The cornerback position had a far from ideal season a year ago for the Michigan Wolverines. This was in part because of the schematics of Don Brown’s system, playing a lot of bump-and-run with non-elite athletes with little experience. Still, some of the fault has to come down on the players for their 93rd ranking, allowing 255.5 passing yards per game to opponents a season ago.
One of the defacto leaders in the corner room is Vincent Gray. He surged to the top spot in the room after Ambry Thomas opted out because of COVID. Expectations were exponentially high for Gray after having a solid season as the team’s No. 3 corner in 2019. Let’s dive further into his career at Michigan and what to expect from him in 2021.
The story so far
Gray was not a highly-recruited kid out of high school. He was the composite No. 700 player in his class and the No. 63 overall cornerback. The Rochester, Michigan native was originally committed to Missouri. However, he decommitted following an offer from the Wolverines in Dec. 2017. A month later, Gray visited Ann Arbor and committed in rather quick fashion.
Gray didn’t play much his true freshman season, but he earned valuable snaps at corner late in the season and played a few games in the special teams unit. He earned redshirt status that season.
As a redshirt freshman, Gray began his ascent in the depth chart after a strong spring camp. He became the No. 3 corner on the team and impressed when injuries came for Lavert Hill in the 2019 season. At 6-foot-2, Brown loved his size and strength as a press corner, mostly lining up on the outside.
When Gray’s redshirt sophomore season came around, hopes were very high for his continued development. The expectation was a small jump from being a rotational guy to being the No. 2 starter. Brown said before the season “the sky was the limit” for Gray and he expected him to play at the next level soon.
Gray had massive shoes to fill for Thomas and had to make a huge leap to the top corner on the team. The Big Ten had some of the best wideouts in the country, and Gray was tasked with guarding most of them. It was a position he wasn’t necessarily ready for. In the first two games of the season, Gray allowed five receptions on five targets, all for more than 25 yards. Against Michigan State, he was responsible for allowing 143 receiving yards on three targets, according to PFF.
Throughout the season, Gray fell down the depth chart as Gemon Green took the top corner spot and Jalen Perry and DJ Turner began to get more snaps.
Outlook for 2021
Gray’s future as a starter is very much in limbo with Mike Macdonald taking over. In a press conference earlier this week, Harbaugh noted Gray and DJ Turner are fighting it out for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Gemon Green. If Gray is not careful, he could find his way to losing his starting gig.
It’s kind of crazy to consider just over a year ago, Gray was being touted as a potential star of this team and a coaching change could make him a bench player. Still, what we saw from Gray a season ago was not good enough to be a week-in, week-out starter in the Big Ten. He has to continue to get better and learn the new system quickly if he doesn't want to get surpassed in the depth chart by the younger talent on the team.