The Michigan Wolverines lost starting safety Brad Hawkins from last year’s squad after starting all 14 games last season, along with Daxton Hill, who started all 14 games as a defensive back while experimenting at safety and as a nickel cornerback.
While it’s not ideal to lose two starters, especially players the caliber of those two, Michigan did have some young players contribute at the position last season who have starts under their belts and should be ready to contribute in even bigger ways this season.
Here is our best guess at the 2022 safety depth chart.
Strong safety- No. 1 R.J. Moten, No. 2 Makari Paige
Moten appeared in all 14 games last season and made five starts, totaling 34 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception as a sophomore. His interception came against Michigan’s lone loss of the season at Michigan State.
That was one of several positive flashes Moten showed last season, as he is an ascending player with good ball instincts and feel for the game. There’s no reason to believe he doesn’t take another step forward this season.
Makari Paige, a junior from West Bloomfield, appeared in nine games at safety and special teams while making two tackles. He is thought of to be a player who could break out at anytime and it may only be a matter of time before he does. He could compete for more playing time this season.
Michigan’s scheme change that allowed Hill to be more versatile and move around to different positions allowed Moten and Rod Moore to see more of the field, but Paige was also able to benefit from the schematic change and was able to get valuable reps.
In spring ball, when Moore was battling an injury, Paige took first team reps at safety with Moten. And head coach Jim Harbaugh was impressed.
“The other guy that has had a tremendous spring is Makari Paige,” Harbaugh said on an “In the Trenches” podcast episode. “He’s developed that strength that you need.”
Harbaugh added at the time that if Paige could continue his upward trajectory, he has a chance to end up in a starting role this season.
Free safety- No. 1 Rod Moore, No. 2 Caden Kolesar
Moore is fully recovered from offseason upper body surgery and has been competing during fall camp. As a true freshman last season, he appeared in 11 games and ended up starting four games while making 32 tackles with one pass break up. He seemed to get stronger as the season went on last year and played arguably his best game of the year against Ohio State when he recorded a career-high nine tackles.
Harbaugh praised Moore’s play since he returned from injury, and it would be hard to notice he even had surgery due to his solid play.
“He’s back, flying around, doing Rod Moore stuff, and he’s leading, too,” Harbaugh said. “You ask where the leadership’s coming from? There’s a guy that you make an example to other players.”
Caden Kolesar, a senior this season, will provide some veteran presence in the back end and add to Michigan’s depth after contributing heavily on special teams and appearing in six games at safety last season. He even registered his first interception in the Big Ten Championship against Iowa.
Kolesar has seen more snaps with each year of experience he has earned, and last year was his first time seeing the field on the defensive side of the ball. The depth he can provide this season should serve as an asset to Michigan’s defense.
One other to watch: Zeke Berry
True freshman Zeke Berry was ranked as a four-star recruit coming out of his high school in California and the No. 5 prospect at the position in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. While it’s always difficult for true freshman to see much of the field, he is a player who could see more time as the season plays out.
Surely, he will be an immediate contributor on special teams and has a chance to play his way into the two-deep early in his college career. Berry is disciplined in his coverage skills and plays with the physicality to come down and play in the box as well. It will be interesting to watch his progression as a Wolverine.