The Michigan Wolverines certainly have a couple questions about the back-end of their defense heading into 2019.
The safety position has some newcomers in 5-star and top-15 recruit Daxton Hill, and 4-star Quinten Johnson. With Tyree Kinnel graduating, the Wolverines have a spot for the taking.
Meanwhile, Josh Metellus is coming off of the best season of his playing career in 2018 where he intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown. He certainly is in a solid position to be a leader heading into 2019.
Nonetheless, there are still things that pop into mind with this secondary unit. Here are five questions that need to be answered at the safety position.
1. Just how good is Daxton Hill?
The praise is raining in for Hill, as he is arguably the best recruit the Wolverines have received a commitment from since Rashan Gary.
Hill is a dynamic and fast football player who has incredible decision-making skills. The kid just flat out makes plays and everybody around can see just the pure talent that he has. Jim Harbaugh even said at Big Ten Media Days he has the potential to be “one of the best safeties Michigan has ever had.”
The hype train is churning forward for this kid and he will certainly see the playing field in his first year as a Wolverine.
2. Will it be Hill or Woods in the starting role?
Junior J’Marick Woods will surely contest Hill to be the Day 1 starter, as he has been getting first-team reps in practices. He has played in 23 games (mostly special teams) throughout his career, but is known for being able to lay the wood.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Hill has all the potential in the world and could be a huge part of this defense. Neither Harbaugh nor Don Brown is going to care about what he has done in the past, only what he can do right now to help this team win. Hill is going to have to prove it each and every day just like any other starter on this roster.
It should be a fun race to watch, but likely these two will swap the starting roll in different formations.
3. Can Josh Metellus repeat his impressive 2018?
Metellus was fantastic in 2018. He was one of PFF’s highest-rated safeties in 2018:
Throw on Josh Metellus at your own risk: last season he only allowed a 41.8% completion percentage, nabbed 3 interceptions and held opposing quarterbacks to a 34.3 passer rating pic.twitter.com/AdQQz2sVEQ— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 4, 2019
Metellus dominated in coverage, grabbing three picks last season. He also defended nine passes in the process which helped Michigan’s elite pass defense.
While the development has looked great, he is going to need to replicate those numbers this season. Going forward, the Wolverines will rely on him and his veteran leadership to anchor down this secondary, especially with a weaker looking cornerback position.
The Wolverines will need Metellus to play well in order to be successful this season.
4. Who is next up if there are injuries?
The loser of the Hill/Woods battle and incoming 4-star recruit Quinten Johnson will be the two guys that are going to have to step up if someone goes down with an injury.
Metellus may be the most valuable player on this defense because if he goes down there is a ton of inexperience behind him.
Juniors Brad Hawkins and Jaylen Kelly-Powell have both moved to the nickel back position with a lack of depth in that spot, so the Wolverines will potentially be relying on two freshmen if there are injuries.
Even if Hawkins or Kelly-Powell would switch back to safety in the case of an injury, they would now be starting in a position they haven’t been practicing in all season.
Losing Metellus or another starting safety would be disastrous for this defense.
5. What will the position look like going forward?
Michigan has certainly been getting the job done in recruiting the safety position over the last two seasons. After nabbing Hill and Johnson in this year’s class, they have received commitments from 4-star Makari Paige, 4-star Jordan Morant, and 4-star R.J. Moten in 2020. That much talent is obviously going to cause a lot of strife at the position.
Each one will deservedly want to play time early in their Michigan careers, but some will have to wait to get it or change positions in order to achieve more playing time if they all remain in Ann Arbor. Expect a lot of fluidity and a lot more questions being asked about this literally star-studded position in the future.