Safety was once a position in which there was little to no concern about the ability to consistently get the job done. But those days are gone.
Coming off a season in which fans and media alike criticized its play, the Wolverine safeties look to rebound and put together an elite year.
To do that, though, what questions must they answer? Here are five questions that I feel they should.
Are Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus the answers going forward?
Both Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus showed promising flashes throughout the previous season, highlighted by forced turnovers and big time tackles.
But for as great as some plays were, there was also a lot of concern in coverage, open field tackles and at times making the wrong read.
Michigan also has three young players in particular — J’Marick Woods, Jaylen Kelly-Powell, and Brad Hawkins — who are all making a case to earn a starting safety spot during fall camp.
Of course, Kinnel and Metellus are still expected to start, and do have the leg up on the competition considering all their experience over the last two seasons. However, we should still see plenty of snaps for Woods, Kelly-Powell, Hawkins and others throughout the year. And should the current safety play not make defensive coordinator Don Brown less than thrilled, don’t be surprised to see a change in the starting lineup at some point in the season.
Will any of the current safeties switch positions?
While Michigan does have some young talent at the position as we alluded to in our previous question, there are other areas of the defense that might require some players to make a change.
Looking at the roster, it’s clear that Michigan has a need for some depth at both the VIPER position as well as at nickel cornerback.
Who are likely candidates to make a switch? Well, just from a pure size standpoint, you have to like what J’Marick Woods could bring to the table at VIPER. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 210 pounds, Woods is a dynamic player who craves contact and has the speed that would make him a solid pass-rusher.
Keep in mind as well that although Kelly-Powell is making a strong case at both safety spots, he also played nickel cornerback in live action, and practiced with the VIPER’s throughout the previous season, too. Should Brown see a need to move Kelly-Powell around in his defense, it will be something that isn’t too foreign of an idea.
Whether or not these things discussed happen or not remains to be seen. But it will be something to keep an eye on as fall camp continues, and the season progresses.
Can they cover the slot fade?
A play that continued to plague the Wolverine defense in the 2017-18 season was the slot fade.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term or the play, it is really just as it sounds. Offenses looked to single out Brown’s man-to-man coverage scheme and isolate the safeties that had to cover the slot receiver.
Penn State utilized it several times in the 42-13 blowout in Happy Valley last season. As did Ohio State in their comeback victory in Ann Arbor.
Considering this defense and secondary have few flaws, the development of the coverage by Michigan’s safeties — specifically on defending the slot fade will be crucial to the Wolverines success in 2018.
How will they handle run support?
Michigan is set to play several of the Big Ten’s best running backs in the upcoming season, as they’ll play Wisconsin Badger and Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor, Michigan State and LJ Scott, and Penn State with Myles Sanders who is set to take over for Saquon Barkley all in consecutive weeks. Don’t leave out Heisman candidate JK Dobbins and the stable of running backs at Ohio State, either.
While the Wolverine safeties did a pretty decent job overall defending the run in the previous season, it is still an area that needs improvement, and is something that the defensive staff will be sure to emphasize throughout the remainder of fall camp.
Can they continue to force turnovers at high level?
Now, while there were several areas of concern with the play of the safeties in the previous season, forcing turnovers was not one of them.
Starting in the first week against the Florida Gators, both Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus flew around the field making big plays and forcing fumbles. This continued in week two as Kinnel had a pick six against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the home opener, and It didn’t stop there. In fact, this trend continued throughout the season.
For the Michigan Wolverines to have a special season, it is vital that the back-end of this elite secondary forces fumbles, makes big time interceptions and consistently looks for the ball. If they can do that to the level that they did last year, then Michigan has a great chance to make a statement this season.