Michigan Football Spring Preview: Defensive Backs

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As we wind down our Michigan football spring preview series, let’s take a look at the defensive backs.

For years, under former head coach Brady Hoke, the coaching staff kept claiming that they would blitz often and play more man coverage. We never saw those wishes materialize on the field. Coach Jim Harbaugh intends to follow the same defensively aggressive philosophy that Hoke wanted to implement. With the guys he’s brought in, I see no reason why they won’t back up their talk.

The coaches on the defensive side are a litany of a “who’s who” in the coaching world. D.J. Durkin is now the defensive coordinator and Greg Mattison stayed on to coach the defensive line. Durkin’s defense at Florida last season finished ranked No. 15 in the nation. That means there will be no drop-off on the defensive side. Instead of having a former linebacker coach the defensive backs (sorry Roy Manning), Harbaugh thought it would be ideal to use former defensive backs to coach the position. New secondary coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Zordich bring a wealth of playing and coaching experience from both the NFL and the college level.

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Last Season

2014 was a pretty good year for the Wolverines’ defense as a whole. The unit finished the season ranked seventh in the nation. The defense was one of the few silver linings in what was a nightmarish season. The secondary was shaky all season, though they finished ranked No. 19 in the nation against the pass.

Michigan struggled tremendously at creating turnovers last season. The Wolverines ranked below the likes of UAB, Toledo, Kent State and Eastern Michigan in interception totals. The secondary finished with five interceptions on the year.

The defense also ranked No. 122 in the nation in turnover margin. The defensive line was solid for the Wolverines and carried the defense for most of the year. The secondary was the handicap without a doubt. It allowed Gary Nova at Rutgers to throw for 404 yards; Trevor Siemain at Northwestern completed 32 of 49 passes. When guys like Nova and Siemain shred you apart, you know you have problems. It was a terrible year for the secondary, but they’ll have the opportunity to make it right on Sept. 3.

New Faces

  • Wayne Lyons (probable transfer—his mother and Mike Zordich have confirmed the move)
  • Matt Mitchell
  • Jabrill Peppers (injured most of last season)

Projected Depth Chart

Wideside Defensive Back (LCB)
1st Team Wayne Lyons RS Sr. 6-foot-1, 193 lbs.
2nd Team Blake Countess RS Sr. 5-foot-10, 185 lbs.
Backup Channing Stribling Jr. 6-foot-2, 178 lbs.
Backup Keith Washington Fr. 6-foot-2, 175 lbs.
Backup Terry Richardson RS Jr. 5-foot-9, 174 lbs.
Backup Anthony Dalimonte RS So. 5-foot-9, 176 lbs.
Shortside Defensive Back (RCB)
1st Team Jourdan Lewis Jr. 5-foot-10, 176 lbs.
2nd Team Douglas Taylor-Ross RS So. 5-foot-10, 186 lbs.
Backup Reon Dawson RS So. 6-foot-2, 175 lbs.
Backup Francois Montbrun RS So. 5-foot-10, 183 lbs.
Backup Matt Mitchell Fr. 5-foot-10, 179 lbs.
Backup Jeffrey Houston So. 5-foot-11, 190 lbs.
Backup Travis Wooley Sr. 6-foot, 195 lbs.
Strong Safety
1st Team Jarrod Wilson Sr. 6-foot-2, 210 lbs.
2nd Team Jeremy Clark RS Jr. 6-foot-4, 205 lbs.
Backup Delano Hill Jr. 6-foot, 204 lbs.
Backup Brandon Watson RS Fr. 5-foot-11, 185 lbs.
Backup AJ Pearson RS Jr. 6-foot, 202 lbs.
Free Safety
1st Team Jabrill Peppers RS Fr. 6-foot-1, 205 lbs.
2nd Team Dymonte Thomas Jr. 6-foot-2, 191 lbs.
Backup Tyree Kinnel Fr. 5-foot-11, 200 lbs.
Backup Brandon Watson RS Fr. 5-foot-11, 185 lbs.
Backup AJ Pearson RS Jr. 6-foot, 202 lbs.
Backup Shaun Austin RS Jr. 6-foot-1, 202 lbs.

The secondary was putrid last year. They made even the most average quarterbacks look like the second coming of Peyton Manning.

This year with a high caliber coaching staff in place and players returning with more experience, the secondary should be greatly improved.

The player that most were excited to see was Jabrill Peppers. As a highly touted recruit, there was a lot of excitement to see what he could do on the field. Unfortunately, he sustained injuries and wasn’t able to compete in more than two games. As spring practice is rolling, we are hearing nothing but good things about Peppers. Secondary coach Greg Jackson lauded Peppers recently, stating, “I expect to see him communicate in the secondary, which he does with no problem. I expect him to hustle to the football, which he does with no problem. I expect to see him get his hands on balls; he does that with no problem. I expect him to play the deep middle of the field; he does that great. He tackles great.”

There should be no doubt that, barring injuries, Peppers will make a big impact on the field.

Blake Countess is also getting compliments so far in spring practice. He will need a bounce-back year after a disappointing season. With this staff, I expect him to improve tremendously.

If Michigan does end up getting Wayne Lyons as a graduate transfer, that will help boost the secondary by leaps and bounds. He’ll bring experience, talent and leadership. He’s a big defensive back compared to what we’ve seen in the secondary the past few years.

Another positive is that Jourdan Lewis was solid last year and that trajectory should keep moving upward. The same applies for Jarrod Wilson. Also, keep an eye out for Dymonte Thomas, Tyree Kinnel and Keith Washington. All three should make an impact on the field next season, if for nothing as depth role players.

Player to Watch: Jourdan Lewis

It would be easy to say watch out for Jabrill Peppers, but you are already more than likely going to do that. Jourdan Lewis had a very solid campaign last season. With Peppers out and Countess struggling, he was the top performing cornerback. Lewis not only provides experience, but he has all the right intangibles to really impact his opponents.

Lewis is highly athletic. His athleticism is so impressive it had Alabama head coach Nick Saban raving about him. Saban actually called his coaches during a Cass Tech visit and wondered why they didn’t recruit him. He stated, “He’s the best athlete that I’ve ever seen in my life.” That’s big praise from a coach of Saban’s caliber.

Along with being very athletic, he also has great hands. Out of the five interceptions Michigan had last year, Lewis had two of them. He’s not afraid of contact, finishing the season with 39 tackles (28 solo) and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Lewis appeared in 12 games last year and made seven starts. He’s heading into his junior season this year. He showed us a glimpse of what he can do last year, but expect bigger things this upcoming season. The combination of talent, athleticism, experience and a great coaching staff add up to a great year for Lewis and the secondary.

Position grade: B+

Fatima Harajli is a contributor to The Big House Report. Follow her on Twitter @fharajli.

Fatima Harajli