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Michigan Spring Ball Preview: The safety room is overflowing with talent and expectations

Rod Moore headlines one of the deepest positions on the U-M roster.

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Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Michigan’s secondary has the chance to be one of the best in the history of the program in 2023. The Wolverines return four of five starters on the backend and — if the Amorion Walker rumors hold any merit — have a chance to upgrade at the one vacated starting position.

Specifically, at the two safety positions, there is an overflow of talent, experience, and leadership. The triumvirate of “starters” consists of positional leader Rod Moore, who is poised for an All-American season, and seniors RJ Moten and Makari Paige who will presumably split time as his counterpart.

With the amount of talent in the room and the positional malleability required in defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s scheme, there are several names who could emerge as contributors this season.

Let’s take a look at the players you should know at the safety position.

The Star: Rod Moore

Starting safety Rod Moore — or ‘God Moore’ for the initiated — is an anchor of the defense and one of the best all-around players on the team. Moore was one of only two Power Five safeties to record a coverage grade and run-support grade above 80 according to PFF last season. The other, Alabama’s Brian Branch, is the top-rated safety and projected top-15 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Moore finished third on the team in tackles last season (71) but finished first in solo tackles (48) and interceptions (4). Moore became only the second Wolverine since 2000 to reach 70 tackles and four interceptions in a single season.

Moore has the chance to become only the fifth Michigan safety since 1969 to earn All-American honors, and before you fire off an angry tweet at me, Jabrill Peppers was recognized as a “linebacker” in 2016.

The Senior Returners: RJ Moten, Makari Paige

The senior duo of RJ Moten and Makari Paige have a combined 21 starts and 56 games of experience between them. Last year, they accounted for 72 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions.

These polar opposite body types (Moten: 6-foot, 223 pounds, Paige: 6-foot-4, 200 pounds) bring a balance to each other that they both need. Consistency has been an issue for the pair, so when one player begins to struggle, the other is able to step in to prevent any substantial drop-off next to Moore.

Moten had more starts last season, but it was Paige receiving All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors. It remains doubtful that one will separate himself from the other, so expect both to split time depending on match-ups with the opposition.

The Vets: Caden Kolesar, Quinten Johnson

Caden Kolesar and Quinten Johnson are two graduate students who have been a part of the Michigan Wolverines since 2019.

Kolesar was on the precipice of a career year last season (playing rotational minutes at safety and blocking a punt on special teams) until a knee injury prematurely ended his season. The legacy player will be a special teams ace again next year and will fight for a spot in the two-deep safety rotation.

Johnson finally broke through on the defensive side of the ball last season and played well in the absence of Kolesar. While still a progressing player prone to growing pains, his missed assignment against TCU is burned into the fanbase’s memory and will be hard to forget.

The Sophomores: Keon Sabb, Zeke Berry

This pair of former four-star recruits are technically redshirt freshmen and the preservation of their eligibility last season was no mistake. Berry and Sabb are the future of the position and will find more opportunities this season with a year under their belt.

These two are intentionally being brought up together because of their complementary skill sets. Sabb is an exceptional athlete and eager run support defender, and Berry is a powerful ball hawk and a dynamic runner with the ball in his hands.

The eligibility governors will be off their engines this season, so do not be surprised to see one of them break through in their second year.

The Unknown

Is there another Rod Moore on this team? A young player that NO ONE expects to upset the established order; a player whose star is so undeniable that they break up the Moten/Paige rotation. Never say never.

The safety position is one of the strongest at Michigan by any quantifiable metric. A team with national championship aspirations requires a strong secondary. With God Moore and his disciples, Michigan certainly checks that box.