Ann Arbor — Michigan defensive backs coach Mike Zordich can’t remember ever coaching a group as young as the corners he has right now, but the potential is steep.
“It is a fast group. It definitely is a fast group,” Zordich said after practice Tuesday, the Wolverines’ last before heading to Rome on Saturday where they will go sightseeing and hold three practices.
There are a few ways to define fast in football — they’re stopwatch fast and they’re fast running plays. The latter will take time, as they learn the playbook, which is why they’ve been getting so many reps this spring in practice. The thinking is that things, particularly for the early enrollees, will be second nature by the fall.
“I see it as they’re learning to be fast,” Zordich said. “They’re fast running laps, they’re fast running all the 6 a.m. stuff. They’re fast competing in that fashion, no doubt, fast group. But when they’re learning and running it’s a little different. They’re thinking instead of reacting, so the brain is slowing down the feet. When they get this, we’re going to be very athletic and fast.”
This spring has been particularly good for early enrollees Ben St-Juste and Ambry Thomas and also for freshmen David Long and Lavert Hill and redshirt freshman Keith Washington, who switched from quarterback to corner.
UM DBs coach Mike Zordich on defensive backs Angelique Chengelis
Michigan has to replace veterans Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, who were the anchors of that position group last season.
“I still believe we’re young and talented, but there’s quite a ways to go,” Zordich said Tuesday when asked his impressions after the spring game last Saturday. “Even though they should be in high school, we’ve got to change their habits. Happy but a lot of room for improvement.
“We’ve got a long way to go. They’re going to give me all those reps in practice. They’re going to walk in here in August, (and say), ‘Hey, that was pretty easy. This time will be the hardest on them. Once we get them in August, it will be getting that work under your belt, making them comfortable in the situation.”
Hill has been “dinged up” a bit, Zordich said, and was limited to eight plays in the game. Long has been practicing well, he said.
“They’re very talented young guy,” he said. “All of them have to learn this isn’t a comfortable game and we’ve got to be able to play uncomfortable.”
Zordich said part of spring practice as used to undo some of the bad habits the young players brought from high school.
“Let’s face it, those kids are really, really good players, so they probably got away with a lot of things they did on their own,” Zordich said. “Like (Jourdan Lewis). If J Lew did something that wasn’t into what we did, you don’t fix something that ain’t broke. It’s just kind of the same thing. For each guy, you have to tailor certain things they do differently. It’s harder coming out of high school.”
Stribling said recently at the NFL Combine that Washington was a player to watch in the secondary this fall. Washington said Tuesday transitioning from quarterback to cornerback was a little more difficult than he anticipated, but now he feels comfortable in the role.
“I guess people have to wait until the fall and then see, but I’ll let everyone know that I’m working, working every day trying to get better and hopefully that can continue to do great things for the team in the fall,” Washington said. “I know the system pretty well now, so I can play comfortable.”
Washington tends to be hard on himself in practice, demanding a great deal.
“Keith has always been hard on himself,” Zordich said. “He works his tail off. He played quarterback in high school. We brought him over and said, ‘We’re going to make you a cornerback in a system that plays press man 90 percent of the time,’ so it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a tough technique to learn. That’s what he’s trying to do. I thought he had a heck of a game Saturday. He’s come along really well.”
The bottom line — Michigan’s corners will be, for the most part, young, although Brandon Watson is experienced and will be a redshirt junior.
Zordich’s goal is to get as many corners ready to rotate as much as he’d like.
“I’d like to have four, five,” he said. “We play a lot of DBs, and they all got to do the same thing — cover.”