Michigan Football: Spring Game Analysis of the Defensive Backs
Now, all of ye, you want to talk new, then stick around for the exposition following concerning the defensive backs.
Three of last year’s starters were high draft picks and other members of the group were signed as free agents. Yes, indeed, the receiver group is young, so is the linebacker group, but the defensive backs are the preschool of college football. Not in ability, mind you, but in experience and age. As Coach Brown mentioned at a presser recently, this group is swimming, in a little bit of cognitive conflict, if you will, and needs, by necessity, to bang forward with haste on the learning curve.
The good news is the youngsters came to Michigan with pedigree credentials. The bad news is that those pedigree papers now mean nothing, and the mutts of the world care less and certainly enjoy the challenge of unseating the preordained royalty.
Michigan is in a bit of a different situation regarding labeling backfield positions, with the Viper option a certainty. It is still in play regarding who wins the start, and several guys, some long discussed, and perhaps some surprises, are in the mix.
The early “popular” bet is Khaleke Hudson, long a favorite as the Michigan steal of 2016. Khaleke is not as physically talented as Jabrill Peppers and is a hair shorter. But he fits the definition of a football player. He is learning to know and communicate field positioning and he already knows how to hit. Josh Metellus is also about Peppers’ size and seems to play without fear. His showing in the Orange Bowl demonstrated he is more than a last hope backup. Josh Uche is bigger and more of a linebacker type or even perhaps someday a DE/LB hybrid. His best asset is rushing.
The corners did a nice job in the Spring Game, helped in part by the combination of shaky throws, inadequate routes, and the receivers losing the physicality battle. With the weaknesses on the offensive side, the task of accurate assessment of the defensive backs becomes subject to more guess work than usual.
Lavert Hill was heavily recruited by Michigan in an intense and sustained manner. He has speed, good change of direction, toughness, and it seems the intensity to get it done. Many have almost instantly compared Hill with Jourdan Lewis. Time will tell, but Lewis was no further along at this stage than Hill currently is.
David Long was Michigan’s gem of a recruit in this class at defensive back. The coaches valued both Hill and Long highly. Long appears to have a need to improve in all areas: toughness, preparation, intensity, to get to the top level. Some have stated Long now realizes he cannot casually acquire excellence at this level without paying a big price in preparation and commitment.
Brandon Watson is now a veteran and his seniority showed in the Spring Game. He will play and may play better than some forecast. His true test will be hanging with the elite talent.
Keith Washington is another veteran with some good size. Like Watson, Keith looks good enough to hang in against decent talent but has struggled some in the past. Watson and Washington would solve some problems if they can provide some irritable corner play that frustrates and throws off the balance and timing of opposing receivers.
The newcomers include Aubrey Thomas, a guy who just might be headed for a distinguished career. Like Lavert Hill, the coaches put heavy emphasis on Thomas’ recruiting effort. And like Hill, Thomas, to the surprise of some of the site personnel, came around to Michigan and both became valued commitments. The bet here is this guy can play.
Benjamin St. Juste came out of nowhere to become a hot recruit. Well, actually he came out of Canada which explains the previous lack of star power. The coaches raved about him all through the process and fans bemoaned the commitment of a two star who would mess up the recruiting average star rating. Well, he became a three star and then a four star as people saw his skills and potential. St. Juste is a long and athletic corner, in the modern Michigan mold. He got beat a couple of times late on nice fade passes in the Spring Game. Still, he got beat on nice passes and catches and was more than in the zip code. Some seniors a few years back would not have done better. His play seems to reinforce Michigan’s faith and long held belief that this guy could be pretty special.
Safety is slim. Tyree Kinnel showed well at the Spring Game. Then there is the possibility of a viper returning to safety. And there are two newcomers, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and J’Marick Woods. Michigan is in need here and the best remedy is superior play by the other position groups. Opportunity sure is there and the staff may have to be real creative in envisioning who can play where. Some envision Brad Hawkins heading to the defense.
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