clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mikey Sainristil unlocks the potential for Michigan’s secondary

The team captain has come a long way in only 9 months as a defender.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last March, a decision was made by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh that impacted Team 143 as much as any personnel decision he has ever made during his time in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh moved wide receiver Mike Sainristil to defense.

Former Michigan safety Dax Hill was a versatile, Swiss Army knife defender who excelled in pass coverage as much as run support. Hill, a former five-star recruit, could match up with tight ends as easily as explosive slot receivers and fly in from his safety position to wreak havoc as a run defender and blitzer.

Because positional versatility is one of the most desired traits at any level of football, it came as no surprise when Hill was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

With Hill headed to the next level, speculation and concern ran wild regarding Hill’s successor. Was there a player on Michigan’s roster capable of replacing such a valuable asset. Could Rod Moore assume that role? Makari Paige? RJ Moten? Is freshman Will Johnson up to the unbelievably tall task?

No matter where the light of the possibility was shown, it was cast upon an offensive player. especially not an offensive player coming off a productive season full of spectacular plays.

When Harbaugh confirmed Sainristil’s position switch, Michigan’s head coach kept the defense of his decision simple:

“His skillset. He’s got the skillset for it. He’s got the skillset for receiver. He’s got the skillset for corner, for nickel corner. Skillset reminds me a lot of Jimmie Ward and what he had in college.”

Keep in mind Sainristil was originally recruited as a cornerback, but still, a comparison to a former San Francisco 49ers first round draft pick felt like a leap. When the spring game rolled around a few weeks later, fans got their first glimpse of Sainristil on defense.

In limited action it was hard to discern anything concrete, but the former receiver flashed great hands and an innate ability to track the ball. The latter of which is usually one of the last skills to develop for a corner. Just ask Vincent Grey.

When the season began, newly elected team captain Mikey Sainristil made an immediate impact. Against Colorado State, he racked up three tackles, one tackle for loss and one sack. He played with a reckless abandon, that wasn’t reckless at all. There was a passion and fire to the way he played defense that evoked memories of former NFL safety Bob Sanders.

The season opener foreshadowed what opponents would never grow accustomed to. In Sainristil’s first-year of playing defense in college, he almost replicated Hill’s best season.

Through 13 games, Sainristil is 18 tackles behind, one tackle for loss ahead, 1.5 sacks ahead, one pass deflection behind and two picks behind (only because his two-point interception against Maryland did count because it was an untimed play), with one game remaining to match Hill’s 14-game sample size.

Despite switching sides, Sainristil’s knack for the spectacular big play remained. Except this time, he made one of the best and most important plays of the season in the biggest game of the season against Ohio State.

Ohio State tight end Jake Stover sold a fake block near the goal line and darted to the left sideline of the end zone for a throwback concept touchdown to keep the Buckeyes within striking distance of the Wolverines. Sainristil quickly dissected the play, tracked down Stover and dislodged the ball at the last second to force a field goal attempt.

It was the LeBron James 2016 NBA Finals block of Michigan football. It was a play that only a handful in the country can make and it came from a first-year defender.

Sainristil is the skeleton key for Michigan’s secondary. His versatility unlocks everything Michigan likes to do on the back end. He can cover any position, serve as a blitzing specialist, and tackle in space as well as any player on the defense.

Michigan’s secondary was already going to be one of the best in the country the next year with safety Rod Moore and corner Will Johnson returning. But with Mikey’s early return announcement, he will continue to unlock the potential of the secondary so they can continue to be lock-down.