Previously: Podcast 10.0A. Podcast 10.0B. Podcast 10.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Tackle. Interior Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker.
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|David Long||So.*||Lavert Hill||Jr.||Brandon Watson||Sr.*|
|Ambry Thomas||So.||Myles Sims||Fr.||Gemon Green||Fr.|
|Vincent Gray||Fr.||Benjamin St Juste||Fr.*||Jaylen Kelly-Powell||So.|
Last year, Mike Zordich stepped in front of the assembled media and more or less pulled the Incensed Ralphie on his charges. Michigan's cornerbacks were dortin' no good dang nipple crisps who didn't practice, pronounced "gif" like it was peanut butter, and supported exclusionary zoning. Your author bought it and spent last year's preview worrying that the two second-year mega-recruits were going to flame out and leave Michigan in the lurch.
Fast forward a year:
A year ago in August Mike Zordich implored us to write his critiques so his corners would read them and learn.
‘Tell them I love them.’
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 15, 2018
If Zordich didn't also help the very much non-touted Brandon Watson become the third good-to-superb cornerback in Michigan's deepest secondary in living memory, one might be cross about the headfake. Since he did, huzzahs all around and someone call Ambry Thomas a nipple crisp. Sounds like a job for Ace!
CORNERBACK: WE ARE LEGION
If you haven't seen this graphic from PFF you have been industriously avoiding football content all offseason:
Those CBs up in Ann Arbor are something else pic.twitter.com/PfYzEbUnT9
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 26, 2018
I be like dang.
Some caveats do apply. Michigan's ravenous front seven forced a great variety of bad-idea throws and another great variety of passes technically targeting one of Michigan's CBs that were wild, unanswered prayers. There are stats, which can lie, and grades, which are less likely to. The above is a stat. PFF doesn't actually think Michigan had the two best corners in the country. The only think the next guy is the best returning CB in college football.
Junior LAVERT HILL was hyped up as the second coming of Jourdan Lewis. This was a precisely correct take, perhaps the most accurate in the history of offseason Michigan hype. Hill, like Lewis, is the variety of 5'11"-ish corner who's so agile that he's in the hip pocket of his man on almost literally every snap. Like Lewis, Hill is comfortable getting his head around and making a play on the ball. Like Lewis, Hill will be of great interest to the NFL when he decides it's time to be of interest.
Hill's stats are great and get better when you drill down. He played almost 90% of Michigan snaps and was only targeted 29 times. Michigan's other corners were targeted about 50% more frequently on a per-snap basis. On those 29 targets Hill gave up 12 catches, had 7 PBUs, and 2 interceptions. His havoc rate (PBUs + INTs / targets) of 26% is second-best amongst returning CBs. The passer rating stat above doesn't quite cover it; Hill was also studiously avoided by the opposition. And no wonder:
Hill was not just a man-to-man maestro. In addition to the coverage events above he also flashed his talent in zone coverage. Here he demonstrates a Countess-like ability to read what is coming and productively fall off the guy he was nominally in coverage on:
That's an interception if it's accurate. I didn't clip any other zone positives or negatives; a glance through the archives suggests that's because Michigan barely ran any.
Meanwhile the one time he got extensively tested on the ground, against Air Force, he came through with flying colors:
... Hill [was] particularly excellent. He's got a blocker here and doesn't just force it back but makes a critical zero-yard tackle that is a first step towards an Air Force FGA:
#24 CB to top of screen
He'd add to that resume a bit later in the year by chopping down a flare screen. The nature of Michigan's defense—all press all the time—limited the number of run-support events the corners endured by shutting off perimeter screens; in the limited opportunities provided Hill excelled. PFF graded him as "exceptional against the run." The cherry on top.
UFRs contained occasional mentions of an open guy here and a double move that got a little air there, but only as the "BUT!" section that I find mandatory since I am a person who writes on the internet who has to intercept many criticisms. Serious complaints were nonexistent.
In 2018 the main question about Hill is about his deployment. He was outstanding as a nickel corner, and it seems likely that Michigan will drift towards deploying him there when possible. When Michigan added a defensive back it was Watson (or Long, same difference) and Hill would kick down with predictably Lewis-like results.
His general coverage chops allowed him to stick with WRs when he went from slot to outside:
And the one time he faced the Dreaded Slot Fade he dominated:
If I was Michigan I'd give serious thought to expanding the definition of a passing down and expand the nickel package accordingly. Second and ten? Sure. Second and seven? Sure. Any down that seems likely to produce a third down of any variety even if the opposition runs against a nickel should be fair game. I believe the slot fade stuff will be better defended this year since it had to be a major offseason priority; I believe it will be better defended still if those poor saps are trying to get one over on Hill.
The deployment issues are the only thing worth speculating on. Hill will be an All-American, or close enough. He was already playing at that level a year ago. Michigan would be extraordinarily fortunate to get him back for a final year.
[After THE JUMP: three more of that?]