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What the departure of R.J. Moten means for the Michigan Wolverines

The loss of the senior will be felt, but not to the extreme some may fear.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Before the second transfer portal window opened on April 15, I highlighted a few key position groups for the Michigan Wolverines that could lose contributing players. Among those position groups was safety. From the piece:

“Michigan’s safety room is overflowing with experience and talent. Rod Moore, Makari Paige, R.J. Moten, Zeke Berry, Keon Sabb, Caden Kolesar, and Quinten Johnson comprise the top of the depth chart in 2023 and could ALL return in 2024 if they wanted. Something’s got to give, or more aptly, someone is going to go.”

R.J. Moten was the one to go. A veteran of 15 career starts over the last two seasons, Moten was slowly swallowed up by the depth chart. First, it was Rod Moore who overtook him in 2021, and then it was Makari Paige late in 2022. With Zeke Berry on track to do the same in 2023, the writing was on the wall for the senior.

Moten’s departure leaves a void, but only one of experienced depth, not one of talent. The safeties room is still inundated with talent from the aforementioned Berry, Quinten Johnson, Keon Sabb and Caden Kolesar. However, this talent is largely unproven in big moments and Moten’s experience is not something that can be immediately replaced.

Moore and Paige are locked into the starting positions, but who will spell them in a rotational capacity with minimal drop-off? The Wolverines will not look to the transfer portal to address this, but instead will presumably experiment with these named players as rotational safeties during the first three non-conference games of the season.

Similar to the televised quarterback battle between J.J. McCarthy and Cade McNamara last season, these players will battle during live games when the “bullets are real” for the backup position.

While this positional battle won’t garner the hype that last year’s quarterback battle did, it will be one of the most important on the roster. If the injury bug were to bite the safeties, Michigan must ensure that any player thrust into a starting role is experienced and comfortable within the scheme.

Berry is the betting favorite to take on this role, but Johnson is a savvy veteran who was trusted in the College Football Playoff last year. Given the positional versatility required to play in defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s secondary scheme, a corner or an unknown player could also transition and stake a claim.

Who do you think will be the third safety for Michigan’s defense?