Michigan’s secondary played at a high level in 2021, ranked as the No. 16 team passing defense in the nation. Even so, the Wolverines expect to be better at corner than they were last season.
“We challenged D.J. (Turner) in the spring. He got better in the spring,” defensive backs coach and co-coordinator Steve Clinkscale. “This summer, just getting back with him, you can see the challenge between him and Gemon (Green). And having a young guy like Will (Johnson), Mikey (Sainristil), those guys have really, really pushed each other. No one feels like they’re just the guy.”
Here’s what Michigan’s depth chart at cornerback may look like this season.
Turner has a realistic chance of being a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Turner is one of the fastest players on the team and was impressive in the second half of last season when he became a starter. Turner came up huge against Ohio State, piling up eight tackles with seven of them being solo.
Turner had 20 tackles, two interceptions, and six pass breakups last season. Expect these numbers to go up significantly.
Clinkscale recently said that Green had a better spring than Turner did.
“I think Gemon is definitely where we always wanted him to be, and he’s continued to grow,” Clinkscale said.
If Clinkscale is right, this will likely be Green’s best season yet at Michigan. The 6-foot-2 Green is physical for a corner and has always shown flashes of good instincts, now it’s time for him to go out and make big plays consistently.
Green has started 12 games in his Michigan career and played in 29 overall. Green has totaled 48 tackles (35 solo) and one interception so far in his career.
Sainristil has played receiver to this point in his Michigan career, but he was initially recruited by former defensive coordinator Don Brown to play on that side of the ball. Fast-forward a few years and there’s a strong chance Sainristil plays a lot on defense this season. While Sainristil will still take snaps at wideout, he has impressed his coaches and teammates by how quickly he’s gotten acclimated to the defensive side.
“He’s so shifty that even when he’s not in man-coverage, his ability to play zone coverage. Because he’s had the offensive perspective, it makes him a really good zone-coverage player, too,” quarterback Cade McNamara said.
Sainristil quickly became one of new Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s favorite players this off-season.
“Mikey has been one of my favorite guys to see throughout the first part of spring,” Minter said in March. “Just on both sides of the ball, he plays with a level of toughness and maturity. He’s a really good football player. I think he’s a guy you could put anywhere. It shows up on special teams how he plays, shows up on offense, and his ability to block and be a role player — but also make plays when he gets the ball in his hands.”
A starter in the making
Johnson was the No. 3 overall cornerback in the class of 2022, and the No. 15 player overall.
A five-star recruit wearing the jersey No. 2 that Charles Woodson once wore, there are high expectations for the true freshman.
The 6-foot-2 Johnson is a dynamic athlete that can do it all. As a senior in high school last season Johnson had 45 tackles (31 solo), one sack, one interception, and 12 pass breakups. Johnson dominated on offense and special teams as well with 1,302 all-purpose yards, including 42 receptions for 667 yards and six touchdowns.
“Will Johnson, you can just see it. He’s that type of athlete. When he covers guys, he’s right there with them. He’s gonna play and be battling for a starting position,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said this spring.
Whether Johnson is a starter right out of the gate or not, he’ll receive plenty of playing time in 2022.
- Ja’Den McBurrows: An ascending player who suffered a knee injury back in December. He still isn’t 100% but is with the team and he’ll be on the field this fall at some point.
- Jalen Perry: A former top 200 recruit, played well in Michigan’s spring game, and has four tackles in his career thus far.
- German Green: The 6-foot-2 cornerback had 3 tackles last season and played in all 14 games on special teams.
- Myles Pollard: The 6-foot-1 three-star freshman was a high school teammate of Michigan linebacker Junior Colson, ranked as the No. 46 cornerback and the No. 16 player in Tennessee by 247Sports.