The Overcrowded Defensive Backfield?

Submitted by BostonWolverine on January 20th, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Okay, I just want to break this down. I haven't tried my hand at analysis much, but I wanted to take on this recent confusion over why we're looking at so many Corners and Safeties. Please take this only as an attempt at reasoning through it. If you disagree, that's fine - I gave it the old college try.

Here we go.

We all know, there are a few highly rated DBs visiting over the next couple weeks. This year, with the offers we have out, there could be as many as seven DB prospects we get commitments from.

Locked in:
Blake Countess
Delonte Hollowell
Tamani Carter 
Greg Brown

Floyd Raven
Stefan McClure
Raymon Taylor

Here's our current roster (scholarship only):

CB: Troy Woolfolk, JT Floyd, Cullen Christian, Courtney Avery, Terrence Talbott

S (Jeremy Gallon is listed here, but yeah right): Josh Furman, Ray Vinopal, Cam Gordon, Thomas Gordon, Brandin Hawthorne, Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson, Jordan Kovacs

That means we're 4-deep at Safeties, but only 2 1/2-deep at corner. We are still going after DBs hard in this class, so that leads me to a few conclusions:

1) We need some Corners.

With Woolfolk having just his senior year left, and Floyd looking unimpressive (to be fair, the whole defense was unimpressive, but still...), we definitely need a few corners.

2) Cam Gordon will be switched back to Wide Receiver.

This is not data. This is intuition. We are recruiting a lot of, say it with me, Defensive Backs. We are not recruiting very many, one more time with feeling..., Wide Outs.

Our WRs are: Hemingway, Stonum, Roundtree, Odoms, Jackson, Miller, Stokes, etc. BUT...Miller (6'4'') and Jackson (6'3'') are very young, and the rest of the depth chart has Stonum as the tallest receiver at 6'2'' with a bunch of little slot guys. Cam is perfect for a West Coast style of offense. Stolen from Football 101 at

The ideal size of a receiver [in the West Coast Offense] should be at least 6'3'' and weigh about 210 pounds.


Anyone want to take a look at Cam Gordon's height and weight? Of course, build isn't everything, but he was a receiver when he was first recruited, so it's not really out of the question.

3) Two of these commits are taking the place of Vlad Emilien and Justin Turner.

We lost 2 Defensive backs in the last year, so even if we end up signing 7 DBs, it's kind of a net 5 due to replacing those two.

4) We might not NEED all seven.

The question is, since we have a real shot with McClure, Raven AND Taylor, who is the odd man out? My guess would be Delonte Hollowell. It's great that he's Blue, but even if he stays with us, he's probably relegated to backup duty for his time here, barring a miracle.

5) There will be a bunch of redshirts.

For obvious reasons, but I don't know who, because I don't actually know which would be better - to redshirt the not-quite-as-good to see if we can coach them up? or to redshirt the possible stars to give them more time in maize and blue?

6) A safety will move to LB

We have 7 LBs right now (before this recruiting class), and we could probably use more. There are a couple of players listed at Safety that could definitely be LBs - Furman and Robinson, specifically.

Conclusion: Do I think we'll end up with 7 DBs in the class? No. That's a lot of Defensive Backs, but it looks like there's room, somehow. If we get Raven and McClure, we definitely have to hang onto them, though. If a couple guys redshirt, and the ones who are ready to contribute stay on the roster, we'll end up with a pretty excellent secondary for quite a few years. Now if we only had a DB coach...



January 20th, 2011 at 4:54 PM ^

There is no way Cam moves back to WR. He was making strides on the defensive side of the ball and is probably in line to start at one of the OLB positions.

I would think that at least one of the safeties will move to LB. Several of those guys are hybrid type safeties that are essentially just really athletic LBs.


January 20th, 2011 at 5:01 PM ^

i think cam is a great athlete , but not a good safety, it seems like the play has to unfold before he reacts( see kyle rudolph) while being so gifted athleticly he can get away with sometimes, sometimes.  i like the guys ive seen mentioned on this board, josh furman, kenny demans, mike jones, and jake ryan. throw in a hopefully growing isiah bell and jb fitzgerald for depth and i think we are going to do fine in a 4-3 scheme. i like marvin robinson and kovacs to start out with at safety with hopefully someone a little more athletic to beat out kovacs as the year goes on, maybe carvin johnson.


January 20th, 2011 at 5:12 PM ^

i didnt mean to say i didnt like him, at times he was our best player on defense last year, but when a walkon is your best player, something is wrong. i also think he is smart and steady, that is why i would have him start the season over higher rated players, just at some point, i would hope that someone would be able to overtake the job, this would mean the defense would get better and more athletic with him maybe playing a backup or in nickle situations

Zone Left

January 20th, 2011 at 5:23 PM ^

I have to agree.  He's pretty good in run support, but is a liability in coverage.  The position in general is difficult because you have to be able to play up in run support and back against the pass well.  If nothing else, I'd like to see him get pushed by someone for time.

MI Expat NY

January 20th, 2011 at 5:28 PM ^

I agree, if someone beats him out eventually, it will be because of his athletic limitations, and would be a good sign for the progress on the defensive side of the ball.  I would also expect that Kovacs will have a role on this team for the remainder of his carer, it just might not be that of an every down starter.  


January 20th, 2011 at 4:55 PM ^

i know richrod ignored the trenches and its too late in the game for hoke, but it seems like there is nothing in the form of bigbodies, christian pace was the only guy from last year and this year might yield bryant and posada, i hope lewan and schofield can hold down the fort till hoke gets some 5 star studs next year. i cant believe we gush about saving a 3 star linebacker or getting a 3 star cb to commit  while ohio state and notre dame are pulling in 5 stars every other day. this is michigan for christs sake, we need to expect more. hoping that hoke shows his stuff in 2012 class

Michigan Shirt

January 20th, 2011 at 4:57 PM ^

No thank you, he already tried it and it didn't work out. Also, 3 of your safeties are wrong, Thomas Gordon, Cam Gordon, and Brandin Hawthorne are all LBs now (I cannot see Cam going back to FS after the move late in the year).


January 20th, 2011 at 5:20 PM ^

With the demise of Spurs and Bandits Thomas Gordon, Kovacs and probably Cam would be classified as strong safeties in 4-3 nomenclature. Brandin Hawthorne is somewhat of a tweener whom we hope can grow into OLB size as that fits his skill set.  Cam could play OLB at 220, but his frame seems a better fit at SS.  We will all know more when the Spring roster comes out.


January 20th, 2011 at 5:54 PM ^

not everyone will pan out.  In a 4-3 you might only list 4 db's as starting but when you're going up against pass happy teams (ND, Purdue, NU some) you're more than likely going to be having 5 and possibly 6 db's on the field.  If that 5th or 6th db is pretty weak a good coach is going to pick on him - ala OSU in 2006 when we had an LB trying to cover a wr. 

Not to knock Kovacs and Vinopal but neither of them 'look' the part of a big time D1 safety.  I love Kovacs but if he's at UM in the 90's, he's on the bench his entire career and possibly never comes close to seeing the field.

MI Expat NY

January 20th, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

Neither did Jim Leonhard, but he turned out ok for Wisconsin and now the Jets.  That applies more to Vinopal than to Kovacs.  Vinopal is a little under sized, but he has good speed and if he can learn how to utilize his speed and become a smart safety, he could compensate for his small stature and be a solid contributor.  

I tend to agree with you on Kovacs.  He does a lot of good things, but his athletic limitations would normally keep him off the field.  I do think with his experience, he's going to have a role going forward, even if someone beats him out for a starting spot.  


January 20th, 2011 at 5:56 PM ^

the defense is in shambles.  Of course I'd love to see 5-6 dline recruits signing with UM in early February but at this point they need to stock pile guys on defense.  If this class ends up having a good amount of db recruits than hopefully that position group is solid and they can concentrate on the LB's and dline in 2012.


January 20th, 2011 at 6:16 PM ^

I actually think 3 of the guys you have listed as safeties will become linebackers - the Spur last year is probably closest to a Sam next year. That leaves you 2.5 deep at corner and safety. If we get 6 of the 7, then that puts us at 4 deep. With 22 positions and 85 scholarships, you should be roughly 4 deep at every position, so that would put us right on track to where we want to be. When Woolfolk leaves after this year, we'll only need to recruit one DB. We'll also have a lot of competition for that starting position,which is nice.


January 20th, 2011 at 6:18 PM ^

My first thought when you said the safeties were four deep was to point out that the scheme last year had spur and bandit in addition to FS, so really, there are three hats playing as safety, not just two.  It could be argued that spur or bandit is actually a LB, which as someone pointed out, is what what Gordon, Gordon and Hawthorne play.

Point is, until spring ball, we're really not going to know what the scheme is and therefore, what the depth is at any given position.  If anything, the signing of 4 CBs may well mean that the nickel back is a CB in the new scheme... oh, see what I mean?  Who knows?


January 20th, 2011 at 6:29 PM ^

is an every down player next year, then that means DOOM again for this defense..yea yea I know he hustles and has a great story..but if somebody cannot overtake him in the secondary, then that is DOOM!!!  I wouldnt mind seeing him as a possible situational LB, but not in the secondary!!


January 20th, 2011 at 6:34 PM ^

Here's another way of looking at it:  The current roster has 13 DBs* but for many of them, their roles and positions are not clearly defined.  Here's a rough breakdown :

CB:  C.Avery, T.Talbott

CB/S:  T.Woolfolk, J.Floyd, C.Christian

S:  R.Vinopal, J. Kovacs

S/LB:  J.Furman, C.Gordon, T.Gordon, B.Hawthorne, C. Johnson, M.Robinson

Committed DBs:

CB:  D.Hollowell, B.Countess

CB/S:  T.Carter, G.Brown

So, how players are allocated to positions really determines the depth at one spot or another.  I think the coaches recognize they have a lot of bodies, but don't necessarily have many impact players or players that fit what they want.  For now, they can pursue as much talent in the secondary as they can get; worry about the positions later.

My 2011 guess:

CB:  T.Woolfolk, J.Floyd, C.Avery, T.Talbott, B.Countess, D.Hollowell, G.Brown

FS:  C. Johnson, R.Vinopal, C.Christian, T.Carter

SS:  M.Robinson, J. Kovacs, T.Gordon, B.Hawthorne

LB:  J.Furman, C.Gordon

As you can see, even if they get 2 of the 3 remaining DB recruits (Raven, McClure, Taylor), there isn't an overabundance of depth anywhere. In the above scenario, you'd have 17 DBs, which is high, but not too high.  Keep in mind most of these guys will be first or 2nd year players, so the number of red-shirts should be substantial.  Furthermore, you should expect some attrition -- probably a couple of scholarships will become available, whether its because of transfer, off-field problems, academics, or injury... I won't guess, but its a safe bet we won't have 100% retention by September.

So fret not about DB depth.  There is neither too much nor too little.  There is, however, a lot of flexibility.  The more recruits Hoke & co. pull in, the more that flexibility increases. 

*Not counting Mike Williams or any of the walk-ons.


January 20th, 2011 at 6:35 PM ^

I think you're going to see whole-sale changes of positions before the first game next year.  Here's how I would break down the depth chart so far:


  1. Woolfolk (though i still like him at Free Safety)
  2. Floyd (will have to fight for his job)
  3. Avery (got lots of PT late in the year, showed promise)
  4. Talbott + all freshmen


  1. Vinopal (though he's going to have to earn it)
  2. Christian (I think this could be a natural spot for him)
  3. Brown + all freshmen


  1. Kovacs (will be hard to displace before he graduates)
  2. Johnson (unless he's athletic enough to play FS, where he could start)
  3. Robinson (unless he bulks up to play LB)
  4. Thomas Gordon (total wildcard at this point)

I think Cam Gordon is a linebacker for sure.  Maybe he's undersized, maybe he's a passing-down guy, maybe he gets lost a little in the new scheme, but I think he'll be fine.  Ian Gold was a great LB who played around 220-230 pounds. 

I think Furman and Hawthorne will end up being LB.  I've seen the "large-lumbering safety" and it was not good. 


January 20th, 2011 at 7:15 PM ^

Paralysis by analysis? That's a catchy phrase, but you're familiar with the diaries section, right?

Also, I didn't say anything bad about any recruit, other than that Hollowell might not be a fixture in the starting lineup. Just to give you a little background, this is what Tim said in his Hello: Delonte Hollowell post a year ago:


As mentioned above, Hollowell has some physical development to do, as well as a lot of technique to learn. Unlike Boubacar Cissoko before him, he'll have a chance to sit for a while and learn from the starters ahead of him, due to Michigan's big DB haul in 2010. Hollowell is basically a sure-shot redshirt for his freshman year.

Following the inevitable redshirt, Hollowell will probably play on some special teams for a season, as long as he's bulked up enough to not get handled in punt coverage, and if he's got the skill to do it, he could even be tabbed for return duty a bit. He might get a bit of work on defense in blowouts.

In year 3, he could get rotated into defenses, getting time in nickel packages, and potentially getting significant time as a substitute. Long-term, he'll always be a bit limited by his diminutive stature, and if he is able to nab a role as a starting corner, might get pulled off the field when he would otherwise face the Michael Floyds of the world.

So it's nothing that hasn't been said before. Also, this was a result of many people asking if there was room for 7 DBs. Seems to me that there is, and that's, you know, a good thing. Other than that, the kids know what kinds of roles they've talked about with the coaching staff - which I'm not privy too. If we take a lot of DBs, would you expect that none of them would redshirt? It stands to know?


January 20th, 2011 at 9:02 PM ^

The recruiting sites seem to be much higher on Hollowell than you are.  I'm not sure you've read much about him or watched film on him, but he's got skills.  I'd say he has a lot better chance of seeing the field than Greg Brown. 

And the reason we're taking a large class is because we need depth.  Guys get injured, guys don't always pan out and guys leave the team for one reason or another.  A lot of the DBs in this class will redshirt with the exception of one or two who can contribute right away.  I would imagine that after they've been here two years, there will be one who sees that he's not at a UM level, and he'll bail. 

Even though we're going back to a more traditional defense, keep in mind there will be teams who go 4 wide and we'll put our 5 or 6 DBs at once.  It will be nice to put out guys who are capable Big Ten players and who aren't true freshmen.


January 20th, 2011 at 9:41 PM ^

As I said in the post, this is my first real attempt at actual analysis. It's possible that not everything I wanted to say came through, and I still have to learn to let objectivity rule out. Example: In case you couldn't tell, I'm not the biggest fan of small corners. Just as a rule of thumb. I have no doubt that Delonte is talented. I may have made a mistake (albeit unconscious) using size as a primary criterion for success.

Another mistake I made was using MgoBlue's roster to determine position. MGoShirt graciously showed me the eligibility chart. That was incredibly helpful. I haven't edited or changed my original post, but I have definitely rethought some things - like who is moving to LB - and Cam Gordon moving to receiver - that was kind of a wing and a prayer, wasn't it?

In the end, I actually like bringing in a lot of DBs this year. And I like the ones we're bringing in.


January 20th, 2011 at 6:55 PM ^

Great to see people return to talking about . .. football and the talent we have / are recruiting, especially in maybe our area of greatest need:  the secondary. 

I'd like to see another thread that looks at our "stable" of running backs to identify strengths, position changes, and areas of need. 

Mostly, it's a pleasure to be focusing on football again rather than the coaching search and the role of the AD.  More recruit commitments coming soon . . . we've got Brady Hoke the CLOSER running in overdrive!