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2011 Preview – Defensive Backs

August 31, 2011

Part IV of our Season Preview looks at the Michigan Defensive Backs.

In 2010 Michigan had one of the worst defensive secondary’s in the nation.  Part of that was due to injury, part of that was due to youth, and part of that was due to lack of talent and depth.  Luckily, all three of those areas look to improve in 2011.


Key Losses: None

Returning Starters: Jordan Kovacs

Now that Michigan is back working in a traditional 4-3-4 defense they will utilize a traditional strong and free safety combination.  Despite continued suggestions that he is too small or too slow, junior Jordan Kovacs will be the starting strong safety.  Even though he may be limited physically, Kovacs continues to make plays whenever he is on the field, and is one of the surest tacklers on the team.  Since he is literally the last line of the defense, his biggest responsibility is not letting up the big play, and so far he has managed to do that. 

While Kovacs is clearly the starter, in the event he goes down, sophomore Marvin Robinson will be the first guy on the field.  Robinson is a physical specimen who still needs to be more consistent to be able to take Kovacs job away from him.  As of late last week, he was starting to put it all together in practice, and though it’s probably too late to overtake Kovacs for the starting role, Robinson will definitely see the field in some fashion. 

The other safety spot is a battle between sophomore Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson.  Neither has distinguished themselves yet, though at least count, Gordon had a slight edge.  Part of that may be because Johnson has been a little banged up.  Gordon also had more on-field experience last year.  Neither is going to be an All-American this year, or probably even All-Conference, but with a year of experience under their belt and a more defined role, both should be capable of handling that free safety spot. 

Michigan still doesn’t have a star player at either safety position, but the 4 guys in the mix to play are young and talented.  With the right coaching and development, by the end of the season safety play may go from a question mark to strength of this team. 


Key Losses: James Rogers

Returning Starters: Troy Woolfolk, Courtney Avery, J.T. Floyd

After Troy Woolfolk missed all of 2010 with an injury, things only got worse for the Michigan secondary when J.T. Floyd missed the 2nd half of the year with an injury as well.  Thankfully, both are back and ready to contribute.  Woolfolk is one of the leaders of the defense, and has had an excellent fall camp.  There was some talk early on that Woolfolk would return to safety, but that now appears unlikely.  As the safeties have improved, Woolfolk has also solidified himself as the #1 cornerback. 

Like Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd is healthy and ready to play, though he finds himself locked in a battle for the #2 cornerback job with sophomore Courtney Avery.  Avery came on at the end of last season and his no-fear approach to playing cornerback made an impact.  Floyd is listed on the depth chart ahead of Avery, but Avery has been practicing  with the first unit this week.  In the end I’m guessing Floyd’s experience wins out, but Avery will certainly see the field.  

Because of the strength of Avery and Floyd at the #2 cornerback spot, Woolfolk will move to the nickelback position on passing downs, with Avery and Floyd playing the traditional cornerbacks. 

The other cornerback for fans to keep an eye out for is freshman Blake Countess.  Countess has already shown that he will be a very good corner for Michigan someday.  He hasn’t managed to unseat one of the starters yet, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him on the field playing significant minutes later this season. 

Based on depth alone, this year’s cornerbacks are leaps and bounds ahead of where Michigan was last year, when they converted wide receiver was starting in certain games.  This is a solid unit that should be much better than the Michigan cornerbacks the last 2-3 years. 


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