For the first time in a very long time, the Michigan secondary returns a legitimate number one corner in the system. It also returns a lineup that will be relatively the same as last year save for the Nickel and safety positions. Redshirt junior Blake Countess, who had an tremendous year coming off a torn ACL the year prior, the headliner of this defensive secondary.
Michigan will also have to make up for the losses of Courtney Avery and Thomas Gordon due to graduation and Josh Furman leaving the program. When looking at the depth of the secondary, combined with the talent coming in to this season, the experienced youth will be this unit's greatest strength.
Is Dymonte Thomas ready for a starting role? Are the safeties ready to step up their game?
With early indications that Thomas was going to see plenty of playing time next season, the hype faded once Thomas saw the field less and less. Primarily a special teams player, the secondary was full which meant playing time was hard to come by. With Gordon leaving campus for NFL aspirations, a safety position has opened up which provides every opportunity for Thomas to seize the starting job.
Thomas was a highly-ranked safety coming out of school, so going to a natural position is a huge bonus for him. The safety position was a bit of an issue for the pass defense a season ago. Thomas has a chance to let fans forget the days of Furman being torched downfield often.
Another player who is expected to take a step forward this season is junior Jarrod Wilson. With only eight career starts under his belt, Wilson is expected to step his game up alongside Thomas to create a solid safety tandem. Recording 50 tackles and two interceptions last year, a third year under the system and the freedom of a starting role Wilson should see those numbers increase this year.
Who Do We Know
Returning cornerbacks Countess (the leader of the secondary) and senior Raymon Taylor will presumably be the starting outside cornerbacks to start the season. Though Taylor often struggled at points throughout the season, sophomores Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling will be looking to compete for a starting role. Both Lewis and Stribling saw a lot of early playing time and meaningful minutes throughout the season, perhaps a little earlier than the coaches would've liked. However, both players did well under the circumstances and both will be looking to build off their freshman years.
Another player that could push Thomas and Wilson is redshirt sophomore Jeremy Clark. Although he has seen very little game action, the coaching staff believe he is ready to come in and compete for a starting role. At the very least, he is able to come in and become a serviceable backup on either side of the defensive backfield.
The Next Big Thing
Do I even need to say who this is? Incoming freshman do-it-all Jabrill Peppers is being hyped up as the next best thing to Charles Woodson. Whether he plays like a Woodson remains to be seen, but Peppers will see plenty of game action this season. Peppers is a rare talent who can play anywhere on the secondary and even play on the offensive side of the ball. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Peppers could compete for a starting corner back job or even compete as a starting safety. If Peppers is all he is hyped up to be early on, Michigan will have a hard time keeping him off the field.
Other Names to Watch
Reon Dawson - A redshirt freshman coming in to this season, he is a name to look out for coming into the spring and fall. As of right now, Dawson has a chance to see playing time but may drop a bit on the depth chart and could be relegated for special teams work. However, if he can make noise during the offseason, it is possible for Dawson to see some playing time.
Delano Hill - Also a redshirt freshman, Hill's name has been thrown around as a potential starting safety. He is seeing plenty of reps with classmate Thomas during spring drills, and could very well get a starting nod. However, Hill provides very valuable depth at the safety position and will most likely see the field this season.
Brandon Watson - An early enrollee, Watson has become one of the defensive backs in the 2014 recruiting class that people have forgotten about. Although he was overshadowed by Peppers, Watson holds the advantage as he is currently been with the program for a few months now. A probable depth defensive back heading into this year, Watson has also been used as a potential safety option. Either way, Watson is a name to watch out for going into next season.
What Does It Mean
The secondary has talent on the roster and ... wait for it ... depth! Depth was an issue the Michigan defense has had to deal with the past few seasons. Now that depth this season can really show through as most will have some sort of game experience. Although Michigan struggled against the pass a year ago, the defense is looking to regain its form from 2012 under new secondaries coach Roy Manning Jr.
Countess should be the vocal leader of this secondary. With another year of eligibility left to play, Countess will be the main corner back on the defense. Recording six interceptions a year ago, Countess will be relied upon to be the shutdown corner many thought he was turning into before going down with a torn ACL early in 2012.