Outside of defensive line coach Shaun Nua, the Michigan Wolverines have brand new faces coaching every defensive position. Maurice Linguist was hired in to be the program’s new cornerbacks coach, but he stayed for a cup of coffee or two and then bolted to be the head coach at the University of Buffalo.
Enter new cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale, a very good in-state recruiter who has vied for this job in the past. Now that he has the gig, he faces the tall task of turning around the worst positional unit for the Wolverines from a season ago. Whether it was veteran leaders or guys who just earned their first snaps, the position was baaaaaaad in 2020. Heading into the new season, competition is fierce among the corners. And with a new coaching staff, opportunity is everywhere.
Here’s my best guess for the cornerback depth chart in 2021.
No. 1: Gemon Green, RS JR
Far and away the best cornerback Michigan had a season ago — which isn’t saying a whole heck of a lot — Green has taken the reigns as the No. 1 cornerback in Ann Arbor.
Green didn’t get much playing time before the 2020 season, but took advantage last year with 22 tackles and nine pass breakups. He has continued that level of play this summer, as Jim Harbaugh said as much at Big Ten Media Days last month. I fully anticipate Green being at the top of the depth chart heading into the first game of the year.
No. 2: DJ Turner, RS SO
A highly-touted and heavily-recruited high schooler from IMG Academy, Turner is in line to receive plenty of playing time. He got his first real taste of action in 2020, appearing in four out of the six games, but just one of those four came lining up at corner.
Heading into 2021, Turner appears to have pushed hard enough to earn the next spot on the depth chart. Clinkscale told reporters recently Turner is a player who doesn’t make the same mistakes, he “corrects himself and challenges himself” and “understands the situation.” He also has earned some praise from Harbaugh and Daxton Hill this offseason.
All this considered, I like Turner as the No. 2 cornerback as of now.
No. 3: Vincent Gray, RS JR
Gray had a solid redshirt freshman campaign in 2019 in which he played in all 13 games and totaled 20 tackles and five pass breakups. Things looked promising for him heading into the 2020 season...but we all know what happened with that.
Now, the Rochester, Mich. native finds himself working his way back up the totem pole. I fully expect him to see the field early and often in 2021, but if he doesn’t bounce back from his struggle of a 2020 campaign, he could be relegated even further down the depth chart. He wasn’t recruited by the new defensive coaching staff, so I don’t expect him to have as long of a leash like he did under Don Brown last year.
The Others: George Johnson, Jalen Perry, Andre Seldon, Darion Green-Warren, Ja’Den McBurrows, Eamonn Dennis
Reading the tea leaves this offseason, it seems like Johnson is the first man off the bench. Ronnie Bell recently told the media Johnson is one of the hardest guys to go up against in practice, and Clinkscale said “I think he’s starting to find his niche and is just learning how to focus his drive in a certain direction each practice.” Johnson could very well be in line for some decent playing time in the near future.
Meanwhile, Perry played some corner last year and will look to earn even more playing time heading into his redshirt sophomore campaign. Dennis, Seldon and Green-Warren have yet to see the field in any capacity and will try to change that as redshirt freshmen. McBurrows is a true freshman who will need some time before he sees the field, but he’s another guy who has potential down the road.