a nice play against Illinois in the third quarter to help force a fumble on a punt that set up a field goal. Hollowell is, by all accounts a career backup type at corner, but a full offseason of study and lifting should help him become a more productive special teams player, and hopefully garbage time corner.

The last option at cornerback is true freshman Terry Richardson, who happens to the be the latest model of tiny Cass Tech cornerbacks. Richardson could be a bit of a wildcard in the race for backup corner, as he is a four-star blanket corner type that -- while not possessing a great deal of size -- has shown the ability to play tight coverage. Whether Richardson redshirts or gets time early will probably have a lot to do with how physically ready he is come fall. He is listed all over as somewhere around 5'9, 160 lbs, and that just isn't very big. The hope is that depth is good enough that Richardson can spend a redshirt year eating chicken patties by the fistful and lifting weights. If he is too good to redshirt, well, I'm not sure of the college football equivalent to "first world problems," but let's just say, I'm not going to complain too much*.

So past the obvious starters at field and boundary corner, Michigan has a clear cut nickel corner, an improved junior, two sophomores with special team experience, and an incoming freshman that is well regarded overall. That right there is five, count 'em, FIVE guys behind the starters that can play corner. No safeties switiching positions or WRs moving to defense or RBs looking to create depth.

Man, Michigan should have jumped on board this "depth" bandwagon years ago.

*(who am I kidding, I'm going to complain a lot.)

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