As a true freshman last year, Donovan Warren took then-redshirt sophomore Johnny Sears’s starting cornerback job for the Michigan football team.
Warren was asked before this season if freshman cornerback Boubacar Cissoko would steal his spot.
“I would like for him to actually have that mentality that he’s going to take my job,” Warren said.
Cissoko didn’t take Warren’s spot, but he split time with fifth-year senior starter Morgan Trent in the Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State on Saturday.
Although Cissoko took a few more weeks to take time from a starter than Warren, who was starting in the team’s second game last year, the Detroit native didn’t waste time impressing Warren with how he listens and asks questions in the film room and his on-field demeanor.
“He has a lot of heart,” Warren said. “That’s what I really like about him.”
Senior strong safety Brandon Harrison also took notice of Cissoko early. In fall camp, Harrison was asked separately about the safeties, young receivers and the defense’s front seven. He didn’t distinguish between any players in of his answers.
But he had a quick response for which of the freshmen defensive backs had caught his eye.
“Boubacar,” Harrison said. “I like the way he plays. He’s just physical, and he’s fast.”
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said he considers Warren, Trent and Cissoko starters, even though Cissoko has started just one of the Wolverines’ games.
It’s no secret Michigan’s secondary has struggled this year. Rodriguez said Monday there really aren’t any backups that could make a difference right now. So retooling the Wolverines who are playing could be the solution.
Fifth-year senior Charles Stewart plays strong safety in nickel situations, and Harrison, who starts at strong safety, slides to nickel back. Redshirt freshman free safety Michael Williams has often been the dime back, but he suffered a concussion against the Spartans.
Rodriguez may start to play the speedy and athletic Cissoko with Warren and Trent more often, rather than rely on a third or fourth safety.
“We’re just trying to get a little bit more speed on the field, and obviously with all the spread offenses that are now in the league and that we’re playing, a lot of teams will use a third cornerback as a nickel,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve already done that at times this year, and we’ve got to continue when we’re playing, particularly this week, a spread team that will throw it around a bit. So we’ve got to try to get some more speed on the field.”
Of the Wolverines’ Big Ten opponents, the two with the most wide receivers who average multiple catches per game (four each) are still on the schedule — Purdue on Saturday and Northwestern two weeks later.
The Boilermakers and Wildcats are the only two Big Ten teams that pass more than they run. Purdue throws the ball on a conference-high 58 percent of its plays.
Cissoko, who was one of the few bright spots in Michigan’s loss to Toledo and had the secondary’s lone pass breakup against Michigan State, might be the most effective answer to those aerial attacks.
“He’s going to continue to play quite a bit,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a very active player, very competitive.”