David Long, Brandon Watson, Myles Sims and Benjamin St-Juste all found their way out of U-M, leaving the cornerback position with quite a bit of inexperience.
The group was exceptionally talented last season as Long and Lavert Hill were one of the most dynamic one-two punches in the country at the position.
This year, it is going to look quite different with the potential for a few familiar faces to get the opportunity to step up and earn a starting roll in the Wolverines’ defense.
With that said, there are plenty of questions to be asked of the most intriguing position groups on the Michigan defense.
1. Is Ambry Thomas going to be ready?
This question is two-fold. Thomas is known and loved for being the kick returner and a highly talented athlete on both sides of the ball. He made exhilarating plays like this one:
Now he is going to be called upon to take over for Long. Will he be ready to make that jump to being an every-down starter?
Secondly, Thomas is also suffering from colitis and is out indefinitely after losing a considerable amount of weight, according to Jim Harbaugh in his press conference last week.
Now Thomas is going to have to prove he is worthy of the starting role with his talent on the field, and he will be tasked with putting weight back on and getting up to speed.
It will be an extremely tough stretch for Thomas, and one that I expect to take a while.
2. With Thomas out, who will be CB2?
The cornerback position is probably the thinnest position on the Michigan Wolverines’ roster. It is so thin the coaching staff was forced to move Jaylen Kelly-Powell and Brad Hawkins from safety to corner this offseason.
But the favorite has to be redshirt freshman Vincent Gray. Gray is a Rochester, Michigan native and was a 3-star coming out of high school, but it seems he has been put into the starting position because of the injury to Thomas.
The Detroit Free Press reported Gray has been shooting up the depth chart. An article from the newspaper around the Peach Bowl also highlighted some players who said Gray was part of the future of this defense.
Well, the future is now for Gray as he has a huge opportunity in front of him.
3. Where will Kelly-Powell and Hawkins fit in?
The Wolverines are in desperate need of help in the nickel formation. The resolution to that is going to be throwing these two in at nickel corner.
Outside of that, I don’t think anyone knows where these two will be playing or how they will be used. Hawkins will be playing nickel, but will also play safety.
The versatility is going to be helpful from Kelly-Powell and Hawkins, but a jack of all trades is a master of none.
Expect these two mostly only in the nickel package and as corner depth for the Wolverines in 2019.
4. Will Hill be just as good without Long?
Hill has played his entire career as a starter at Michigan alongside Long. With Long off to the NFL playing with the Los Angeles Rams, Hill will now be playing with an inexperienced corner rather than one of the better cornerbacks in recent memory to put on the winged helmet.
Hill is one of the top returning corners in the Big Ten according to many PFF statistics:
Lavert Hill and Tariq Castro-Fields both allowed the fewest yards per cover snap among returning B1G CBs. pic.twitter.com/TKIUFJnz3N— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 3, 2019
The senior has career numbers are certainly impressive: 41 tackles, three interceptions, 16 passes defended and two touchdowns.
We will see if he can continue that success or even further it without one of the top corners in the country helping him.
5. What kind of future remains for the inexperienced depth at the position?
Jalen Perry and DJ Turner are the freshmen in this group who have the potential to be the next great cornerback duo at U-M. But they are likely a couple years out before having their opportunity. Expect them both to be redshirted this season, unless injuries plague the secondary.
Gemon Green will also have an opportunity for playing time this season, especially if Thomas is out for an extended period of time.