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Jalen Perry’s path to Michigan, outlook for 2022

Can the fourth-year defensive back play a prominent role on special teams?

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

When Jalen Perry came to Michigan in 2019, the highly-touted four-star recruit was expected to contribute early and often. Given his size at 6-foot, 190 pounds, fluid movements and undeniable ball skills, Perry seemed like the future of the position in Ann Arbor.

However, without the necessary physicality and consistent durability required in the Big Ten, not to mention the constant changing of defensive schemes, Perry has struggled to find a home defensively with the Wolverines.

Originally a Georgia Bulldog commit, Perry joined the Michigan Wolverines and projected as a high-ceiling boundary corner at the next level. Despite entering a secondary ranked No. 2 nationally in 2018 and a crowded cornerback room featuring Lavert Hill, Ambry Thomas, Vincent Gray, Gemon Green and DJ Turner, Perry was expected to establish himself on special teams at the very least until the log jam in the secondary shook out.

Surprisingly, Perry did not appear in any games in any capacity in 2019, which provided more confusion for the once promising recruit. Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense had failed to evolve to fit its personnel and the once potent secondary had fallen off quicker than Macklemore. (Remember him?)

Furthermore, a plethora of Wolverines were injured or opted out of the 2020 season because of the stringent pandemic-enforced restrictions, and inexperienced players with no chemistry were playing across from each other on defense and learning on the fly.

Perry appeared in two games on defense (three on special teams) that shortened year and struggled to maintain discipline or play physically at the point of attack. In the simplest of terms, most of the time he just seemed a step behind.

But with all the uncertainty in the rarest, most unpredictable season of college football, it is unfair for Perry to shoulder too much of the blame. And with the firing of Brown and secondary coach Mike Zordich (technically Zordich was “not retained”), Perry had the opportunity to start fresh and to be evaluated by a new group of coaches.

Unfortunately, the coaches saw it similarly to the previous staff.

While Perry finally carved out a role on special teams during 2021’s fall camp, he only appeared in eight games due to an inconsistent impact from his role. His only playing time in the three final four games of the season came in garbage time against Iowa and suddenly, the young corner had a decision to make: stay or transfer.

Perry decided he would remain with the team, but his uphill battle to relevance had only gotten steeper. Wide receiver Mikey Sainristil moved to nickelback, and Will Johnson was recently called the “best freshman on the team” by head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Including this season, Perry has three years of eligibility remaining, but 2022 somehow feels like a make or break year for his future in Ann Arbor. Presumably the fifth cornerback on the depth chart, Perry will have an opportunity to embrace a role on special teams, and perhaps that buy-in could be the secret in unlocking his dormant potential.