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Notebook: Jarrod Wilson tries to channel his inner Kovacs at safety

Paul Sherman/Daily
Junior defensive end Frank Clark is one of a deep rotation of pass rushers. Michigan now has enough depth to keep fresh. Buy this photo

By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 4, 2013

Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner has been picked off a few times by the safeties during the Michigan football team’s spring practice, though he’s too embarrassed to talk about it.

Even if he’s ashamed to admit it, Gardner still acknowledges his picks mean the safeties are effectively doing their job in reading his passes. And one in particular is getting increasingly better at that.

Sophomore Jarrod Wilson has been pegged with the difficult task of replacing Jordan Kovacs at safety alongside fifth-year senior Thomas Gordon, and throughout the spring he has continued to solidify his spot as the presumed starter.

For defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the most impressive thing about Wilson during spring ball is the fact that he’s still peaking.

“He’s a very consistent football player,” Mattison said. “A lot of times young guys will show you the flashes of why you recruited them, and then you’ll see, ‘Oh man, he’s stepped back.’ This guy’s continued to improve.”

Wilson calls himself a “student of the game.” He has books full of notes and spends countless hours watching film both during practices and when he returns to his dorm at the end of the day.

Even with all the extra work he puts in, Wilson might consider himself first and foremost a student of Kovacs.

The former captain has been in and out of Ann Arbor this winter, dropping by Schembechler Hall periodically for workouts, and though Wilson really hasn’t had the opportunity to pick Kovacs’s brain, the year he spent observing Kovacs while on reserve has given him insight into the kind of safety he’s striving to be.

“His instincts and what to expect even before the play has even started,” Wilson said of what he’s picked up by watching Kovacs. “He could come out and tell you what the offense was going to run due to line splits, wide-receiver splits, quarterback and everything. I pretty much learned pre-snap reads from him.”

I MOUSTACHE YOU ABOUT THE O-LINE: Though he gets along with everyone on the team, sophomore tight end Devin Funchess isn’t quite sure where he fits in with the rest of the offensive linemen.

“I can’t hang out with the linemen because I can’t grow facial hair,” Funchess joked. “I’m just a young lad.”

Funchess was referring to the moustaches that the linemen are growing as a form of solidarity. And though he’s just kidding about not being able to associate with them, his observations on the solidarity of the offensive line are very real.

That chemistry is what’s holding the line together throughout spring practices, and it’s what offensive coordinator Al Borges hopes will translate to effectiveness when the season starts.

“It’s a lot of awareness, a lot of chemistry, hearing calls, responding to the calls, stepping right,” Borges said. “There’s not a heck of a lot of margin for error sometimes. That takes time. It’s just not something that happens right away.”

Off-the-field brunch trips to Benny’s Family Dining aside, the offensive line seems unusually cohesive on the field this spring after it struggled as a unit. Though the line will no doubt benefit from the leadership of fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan after his decision to forgo the NFL Draft, Michigan also has has a veteran in fifth-year senior right tackle Michael Schofield. Redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant will compete with redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden for the guard position. Early on, Kalis seems to be the favorite.

Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller is the presumed starting center, and Borges anticipates the past two years Miller spent watching former Wolverines David Molk and Elliott Mealer will ease his transition.

“Jack’s smart, he’ll do fine,” Borges said. “He won’t make very many errors. Now the center a lot of times puts the whole line on the right page, so to speak. Jack had played enough. Jack does a pretty good job of doing that.”

RUSH HOUR: Since Mattison arrived at Michigan two years ago, he’s had a dream: Soon, he hopes the day will come when he doesn’t want his defensive linemen to blitz on a third down.

The vision? That the Wolverines’ pass rush is effective enough that linemen can take care of the quarterback all on their own.

Mattison admitted that in the past, Michigan has struggled with the pass rush in a four-man front. But now, with the linemen setting themselves apart and making strides this spring, Mattison’s optimistic that day isn’t too far away.

“That’s going to be a trademark of this defense before we’re all done,” Mattison said. “That gives the linebackers and the secondary a little more relief and allows them to play their position a little better.”