By Ben Estes, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 3, 2012
As if the Michigan football team’s 41-14, season-opening loss to Alabama on Saturday night wasn’t enough, the Wolverines were dealt another blow as the team announced Monday that sophomore cornerback Blake Countess will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL tear in his right knee.
Countess suffered the injury just four minutes into the game while covering Michigan’s punt after the offense's first drive of the game stalled. As the gunner on the punt team, Countess was knocked down hard by his Crimson Tide counterpart and landed awkwardly on his knee. Countess had to be helped off the field and used crutches to enter the locker room after the game ended.
“You hate to see (when) anybody gets hurt,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said on Monday, reporting that the cornerback will likely undergo surgery within the next two weeks.
After he started the last six games of the season last year as a true freshman, totaling 44 tackles and six pass break-ups, Countess seemed primed for a breakout season in 2012. That breakout will have to wait until next year, when the Owings Mills, Md. native will return after taking a medical redshirt.
It’s a big blow for the Michigan defense, which loses an up-and-comer at one of the most important positions on the field. But Hoke expressed confidence that the rest of the cornerbacks will be able to pick up the slack. Junior Courtney Avery, normally the nickelback, will move into the starting lineup opposite fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd.
“Courtney’s a seasoned veteran,” Hoke said. “I think with him and (sophomore Raymon Taylor) and Terry Richardson, the young freshman, all three of those guys are guys that we’ve counted on to be able to step up and play.”
When Countess exited the game against the Crimson Tide, Avery initially replaced him, but he was soon pulled in favor of Taylor after failing to slow down Alabama’s receivers.
The Tide appeared to specifically pick on Avery, twice throwing to his side of the field in his first two series.
Avery looked particularly bad on a 51-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, when he slipped while trying to defend Alabama receiver DeAndrew White’s double move. White was left wide open streaking down the right sideline, and quarterback A.J. McCarron found him easily for the score.
“Courtney has a lot of experience, you know,” Hoke said. “He’s played a lot of football here. … We trust Courtney. That’s the biggest issue.”
Going into the season, cornerback appeared to be one of the Wolverines’ strongest positions depth-wise. But Countess’s injury and the transfer of Terrance Talbott over the summer leaves sophomore Delonte Hollowell as the only additional scholarship corner.
As for the nickelback slot, which is now vacant with Avery’s ascendance to the starting lineup, Hoke said he might choose to simply keep redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon in the game instead of removing him in favor of another cornerback. But he didn’t rule out the possibility of using another cornerback for the role, either.
The fact that Countess was injured on special teams calls into question Michigan’s use of him on that unit, given that his role on defense is more important than his duties as punt gunner.
But Hoke expressed no regrets about using a player of Countess’s caliber on the punt team.
“We try and only put guys who are only going to play significant time on two teams,” Hoke said. “And the rationale is it’s one-third of the football game, and you better have guys who are capable and guys you think are your best players. So the rationale is you’re going to win the kicking game also.”
NOTES: Hoke also announced that fifth-year senior tight end Brandon Moore will miss this week’s game against Air Force after spraining his MCL on Saturday night. He’ll be replaced by former walk-on and fifth-year senior tight end Mike Kwiatkowski, and the freshman tandem of Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams. All three players appeared against Alabama.
Redshirt junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, on the other hand, will play against Air Force even though he also had to leave Saturday’s game after injuring his leg in the fourth quarter. Hoke said Lewan has a bruise, and he said it isn’t serious.
Redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and sophomore defensive end Frank Clark will also play on Saturday, according to Hoke. Each was suspended for the Alabama game due to separate legal matters.
After Devin Gardner received heavy playing time at wide receiver on Saturday night, Hoke confirmed that the junior is now essentially at that position full-time and will play quarterback only in certain situations. Gardner said he just considers himself a “football player,” and will play wherever he can help the team.
This story was updated with additional content at 8 p.m. on Sept. 3.