Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Matt Charboneau preview the opening games of the college football season: Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee and Michigan State vs. Tulsa. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said it, and now Wolverines fans want to see it for themselves.
Dax Hill, a five-star recruit who flipped from Michigan to Alabama and back to Michigan, has dazzled teammates and coaches with his speed. Saturday night’s opener against Middle Tennessee State at Michigan Stadium will be the first opportunity to finally see the freshman safety who also could be used as a kick returner.
“Dax Hill is everything as advertised, doing a great job,” Harbaugh said earlier in the week. “He’s going to play a lot on special teams. He’s going to work into that safety position. He’s done extremely well.”
Chris Partridge coaches the 6-foot, 190-pound Hill at safety and on special teams and was asked this week if Hill is already at the level he has projected for him. Partridge shut that down quickly. After all, Partridge has set the bar extremely high for Hill.
“He’s not. No. That’s kind of impossible,” Partridge said. “I’m gonna want him to be an All-American, so maybe (this season), who knows? He’s really above and beyond what you would normally say is his learning curve. He’s doing a really good job in terms of taking it on and learning the defense.
"From a safety spot, it’s not easy. You have a lot going on back there. He’s above and beyond that. Athletically, he’s phenomenal. It’s what you want — he’s explosive in his ability to run. His ability to track the ball is really good.”
Hill’s teammates have remarked on his speed, and Partridge did nothing but add to the speed hype.
“He’s the fastest guy at safety,” Partridge said. “He’s probably one of the fastest guys on the team.”
Among the fastest, according to Partridge, are Ambry Thomas, Giles Jackson and D.J. Turner, so Hill is in good company. His older teammates haven’t shied from praising Hill. Linebacker Josh Ross said Hill has “integrated” in the defense very quickly.
“One of the biggest things with him is how great an athlete he is,” Ross said. “That dude is so fast. His make-up speed to everything is ridiculous, so he’s going to be a real good player.”
Earlier in camp, defensive coordinator Don Brown admitted Hill’s potential makes him hard to overlook as an early contributor. He said Hill reminds him of James Ihedigbo, who played for him at UMass in 2006 and had a lengthy NFL career that included a stop with the Lions (2014-15).
“(Hill is) kind of a unique guy,” Brown said. “I had a safety (Ihedigbo) he’s gonna end up playing like. I think he’s that kind of guy. Probably not quite as tall, but very long-limbed, can run, can rush, can really explode on contact. I see that in him, but obviously (it is early in his career at Michigan).”
There’s more to Hill than his speed, but as Brown and Partridge said, it’s still early in his freshman year and he has yet to face game speed. Entering the season opener, Hill is fourth on the safety depth chart behind Josh Metellus, J’Marick Woods and Brad Hawkins. Hawkins is ahead of him at nickel. All of this could change quickly, though.
“He can run, he can tackle, he’s a great young man, he’s got a great work ethic,” Partridge said, before echoing Harbaugh’s comment. “He’s as advertised. He’s a really good cover guy — that’s where he’s excelled, I’d said. But he’s gonna be an all-around great player. He’s really good. He knows the game, he’s knowledgeable, he’s smart, he cares, and he’s got a strong work ethic.”
Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: BTN/WWJ 950
Records: Season opener for both teams.
Line: Michigan by 34.5