Last season, the Michigan football team had a strong defense by nearly all accords. With two dominant defensive ends, solid cornerback play and an NFL-caliber safety — it was a vaunted group for a reason.
After losing a handful of elite players, the Wolverine defense now looks to retool. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has referred to this year’s iteration as a “no star” defense, and many within the program expressed they believe it can be even better than last year’s.
That notion could turn out to be just that: only an idea, unrealized and untrue.
But the two names on the top of the defensive back depth chart — graduate student Gemon Green and senior DJ Turner — both see a path for how it can come to fruition.
“I think we need more picks, to be honest,” Green said. “We need more turnovers as a whole, fumbles and picks. (But) I think we’re a lot faster than last year, so it’s going to be a big difference.”
Turner echoed Green’s sentiment:
“(To) get turnovers will be the main thing we’ll be focusing on this year — more interceptions,” Turner said. “And I feel like that’s what we’re going to do going into the season.”
Green and Turner both mentioning turnovers as a focal point of growth shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Last year’s squad, despite being highly disruptive and effective, didn’t force all that many of them — just eight interceptions and eight fumbles. Those numbers landed the Wolverines in the bottom half of the FBS last season, tied at 68th.
Of course, simply forcing more turnovers is much easier said than done. Both Green and Turner, though, mentioned there has been an emphasis on ball-hawking skills throughout fall camp.
“For me personally, I just gotta get my head back and find the ball, that’s what I’ve been working on this whole fall camp and spring ball,” Green said. “As a whole, we just gotta play faster. Know our plays, know our keys… Everybody do their one-eleventh.”
After corralling just a single interception last year, Green hopes that the work he has put in will manifest itself into onfield results
Turner tied for the team lead in interceptions last season with two, but that staggeringly low number should tell you all you need to know. He mentioned that he’s been focusing on much of the same things that Green has been doing. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how the games turn out.
“We’re focusing on ball skills a lot,” Turner said of Green’s improvements. “We’re just excited, pushing each other every day.”
Near the beginning of fall camp, co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale spoke highly of his entire secondary throughout his time, while also admitting there was room to grow.
“I think once they were able to get a year under their belt, they understood the expectations,” Clinkscale said. “To have the season we had last year, they know in order to win all our games and do the things we want to do our crew has got to play better, create more takeaways.
“We got to make big plays.”
Clinkscale noting that his unit needs to account for more big plays is very telling. Last season, the unit relied greatly on the play of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Opposing quarterbacks never really had the time to pick the secondary apart. But now a starless defense, the Wolverines don’t have a true game wrecker. At least, not one that is known outside the program yet — no one to really hide the inefficiencies.
This year, so much more of the responsibility to create game-changing plays will be on the secondary. And, specifically, it will be on Green and Turner.
But with a renewed emphasis on creating turnovers, the Wolverines hope it’s enough to bring the Michigan defense to even greater heights.