Michigan had the No. 3 pass defense last season with two sophomores — brand new starters — at cornerback . Now those two shutdown corners are back, and Michigan coaches and fans alike couldn’t be more excited.
Coming into 2018, Michigan looks to be even better at corner. With experience, talented youth on the rise and a real solid backup veteran, the Wolverines are solid at corner for the foreseeable future.
Here is my depth chart prediction:
Starters: David Long and Lavert Hill, JRs
No-brainer picks here.
Long and Hill are arguably the best returning cornerback duo in not only the Big Ten, but the entire country. They didn’t give up a passing touchdown throughout all of 2017, and you know they are going to be even better this year.
I do believe, however, a lot of the successes from Hill and Long, and the secondary as a whole, come from the dominant defensive front. Getting pressure on the quarterback is what Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and company do best, which makes life a whole lot easier for the guys in coverage.
The numbers may be a bit inflated, but that doesn’t take away much considering they were first-year starters, and young, impressive first-year starters at that.
The two combined for 46 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 13 pass breakups, four interceptions and half a sack. I expect higher numbers this season, and look for more interceptions. That is, if opposing quarterbacks are dumb enough to throw their way.
Next in line: Brandon Watson, RS SR; Ambry Thomas, SO
I want to start by talking about Watson a bit, because he was quite the unsung hero last year in coverage.
He made the most of his playing time last year, totaling 21 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and one hit on an opposing quarterback. For a backup, those numbers are impressive, and it could absolutely be argued he is currently the best at breaking up passes on the team.
As for Thomas, I absolutely love his potential as a kick returner, as explained in last week’s special teams depth chart prediction.
I haven’t seen enough of him at corner to give a detailed analysis here, but coaches have been raving about him this offseason.
“In (Thomas’) footwork on the line of scrimmage,” Zordich told the media last week about what he’s improved the most on. “The way we play, we’re particular about our technique and that part he has gotten better. We’re hard on him, we’re really hard on him about our technique because we play so much man (coverage), we’ve got to be really good with the fundamentals. That’s where he’s been getting better.
“Ambry Thomas is working extremely hard and he is right behind (Hill, Long and Watson).”
Coming from a coach that has openly criticized his positional unit in the past, Thomas must be doing all the right things to have this appraisal from Zordich. With all things considered, look for Thomas to get some good playing time this year.
At this point, I don’t really know where to include sophomore Jaylen Kelly-Powell, so I guess I’ll include him on my depth chart since my buddy Sam did the depth chart for the safeties. He played nickel in 2017 near the end of the season, and looked like he obviously needed work. I trust the defensive coaching staff knows what they are doing and will put him in the best possible place, whether that’s corner or safety.
Double goes for Utah transfer Casey Hughes. He played corner at Utah, but could very well be a nickel/safety at U-M. Only time will tell, honestly.
Zordich talked to reporters about three true freshmen — Gemon Green, Myles Sims and Vincent Gray — saying “that’s some talent,” but “they’ve got a long way to go.”
No one really knows what is going on with sophomore Benjamin St. Juste. After a season full of ups and downs (mostly downs) on special teams for the Canadian, it sure doesn’t look like there will be a reserve spot open for him with all the other young talent coming in.
All in all, Michigan is deep at cornerback, and should be fine even if Long and Hill decide to head to the NFL after this season.