Ann Arbor – It is always tough to believe that after spring practice coaches don’t have -- at the very least – a starting lineup written somewhere in pencil.
Of course, they have some idea.
But Michigan defensive back coach Mike Zordich, who handles the cornerbacks, insists he and assistant Brian Smith, who coaches the safeties, do not have even a sketched lineup for the fall. The Wolverines will have an all-new starting group in the secondary.
“There is no position that is nailed down,” Zordich said after one of Michigan’s on-campus camps. “Zero.”
Not one player has nailed down a spot?
“No. Hell no,” Zordich said. “It’s open. Game open. They know that.”
By the end of spring practice, Zordich said he was definitely more confident about the group. He likes the experience and maturity from junior Tyree Kinnel.
“Tyree is a guy I feel confident in, a guy who knows what he’s doing,” Zordich said. “But he’s gotta do it all over again in August. It is what it is. You’ve got to compete.”
David Long and Lavert Hill had been talked about in the spring as likely starters, but, again, Zordich is not prepared to label any player that way.
“I certainly believe this last spring was a big help for them, although Lavert wasn’t out there as much as he should have been. He was hurt,” Zordich said. “David in the end missed a few himself. Everybody’s got to learn this isn’t a comfortable game. You’ve got to play with some nicks. It’s a long season. We need guys who are able to endure it.”
Michigan’s entire defense will feature mostly new starters. Defensive players across the board have spoken this summer of playing with a chip on their shoulders.
The secondary is no different. Last year’s starters were cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, and safeties Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill.
“Our new guys have got to come in and step up and be better, at least match what they did (last season),” Zordich said. “We had a good defense but we lost (three of the last four games). We’ve got to be better.
“I’m actually looking forward to it as a coach, to coach all of these young kids. That’s the challenge. I’m looking forward to it. It will be fun.”
The Wolverines had four defensive backs among the early-enrollee freshmen – Ambry Thomas, Jaylen Kelly-Powell, J’Marick Woods and Benjamin St. Juste. Being able to go through spring practice clearly gives them an advantage.
“They had some time to digest the defense, sit back and look at it,” Zordich said. “So now they’re not walking into fall camp, going, ‘Oh wow.’ They’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve done this. I’m ready to go.’ I’m looking forward to that.”
The cornerbacks have been joined by former receiver Drake Harris, who, Zordich said, excitedly made the position switch.
“So that’s half the battle,” Zordich said.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown likes the move.
“It’s a shot in the arm and probably a shot in the arm for him,” Brown said of Harris. “It gives us another athlete to work with who, in my opinion, is a cross between (former Wolverines) Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark.
“He’s not as big and physical as Jeremy Clark, and he’s kind of that string-beany length that is your best friend, like Strib. So now we have to see how he functions and accepts the one-on-one challenge. You don’t accept the one-on-one challenge here, you can’t play.”
Coaching against Penn State
Zordich played at Penn State but has never been one of the coaches made available to media during the week before the Wolverines play the Nittany Lions.
He said last month that “it’s been fun” coaching against Penn State.
“The first year was at Penn State, so it was kind of eerie, weird. Last year I was disappointed just in the game itself. We killed them. It was just a bad game. But happy to see them come back and do what they did. It’s good for college football.”
Michigan defeated Penn State 49-10 in Week 4. But the Nittany Lions rebounded from a 2-2 start and won nine straight, including the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin.
Zordich said it was “cool” being on the other side of the field two years ago at Beaver Stadium.
“This is where I am – Go Blue,” Zordich said. “Especially with the kids. My heart and soul is with these kids.”