Michigan Defense: The Secondary

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Michigan Defense: The Secondary
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This is the final installment of my Michigan football season preview, the offense is in Part I  and Part II,  the first part of the defense is right here

Rich Rodriguez released the initial depth chart for the season today which cleared up some of the questions regarding the secondary. 

The Michigan secondary will not be very deep this season and will rely on some things that  may be a little more unconventional.  More than any other unit on the team, they will need the starters to stay health, especially at safety. 

The Wolverines have no seniors in the secondary, but they do have experienced players at three of the four starting positions in spite of losing starters from last season in Morgan Trent, Brendan Harrison, and Charles Stewart. 

As mentioned in the previous article, last year's starting free safety Stevie Brown was moved to linebacker this season and will play a nickel/linebacker hybrid type position known as "The Spinner."

The reliable returning starter from last season is Donovan Warren who had 52 tackles in 11 games last year and one interception.  Warren has been a two year starter and was a Freshman All-American in 2007.  Last year, he played some of the season with a nagging foot injury which required surgery he missed spring practice due to rehabilitation. 

Warren has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons, but he has also shown a lack of discipline at times, occasionally committing stupid penalties and breaking for the ball at inopportune times.  He is a player who is often underrated, and hopefully for Michigan, is hungry to prove himself as a great corner. 

Boubacar Cissoko will play alongside Warren at the other corner slot, he received a substantial amount of playing time as a freshman nickel corner.  At 5'9" he is one of the shortest corners in the country, but what he lacks in stature he makes up for in effort.  Making two starts last season, Cissoko made 15 tackles and 11 of those were solo efforts, he is speedy and limits receivers yards after the catch. 

Behind these two are two true freshmen and one redshirt, Justin Turner, Teric Jones, and JT Floyd respectively.  Turner and Jones both come in as highly touted recruits from the most recent recruiting class. 

Turner was recruited as an athlete out of Massilon, Ohio, and Jones was initially recruited as a running back out of Detroit Cass Tech High School which he attended with Cissoko and William Campbell. 

Floyd is the X-factor of the three of these backups on the depth chart, he redshirted last year because of the amount of depth in the secondary, he was a safety in high school but because of his lack of size was moved to corner when he got to Michigan. 

Being a three-star recruit, he was not as highly touted as any of the other players around him, so if he exceeds expectations this unit may be a pleasant surprise.

For historical reference, Michigan has had a number of true freshmen cornerbacks do well and go onto have great careers.  Ty Law and Charles Woodson both played as Freshmen and went onto become All-Americans in college and All-Pros in the NFL.

At safety the question is bigger but there is slightly more experience, Troy Woolfolk and Mike Williams will be at the strong and free safety positions respectively.

Woolfolk, a junior, had established himself prior to moving into this position, but he had done so as nickel and as a special teams tackler.  He was second on the team with 10 special teams tackles last season proving that he has no problem tackling players in the open field if necessary. 

He also, prior to Denard Robinson's arrival, was the fastest player on the team.  A hurdler on the Wolverines track team he has the speed to catch up to players and keep up with deep threat receivers, however he might lack the size to go after powerful running backs. 

Mike Williams has not had as much experience as the other starters in the secondary but the redshirt sophomore from California has apparently impressed the coaches in practice this year.  He led the team in special teams tackles with 11 last season despite only playing sparingly at safety. 

He also impressed several media observers during two-a-days with his physical play and picked up two interceptions in one-on-one drills during the first week of camp.

Backing them up will be Jared Van Slyke, Jordan Kovacs, and Vladimir Emilien.  Van Slyke is a transfer student from Southeast Missouri State and the son of Detroit Tigers first base coach Andy Van Slyke, and has impressed the coaches enough to make it onto the second spot on the depth chart. 

Kovacs, a speedy walk on redshirt freshman has also been pressed into duty and impressed enough to get a spot on the depth chart this year.

Emilien is the only player who has been highly touted coming out of high school as a four star player out of Lauderhill, Florida despite missing his senior season with a torn ACL.  Apparently, he too has done a good enough job to earn a spot on the chart as a true freshman. 

In all seriousness this is the Wolverines weakest area in terms of both experience and depth.  Hopefully the rest of the defense will play better and put pressure on the quarterback in order to make up for the weaknesses in the secondary.  Unfortunately they too will have to deal with learning the new defensive system under new coordinator Greg Robinson. 

All in all Michigan has worked hard this offseason and they desperately want to silence any doubters this season.  I predict that this team will get to a bowl game in their second season under Rich Rodriguez but which one, I have no idea. 

They will be vastly improved from last season on both sides of the ball because the offense will be able to control the ball longer and put points on the board taking the pressure off of the defense and quite possibly, becoming the best part of their defense.

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