The position previews forge on with a look at the most disconcerting position group on the roster — the cornerbacks:
Returning Contributors: J.T. Floyd (RS So.), James Rogers (Sr.), Teric Jones (So.), Tony Anderson (RS Jr.)
Incoming Freshmen: Courtney Avery, Cullen Christian, Terrence Talbott
Key Departures: Donovan Warren, Boubacar Cissoko, Justin Turner
Returning Player Stats:
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The Projected Starters: Standout senior Donovan Warren will line up across from junior Boubacar Cissoko, who is poised for a breakout year after starting all 12 games as a sophomore.
Senior Troy Woolfolk can play either safety or corner, and is a solid option as a nickel corner, while blue-chip freshman Demar Dorsey is also competing for a big role in 2010 after an impressive showing in fall drills.
Redshirt freshman Justin Turner is also in line for a breakout year after being one of the country’s top defensive back recruits in 2009.
We all know the story by now: Michigan’s secondary is a decimated unit after a series of unfortunate events — Boubacar Cissoko getting kicked off the team, Donovan Warren leaving school early, Demar Dorsey and Adrian Witty (again) being denied admittance, Justin Turner transferring, Troy Woolfolk suffering a season-ending injury — leaves only unproven veterans and true freshmen battling for time at cornerback.
With all that has transpired, redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd is now the team’s de facto number one cornerback, coming off a season in which he saw little playing time after appearing unready to see the field when he played in the opener against Western Michigan. Floyd is a former three-star recruit who played safety in high school, and he has earned the praises of the coaching staff and practice observers for his improvement since the end of last season. How much he has improved will go a long way towards determining the success of the Wolverine defense this season.
While Floyd is cemented as the team’s top corner, who will start across from him is a questions that thus far remains unanswered. As it stands right now, senior James Rogers appears to have the inside track on the job. Rogers started his career at cornerback before switching to wide receiver in 2008, but he moved back over to corner during the 2009 season when the team needed more depth at the position. Rogers is a former high school track star and at 6-1, 183 pounds, he has great physical attributes for a corner — the question will be if he can play with proper technique after bouncing between offense and defense throughout his collegiate career. If he wins the job, expect Rogers to be serviceable, but the ceiling here — especially in comparison to a guy like Cullen Christian — is relatively low.
The Competition: A trio of true freshmen — four-star Cullen Christian and three-stars Courtney Avery and Terrence Talbott — will compete not just for playing time, but to start alongside Floyd as the 2010 season rapidly approaches. Christian is the highest-rated of the group, has the most college-ready body (6-0, 187 lbs.), and possesses very good cover skills, but he must improve on his tackling if he wants to see significant time. Avery has been mentioned as the freshman who could see the field the soonest, despite being a three-star prospect who played mainly quarterback in high school. He is a very good athlete, but at 5-11, 167 pounds he needs to add some weight, and soon. Talbott, at 5-11, 171 pounds, is also in need of some bulk, and he is also a pretty raw prospect — on the plus side, he was a strong tackler in high school, a quality the coaches are really looking for in all their defensive backs. My guess is Christian sees the most playing time of the three freshmen based on overall talent and size, but everything is very much up in the air right now.
Sophomore Teric Jones has bounced around enough times to make even James Rogers’s head spin: Jones arrived on campus as a three-star running back/slot receiver prospect, but was moved to cornerback last fall and saw brief mop-up duty against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State while spending most of his nine appearances on special teams. This spring he moved to safety to compete to back up Jordan Kovacs at bandit, but was moved once again to cornerback after Woolfolk’s injury. Jones has ideal speed for a corner and hits surprisingly well for a 5-9, 195-pound defensive back, but he will have to learn proper corner technique in a hurry if he wants to see the field this year.
Others: Redshirt junior Kelvin Grady was moved this week from slot receiver to cornerback, and considering Grady’s outstanding scrimmage performance as a receiver last Saturday, this says a lot about the depth and quality at cornerback right now. [EDIT: Guess that rumor wasn’t true. Thanks to commenter Steve for the heads up.]
Redshirt junior walk-on Tony Anderson has played on special teams throughout his career at Michigan and could see time at corner if the situation calls for it, but he’s unlikely to get significant time on defense unless the team gets hit with even more injuries. True freshman Carvin Johnson has seen practice time at both safety, his natural position, and cornerback, but with three other true freshmen at corner I don’t foresee him having much of an impact here.
Okay, planning for a nuclear attack may be a bit over the top, but let’s look at this situation rationally for a minute: Michigan’s top corner will be a redshirt sophomore whose most memorable moment as a Wolverine was getting torched by a Western Michigan receiver in garbage time last year. That’s our top corner. The other spot will be manned either by a senior who has switched positions multiple times without ever seeing significant playing time or a true freshman. Behind that, we have more true freshmen and a walk-on who has only seen time on special teams. While it is conceivable that this unit could be something besides a complete disaster, well, the reality points to expecting something close to worst-case scenario. I will be very, very happy if I’m dead wrong about this position, but after two years of having my optimistic expectations crushed, I’m going to seek shelter in a bunker of realistic pessimism. My apologies if you expecting some comfort from this preview — here’s a winking puppy to make you feel better.
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