Yesterday and today, we provided an overview of the cornerbacks and the safeties that Michigan will have on its roster for the 2015 season. The expectations for Michigan's secondary are high, and this position group should rebound from a 2014 campaign that was marred by injuries and disappointment.
Here are the players that will lead that rebound:
Field Corner: Jourdan Lewis
Last season, it was presumed that Blake Countess, who was a recipient of All-Big Ten first-team honors in 2013, would retain his role as Michigan's starting field corner. But, during fall training camp, rumors leaked that it was Jourdan Lewis, not Countess, who was impressing at field corner in Michigan's new press man scheme. It didn't take long to confirm that the rumors were true. Lewis flourished as Michigan's field corner, making 39 tackles and recording a team-high two interceptions and six passes defended. He had the proper technique and tenacity to be physical with opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of their routes. Sometimes, Lewis was too physical, committing pass interference by clutching at a receiver's jersey while trying to make a play on a ball headed his way, but this was a small cost for having one of the most effective cornerbacks in the Big Ten. Lewis didn't earn any All-Big Ten recognition for his performance, but it would be a shock if he wasn't in contention for them this season.
Reserves: Brandon Watson
Boundary Corner: Wayne Lyons
This would have been a much tougher call if Blake Countess had decided to finish his career as a Wolverine, but there is no debate about who will start here after Countess transferred to Auburn for his final season. Wayne Lyons is a grad transfer from Stanford, where he was a solid contributor for one of the nation's best pass defenses each of the past three seasons. In his time as a Cardinal, Lyons appeared in 43 games and tallied 128 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles. Not only does Lyons bring experience to Ann Arbor, he also brings size. At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, he is a perfect fit at boundary corner, where he can be physical downhill in run support. He also has the physicality to be effective when jamming receivers in Michigan's press schemes, but, when Lyons can't apply the proper jam, he tends to be beat badly because he can't flip his hips fast enough and doesn't have the speed to recover. Nonetheless, given Lyons may be Michigan's top draft-eligible player, Michigan is in good hands.
Reserves: Channing Stribling
Strong Safety: Jabrill Peppers
Jabrill Peppers opened last season at corner -- nickel actually -- but strong safety is where he's destined to play. For years, Michigan has been missing that versatile hybrid space player, who can bring the wood in run support when Michigan is in Cover 1 or Cover 3 and provide sound sideline-to-sideline coverage. Jordan Kovacs was the closest to fit this description, but, even Kovacs, for as good and solid as he was, particularly when he played closer to the line, did not have the physical tools to provide air-tight coverage. And there are very few college players that have the physical tools that Peppers has, which is why he was ranked the third-best prospect in the 2014 class. In fact, during Peppers' recruitment, a USC assistant was quoted as saying that the only two players in high school he's seen with a body like that were Adrian Peterson and Patrick Peterson. Though Peppers is only a redshirt freshman and will be prone to making mistakes, he still will be a weapon in the middle of the field for Michigan's defense, and he will be the key that unlocks the greatness to which this secondary can achieve.
Reserves: Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas
Free Safety: Jarrod Wilson
When you think of a prototypical free safety, you think of one that plays centerfielder and is a ball-hawker or one that hones in on a receiver crossing the middle of the field and rattles his bones with a thunderous hit. Jarrod Wilson is neither of those things, and that's OK because Michigan doesn't need him to be. With Jabrill Peppers manning the spot at strong safety, where he'll be utilized as a weapon all over the gridiron, Wilson's role will be to keep the play in front of him, which is something at which he is quite proficient. Last season, Michigan was sixth in the nation in fewest passing plays of 30 yards or longer allowed, and that was in a defense where corners not named Jourdan Lewis struggled to jam receivers in a press man scheme and left Michigan vulnerable to big plays. Wilson doesn't bust often, and his ability to be a safety net will allow the others in front of him to be more aggressive without reservation. So, if Wilson doesn't have the interceptions or forced fumbles you would like, don't fret. Just know he's doing his job.
Reserves: Jeremy Clark
Nickel Corner: Jabrill Peppers
"Wait, isn't Jabrill Peppers already the starting strong safety? How can he be nickel, too?"
Well, that's the one lingering question: who will be Michigan's nickel corner? Would Michigan rather bring in Brandon Watson and keep Peppers at safety or drop Peppers to nickel and bring another safety onto the field when Michigan goes to its nickel package? The answer is the latter. Peppers' value at nickel will be similar to his value at strong safety in non-nickel packages. Peppers will continue to be that hybrid space player that has the athleticism to stick with shifty slot receivers and the muscle to provide run support on the edge. The reason for the decision, though, is that Delano Hill seems to have made a leap. Hill is a strong safety, and, though Hill didn't experience much success last season, in which he appeared in seven games and made five starts, reports from spring practices and summer workouts have raved about Hill. One such supporter is former Michigan great Marcus Ray, who knows a thing or two about the safety position. Ray has claimed that Hill, not Peppers, has been the most-consistent playmaker in the secondary. That remains to be seen, but, if Ray is correct that things are clicking for Hill, Hill will be a mainstay in the nickel package, which Michigan will deploy frequently.
Reserves: Brandon Watson and Channing Stribling