M-live: DB analysis

Submitted by Double-D on July 27th, 2014 at 10:45 AM
This is a very well done article on all the moving parts in our defensive backfield. I agree with the starting predictions and have visions of Peppers cleaning house from the safety position. We will see how Hill and Thomas respond. J Lewis's growth may have really changed things here. The coaches have so many options to work with to get the best unit on the field. This will be an interesting group to watch. http://www.mlive.com/wolverines/index.ssf/2014/07/michigan_wolverines_s…


NOLA Wolverine

July 27th, 2014 at 10:55 AM ^

I know all of the talk out of camp thus far has been about Thomas at free safety, but I really think he was made for strong safety and could give Wilson a lot of pressure there for the starting spot in camp. 

I wouldn't relegate Countess to Nickel just yet. He certainly didn't have "that jump in his step" last year, but it was also his first year back after an ACL. 


July 27th, 2014 at 11:12 AM ^

I completely agree with everything you said. I thought it was pretty apparent Countess was not back to full speed last year, and he was still one of the 5 top CB's in the conference. He should be 100% this year and I expect him to break out. I think he and Lewis will be the starters, then Countess will slide to NB and Taylor will come in to take the other outside spot. Peppers and Wilson at safety and I believe you have the ingredients for an elite secondary. The back seven will be one of, if not the best in the conference.

NOLA Wolverine

July 27th, 2014 at 11:50 AM ^

And that very well may be the case. But with only having last year and the spring game to go on at this point, Wilson would've had to have made some pretty big strides this summer to be considered a lock for a position. 

EDIT: I'm phrasing this in the wrong way. I should say I'm leaning more towards a SS Thomas/FS Wilson combo than SS Wilson/FS Peppers combo. 


July 27th, 2014 at 11:54 AM ^

You and I saw different players then. I thought Wilson definitely developed last year and is solidly a starting safety in the B1G. Since no one else has stepped up in a vacant FS spot, I can't imagine anyone making such big strides that they suddenly push the only real starter out. I expect Wilson to be very, very good this year. He had a great spring according to Sam via interviews with Mallory and observation.

We need Wilson to be every bit as good as he can be. If DT is ready to push for a start, then it must be at FS.


July 27th, 2014 at 3:44 PM ^

yeah the coaches see wilson at FS not SS, especially since hes been working as single high in certain packages.  im sure peppers could prob play any spot in D backfield but i dont think the coaches want to trust a true freshman at FS when wilson has been groomed for that spot.  peppers would be a beast SS and could be a terror in the box when blitzing or in robber calls.  the problem is wilson has been the only option to date at FS and it appears clark, hill and thomas have failed to create any lasting separation from one another.  the coaches wanted to plug and play peppers wherever hed make the most impact and thats SS especially if none of the other dudes have really earned the job yet.  thatd be great though if thomas really stepped up and earned the other safety job, at least in terms of his development and finally syncing his athleticism and head


July 27th, 2014 at 10:57 AM ^

I'm excited about Stribling. His lanky build reminds me of Peanut Tillman. We *should* be loaded at corner, which *should* create great competition. I'm guessing at least one of the guys in the CB race will be swapped to safety.


July 27th, 2014 at 11:02 AM ^

"Michigan says it wants to start him out at nickel corner, but both Hoke and Mattison have also said they're going to put Peppers wherever they need the most help in the back end."

Specifically, the article mentions free safety as a possible place for Peppers to start at the present time with Countess maybe being the nickel corner. I was admittedly intrigued by that as it seems like it would provide a boost to pass defense, which was middling last year. I like the idea of Peppers' speed back there, although I would think CB is his ultimte destination. It will be interesting to see Mattison and Hoke experiment with the backfield in camp, that's for sure.


July 27th, 2014 at 11:02 AM ^

Good article..I think Nick Baumgardner (the MLive writer) is by far the best beat writer for Michigan. All of his stuff is solid and he is very fair and balanced. He is excellent follow on twitter as he is way more in tune with recruiting than the News & Freep writers who seem to mostly stick with the fluff and game reporting.


July 27th, 2014 at 11:08 AM ^

Stribling is going to be a player but may have sone weight questions. Watson has the size but when will he be ready. Peppers could be that game changer at CB but the thought of a Bennie Blades-Troy Palumalu type athlete covering the whole field.... Mattison has to be drooling a bit.


July 27th, 2014 at 11:26 AM ^

Was hoping Stribling would put on 15-17 lbs this offseason and be a physical beast entering this year.  Still liked what I saw from him last year.

Really like Watson's size - didn't realize how big he was already.  He has been an afterthought in this class and rarely discussed.  Would be fascinating if both he and Canteen contributed early - #newpipeline

Mr. Yost

July 27th, 2014 at 5:01 PM ^

Played FS in the spring, weird that he's now listed as a CB. Mattison talks about him at safety a number of times and he's seen in the videos with the safeties.

I still think that's his future.

Stribling still has another year to get bigger for significant PT. We've got guys that are ahead of him anyway, although he's no slouch.

I'll be disappointed if CB isn't one of the deepest positions on the team.

One possibility the article failed to mention was Countess potentially moving to FS to put Lewis and Taylor at CB and Peppers at NB. I'm not saying it's going to happen but it was tossed around a BUNCH in the spring. May be worth looking into if you truly need help on the back end.

turd ferguson

July 27th, 2014 at 11:56 AM ^

If most of these guys progress as they should, I think our secondary goes from so-so in 2013 to good in 2014 to great in 2015.  With only Taylor and Hollowell(?) scheduled to leave, the 2015 DB group looks so promising: Countess (SR), Wilson (SR), Peppers (SO), Lewis (JR), Stribling (JR), Thomas (JR), Hill (JR), Clark (JR), Watson (SO / RS FR), Richardson (JR), Dawson (SO), Kinnel (FR), Taylor (FR), and hopefully another freshman.  There should be top-end talent, depth, a ton of playing experience, and hopefully their fifth year under the same defensive coordinator.

I really hope we come out of 2014 with some momentum and coaching stability.  I want to see these coaches have a chance with the roster they've built once it's all grown up.


July 27th, 2014 at 12:14 PM ^

Does the defense still play the FC/BC in the backfield? It seemed to me like Lewis and Stribling tended to play more of what would have been boundary last year with Taylor on the bench or Countess in the nickel.

It may sound underwhelming but Peppers has the size and speed for an awesome safety. He should have no problem covering seams and skinny posts and I bet he could be an effective blitzer.

Tyrone Biggums

July 27th, 2014 at 1:25 PM ^

It seems like the need is obviously at safety with only Wilson having established himself so far. It's been a long time since I can remember when we had so much talent at the CB positon if ever. I mean damn, Taylor and Countess barring injury will most likely find themselves in starting positions. Lewis and Stribling have both shown that they are ready to take a step forward and don't forget about Hollowell, although he hasn't played any significant minutes he is a senior and played well in spot rolls and special teams. He never gets mentioned but Reon Dawson is another 6'2" CB with speed who will get an opportunity to compete with a year in the system under his belt. Oh yeah, then there is true freshman Brandon Watson who physically at least is ready to contribute this year.

Add Peppers in and you have at least 7 talented CB's who all have experience competing for 3 spots. We probably only lose Taylor and Delonte to graduation next year and will be bringing in Garrett Taylor (doubt he redshirts) and most likely at least one more 4* CB for 2015. The competition is becoming close to Bama'esque proportions at CB.

Safety on the other hand is wide open with the exception of Wilson. Hill, Thomas, Clark, who knows which will step up. I'm starting to think because of the logjam and circumstances Jabrill's path to stardom might more closely follow Eric Berry from Tennessee as opposed to Woodson. Berry and Peppers tangibles are more similar as well, state champion track stars, played QB CB and RB in HS, great leadership qualities and what not. Berry was voted a team captain at UT as a sophomore. Of course this is all speculation in regards to Peppers, he hasn't played a snap yet, nevertheless exciting stuff for team to work out!

tl:dr Peppers is more Eric Berry than Charles Woodson!



July 27th, 2014 at 11:46 AM ^

From The Wolverine season preview, which is always outstanding and must read along with HTTV,

"To me, it doesn't matter as long as it's the secondary, but if you ask me, if it's my choice, I'd like to play safety just because we have two veteran corners. Jourdan Lewis played phenomenal in the spring game, and you have Jarrod Wilson at one safety, and if I was the other safety, I think we could have a 'no-fly' zone back there."

I don't understand how, but he can read my dreams.


July 27th, 2014 at 12:52 PM ^

But it's preseason and we have little else to go on, so we (and Peppers) use what we have. You can also collect last year's promising performance, the hype Lewis had all spring as having had a breakout camp, the fact that he actually earned the start in the spring game over an all-B1G corner due to that performance, and then the game itself, and have some pretty decent data on Lewis, though yes still very limited.

BTW in The Wolverine preview, Mattison as much as said Countess is at nickel. Nothing set in stone, it could all change in fall camp, but I like that. Better for Countess pro prospects as well.


July 27th, 2014 at 12:12 PM ^

Maybe I'm crazy but I like Taylor and Countess on the outside with Lewis at nickel back. He's physical enough to jam up those smaller, fast slot guys and fast enough to stay with them if he were to get beat of the ball. Let Peppers come in and experiment with FS and corner and see if he's good enough right away push Dymonte/Taylor/Countess out of the starting lineup. So many different scenarios but personally I think that should be the plan from the start and go from there.


July 27th, 2014 at 12:29 PM ^

Does he know that Thomas Gordon was Michigan's other starting safety last season (or at least started most of the games)? Also, he conveniently forgets that Wilson was dropped in and out of the S lineup just as much as any of the other starters at S. That being said, I think we can be excited about Wilson too. He has improved each year and hopefully will put together an impressive season as an upperclassman. Also, I am not fully buying the Lewis supplanting Countess hype until we see more from Lewis in fall. Both Taylor and Countess have really good speed and, although smaller, are impressive athletes. I am slightly confused as to questioning their athleticism. Any attacks over the top had to do more with them getting beat on WR routes or moves, play calls, or just height issues rather than just any old WR with decent speed blowing right past them. Additionally, Countess rarely got beat during the season. It wasn't until Locket served him (and the other corners) up on a platter in the bowl game that we could say someone was blowing past Countess. Okay article and Nick generally does a solid job, but seems more like off-season speculation than anything particularly insightful.


July 27th, 2014 at 12:52 PM ^

on how well they are coached. Manning hasn't played or coached the postions before. Its quite a gamble BH is taking with this wealth of talent.


July 27th, 2014 at 1:22 PM ^

I like the idea of Peppers at safety, but at the same time I hate the idea of a freshman at safety. You can be the most gifted athlete in the world, but one mental mistake at safety can result in someone going in for 6 from any distance.

turd ferguson

July 27th, 2014 at 1:35 PM ^

I understand the sentiment, but I'm not sure we know how much of an awareness drop-off there is from Peppers to the other guys on our roster who could play the position.  It's not like we have a bunch of less athletic but super-dependable seniors there.  They're young.  I think the coaches just have to test Peppers' (and the other guys') instincts in camp and see what looks like the best move.  If his football IQ is anywhere near as elite as his athleticism, he might be as dependable as any of our other options.


July 27th, 2014 at 1:51 PM ^

Not a very good article. He completely dismisses the lack of QB pressure, stating that it's wrong. How the hell can a pass defense (LBs included) be expected to succeed if the QB has 5+ seconds to get rid of the ball? Also I dislike his concern with size. For tight bump and run coverage it's great to have strength and balance, assuming those are directly related to height and weight is too simple-minded of an approach. Besides, I don't recall much bump and run I do recall gifting a lot of 7 yard easy peezy catches. A LOT of playing 8 yards off at damn near safety depth. Lastly, Countess relegated to nickel, that's just dumb.


July 27th, 2014 at 2:34 PM ^

I know there are some bigger elite CBs these days, especially at places like Bama, but I don't think 5'10" 185 is undersized.  Plus, I don't see many Clavin Johnson's in the B1G.  Gallon certainly wasn't that tall.  Corey Brown was all conference at 6'1" 190.  Allen Robinson is a little bigger and Jared Abberdaris falls somewhere inbetween.  It may not be big, but if you have the speed and athleticism it's certainly adaquate to play at this level.  I know we all love to see these benchmark numbers like 6'0" or 200 lbs, but is there really that much of a difference between 1-2 inches or 5-10 pounds?

Magnum P.I.

July 27th, 2014 at 2:26 PM ^

Despite his interceptions, Countess was thoroughly mediocre last year in coverage. I think Baumgardner's analysis is pretty good. All the insidery message board chatter has Lewis and Taylor as the CB favorites. I wouldn't mind seeing Peppers pass up Taylor, who I thought was thoroughly mediocre, as well. If everyone played to the realistic best-case scenario of their ability range, I think the starters would be Lewis and Peppers at CB and Wilson and Thomas at safety, with Countess coming on at nickel. 


July 27th, 2014 at 2:33 PM ^

Part of me agrees with your assessment, but I also don't think Countess has topped out his ability yet due to his injury.  I think he has room to improve both in his technique, knowledge of the defense, and his speed, strength, and athleticism.  I do agree Taylor seems merely servicable and should be passed by Lewis.  But, based on the history of this coaching staff, I find it hard to beleive they are simply going to demote upperclassman with lots of experience, especially in Countess, who seems to be a leader on this team.  Maybe eventually someone surplants him towards the end of the season with consistent play, but I'd be very surpresed if Countess is not a 1st team CB come B1G play.


July 27th, 2014 at 2:33 PM ^

At FS would be good. it's more about being in position than being freakishly athletic.

I think Peppers would be better at nickel or outside corner

Space Coyote

July 27th, 2014 at 4:20 PM ^

I like him as a CB to start, but he may be a safety eventually. If he was a safety, I think SS is his more realistic position. People like him at FS because of his speed, but he's a physical player that has good hips, if he's playing safety you want to put him in a position to cover over most other safeties, and you would like him in run support. He's a better fit at SS.

And all that said, asking him to start at Safety this year is absolutely crazy to me. CB is one thing, and hard enough, but the safeties are the QBs of the back 7. They adjust the corners properly, they make the checks in coverage, they change and rotate the defense against certain looks, etc etc. Putting a true FR to start back there is asking for trouble. If you need any further proof, the reason Wilson was in and out of the line up last year wasn't because of his physical play, it was because of the mental side of the game, getting guys lined up correctly and quickly enough, making the right calls, and being a leader in the back end. He is responsible for half the backfield, it's a ton to ask. Doing those things is a high order for a young player that didn't even enroll early.

Peppers will start at NB, and may get plugged into a CB spot this year. But I don't see him plugged in immediately to play safety unless the other options just aren't cutting it. And I don't buy the gap physically will be there to justify a FR over a guy like Thomas or Hill, not this year anyway. A full year at least in the system is a heck of a lot more than a kid that has yet to work with the coaches and just got his playbook about a month ago.

Also, that's why I've advocated for Countess to move back to SS. He is decently physical to come down in run support, can cover well enough if he moves out to the slot in Cover 1, is great at breaking underneath in flat coverage in Cover 3, and he's smart and knows how to get the defense properly aligned and ready to play. Him at safety makes sense to me with the other talent at CB.

I also disagree with quite a bit of the article. Countess has the best hips on the team, better than Lewis, better than Peppers. He turns better than any CB on the roster. He doesn't have great straight line speed, but it's decent recovery and he breaks on the ball well. His biggest problem last year was his eyes, and he got over aggressive, took his eyes to the incorrect spot, and then lost position on his guy.

Taylor is the fastest DB on the team. He has great straight line speed and can keep up with any opposing WR in a straight line. His problem is footwork. He gets his feet mixed up and off balance too often yet. That's why he makes great plays on occassion and looks like a guy that can explode in and out of cuts, and then other times looks slow. It's not his pure athleticism, it's his technique and footwork. He has a solid build as well, regardless of his weight, and can be physical when, again, he uses his technique and angles appropriately. But he doesn't always do those things. In an ideal world, Taylor would be more physical and work in the boundary, whereas Countess would play the field. Unfortunately, Taylor isn't always dependable at the BCB, but Michigan still essentially played him to the boundary more often than not last year.

From all accounts, as well, Thomas is slotted behind Wilson now at FS (I think the coaches use different terminology, but this is the non-box safety), and Hill and Clark are battling at the SS (box safety) position. Regardless, the two best of those will play, and I think Clark is a more natural FS and Hill and Thomas more natural box safeties. That may be the coaches trying to divide up the classes better and bring more balance to the safety position. Thomas also has the pure speed to play center field well and be very physical, just needs to learn angles much better.


July 27th, 2014 at 5:40 PM ^

to think he is going to unseat high caliber athletes in their own right with 3-5 years of solid experience and double digit B10 starts is just ridiculous.

Peppers has a TON to learn.  You don't win football games because your fast.  We have had a ton of speedy, athletic players that never played a meaningful down at Michigan for one reason or the other.

How about we let Peppers play a few downs before annointing him a starter over a couple solid big ten starting CB's.


*YOST, this was not directed at you, but to a few above *


July 27th, 2014 at 8:21 PM ^

While I agree with the sentiment that we shouldn't put too much undue pressure and expectatinos on Peppers, if you think for a second that any of our DBs on the current roster are in the same league as Peppers I think you are in denial or are overly loyal to the older guys.  The closest thing we have to Peppers in recruiting rankings is Lewis, but he's not even that close and Lewis is physically very far from Peppers in terms of size and strength and probably speed too.  And that is NOT a knock on Lewis.  He may not be experienced, but he's significantly better, by recruiting rankings (we haven't seen him play in college yet), than anyone on this team.  He may have a lot to learn, but if he doesn't unseat somebody there is a problem.  Hargraves was the top DB last year and he started for FLA and he wasn't as highly ranked as Peppers.  Hoke has already practically admitted he's the starting nickelback.

Space Coyote

July 28th, 2014 at 9:03 AM ^

If he does start this year, I think it'll be at CB, and it won't be until later in the year. I think he sees quite a bit of playing time this year, but my guess it is in more of a defined role that allows him to use his athleticism and playmaking ability while not putting him in positions where mental errors lead to all but certain huge plays. NB seems to fit the bill for that fairly well.


July 27th, 2014 at 5:37 PM ^

starting at FS ahead of a junior with a full year of pretty decent full time play under his belt.  That's a very tough position to turn a true freshman loose at, no matter how athletically gifted.  A strong safety's mistakes turn into first downs, but a free safety's mistakes turn into touchdowns.  I'd love it if he could actually step into that position, and I have no doubt that by next year he could, but SS or CB seems more likely this year.  Wilson may not ever be a stud back there, but we should have enough good cover guys at CB that we don't need him to be Superman.  

I can easily see Taylor getting bumped out of a starting job by Lewis, Stribling or Peppers by mid-season.  He frankly makes a few too MANY tackles for a CB.  Too many of this plays seem to involve letting the guy he's covering catch the ball, and THEN tackling him.  Experienced, and not a bad guy to have around as a third or fourth option, but there's better CB talent on the roster that may develop this year.

Mr. Yost

July 27th, 2014 at 10:01 PM ^

Could/Should be one of the best, if not THE best in the conference. I'm excited to watch them play, they better bring it each and every down.

The offense is where I worry. Can Devin have a full year like he finished when he cut down on the TOs? Can these RBs who look the part, play the part? With all these tall WRs with a year of practice under their belt --- can a few of them breakout in a big way? Do we have a TE who can block? And of course all of those questions are dwarfed by the many questions on the OL.