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How scared are we about Michigan’s new crew of defensive backs?

Harbaugh, Don Brown, Zordich and Smith have a lot to handle here. But should we be worried?

Photo credit: Dustin Johnson, Maize n Brew

Everyone is talking about how the OL will hold up and gel or the DL depth or the quarterback competition. Why aren’t we talking more about the defensive backs? The safeties and corners are by far and away the least experienced position groups going into next year. In a world of spread offenses and pass first teams this topic should have a little more play, don’t you think?

We lose an all-timer in J Lew, an All-Big Ten performer in Channing Stribling, one of the most freakish athletes we’ve ever had in Peppers (riiiiight, he was a “LB”. The Viper spot is both LB and DB and he was clearly more of a DB playing a LB roll because we didn’t have any more LBs so he counts here), and both starting safeties who were very good in their own rights and taking their shots at the NFL too. (Not to mention Jeremy Clark, who got drafted himself by the Jets in the 6th round.)

So what do we have now and how scared are we?

Photo credit: Dustin Johnson, Maize n Brew

The safeties

Let’s start with Tyree Kinnel at Free Safety. He’s the oldest and most experienced of the defensive backs as a junior. He is also the least scary (for Michigan fans) as he has shown tackling ability in space and athleticism to get from point A to B with gusto. I, for one, am happy to have him and he should take over the Free Safety position with ease. We should not lose a step here, his starting job is basically a guarantee.

At Strong Safety I think we can also lay money on Josh Metellus as the starter. This is a guy who can bring the wood and is a Don Brown favorite. He’s called him a ‘savant’, which I’m trying to figure out if it’s higher or lower than a “Dude” on the Donnie Mustache Player Rater, but it sounds pretty good to me. I’m guessing we don’t miss Delano Hill and I think the drop off here is negligible. Honestly, I ain’t that scurred.

Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

I’m throwing the Viper spot in here because it looks to be more of a safety type roll in this defense. We only play a couple traditional under center teams in Sparty and Wisconsin so most of the time we need more of a coverage DB type than a LB type in the spot to cover spread offenses. Khaleke Hudson seems to be the man here. He laid some big hits in the spring game, is a great athlete who was somehow under recruited by most of the powerhouses. James Franklin does know his defensive players and we stole him away late from PSU, so that does say something.

Is he Peppers? No. Is he Peppers Lite? Easily. There will be a drop off here but not as much as some would think. This registers as a 5 out of 10 on my imaginary Scary Scale.

Jaylen Kelly-Powell, J’Marick Woods and Brad Hawkins (presumably) round up the depth at safety and Viper/DB version (Looks like if we go heavier Jordan Glasgow or another LB fits into this spot). Kelly-Powell is yet another highly touted Detroit kid but more for his instincts and intelligence than his size and athleticism. My guess here is that a redshirt beckons but he’s one of our future mainstays. If he plays a lot, I’m pretty darn scared.

J’Marick Woods has a nickname, Woods, which isn’t a nickname but people have talked about his hitting ability thus the “nickname” (yes, I’m confused too). He’s a big kid at 6’3” and over 200 lbs. Those are great measurables and a noted reaction to seeing him in person is ‘wow, you’re bigger than I thought”. Though not as highly recruited, Harbaugh may have a gem here. He was an early enrollee but had an injury this spring so we really didn’t see much but a clip from Rome. Don Brown was fairly effusive in praise though when talking about him. I bet we see him a decent amount between Viper and Strong Safety giving guys rest.

Brad Hawkins is a WR flipping to Safety, he certainly looks the part and played the part of safety in high school and prep but may need another year or two to break into the two deep and is a likely redshirt. If any of these three start my Scared-O-Meter spikes to dangerous levels. Kelly-Powell and Woods will both get some back-up run though.

The corners

Now to the corners…here’s where we start to get scary, like Island of the Dolls scary. Corner is definitely a position where young, athletic guys can make an impact right away. It is also a position that young guys who are still learning the tricks of the trade, technique, and making the physical adjustment to college get burned. Getting burned on the corners means explosive plays for the opposition. It doesn’t look like either CB spot is locked down and that could be an issue.

We’ll start again at the seemingly least scary, Lavert Hill, who draws Lewis comparisons. Best of luck filling those shoes kid (please make this true!). Although Don Brown was not happy with his progress in the spring he looks like the most technically sound CB on the roster with noted quick feet and ability to turn and run with receivers. He has the requisite size and has, gulp, some experience? Pretty scared man.

We haven’t seen much from David Long but a guy as highly touted as he was out of high school with the size and physical ability from day one should be a guy that wins a starting job or significant role as a nickel or rotational outside CB. Harbaugh really wanted him and climbed a tree to seal the deal. That earns bonus points.

His scouting report reads like your dream corner: 6’ but plays bigger, feisty, great hips, excellent closing speed etc etc. Of note he was out on some kickoffs in the spring game, so he definitely has straight line speed. Here’s hoping his noted athleticism and Brown/Zordich/Smith’s tutelage comes together quickly as I think he has the highest ceiling of any defensive back. I’m going to say that by fall he and Hill are the two starting corners. Still would be a first year starter and redshirt freshman, so I’m pretty scared until I see him on the field.

Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

Brandon Watson and Keith Washington are contenders here too. Both have more experience and in Washington’s case showed out this spring. Watson has had a couple moments in games, but has been a complete mixed bag including some troubling missed tackles and blown coverages…never a good sign for a guy who’s been on the roster for a couple years. I would be very scared if Watson started and only somewhat scared about Washington, who at least was sticking with Donovan Peoples-Jones in the spring game and looks physically ready for the job making some impressive open field tackles in the spring as well.

Lastly, we have Benjamin St. Juste and Ambry Thomas. St. Juste is a huge CB at 6’3”, but coming from Canada he has little coaching and experience and the transition is going to be huge for him. He is likely due for a redshirt unless injuries strike big. Ambry Thomas is another highly touted recruit who stands around 6’ and is a great athlete. I’ve got a dollar that says he sees the field early in a blow out then gets a redshirt. If he pushes the rest, that’s good for his future but also a very bad sign for the others development. If either of these young men are playing significant minutes we’re probably in trouble. 10 out of 10. Super scary.

I believe in Harbaugh, we certainly have great positional coaching, and we have a ton of young talent, but nothing prepares kids for the real thing like the real thing. These guys all need some seasoning and mistakes are bound to happen with this secondary. Luckily the front line and linebackers look to be very strong and will take some pressure off these guys in the beginning. When the big games roll around they better be ready though because don’t think for a second that Meyer and Franklin won’t try to take advantage of our weaknesses.

I’m pretty scared of all the unknowns here, how about you?


How nervous are you about this secondary?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Very, this is scarier than that time I met Mel Gibson
    (97 votes)
  • 41%
    Pretty scary, although I did survive The Ring
    (621 votes)
  • 44%
    Not really. You’ll have to try a lot harder
    (660 votes)
  • 7%
    Hold on, let me go eat some blue-twisted steel
    (113 votes)
1491 votes total Vote Now