Defensive backfield provides security as spring comes to a close

Friday, April 1, 2016 - 8:55pm

Redshit junior defensive back Dymonte Thomas after a play in the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on Friday.

Redshit junior defensive back Dymonte Thomas after a play in the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on Friday. Buy this photo
Grant Hardy/ Daily

 

Less than a year removed from a career season that saw him earn All-America honors, there’s not much left that Jourdan Lewis needs to prove as an individual.

Accordingly, without any questions surrounding him, Lewis took the field Friday for Michigan’s Spring Game without many eyes on him. Instead, the focus was on the more intriguing competitions at quarterback and linebacker. But after the game, when Lewis emerged for a media session, he was back in full view, fielding questions about the defensive backfield and its potential.

“We can be the best, honestly,” Lewis said. “We go out there every day and try and show it. We go out there everyday and try and prove that we can be the best, that we are the best.”

In Friday’s Spring Game, there weren’t many opportunities for Lewis or his teammates to make big plays. Lewis, senior Channing Stribling, fifth-year senior Jeremy Clark and redshirt juniors Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill were all on the Maize team, holding the Blue to 12-of-27 passing and 177 yards.

The way the rosters were set up — ostensibly by draft, but also putting most of the team’s top defensive backs on the same team — made for a relatively uneventful day in the passing game. Thomas came up with the day’s lone interception, picking off redshirt junior quarterback Shane Morris in the end zone, but Morris also fooled the defense on a trick play that saw him find Drake Johnson in the end zone after Morris first lined up as a receiver.

Perhaps more telling of the unit’s coverage, though, was how often Morris, redshirt junior John O’Korn and redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight were forced to use their feet.

“It was never planned to have those guys roll out the pocket and running and everything like that,” Lewis said. “Honestly, it was just great defense out there on both sides. So seeing those guys running around, it was a testament of what those guys were doing on the back end.”

Statistically, Thomas and Clark owned the box score, with Thomas catching his interception and Clark breaking up two passes. But with the potential the unit possesses, the most important takeaway from this spring will be the growth of Stribling and Clark, the men competing for the spot across from Lewis.

Anchored by the All-American, the unit is expected to be one of the top defensive backfields in the country and will likely start seniors at both corner and both safety positions. Lewis will be expected to lead that group, a role he has already tried to take on this spring.

“Just playing by example,” Lewis said of his leadership style. “Showing those guys what to do on the field. Not talking to them so much as showing what’s supposed to be done on the football field and how you’re supposed to carry yourself on and off the field.”

One vocal bit of leadership he has given, though, was to Stribling, one of the contenders for the spot opposite Lewis in the secondary.

Stribling has reportedly upped his game this spring, earning new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s first “Dude of the Day” award after the Wolverines’ spring trip to Florida. And while Lewis’ style may be more show than tell, he did deliver a piece of advice to his fellow senior ahead of what will be a crucial season for his NFL prospects.

“Just play your game,” Stribling said March 10 of Lewis’ advice to him. “You’ve been doing this for four years. I know you’ve had some bad plays or whatever, but we know you. Everybody else doesn’t see you as Strib, but we see you as Strib.”

Asked after the Spring Game what it means for Stribling to be “Strib,” Lewis said: “He’s a playmaker. When we first got here as freshman you could see that he was just a playmaker. Once he got (thinking too much), you could see it kind of affected him. Once he gets to himself and he just gets to play, he’s one of the best out there.”

Friday, the opportunities to make those plays were limited, with both sides of the ball playing a stable game for two hours. In fact, the secondary was an afterthought for most of the game, partly because there weren’t any big plays to make, but also because there simply aren’t many questions left for the unit to answer.