Through three position changes, Gordon finding his place with Michigan defense

Ariel Bond/Daily
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Daily Sports Editor
Published November 17, 2010

Cam Gordon isn’t used to staying in one place.

The redshirt freshman spur was a four-year starter at linebacker during his time at Melvindale and Inkster High Schools. But when Michigan came to recruit Gordon, it wanted him for something entirely different — wide receiver.

So Gordon redshirted as a wideout in Ann Arbor, waiting for his shot to catch some balls in what would be a high-powered Michigan offense.

But since the Wolverines were thin in the secondary, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez shifted Gordon yet again.

“I feel like I transitioned over to a new position in a good way,” Gordon told the Daily in April after Michigan’s spring game. “Playing offense last year, that’s where I wanted to stay at, but I felt like I had to help the team.”

Gordon started the first seven weeks of this season at free safety after receiving a great deal of hype during Michigan’s spring practices. His hard-nosed style of play was perfect for coming up in run support, but he still lacked some technique when it came to coverage.

So against Penn State, Gordon changed positions — again. This time, Gordon moved up toward the line, starting in the hybrid linebacker (spur) position, while freshman Ray Vinopal took his old spot. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said, being a hard hitter, Gordon was more tailored to being a linebacker — something he was more comfortable with.

“It’s Cam’s size and mental makeup,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’s just better closer to the ball.”

And Gordon doesn’t mind. Part of the reason coaches praised his attitude this spring had to do with his willingness to change positions. Anything he can do to help the team, Gordon says.

“If it’s good for the team, it’s good for me,” Gordon said at Monday’s press conference. “I’m a football player and just want to play. There’s nothing to it but that.”

Gordon is all about being physical — he says it’s one of his biggest strengths — and it’s easy to tell on the football field, where he often goes for tackles with reckless abandon. But that physicality begs the question: Why did he start as a wide receiver?

“You try to project the position when you recruit them, but when they get into your weight program … they’ll continue to grow,” Rodriguez said. “Some guys eat their way from a linebacker to a defensive lineman. I’ve seen safeties grow to be defensive ends.”

But a wide receiver growing into a safety and then growing into a linebacker? That’s a special type of growth — one that fits the skill set of the physical Gordon. And as long as his teammates and coaches want him there, he’s happy to be there.

“I just wanted to help the team,” Gordon said. “That was my whole goal. And I feel like I’ve been doing that.”

Last week against Purdue, Gordon gave his biggest contribution to the team since he first started against Connecticut in week one — he gave the defense seven points.

As sophomore defensive end Craig Roh stripped the ball from Purdue ballcarrier Dan Dierking, Gordon scooped it up and ran for a 58-yard touchdown. The score gave the Michigan defense unprecedented confidence, and the unit held the Boilermakers to zero offensive touchdowns.

For Gordon, it’s been a while since he’s felt the rush of scoring a touchdown. But he’s not looking for a move to the offensive side of the ball.

“(That play) doesn’t make me miss scoring touchdowns on offense,” Gordon said. “It makes me want to score more touchdowns on defense. That’s the plan — score more touchdowns.”

He may not get many more opportunities to score on defense in his career, but for the first time in his two years in Ann Arbor, Gordon seems like he’ll be staying in one place for a while.