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An Early Look At 2017 Michigan Football: Defensive Backs Preview

Maryland v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Personnel

Who’s definitely leaving? For the safeties, both Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas are moving on, and for the corners, Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling are bidding farewell.

Who might, or might, be around? The big name here is Jeremy Clark, who is applying for a sixth year because of injuries. Getting him back would be huge.

So, who’s definitely going to be in town, then? Michigan is adding a couple freshmen safeties, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and J’Marick Woods, to a team that already features Tyree Kinnel, Jordan Glasgow, Josh Metellus (who seems primed to replace Jabrill at linebacker), and Khaleke Hudson. There are also a couple walk-ons to note besides Glasgow: Tru Wilson, Tyler Cochran, and Louis Grodman.

At cornerback, Michigan is adding freshman studs Ambry Thomas and Benjamin St-Juste to a group that already includes Brandon Watson, Lavert Hill, and Keith Washington.

The Depth Chart

A complete shot in the dark as to who will start: I would write Tyree Kinnel’s name in with ink and Khaleke Hudson’s name in with pencil.

At corner, hopefully Jeremy Clark gets a sixth year granted by the NCAA. If he does, I think both he and Brandon Watson end up starting. If not, then you’re looking at Benjamin St-Juste leading a talented group of freshmen for that second spot.

Right on their heels: Safety is an interesting position right now with how it’s taking up between two and three positions on the field (thanks to the Viper/nickelback/SAM linebacker spot). I think Jordan Glasgow ends up as the backup to both Josh Metellus and Khaleke Hudson, and plays well. Khaleke Hudson, in turn, can back up Tyree at free safety. After that, though, it starts to get dicey.

Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

And at cornerback, there are going to be some hard-working, disappointed, terrific players when this battle for a starting spot is over. Lavert Hill has done some good things in his one season in Ann Arbor, and both he and Benjamin St-Juste are technically driven, capable defenders. Two physical freaks, David Long and Ambry Thomas, are going to get their reps in as well. I like all these guys to do something exciting sooner or later.

I’ll also want to see some improvement, though: Lavert can get a little faster and quicker, St-Juste needs to get used to hitting and be more physical, and Long and Thomas both need to get reps and training to develop their technique, pure and simple.

Outside looking in: Looking at some of our back-up options at safety, both Jaylen Kelly-Powell and J’Marick Woods are great long-term prospects, and we also have an athletic and deep groups of walk-ons led by Louis Grodman (who loves to cause turnovers, and did make the field a little bit this year), Tru Wilson (a former two-star recruit who’s basically just a three-star athlete with a lot of learning to do), and Tyler Cochran (the biggest and best of the three, an enforcer and good all-around prospect).

I’ll also be curious to see what Keith Washington, the former quarterback who moved to corner, can produce. He’s entering his upperclassman seasons, so time is slowly running out for him. Athletically, and with his lanky frame, he could be a phenomenal defender, but we need to see something more than what we’ve seen so far (which isn’t much). This will be his time to break out.

Four Questions

Does Jeremy Clark get his waiver from the NCAA? If he does, he’s an immediate starter and All-Big Ten contributor. If he doesn’t, my guess is you’re putting Benjamin St-Juste in there, which is exciting from a pass defense standpoint and a little worrisome from a physicality standpoint.

What’s the ceiling for Brandon Watson? Watson is a guy who hasn’t been brought up much by Michigan fans. Still, he’s athletic enough, long enough, and seasoned enough to not make negative plays, and that’s what matters at that position.

He looks more than capable out there, and his experience gives him an edge over the younger, exciting athletes filtering into the program. And, to be honest, who knows how good Watson might end up being - the former three-star has done a lot of good things with his reps so far, and he’s only getting started.

Does Michigan have a few surprises in store from the walk-ons? The depth we have for 2016 will continue to be a storyline. If Michigan can get encouraging news out of some of the reserves, we don’t need to worry quite as much about the season falling apart because of a few badly timed injuries in the secondary.

Granted, any of the freshmen could step into the role, but early on, especially, I think Harbaugh would like to use guys like Cochran or Grodman, and let the first-year players get settled in.

Can Michael Zordich continue to work his magic? All these guys are talented and athletic, but they need to get trained up if they want to start playing like Jourdan Lewis. Luckily we have one of the best DB coaches in the country to help them out.

Final Verdict

On defense, not only does the front seven need to get overhauled, the secondary does too. That’s usually a recipe for disaster, particularly when you’re handing over the keys to freshmen and sophomores in the secondary.

But, call me an optimist. I know the Wolverines are undergoing some massive overhaul right now, but at most positions, each looked at individually, it’s hard not to be optimistic for what they could turn into. How good, though, is a little harder to say.

But I do like the skill guys we’re bringing in, and the experience that some of them have gotten has been encouraging. These are not your ordinary underclassmen, and Michigan does not have an ordinary coaching staff. Buckle up, and hopefully enjoy the ride.