Preview 2017: Safety

Submitted by Brian on August 31st, 2017 at 12:45 PM

Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback.


please be boring [Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

Free Safety Yr. Strong Safety Yr. Nickelback Yr.
Tyree Kinnel Jr. Josh Metellus So. Brandon Watson Jr.*
J'Marick Woods Fr. Jordan Glasgow So*. Ambry Thomas Fr.
Brad Hawkins Fr. Jaylen Kelly-Powell Fr. Jaylen Kelly-Powell Fr.

Must hit. That's the long and short of it. Abominable roster management by Brady Hoke, the draft prospects of Jabrill Peppers, the departure of Brian Cole, and addition of Don Brown's three-safety defense has thinned options here. Michigan simply must hit on Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus or play true freshmen or walk-ons. That would be interesting times.

So far so good for the starters; this is another start-by-default situation that could have a nasty downside.


RATING: 3.5.

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got some [Eric Upchurch]

Junior TYREE KINNEL [recruiting profile] is the only member of the secondary who had a significant role on last year's team. He was last year's dimeback; Michigan would add him on passing downs and stick him in Siberia. Occasionally he'd arrive from offscreen and offer up a pretty good Jordan Kovacs impression:

This was the only thing he did when he showed up on the viewer's screen. Here's another one:

Those are the only clips of Kinnel in UFR; at all other times he was offscreen dissuading long throws until the quarterback was consumed by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts of Traal. This means that there's relatively little information on him despite the fact that he was clearly Michigan's #6 defensive back a year ago. He got about 150 snaps; this was the only item from UFR on him:

Tyree Kinnel is going to be just fine next year. I mean, probably. He has the look of an excellent run support safety. Coverage hasn't been tested yet but he was supposed to be a CB/S combo out of high school; if anything the Kovacs stuff was supposed to be a hole in his game. If that isn't the case Michigan shouldn't miss a beat at one of the safety spots.

Life without all-22 is occasionally rough. Whatever insight we might glean will have to be from circumstantial evidence.

Fortunately, there's plenty of that. Kinnel has progressed exactly as you'd want a mid-four star safety. Frustrating burned redshirt, meaningful role in year two, unassailable death grip on starting job the next year with accompanying insider quotes about how this dude has it down, man. Webb: "a rock in the secondary and has been showing his coverage chops"; Lorenz asserted that there was "zero doubt" Kinnel would start and labeled him a future captain; Rivals had a couple items where they called him "potentially special."

That latter is probably optimistic since Kinnel is going to be out of sight, out of mind for much of the year unless things are going very badly. Like Jarrod Wilson before him he will aspire to boringness, with the occasional backfield jet when Brown gets frisky.

Press conferences have been about as encouraging as insider talk. This from Brian Smith is more or less exactly what I want to hear about any new safety:

"I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."

On our post-spring-game podcast Ace pointed out that the spring game lacked the incessant pointing and repositioning that last year's defense featured even late into the season, and Kinnel is no doubt a major part of that. Later, Partridge would tell the assembled media that he graded out better than anyone else on special teams—a skillset easily translatable to safety—and that he's a "natural leader."

As a recruit Kinnel was another CB/S hybrid sort...

"He has the body, size and physical measurable of a safety, but he covers like a cornerback, I am very high on him as a prospect. He is certainly very talented, and physically, he brings everything to the table that you want from that position."

...which makes him a good fit for Brown's defense. He's the free safety, which means he'll be playing a deep centerfield more often than his compatriots, but when he's lured into man coverage either by opponent or Don Brown subterfuge he should be able to cope.

Kinnel will organize the defense, hopefully preventing the deep bombs Michigan saw early and then very late. His influence will be better measured by the things that don't happen to the defense as a whole than the ones that he executes himself. There's always a question when you break in a new starter; the vibe here is as reassuring as it can be.

[After THE JUMP: Metellus, the find]




jack you up for real [Bryan Fuller]

The first thing most Michigan fans thought about JOSH METELLUS [recruiting profile]was probably "please don't be mean to children." He got his first extended run in the Rutgers game and used it to run up and clobber people who no longer wanted to play football:

In the aftermath this site upgraded his expectations because he "looked like a missile and excellent hybrid space piece." He was fast and violent and demonstrated that ESPN's take on him as a recruit was on point:

hybrid type SS/nickel CB. … Not always the most disciplined player when it comes to technique and position. … At his best near the box in coverage. Good range defender who closes quickly and covers a lot of ground fast. … Big-time hitter who looks to initiate contact and get downhill quickly on run support. … Closes fast with explosive burst that leads to big hits. … physical ball-hawk who can run and hit with top tier safeties in this class. Unrefined at times in man coverage.

Metellus was explosive, a little undisciplined (wrap up son!), and a big time hitter. Michigan's now made him their strong safety and plans on getting on that hybrid CB action—more about that in Five Questions. Metellus is maybe the best example of why ESPN's weird, detailed, time invariant approach can be really useful: other sites saw a Georgia Southern commit flip to Michigan and shrugged; ESPN took a real look at him, thought he was real good, and told you why. One year later he's a true sophomore starter who promises to hit in exactly the way they predicted.

Metellus's other major exposure was in the bowl game, where he was close to irrelevant. At the time I though the crippling Dalvin Cook third and forever conversion was evidence of the gap between Peppers and Metellus; after watching it a few times I think it's just one of those things. Despite keeping an eye out for anything of note the only thing even vaguely clip-worthy was Metellus reading and coming up to make a nice tackle on a late QB run:

This is a good thing. Peppers being a virtual nonentity is a major strike against a potential NFL first rounder; Metellus being anonymous in his first start as a true freshman is an approach to boring nirvana.

Metellus moved back from viper to safety in the spring and has been the undisputed starter since. This is a starter by default to a great extent, yes. The early on-field returns are good, and like Kinnel this is more or less the best possible take on a new starting safety, this one from Webb: 

...[limiting] of mistakes on the back end has increased both the calm and optimism in the secondary. ...most observers agree that the new duo of Metellus and Tyree Kinnel is already displaying the football I.Q. in camp that their predecessors did last year as seniors.

That's less ludicrous than it sounds because Michigan had a new defense last year. This year they've got the same one. See Kinnel and pointing above. Also in this vein, Smith:

“Josh has been solid. He’s done a good job communicating back there. ... He’s a smart player. He’s very instinctive and you tell him something one time and he’s picked it up. He’s a guy that you don’t have to worry about too much back there.”

Also also, Partridge:

"Metellus is a very savvy football player. He steps on the field and he understands angles and how to get things done, whereas he doesn’t have to be as taught as some other football players. He gets it. He understands schemes. He understands the big picture and gets himself in the right position, and he’s a fierce competitor."

Hell yes. I'm not sure what coach quote could be better than that. That's a really specific answer to a "talk about" question that expresses total confidence in Metellus and gives a few reasons why he's a cut above. I buy it.

Aiding in this effort is the stuff we saw in spring. An insider told us that Metellus was "kind of going Jarrod Wilson," which again hell yes, and after the spring game I was really happy about not only Metellus but the whole unit:

Those legit safety options are Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow, both of whom showed well. Both guys got over the top of sideline fade routes to get or assist on PBUs. Glasgow stepped in front of a Speight pass for a 101-yard pick six. Less spectacularly but probably more importantly, both guys tackled with authority when called upon to do so. There was one particular open-field Glasgow tackle that was Kovacsian in its textbook solidity. ...

Assertion: no position group put in a more reassuring performance than the safeties. Michigan clearly thinks they have a hidden gem in Metellus and Glasgow turns out to be a Glasgow, so Hudson can slide down, and Kinnel is there to quarterback the whole secondary. This position group looks set to reload, not rebuild.

From, uh, my lips to God's ears.

Like Kinnel, Metellus is tracking as well as possible for someone who is winning a job by default. Both starting safeties have only leapt low hurdles so far and could end up being disappointing. The variance of this distribution is wide. The most likely outcome is that Michigan more or less hits on both and this is fine and boring and high fives all around for rescuing a potentially terrifying situation.


There are no scholarship veteran backups and yes your author is shaking his fist at some inane redshirt decisions Brady Hoke made on the way out. Michigan will have to make do if the starters don't pan out or, more likely, go down with injury.


The Glasgow The Glasgow The Glasgow [Fuller]

Redshirt sophomore JORDAN GLASGOW is the last of the Glasgows, at least for a while. (This is not the time or the place to go into my nefariously polygamous plans for the Glaswegian future moooohahahaha!) He is also the only option with any on-field experience. That was mostly as a special teams player, where he was notable for singlehandedly stopping an OSU punt fake...

..and missing a tackle on the devastating FSU kick return immediately after Chris Evans staked Michigan to a lead. That latter was inexplicable; he led Michigan special teamers in tackles a year ago and looked reliable in that regard. PFF had him their All Big Ten special teamer. He even got a game column bullet for it after Rutgers:

A shoutout to the other Glasgow. Jordan Glasgow has been everywhere on kick coverage this year, with six tackles and a fumble recovery on 27 returns. Never count out a Glasgow.

Since the season ended he's emerged as a viable contender for playing time, bouncing between viper and safety. In spring he was mostly a viper; this fall he's emerged as Metellus's backup. This is sensible since the two spots are interchangeable in many ways.

Glasgow got a lot of run in the spring game and performed. Ace said he looked "very viable"; your author:

Glasgow stepped in front of a Speight pass for a 101-yard pick six. Less spectacularly but probably more importantly, both guys tackled with authority when called upon to do so. There was one particular open-field Glasgow tackle that was Kovacsian in its textbook solidity.

Webb got a clip of him making an impressive interception in Rome:

Reports have rather thinned as fall camp progressed. That could be confidence in the starters or a walk-on's difficulty keeping up with the Donovan Peoples-Joneses of the world. He's clearly #2. He is not #3. He is not #1. He is #2.

Glasgow will continue his special teams exploits and may get some rotation time. He's not likely to be the dime option; given the shape of the secondary that's probably going to be a pure corner.

Two of the three freshmen enrolled early. One, JAYLEN KELLY-POWELL, is a box safety, or corner, or viper(!) and was addressed as a nickelback in the preceding post. If Michigan needs a rover to replace Metellus he'll be an option. He is also a viable dimeback.

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tall [Fuller]

J'MARICK WOODS [recruiting profile], the second, is very much a free safety. He's a tall, lanky fellow, so much so that when I offered a personal evaluation his tape in response to a dearth of other scouting this was my main takeaway:

...the main thing I took away from Woods's [film] is that he is indeed very large. Almost unbelievably large. His most impressive plays come on balls over his head that he has the vertical reach to affect. In an ideal world he is the free safety who's maddeningly able to get to everything deep.

Woods... okay just a sec. First we have to address something. So far he's mostly notable for not having a nickname. Here's Brian Smith's best Perd Hapley impression:

"He's kind of earning his nickname -- we call him 'Woods' -- and he definitely brings the wood, as a physical player."

No I will not drop this. You should drop me dropping it. It's not going to happen, me dropping it. Just drop it.

Here's Chris Evans doing better with the "nickname" concept while also sounding exactly like Perd Hapley:

"He's 'The Truth.' ... The way he's been hitting people all spring it's like 'oh, you've got to watch out for that guy because he's really hitting people hard.'"

If Woods's superpower is turning everyone who encounters him into Perd Hapley he's going to be the best safety in the history of the game and also the downfall of Western Civilization, which is the civilization of the global west OH GOD WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME.


Woods is a safety nicknamed Woods


Okay. False alarm. Anyway, all of that just happened because Woods developed a reputation as a hitter over the course of spring practice:

Brown offered up an "aargh" after Woods was unable to go in the spring game because "he's really been showing some things"; a lanky guy who can also come up and lay a lick is a free safety prospect to pay attention to. Hopefully not this year—see "safety, boring" and note the total lack of freshmen listed therein. Ideally he's an obvious heir apparent to Kinnel in a couple years.



Finally, freshman BRAD HAWKINS [recruiting profile] was supposed to be in his second year at Michigan until prep school intervened. He was shuffled off to the hinterlands and mostly forgotten about despite the occasional rumble that Michigan still planned on bringing him in. One impressive highlight reel later…

…he's in Ann Arbor. He's not playing wide receiver despite the above embed because of Michigan's ridiculous WR class, but he's here.

This is a good thing, albeit not immediately. Like Collins, Hawkins hasn't had a full fall camp because of bridge classes. He's also competing for a spot with two guys who enrolled early. A redshirt is in the offing. Once he gets up to speed he's got a great shot. Hawkins is a thick gentleman with evidently great ball skills, and he did play enough safety in his final two years at Camden to rack up 99 tackles.

Webb reported that he "looks really comfortable in coverage" and is a "natural as a center fielder"; his physicality is also evident in the tape above. He is not going to be a bolt from the heavens—he's not a super athlete—but maybe that leaping ability will add that range back. Michigan's even been playing him at corner some just to see what happens. Even if that doesn't pan out, and it almost certainly won't, that's promising.

A redshirt is probable with the switch and the early-enrolled guys in front of him. Check back next year to see if Michigan's really got something here.


panthera leo fututio

August 31st, 2017 at 1:07 PM ^

I'm not too terrified of having Glasgow see meaningful time, though maybe my Glasgow priors are just unreasonably strong. Past him, is there any chance we'd see Hudson shift back to a true safety spot in the event of injury, or is he too much of a VIPER! beef machine at this point?

panthera leo fututio

August 31st, 2017 at 1:47 PM ^

I suppose I was thinking more in terms of the latter scenario: moving Hudson back, and then playing Furbush as a more traditional SAM. This obviously doesn't seem like the sort of thing that Dr. Blitz is going for, but any scenario without Kinnel and Metellus holding down the safety spots is probably going to be sub-optimal.

Magnum P.I.

August 31st, 2017 at 1:29 PM ^

The WR/ATH position designation on Hawkins's highlight video must have some wordplay value.

"DPJ is lined up as the X receiver. Black is the Y receiver. And Hawkins is the WRATH (!!!)."


August 31st, 2017 at 1:46 PM ^

Agree. Injuries are a worry to any team and any position, but our D is replacing almost everybody. In those situations you hope one guy "gets it." We have half a dozen spots where we are hoping that the one guy "gets it." Take that guy away and you have... well, not much. 

Although if Glasgow is serviceable, safety + viper may actually be one of the deeper spots, because one guy could go down and have a reasonable guy to replace them.

A DL injury would be a disaster; few teams go without DL injuries. 


August 31st, 2017 at 1:48 PM ^

Since he's so good at cookin' up content, I'm thinking we should make his nickname Cook.  Not THE Cook, that's too OSU-ish, so just, Cook.  Like, how's it goin', Cook?

Isn't this perfect?  I think he loves it already.


August 31st, 2017 at 2:00 PM ^

in absence of all 22, if kinnel only made it onto that tv tape a few times out 150 snaps or whatever, those are 2 great plays to do it.  kinnel apparently trusts his eyes and instincts as he took great angles, flew to the ball and made 2 solid tackles.  if youre gonna go, then go, dont hesitate or second guess.  good stuff...hopefully its representative of larger sampling.

i agree with this preview will be ok, provided metellus and kinnel remain mostly healthy.  hill really came on and helped his squad last year and hes a tough loss but so far so good with the 2 new starters


August 31st, 2017 at 3:11 PM ^

I had not watched Hawkins' tape from his prep year until now. The only thing I can say(type actually) after seeing that is...the four incoming freshmen WR's must be really f*cking awesome if the staff decided to move a guy with those hands from WR.


Perkis-Size Me

August 31st, 2017 at 4:38 PM ^

Well at least the safeties have considerable experience. Kinnel especially. Got to hope Metellus continues to make progressions, and that for the love of all that is good and decent, two guys emerge at CB.