Presumptive Michigan Wolverines’ starting cornerback Ambry Thomas chose to forgo his senior season and declared for the NFL Draft last week amid the Big Ten canceling their fall season due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Thomas is now the second Wolverine to opt-out of the potential spring season, with Jalen Mayfield also declaring last week.
Losing a senior starter like Thomas is a big blow to the defense, mostly because the guys behind him have played so few minutes on the field.
In 2019, Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas locked down wideouts, and a strong candidate of Vincent Gray rose the rankings. Gray will now be called upon to move from patrolling the No. 3 receivers on Big Ten teams to stopping their No. 1’s. Although Gray impressed in his first season with a significant role on the team, it’s a lofty expectation for him to move into that bigger role smoothly.
Gemon Green may be the top candidate to see a bump in playing time with Ambry Thomas on the way out. He has more experience than anyone else in the locker room at the position and has been around the last three years. In March, cornerback’s coach Mike Zordich gave a breakdown of his position group and had a few thoughts on the junior:
“I think Gemon, the last two weeks of bowl prep, the light bulb started to go on. He’s another guy that needs to grow up, needs to mature, needs to understand that ‘I have to go to class every day and then when I come into this building every day, it means something.’ I think he’s doing that.”
Behind Green are two redshirt freshmen in DJ Turner and Jalen Perry. Both were top targets in the 2019 class, and they both have an early chance to prove themselves, much like David Long and Lavert Hill did in their second seasons.
Turner has worked out with former NFL All-Pro defensive back Ray Buchanan for years. Buchanan told them Turner has a bright future ahead of him saying, “If I can..tell the future of what DJ can potentially do, what I foresee is a staggering growth rate. A place to where now he can go out there and physically get comfortable game by game. He’s going to get better, and better, and better. He’s going to be one who’s able to adapt, and to give them different disguises and looks, and be a solid corner.”
In the same presser mentioned above from Zordich, he had his own praise for Turner, saying, “DJ just has a fire under him. I think he’s naturally ready-built for this kind of thing.”
However, the remarks were not as assured for Perry: “Jalen, I’ve got to build the fire under him. I’ve got to do that. He’s a gifted player, really gifted, talented guy, but he’s got to pick up the pace.”
Those three are probably the most likely candidates to fill the starting spots, but two more young guys may have a shot, too. True freshmen Andre Seldon and Darion Green-Warren were both four-star recruits coming into Ann Arbor, and it seemed there would be enough depth to redshirt the two. But with the uncertainty of player safety this season with COVID-19 and an added year of eligibility in the mix, they could find roles on the roster this year. There were rumors Seldon impressed some of the coaches and could be a candidate for the starting nickel cornerback role.
“I’m really impressed with that guy,” Zordich told Jon Jansen on the In The Trenches Podcast in April. “He is academically, I’m getting reports through the roof. It’s like him on the field, very competitive. He’s competitive that way in the classroom, which is awesome. So, it will be fun coaching him this spring. The thing will him will be obviously learn the defense, learn the terminology and comfortable making the calls. That slows a guys down. But he’s competitive as hell now and he’s quick as hell.”
The good news is the underclassmen have a lot of upside, and they may get the opportunity to showcase their talents early on. The lack of playing time for them brings some uncertainty to one of the most bottom-heavy position groups on the defensive side of the ball, but the time is now for them to prove themselves.