Michigan Football: Greg Mattison Building National Championship Secondary
Comparing the current group or any one player from today's Michigan Wolverines secondary to that of the 1997 team's legendary ensemble is nearly blasphemous.
With stars like Heisman winner Charles Woodson, All Big-Ten award recipient Andre Weathers and safety Marcus Ray—who is renowned for his hit on Ohio State's David Boston (see "Take That!" Sports Illustrated cover)—it's difficult to imagine the Wolverines ever putting together a comparable unit.
However, Michigan's strong recruiting classes from the past two years under coach Brady Hoke have afforded the Wolverines a set of defensive backs that could, on its very best days, make similar contributions to the program as its revered predecessors did.
The 2013 crop was an impressive get. Those recruits will likely be the foundation of an elite corps of Wolverines corners and safeties for years to come. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's desire to build a national title-worthy secondary is loud and clear.
Not to say that Dymonte Thomas could morph into Michigan's second primarily defensive player to hoist the Heisman, but the 4-star-rated prospect was an outstanding safety at Marlington High (Alliance, Ohio) and touts a familiar build to that of Woodson's: Thomas is 6'2" and 192 pounds, while Woodson was 6'1" and about 190 pounds during his Michigan days.
Will 2013 DBs have similar impact as 1997 DBs did?
Thomas is big enough to combat the elite-level receivers who will challenge him in the Big Ten. Versatile, he could play corner and safety. He touts 4.49-second speed in the 40-yard dash, which could come in handy as a kick returner.
Woodson did it all for Michigan: He played receiver, returned punts and was a pretty decent corner. Thomas might be next in line. He may not be Woodson in the making, but he could certainly line up several different ways like Woodson did.
Former Detroit Cass Tech sensations Jourdan Lewis and Delano Hill join the Wolverines on the field this fall as well.
Hill is another back to watch; his size is indicative of the types of secondary targets Mattison looks to recruit: Hill has speed—his 4.4-second 40 is proof of that—and he has size, already boasting a college-ready 6'0", 198-pound frame.
Like Thomas, Hill is capable of playing multiple positions. Think of the options and ponder the ways that he could help the Wolverines build upon an already drastically improved pass defense that ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten this past fall (169.5 yards per outing).
Lewis may be a bit undersized at 5'10" and 159 pounds, but his athleticism is incredible. Lewis can go up and get the ball with anyone; he proved that by winning the "Best Interception" award during a Rivals showcase in Atlanta this past summer.
Rivals.com analyst Chris Nee was impressed with what he saw that day (relayed by AnnArbor.com's Nick Baumgardner):
In one of the first plays of the day, Lewis made Whitewright (Texas) quarterback Tyrone Swoopes his victim.It was a go-route down the sideline and Swoopes threw it to the outside shoulder of the receiver.
Lewis showed his great closing speed and got in front of the receiver getting his hands between him and the ball securing the interception. It was a highlight-worthy play.
And for the record, Swoopes was Texas' 13th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2013 class. The 6'5", 229-pound rocket-armed and swift-legged signal-caller is headed to the University of Texas, a school known for great college quarterbacks.
While not rated as highly as Lewis, Hill and Thomas, Channing Stribling may become a diamond for the Wolverines once polished and further coached. His size bodes well for the type of attack Mattison is preparing.
At 6'2" and 170 pounds, Stribling has the build to play corner and contend with big-bodied wideouts from around the league. He'll leave Butler High (Matthew, N.C.) with a 3-star rating, but he could develop into a valuable defender who far exceeds his 3-star grade.
There may never be another secondary like the one Woodson, Weathers and Ray led while the Wolverines made their national championship run. Michigan is trying to return to its former glory, so it's only logical to assume that it's looking for the next Charles Woodson and scouring recruiting trails for the next Andre Weathers and Marcus Ray.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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