Perhaps the most overlooked position group in all of football, safeties are pivotal to a defense’s adaptability. Having a stellar coverage safety can open the door for more blitzes. Likewise, a hard-hitting strong safety can effectively be used as a fourth linebacker.
The possibilities are legion — and Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter took full advantage of the veritable treasure trove of talent assembled at that position. Let’s review how the platoon of phenomenal players at this often unsung position fared in 2022.
Arguably the most underrated Wolverine of the year was Rod Moore — and that’s an understatement. Finishing the season with 48 solo tackles — first on the team — Moore made plays all over the field. And this isn’t even his most scintillating stat; even more impressive was his team-leading four interceptions. In fact, he accounted for more than a quarter of all interceptions for the Wolverines on the year.
Speedy defensive backs above 6-foot-1 are hard to come by, let alone 6-foot-4. But that’s exactly what Michigan has in Makari Paige. He compiled 41 total tackles and a sack in 2022. The upward trend in his tackle totals for the season suggests the best is yet to come. If he can stay healthy, his frame and athleticism will provide the Wolverines with a true enforcer in the secondary next season.
R.J. Moten, in my opinion, was the most under-appreciated hero of the 2021 victory over Ohio State. While 31 total tackles in one season isn’t exactly gaudy, 20 of those were solo takedowns. Although it will be tough for him to win playing time with the two others playing at an elite level, do not count out the vet of the group.
Depth was never an issue for Michigan’s defense as a whole, and the same was true for the safeties. Cade Kolesar’s name would have been much more prevalent on the stat sheet if he didn’t go down to a season-ending injury in early October. With 11 total tackles — including eight solos — Quinten Johnson played well when called upon. Highly touted recruits Zeke Berry and Keon Sabb didn’t get much playing time, but their time to shine will shortly be upon us.
Similar to nearly all of Michigan’s other position groups, the Wolverines will be loaded in 2023. Everyone covered in this article will be back for another crack at the National Championship — and Michigan will need all hands on deck. With all the size, speed, talent and positional depth one could dream of, Michigan’s safeties could very well be the best group of its kind in the nation.
One doesn’t have to have a great imagination to envision several of these guys playing in the NFL. The safeties might be under-appreciated now, but that will likely change if the talent of this group translates to a continuation of Michigan defensive dominance and additional championships for the Maize and Blue.