Gosh, I hope Mike Zordich likes challenges. We all know who he has to replace in Michigan’s secondary, and even great coaches aren’t always miracle workers when it comes to putting lots of responsibility on the shoulders of young college players.
Zordich may be one of the best in the business, that is true - and the Wolverines’ other secondary coach, Brian Smith, has some NFL coaching experience of his own - and Don Brown is a fantastic defensive coordinator who will dial up pressure to protect his DBs from living on an island. And Harbaugh will find ways to make sure this team wins games even while the secondary hasn’t gotten their feet set. Oh, and these young guys are pretty talented.
Well, maybe that’s a lot of reasons for optimism. But we’ll see just how optimistic we can be come Saturday, when these guys take the field against a talented Florida receiving corps with a lot of depth and speed. And we’ll see just how young they are when the bullets start flying.
#24 | Sophomore | 5-10 | 168 | Detroit, Michigan
Well, I forgot to mention that Lavert Hill already has one cornerback position solidified, so that’s another reason for optimism to throw on the pile. Hill has been a younger reincarnation of Jourdan Lewis since he’s come to Ann Arbor, from his devotion to technique to being able to shut down the wide side of the field when called upon in limited duty.
Sure, he’s not the biggest (neither was Lewis), and he’s not the fastest (neither was Lewis), and he does tend to get a little grabby when he gets beat (...like Lewis, who had some pass interference tendencies), but when you’ve got a young NFL prospect playing in your secondary, don’t ask questions. Just play the man.
#22 | Sophomore | 6-0 | 187 | Los Angeles, California
Here’s where it gets a little hectic. Most fans would have probably guessed David Long as one of Michigan’s starting corners this year, and that’s still a good prediction as we stand less than a week from game duty.
And, I don’t need to remind you that Long was a phenomenal prospect - hailed for his speed, fluidity, and spatial awareness. He has all the physical intangibles you could possibly need.
But he’s still a sophomore with little experience, and his technique and comfort in asserting himself on the defensive side has been a work in progress. Zordich got testy about his secondary with reporters earlier in August, and it felt a little like he was sending a message to Long more than anybody else.
"They show flashes," Zordich said. "They just need to grab it. Somebody ought to grab it and run with it and take it. It's just not happening."
A spring game darling, Keith Washington, is going to be transferring out after the coaches wanted to move him to safety, so it’s not entirely clear where the stiffest competition is coming from.
#28 | Redshirt Junior | 5-11 | 203 | Wilmington, Delaware
I have been on and off the Watson train a few times. He’s got more experience than anybody in this secondary, and despite him being a somewhat forgotten three-star in the 2014 class, Harbaugh has been able to turn projects into great players numerous times before. The real question is whether Watson has the acuity and drive to get the most out of what he has.
So far, despite those advantages in experience and muscle, Watson hasn’t really seized a spot, which makes me wonder if he’ll be good depth (decent depth? okay depth? please?) and then get a firm handshake at the end of this season. That’s not bad, either, since we need some depth to support our play-making. But it puts more pressure on David Long to make it through a marathon of a season as a young, first-time starter.
#25 | Freshman | 6-3 | 188 | Montreal, Quebec
Ben St-Juste is a guy who really impressed me in the spring game, and I think he’s a little more game-ready than Thomas is right now. But this is a pair of phenomenal freshman corners who will be fun players to watch as they get more and more playing time in.
Now, will St-Juste be able to make an impact right away? Well, I certainly hope he won’t have to, but I’ve been impressed with how mature he is for his age since I’ve been following his recruiting. He knows how to get better - practice, technique, and more practice - and he is a competition hound that looks like he spent all night training while you were asleep. I’m a little more optimistic than most about what would happen if he stepped onto the playing field.
#1 | Freshman | 5-11 | 174 | Detroit, Michigan
Well, what is left for there to say? Thomas is another young stud, a guy who’s got the speed but can work on his strength and a little thing call ‘technique.’
"It's about getting with the new technique," he said to MLive in April. "And throwing my old technique out the window. My old technique was to just play ball, don't worry about anything else. Here, you've got to keep some of that and make sure you work your hands and your feet."
That’s not an April quote that makes you say, ‘Day 1 contributor.’ Still, he’s got all the tools, and some great coaches to work with, as well.
Hey! You didn’t mention Drake Harris!
Oh, there’s also a wide receiver transfer who hasn’t played much named Drake Harris. He’s got great length, a bit of an injury bug, and I don’t think he’ll contribute much. If Drake Harris is on the field, I’m selling my Apple stock and moving to Montana.
I also didn’t mention Hunter Reynolds, a true freshman preferred walk-on who I really like. Don’t necessarily scoff at those walk-ons, guys - but yeah, let’s let this one sit for a while before seeing if he’s the real deal.