Zordich looks to right the ship at cornerback

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 7:38pm

Junior cornerback Gemon Green has struggled mightily this season along with the rest of the Michigan secondary.

Junior cornerback Gemon Green has struggled mightily this season along with the rest of the Michigan secondary. Buy this photo
Miles Macklin/Daily

Last week, in a radio appearance, Mike Zordich didn’t pull many punches in talking about the performance of his position group.

This week, speaking to reporters, Michigan’s cornerbacks coach struck a more optimistic tone. Yes, the cornerbacks have struggled. But Zordich said Tuesday’s practice gave him a sense that things could change soon.

“These guys, they’re not holding back,” he said. “They’re really not. We just gotta — somebody’s gotta make a play. And I guarantee you when somebody makes a play, this thing’s gonna shift back into gears.”

Michigan’s defense, a perennial strength under Don Brown, has become a detriment on the team this season. The pass rush has struggled, but beside last week’s 49-11 loss against Wisconsin, when the Badgers ran for 341 yards, the issues have largely come down to the secondary. Michigan State targeted cornerbacks Vincent Gray and Gemon Green with go routes down the sideline. Indiana followed suit. Both pulled off wins over the Wolverines.

The Indiana game featured 89 penalty yards against Michigan, the Michigan State game 86. Most of those were in the secondary. Zordich said the Wolverines have had officials at practice, and holding and pass interference haven’t been problems there. But on gameday, that’s proven to mean little.

“I think a little part of that was it happened once and we got a little bit out of kilter mind wise,” he said. “We got a little nervous in routes, to be very honest. We’ve got to have great mind control as well as body control in everything we do.”

Junior cornerback Gemon Green said Monday the overall issue came down to technique — staying calm, in control and turning his head when the ball comes his way. This is Green’s first year getting regular playing time, and if not for Ambry Thomas’s pandemic-induced departure before the season, it’s unlikely he’d be starting.

Likewise, with a young and largely inexperienced group at cornerback, the lack of spring ball and abbreviated fall camp didn’t help Michigan. But every team in the country had to deal with no spring ball. That amounts to an excuse — nothing more.

“I wish Gemon would’ve had a spring. I’ll say that,” Zordich said. “But I’ll tell you what — really, early on, probably end of July or so, I think he started to realize that, ‘Hey, I can be the guy, I could do this.’ So we’ve brought him along, I think, at the right pace.”

Zordich tries to emphasize that receivers are going to catch footballs even against the best coverage. It’s on his guys to contest the play and make it as hard as possible. That’s his way of building up confidence, but Green didn’t mince words when asked about the mood of the team.

“It’s kinda down right now,” he said.

At 1-3 in a COVID-19 shortened season, with the Big Ten title, College Football Playoff and a New Year’s Six bowl out of the question, there’s not much left for Michigan to play for beyond self-improvement and pride. 

For a cornerbacks group that has struggled without pause, being able to focus on technique and fundamentals without as much pressure might be a good thing. For Zordich, fixing that technique begins  with their eyes.

“It all starts at the line of scrimmage,” Zordich said. “When you get your eyes up, or out, or over, or not where they’re supposed to be, they’ll take you to places you don’t want to be. That is what has happened, and that’s an issue we are fixing as we speak.”

Zordich said he’s seen improvement at the line of scrimmage, but it’s obvious to any casual observer that the corrections either haven’t translated to games yet or other issues continue to cause problems. 

“We gotta blame it on ourselves,” Zordich said, “and the lack of us doing our job and sticking with our fundamentals and technique more than anything else.”


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