Michigan Football 2018 Preview: Cornerbacks

lavert hill david long beach day michigan

Michigan Football 2018 Preview: Cornerbacks

Football

Michigan Football 2018 Preview: Cornerbacks

SET-UP

Is it possible to improve on having the nation’s best pass defense? Well, according to Michigan’s cornerbacks, absolutely.

Michigan returns everyone from a year ago at the position — literally everyone — with the starting job being a three-man rotation, much like it was back in 2015-16.

The names you’re already well aware of are in play — Lavert Hill and David Long were absolutely shut down at the position, and got accolades from Pro Football Focus as having two of the best passer ratings when targeted in the whole country. Lost in the fanfare of the aforementioned is Brandon Watson, a fifth-year senior who had some spectacular passes broken up a year ago, and will rotate with the other two.

Behind them are Ambry Thomas, the second-year player who has high expectations placed upon him by people like Belleville (MI) head coach Jermain Crowell — who used to coach against him when he was the DC at Cass Tech — and Benjamin St-Juste, who’s been battling injuries since the end of last season.

Michigan cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich says he’d like to roll with a five-deep CB rotation in 2018, which means that you already have your three, Thomas is all but a lock or the fourth, and then you’re picking from St-Juste, preferred walk-on Hunter Reynolds — who played at Wisconsin as a freshman when Hill stayed back with injury — and the true freshmen: Myles Sims, Gemon Green and Vincent Gray.

Speaking of the freshmen, Sims was first on campus, coming in January as an early-enrollee. But Green and Gray have managed to push him and make early impressions this fall.

The position is pretty much set. Can the corners be as dominant as they were a year ago?

Superlatives:

most Likely to be position MVP

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We’re taking the cop-out and choosing two, going with both Lavert Hill and David Long.

As a tandem, they’re pretty much unstoppable when they’re on the field together. When they’re in press-man coverage, quarterbacks are better off targeting anyone that these two aren’t already on.

Coaches say:

Mike Zordich on David Long:

“He takes coaching. He really takes coaching. He studies. He’s a great note taker. He’s a professional, he really is. He’s a great kid, great person. I’m really excited for him, I really am. He just works at it.”

Mike Zordich on Lavert Hill: 

“He’s good! He’s a really good football player. He should answer the bell. The bell should be his. He’s that good. I think that’s what you guys are going to see this fall – as you did last fall. He’s good!

“He just stays focused. Every day he just continues to look at the opponent, understand the opponent. He can’t just look at one guy. You’ve got to go from week to week. That’s what he has to do. Just stay consistent in his approach to each game and he’ll get better.”

Mr. Dependable

The other two may have won MVP, but Brandon Watson earns Mr. Dependable, because he’s something of an unheralded player, despite having solid production in 2017.

Sources have told WolverinesWire that he’s taken his ability in man coverage up a notch since last season, based off what was seen in the spring.

Expect him to come in and be just about as lock down as the other two popular cornerbacks.

Breakout player

Ambry Thomas, zero question.

Like we said earlier, Jermain Crowell had some interesting things to say about Thomas last summer:

“I think Bry is super talented,” Crowell told Wolverine247 at Michigan’s 1-Day Elite Camp. “The sky is the limit for the kid. He’s got a lot of raw ability. Like the way I thought Jourdan Lewis was just physically — physically, I think Lavert was faster than Jourdan and probably a little quicker than Jourdan, but Jourdan was a better playmaker. I think that [Thomas] has a combination of both. He’s almost just as fast if not a little faster than Lavert. He’s got JD’s type of playmaking ability. The sky is the limit for him.”

Mike Zordich is seeing the uptick happening now:

“He’s fast. He is straight-line fast.

“The long ball – they’ve got a couple on him. But only because of his technique at the top – he gets all turned around and if he just stays calm and he’ll be in good shape. Which is what he’s starting to learn to do. It’s great to see.”

***

“In his footwork – at the line of scrimmage, with all the man we play, we’re very peculiar about our technique, and at that part of it, he’s gotten better. We’re hard on him. We’re really hard on him about our technique, because we play so much man. We’ve got to be really good with the fundamentals, and that’s where he’s getting better.”

And Lavert Hill even weighs in on his former high school teammate:

“His footwork got a little better. He got more confidence because he’s been out there a lot. And just playing with him in high school, I know what he can do. So he can just go out there and be confident, and do what he does.”

Freshman to watch

The obvious choice would be Myles Sims, but we’re going with local product Vincent Gray.

From the sounds of things, all three true freshmen are about even. And even though Gray was among the last to arrive in Ann Arbor, we’ve heard good things about his production in fall camp.

That’s if we had to choose — but at this juncture, all three between Sims, Gray and Gemon Green, they’re about even.

Here’s what Zordich had to say about the freshmen:

“Myles has done something, and you’re like, ‘Wow! Look at that!’ Vincent Gray has done something. Gemon has – it would be hard for me to say, because they’re all three, like, right there, level. Hopefully this next half of camp, somebody out of that group steps up and separates themselves. Because it would be nice to go into the season with five, knowing you’ve got five.”

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