With the commitment of 2015 four-star cornerback Garrett Taylor, the Michigan Wolverines seem to be looking at a shift in philosophy of sorts in terms of how to build their defense.
In the last couple of classes, Brady Hoke and staff have focused their attention on the defensive side of the ball to bringing in some of the more athletic secondary prospects in the country, and it should pay off in the future.
Over the last few seasons, Michigan has regressed in terms of its pass defense. We have seen them not only get burned on big plays from time to time, but also get taken advantage of in the short passing game, as well.
There have been many changes all over the defense this off-season, both with the coaching staff and with personnel. While Michigan still wants to base its defense along the defensive line, Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison has stated that he would like to play some more man-to-man coverage and get more physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor have been solid players for the Wolverines in their time here, but neither of them are really big enough or athletic enough to hang with some of the better receivers and passing attacks in college football. Both are around 5-foot-10 and weigh about 180 pounds. They are far from a liability on defense, but they are not exactly a strength, either.
Michigan’s safety play has been a revolving door of sorts, as well.
They brought in one of the top safeties and athletes in the country in their 2013 class in Dymonte Thomas, who had a limited role last season as a special teamer, but looks to have a shot to be starting in defensive backfield come week one of the 2014 season. The potential that he boasts is something that this coaching staff is very high on.
The biggest splash that Michigan has made in regard to recruiting in the secondary has been 2014 cornerback Jabrill Peppers, who may just be one of the best pure athletes that the Wolverines have ever brought it. We’ve talked before on where Peppers’ role may be on this team in the future, but wherever he ends up, he has the raw ability at 6-foot-1 to be one of the elite playmakers in college football from day one.
While it’s still early on in the process for the 2015 recruiting class, Michigan has focused hard early on bringing in the best secondary athletes that the nation has to offer. In Taylor and safety commit Tyree Kinnel, the Wolverines have brought in two guys at 6-feet tall and up that can get physical and also run with some of the quicker wide receivers in football. Throw Shaun Crawford in the mix, who is actually a bit small at 5-foot-9, and you have a good athlete who can come in and cover during nickel and dime packages.
Michigan is very deep in the secondary as is, and that depth will continue to grow down the road. Players already on the team like Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, and Brandon Watson will have their opportunities for playing time as well. All have shown the ability in game situations, and Watson has shown it in Spring practices to this point.
With the game of football changing as each day passes and switching to more of a vertical passing attack, the landscape of how to build defenses has started to shift. The powers that be are starting to make the game less about what happens at the line of scrimmage and more about what happens with skill players.
Teams have adapted to this, much like Michigan State did en route to their Rose Bowl win last season with guys like Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, and Kurtis Drummond in their defensive backfield. In the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl building a defense around an athletic, physical secondary, led by everybody’s favorite trash talker in Richard Sherman.
This is the new era of football, and at least on paper, it looks as if the Wolverines may be ready for it going forward.