As the final days count down until game week — starting Aug. 29 before the Michigan football team opens the 2016 season against Hawaii on Sept. 3 at Michigan Stadium — the Daily breaks down each position group heading into the upcoming season. We close our series with the secondary.
With a returning All-American in senior Jourdan Lewis and multiple other senior starters also back, Michigan’s secondary should be one of the best in the Big Ten this season. The Wolverines allowed the third-fewest passing yards in the nation last year and only lost one starter from that team, safety Jarrod Wilson.
The major questions surrounding this group won’t be about who takes the field, but rather how they will be used — will redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers truly get full-time linebacker snaps this season, or will he continue to play in his old spots as safety or nickelback? In any case, this is not a secondary Big Ten opponents will want to test downfield.
Here’s how the group stacks up this year:
Who’s back: Lewis, Peppers, fifth-year senior cornerback Jeremy Clark, senior cornerback Channing Stribling, senior safeties Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill, sophomore safety Tyree Kinnel, fifth-year senior safety AJ Pearson, redshirt sophomore cornerback Brandon Watson, redshirt freshman cornerback Keith Washington, redshirt freshman safety Jordan Glasgow, redshirt sophomore cornerback Matt Mitchell and redshirt junior safety Anthony Dalimonte.
Who’s not: Wilson, graduate transfer safety Wayne Lyons, cornerbacks Travis Wooley and Terry Richardson and safety Shaun Austin all graduated; Richardson headed to Marshall as a graduate transfer.
Who’s new: Freshmen cornerbacks David Long and Lavert Hill and freshman safeties Khaleke Hudson, Tru Wilson, Josh Metellus and Tyler Cochran.
Stats in 2015:
Lewis: 52 tackles, 20 pass breakups, two interceptions for 46 total yards, one sack, one forced fumble.
Delano Hill: 46 tackles, two pass breakups.
Peppers: 45 tackles, 10 pass breakups.
Thomas: 24 tackles, seven pass breakups.
Clark: 21 tackles, three pass breakups, three interceptions for 20 total yards.
Stribling: 17 tackles, three pass breakups, two interceptions for 31 total yards.
Watson: eight tackles.
Kinnel: two tackles.
Pearson: one tackle.
Contenders: Lewis started all 13 games last season and developed into one of the best defensive backs in the country, making the end of season All-American and All-Big Ten first teams. His 22 passes defended (plays either broken up or intercepted) were good for fourth in the country, and he easily could have declared for the NFL Draft but opted to return for his senior season.
Clark nicely made the transition from safety to corner last season, making seven starts and grabbing a career-high three interceptions. Stribling continued his steady improvement in his third season at Michigan last year, making his first four career starts and first two interceptions. Both should continue to see plenty of playing time opposite Lewis in 2016.
When Peppers is busy with linebacker duties, the experienced Hill and Thomas should have no problem filling the two starting safety spots. The two have combined to play in 67 games and make 20 starts.
As for younger faces, keep an eye on Long, Lavert Hill, Kinnel and Hudson. Long and Hill are both highly touted recruits who might be able to step in in a pinch. Kinnel was one of only four true freshmen to see playing time last season, so he clearly managed to put himself on the coaching staff’s radar. And Hudson, a true freshman from McKeesport, Pa., is a Peppers-type safety who could also eventually play linebacker or even running back.
Prediction/Edge: This starting lineup is as close to a shoo-in as the Wolverines have for a position group. Lewis and one of Clark and Stribling will start at cornerback, while Peppers will be in the starting lineup somewhere — likely at linebacker, meaning Delano Hill and Thomas would start at safety.
For the freshmen, this may not be the year to find steady playing time given the wealth of experience at the top of the depth chart. But Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh always says his team is a meritocracy, so never say never.