Monday, August 8, 2011
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Woolfolk, Floyd return to anchor 'M' secondary
By STEPHEN J. NESBITT
Troy Woolfolk didn't mince
words - it was painful to watch the
Michigan football team last season.
Woolfolk was supposed to be an
integral piece on defense, locking
down the No. 1 cornerback slot. But
that was before a foot injury dur-
ing fall camp sidelined him for the
entire 2010 season.
"The hardest part is just look-
ing at the games and seeing how I
would be able to impact the team,
make them that much better,"
Woolfolk said last November. "I see
our defense struggling. I feel like it's
kind of my fault because of my inju-
ry, and I can't help them out."
Michigan's secondary was in
shambles. Opposing quarterbacks
launched an aerial raid on the sec-
ondary, and did it with ease, to the
tune of 261.8 passing yards per
game. To make matters worse,then-
redshirt sophomore cornerback J.T.
#Floyd - Woolfolk's replacement at
No. 1 cornerback - suffered a sea-
son-ending ankle injury prior to the
Wolverines' mid-season clash with
Illinois. It was a recipe for disaster.
But with the new Brady Hoke
regime comes (another) second
4chance for the woebegone second-
time on the field this season.
Seeing the bulk of the time at
safety will be the duo of sophomore
Carvin Johnson and redshirt junior
Jordan Kovacs. Take note: Kovacs
finished second on the Wolverines
with 75 tackles in 2009 and skyrock-
eted his production with 116 tackles
But a safety nearly leading the
team in tackles two years running
means the ball is reaching the sec-
ondary far too often - and that
spells doom for a defense.
Johnson emerged as a leader
on the back line during the sec-
ond half of last season. During the
Spring Game in April, he picked off
two passes - although credit there
might go more to quarterback Devin
Gardner than Johnson.
While Michigan recorded just 12
interceptions last season, return-
ing a more experienced cast should
boost those numbers. And Johnson,
a self-proclaimed ball hawk, could
lead that charge.
"I love making interceptions,"
Johnson said after the Spring Game.
"I don't like to make the big hit ... I
like us to have the ball"
He can leave the heavy hitting
to sophomore safety Marvin Rob-
inson, who had some jarring hits in
spring camp that sent a message to
the team. At Big Ten Media Days,
senior defensive tackle Mike Martin
said Robinson's hits set the tempo
for the defense's new mentality.
Unlike last season, there is some
added depth in the secondary.
Despite losing Ray Vinopal and
James Rogers - both productive
members of the defense - players
like fifth-year senior Tony Anderson
and sophomores Courtney Avery,
Terrence Talbott and Thomas Gor-
don can learn from their increased
playing time with Michigan's
depleted corps in 2010.
A few freshmen have a chance to
come in and make an instant impact,
but barring injury, Hoke will likely
elect to redshirt several newcomers.
Countess, Greg Brown and Delonte
Hollowell have the best chance at
seeing the field in their first season.
Michigan's cast is still raw and
largely unproven, but the top four
on the secondary's depth chart are
household names surrounding the
We call that progress.
Preseason grade: C+
Projected starters: J.T. Floyd,
Troy Woolfolk, Jordan Kovacs and
Key losses: Ray Vinopal, James
Surprise player: Carvin Johnson
Sophmore safety Carvin Johnson will play a vital role on the back line this fall.
ary. Michigan's success has - and
always will - depend on its defense.
And that starts with the secondary.
Woolfolk is back as a fifth-year
senior, but after missing an entire
season, he'll need a few games to
adjust to the game speed. Unfor-
tunately, Notre Dame's All-Amer-
ican wide receiver Michael Floyd
has been reinstated after a drunk
driving charge and will be staring
Woolfolk down in the second game
of the season. There will be no rest
for Troy. But junior quarterback
Denard Robinson thinks that if the
summer workouts are any indica-
tion, Woolfolk won't miss a beat.
"It's hard to go deep on Troy
these days," Robinson said at Big
Ten Media Days last Friday. "I
tried to throw a couple deep, but he
always seems to catch up to them."
Floyd will also return to anchor
the other side of the field, and Mich-
igan has an up-and-coming corner
in freshman Blake Countess thathas
made a good first impression and
could realistically see significant
Demens leads linebackers into new defensive mindset
By TIM ROHAN his personnel to blame for a histor-
Daily Sports Editor ically embarrassing defense.
As the team's third-leading
Kenny Demens had already won. tackler in 2010, Demens is the
He wasn't Obi Ezeh. That's all that most experienced starter of a line-
mattered in the fans' eyes. backer corps that could be the key
Ezeh, one of the most puzzling to the Michigan defense's ulti-
players in the storied Michigan mate comeback. The secondary is
football program's recent history, finally healthy and has young tal-
started his Wolverine career before ent across the board. The defensive
he was vilified for his drop-off in line will be a strength of the entire
play once Rich Rodriguez changed team, with both talent and depth at
defensive schemes. Ezeh would the position. Surely the defensive
have thrived in the downhill, backs will have the most to prove
knock-your-teeth-out approach with how poorly the group played
Greg Mattison will surely expect under Rodriguez, but injuries were
out of his middle linebacker. to blame. The linebackers are just
Demens is lucky in more ways supposed to be seen, not heard.
than one. The redshirt junior back- If any problems start, they'll be
flipped into relevance during every heard. It'll be on Demens to carry
Mock Rock skit that the football the group. He has the skill, and
team has done since he arrived on now has the experience to take the
campus. He's fast, athletic, mobile next step. He shouldn't have to rely
and can still knock your teeth out. on just his physical tools anymore.
Last season, it seemed no one could Flanking Demens is former wide
get a handle of what Greg Robinson receiver/safety and physical speci-
wanted to do on defense. We may men, Cam Gordon. The 6-foot-3
soon find out if it was the coach or Gordon looked bigger near the end
of spring practice and undoubtedly
spent his summer preparing for his
newest position. Mattison raved of
his potential in the spring.
As a former skill-position guy,
Gordon has the mobility to drop
into coverage and could give Mat-
tison the versatility that he is
rarely afforded at the linebacker
spot. Even Rodriguez noticed that
Gordon was more effective when
he was closer to the line of scrim-
mage, opting to move him from
safety to the hybrid "spur" position
midway through last season.
The only questions are how big
did Gordon get over the summer,
which we'll discover soon enough,
and how physical can he be?
Demens may have enough physi-
cality in himself for the other two
linebackers, but Gordon may have
to mix it up with huge Big Ten line-
men and may get pushed around a
bit. That's a hard lesson Rodriguez
learned when he ran the 3-3-5,
and that's why the alumni are so
supportive of Brady Hoke and his
emphasis on physical play. Can
Cam Gordon make his third posi-
tion change in three years? Can he
do it mentally? We'll find out.
The third and final starter is the
prodigal Marell Evans. Once a line-
backer under Lloyd Carr, Evans
transferred after his sophomore
year in 2008, Carr's final season,
only to return once Rodriguez had
left. Now a fifth-year senior, Evans
was the penciled in starter during
the Spring Game.
He may have some young, ath-
letic linebackers nipping at his
heels, though. Jake Ryan really
impressed the coaches with his
relentless motor and athleticism
getting to the quarterback and
dropping into coverage. Senior
tight end Kevin Koger said at Big
Ten Media Days in Chicago that
Ryan had added weight to his listed
6-foot-3, 224-pound frame.
After he starred in the Spring
Game, picking off a pass for a
touchdown, that was one of the
only knocks on Ryan: he needed
to add weight and, of course, the
redshirt freshman wasn't experi-
enced. If the stories are true, he'll
run through a brick wall to get that
experience. Senior J.B. Fitzgerald,
who has primarily been a spe-
cial teams player throughout his
career, and redshirt sophomore
Mike Jones, as well as fifth-year
senior Brandon Herron were also
in the mix. Jones is smaller than
the other two, as he was converted
from safety to linebacker.
But none of the two projected
starters at outside linebacker have
enough of a vice grip on their posi-
tions to ward off highly ranked
incoming freshmen, Antonio Poole
or Frank Clark. These spots will be
fought for in camp. The constant
will be Demens roaming the mid-
dle. I know what you're thinking:
at least Ezeh is gone.
Preseason grade: C+
Projected starters: Cam Gor-
don, Kenny Demens, Marell Evans
Key losses: Jonas Mouton
Surprise player: Jake Ryan