Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michigan Preview 2008: Part 7-Defensive Backs

My internet was out for some reason yesterday, so I couldn’t post anything. But I believe Stu will be posting audio from the press conference soon and I’ll talk about the issues on the depth chart quickly.

A lot of “ors” still there. On the O-line, only one true freshman, Ricky Barnum is on the two deep. Also, the right guard spot is listed as David Moosman or John Ferrara and Rodriguez clarified that if Ferrara starts at guard, Moosman will move to center and Molk out of the starting line up. Martavious Odoms is starting at slot, ahead of Toney Clemons and on the outside, Stonum is battling Matthews for one starting spot and Savoy for the other. Still listed as Sheridan or Threet, but from listening to Rodriguez and the players, it really seems like they like Sheridan a little more. Rodriguez said he has a feeling of who it will be, but won’t share it, but said he might say who it is on Wednesday. There is certainly a crowded backfield with Rodriguez saying there should be an “or” for all of the four guys. On defense, no “ors” for starting jobs, but Marell Evans will start at weakside backer above Mouton, Panter is the starter on the strongside and Brandon Harrison is the starting strong safety over Charles Stewart.

So speaking of those safeties, the secondary is now pretty much set as the season is days away. With Morgan Trent’s surprisingly decent/good year last year, and the emergence of Donovan Warren, the cornerbacks could become two of the best in the conference and even the nation. Many fans have questions about the safety spot since Stevie Brown has gotten a bad rep after starting that dreaded opener of 2007 and repeatedly getting burned, and with the loss of Jamar Adams. But the safety spot will be helped with the scheme which will have them blitzing a lot and with the constant pass rush from the front seven when they are in coverage. The coaches have not stopped praising Brown’s work ethic and play since the Spring, and Harrison and Stewart are seniors who should play with a chip on their shoulder. Yes Harrison was dreadful too, but the scheme will have him blitzing a lot from the strong safety spot so we won’t have to see him in coverage as much. Hopefully he has improved in that area as well. This unit should be very strong as well, and Rodriguez coached teams have done pretty well against the pass.



#14 Morgan Trent 6’1” 193 5thSr. San Diego, CA (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in MI)
Following 2006, particularly the O-State and USC games, he was maybe the most hated Wolverine by fans. As 2007 came along, everyone was hoping that somehow, someone would take his job so we wouldn’t have to watch him get torched by opposing receivers. Well, he stayed as the #1 corner, much to our chagrin, but even when the defense struggled, it never seemed that Trent was the one being torched anymore. As the season kept going, it went from talking about Trent as a liability, to talking about Trent as one of the solid guys on the defense. Maybe a 100 degree turn from terrible to decent. He did not make too many big plays last year though, which is something some fans are waiting for. He now has a chance to take that one extra step up and complete a 180 degree reversal from two years ago. Throughout spring and fall camp, Trent has drawn the most praise from coaches as a playmaker in the secondary (even more than Warren). Two years ago I never thought I would say this, but he could be a second team or honorable mention All-American by season’s end. I expect big things from Trent, hopefully he does not return to his old ways.

#6 Donovan Warren 6’0” 185 So. Los Angeles, CA (Polytechnic)
Coming off a great freshman campaign last year with 11 starts as a true freshman, many are expecting Warren to be the guy with All-America potential. The scary thing is, he does have that potential even this year and certainly in the future. He was a very reliable cover man last year and has probably even improved upon that. As long as he avoids a sophomore slump, he should be an All-Big-Ten corner.


#33 Boubacar Cissoko 5’9” 183 Fr. Detroit, MI (Cass Tech)
Very highly touted freshman coming in and is listed as the potential backup to Warren, but is competing with Doug Dutch for that spot. The freshman has great cover skills and the coaches have said he will play quite a bit at corner this season. The only weakness for Cissoko is obviously his height. For those who watched him play in the Army All-American game, this proved to be a big disadvantage against those 6’3”+ receivers. He should be a great coverage nickel back, though, and will play extensively. He should be fun to watch.

#35 Doug Dutch 5’11” 204 5thSr. Bowie, MD (Gonzaga College HS)
Yes Doug Dutch is still here. His disappointing career, to say the least, will finally wrap up this season and he could have a chance to make some plays in the secondary. He is competing with Cissoko for a backup spot and will probably see the field some this season. I certainly hope he makes the most of it.

#29 Troy Woolfolk 6’0” 189 So. Sugar Land, TX (Dulles)
Probably should have redshirted last year as he played in 8 games and only two at the cornerback spot (Eastern and Purdue). In the Eastern game he had 2 pass breakups though. Carr had talked about playing his as a true freshman prior to last year, but only got around to it those two times. He has a promising career ahead of him. He is listed as the backup to Trent and probably will play a little corner in each game this year.

#12 J.T. Floyd 6’0” 190 Fr. Greenville, S.C. (J.L. Mann)
He is not listed on the preliminary depth chart, but Rodriguez has continually said that Floyd will get a chance to play. Maybe the majority of that P.T. will come on special teams, but we could see him in the defensive backfield some. He should not see extensive playing time on defense though.



FS #3 Stevie Brown 6’0” 209 Jr. Columbus, IN (Columbus East)
His only start at the spot came against App State last year and we all know what happened. He had a rough couple quarters, was pulled, and never started the rest of the year. While he did play terribly that first game, it was pretty quick to yank him for the rest of the year when the entire defense played terribly that day. Brown battled back and towards the end of the year, he saw himself on the field late in the fourth quarter of many close games, culminating in his 4th down pass breakup against Florida late in the fourth quarter. In the spring, he was the only player to receive two spring awards and received much praise from the coaches. The awards were for leadership and being the best conditioned athlete in the skill group. The coaches have continued to praise him through the fall, and there has never really been a doubt that he would be the starter here. That experience late in ball games last year should help him tremendously this year. But he’ll have to shake off those demons of the only start in his career. I think he will end up having a great year and make some big plays for the defense.

SS #27 Brandon Harrison 5’9” 208 Sr. Dayton, OH (Chaminade-Julienne)
Harrison was the Nickel corner last season and started 10 games at that spot. He is not really a fan favorite, at least last year he wasn’t. He has been better known for getting burned than anything else so far. But his speed has been applauded as of late as he claims he is faster than Morgan Trent and probably the fastest guy on the team. That speed did not help him shut down wide-outs last season though. I love the switch for him to strong safety. One of the main reasons is that he should be in coverage a little less. In Shafer’s scheme he will probably be asked to blitz quite a bit and come up in run defense more too. He beat out Charles Stewart for this spot, but the two will probably rotate quite a bit. It’s Harrison’s last year and I’m sure he will want to redeem himself after struggling a bit the last two years. The switch to strong safety and decrease in his role as a cover man should help him change his own image.


SS #5 Charles Stewart 6’2” 208 5thSr. Farmington Hills, MI (Harrison)
He has played mainly special teams and corner throughout his career, until last year where he some action at SS. He has never really been able to break through as a big-time contributor or starter on the defense throughout his career. Last year was his best chance with the departure of Leon Hall, and the questionable play of Morgan Trent. He was not able to break through however, and again this season he will start behind Harrison. The coaches seem to like Stewart though, and he will rotate in there for Harrison every game. If Harrison struggles too, Stewart might take hold of that starting role sometime during the season. Stewart should finally be a solid defensive contributor, but if he does not get ahead of Harrison, it has been a pretty disappointing career for Stewart. He will have a chance to make some plays this year though.

FS #40 Mike Williams 5’11” 186 RSFr. Camarillo, CA (St. Bonaventure HS)
He redshirted last year despite being hyped up as a true freshman and having talk about him playing as a true freshman. He has a lot of talent and potential and is listed as the backup to Stevie Brown. He will get to play some free safety and I’m sure many are anxious to see him, me included.

#38 Artis Chambers 6’0” 207 So. Fort Wayne, IN (Snider)
Artis didn’t get to play much with the ones in the Spring because, well, he was out of shape. That certainly has changed now as he has gone through a summer with Mike Barwis. Many thought he would be the backup to Stevie Brown, but, at least for now, this is not the case. Chambers should get to play some safety this season though. Last year he was limited to special teams play, when he was eligible (Big Ten doesn’t count grades earned in the summer, so his GPA was up to NCAA standards, but not Big Ten).

#28 Brandon Smith 6’3” 200 Fr. New Brunswick, N.J. (New Brunswick)
Rodriguez has said that Smith will play at safety this year. I’m guessing he will play at the strong safety spot behind Stewart and Harrison. He should see some time there, but mostly will play special teams this season. People who have seen practice have been very impressed by Smith. He will be in the mix to start at strong safety next season. I don’t see him being redshirted this year though, so we will see him from time to time and a lot on special teams.

The corners are definitely very solid, but the safeties are unproven at those spots as starters. They are very talented and should end up being pretty good since they are athletic and experienced, but Brown’s and Harrison’s past troubles will keep many scared until proven otherwise. I think this will end up being one of the better secondaries in the conference and the country. The pass rush and frequent blitzing should help them tremendously. Trent and Warren are prime for big years and should make more big plays this year.

Current Grade: B+ Very good group, but not great until the safeties prove otherwise.

Special Teams is next.

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