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Evaluating the CB2 option for the Michigan Wolverines in 2023

Michigan is one player away from having the best secondary in college football.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Speaking at Big Ten Media Days last week, Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh provided an impromptu look at several key positional battles, including cornerback.

“One of the starting corner positions — Amorion Walker, Josh Wallace, Ja’Den McBurrows, some other very fine players, newcomers. But I think it will come down to a situation where will Mikey be a starter? Will Johnson be a starter? And then we’ve got, who is that other starter, whether it’s at nickel or corner? And it may (be in) training camp. It may take into the first couple of games.”

As of now, we know four of the five starters in the secondary: Will Johnson, Rod Moore, Makari Paige and Mikey Sainristil. It remains to be seen if Sainristil will play as a nickel or boundary corner, but he will be starting. Now, who joins these players in the back end?

Each of the last two years, the two outside corners starting Week 1 have not been the corners starting against Ohio State. In 2021, DJ Turner became a starter halfway through the season and Will Johnson did the same last year.

So no matter who wins the job in camp, it is not a guarantee they will keep the job all season. Let’s run through the four contenders with a little help from Sainristil, who spoke ad nauseam about the battle in Indianapolis. However, keep in mind, that winning the fall battle does not guarantee winning the positional war.

The Transfer: Josh Wallace

The UMass transfer is a former four-year starter, team captain, and has the most experience of anyone competing. When speaking last week in Indianapolis, Sainristil already recognized the impact of a player like Wallace.

“I think he’s a guy who’s going to come in and immediately impact the room in the sense of getting other guys to compete, getting other guys to work hard,” Sainristil said. “And just giving that extra push, because no one wants the guy to come in and take their spot. But coming in, you want to take somebody’s spot, so he’s going to increase the level of competitiveness in the room.”

It will take time for him to completely acclimate to the scheme, but Wallace’s experience and the fact he already has better career stats than the other three combined competitors should eventually win out.

The Project: Amorion Walker

Walker was the darling of early spring ball and the punchline of jokes by the end, but the 6-foot- super athlete should not be written off just yet. Despite having an abysmal spring game, it is still only one bad practice. He recognizes his shortcomings and has been working to overcome them, at least according to Sainristil.

“A-Walk, he’s been doing a great job,” Sainristil said. “He’s daily trying to meet with coach Clink to learn the playbook. He’s always around Will Johnson trying to work on technique. So I know for a fact he’s a guy that wants to get better.”

The rising sophomore possesses the best physical tools of all the contenders, but needs to refine his technique and sharpen everything between the ears.

The Underdog: Ja’Den McBurrows

The often forgotten man, Ja’Den McBurrows is quietly entering his third year at Michigan. As a freshman, he appeared in four games and received quality reps. Unfortunately, he had an injury at the end of 2021 that went all the way through last season and never got back on the field. Despite that, it has not deterred Sainristil’s optimism about McBurrows.

“McBurrows, he’s another one. You know, he easily could play nickel, he could play corner. He just could play anywhere. He’s working hard every day. He’s looking good in the weight room. He just has to continue doing the necessary things, the small things and I think McBurrows can easily be a guy starting in the corner spot.”

This quote is interesting. Could McBurrows play nickel and Mikey move to the boundary? This heightened versatility at least increases McBurrows’ chances of seeing the field.

The Veteran: Keshaun Harris

Keshaun Harris is the second-most experienced of the four contenders, and the most experienced in a Michigan uniform. A former elite high school hurdler, Harris has elevated from walk-on to dark horse starting caliber player.

“Super athletic, super fast, super strong, not the tallest guy but you know, he’ll play like he’s 6-2, 6-3,” Sainristil said. “Great cover guy, his man skills this offseason have grown. But that goes back to him properly preparing himself. Worrying about the small details, making sure that he’s doing the little things right daily. The more he prepares himself, the more it’ll help translate to, you know, on field.”

Harris possesses the best combination of athleticism and Michigan experience, but is that enough to win him the job?

PREDICTION: Keshaun Harris starts Week 1, Josh Wallace starts Week 12.