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2017 Michigan Football Position Preview: Safety

New starters will be counted on to lead the back end of the defense in 2017

University of Michigan v University of Central Florida Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

In what should start to feel like a trend across the Wolverines roster, Michigan is replacing two starters at the safety position heading into 2017. Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas had been mainstays on the back end the past few years, performing at least reliably, and at times above average in their respective roles. Now enter Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, who will be expected to lead an inexperienced but talented secondary.

The Starters

Tyree Kinnel | #23 | Junior | 5-11 | 206 lbs | Huber Heights, OH

2015 (Fr): 2 tackles

2016 (So): 14 tackles, 1 TFL

Rising junior Tyree Kinnel saw action in every game last year, which is enough to make him one of the more seasoned players on the Michigan defense. Entering his third season, he will be expected to be one of the leaders on the defense, both on and off the field.

Kinnel is smaller in stature than some of the recent Michigan safeties at 5-foot-11, but what he lacks in size, he makes up in play-making ability. What stands out most about Kinnel is his willingness to come up in support of the run game. He is not a burner, but is a very quick and decisive tackler capable of laying a big hit. He has been a strong contributor on special teams the past two years as well, though that role is likely to diminish as he moves into a starting spot on defense.

In coverage, we have not seen Kinnel get his hands on many passes yet, but he looks to possess solid all around ball skills and should get plenty of opportunities this season to make a name for himself with his pass defense. He had an athletic pass break up in the end zone against Ohio State last year that provides some confidence in that aspect of his game moving forward.

Expect Kinnel to be one of the top performers in the secondary this season for the Wolverines, as well as one of the better safeties in the conference.

Josh Metellus | #13 | Sophomore | 6-0 | 204 lbs | Pembroke Pines, FL

2016 (Fr): 15 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack

Josh Metellus should be in line to take over at the strong safety spot after playing in nine games last season as a true freshman, including a breakout performance filling in for Jabrill Peppers in the Orange Bowl at the Viper position. Although he was one of the lower ranked recruits in the ‘16 class, Metellus looks to have the makings of a very solid player coming into his second season as he moves over to safety permanently.

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

He has good size for the position at 6-foot and looks to have put on a little weight in the off season. What I like about him, though, is his work ethic and football IQ.

With older options ahead of him, Metellus was able to move into a backup role by the end of last season. True freshman in the secondary is not usually part of an ideal situation, but the staff felt comfortable enough with Metellus to put him in against one of the hottest teams in the nation in Florida State. He came in and played — I thought — very well given the circumstances. He even contributed to the scoring late in the game with the return of a blocked PAT. That shows that he is both coachable and a hard-worker, as he was able to get his body in shape to play at the college level in his first year.

It is difficult to take a ton away from the limited snaps last season, but Metellus looks like a player the Wolverines can count on moving forward. His development will be crucial to the success of the defense this year and he will be expected to be a leader in 2017, despite only being a true sophomore.

The Depth

Like with a lot of the other position groups on this team, freshmen and sophomores will be expected to come in and at the very least provide some depth.

Jordan Glasgow is now an old man on this roster and is the first guy off the bench, although he may see more time at the Viper position than either safety spot. The Viper position is unique in that it is a hybrid between a safety and linebacker spot, which is a good fit for the hard-nosed Glasgow. If Metellus or Kinnel go down, expect Glasgow to slide into one of the safety spots.

Indiana v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Freshmen J’Marick Woods and Brad Hawkins will hope to come in and compete right away. Woods has the look of a rangy, athletic safety standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in a shade over 200 pounds. Early reviews out of camp are that Woods has asserted himself well and is an incredibly physical defender. The Wolverines probably cannot afford to redshirt him with their current depth chart.

Hawkins was initially pegged as a receiver with the potential to move over to safety. Now it looks like Don Brown has called dibs on the 6-foot-1 Connecticut product. His experience at receiver should give him some very strong ball skills, if nothing else. Hawkins took an extra year at prep school last season and it looks to have paid off with his physical development. He at least looks the part of a college safety at this point.

Jaylen Kelly-Powell is another freshman with a ton of potential, but he could use a year in the system to get his weight up before seeing the field.

Neither Hawkins nor Woods has seen meaningful snaps so we don’t know what to expect as of yet. Luckily for Michigan, Harbaugh and company have been recruiting well in the secondary so there is plenty of talent in the wings.

This is a talented position group that is extremely top heavy and thin on depth. If the Wolverines lose either starter for significant time, things could get ugly quick as Michigan would be forced to roll with unproven freshmen. So long as Metellus and Kinnel are the starters, Michigan’s last line of defense is in good hands this season.