Spring Football Preview: Cornerbacks

Spring Football Preview: Cornerbacks


March 2, 2016
Jourdan Lewis 751x

Jourdan Lewis

Projected starters: Senior Jourdan Lewis had an All-America season last year when he made 52 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 INTs (1 TD), and a school-record 20 pass breakups. The other side is a bit murkier, but senior Channing Stribling may be the best bet. He started four games last season and finished with 17 tackles, 2 INTs, and 3 pass breakups, including picking off a botched fake field goal by Florida in the bowl game.

Hit the jump for more on the cornerback position.

Departures: Little-used defensive back Terry Richardson announced his intentions to spend his final year of college ball elsewhere, although his landing spot has yet to be determined. Despite being a highly touted recruit, he barely saw the field in four years at Michigan.

Backup battle: The most heated battle for the starting gig will be between Stribling and fifth year senior Jeremy Clark. Clark led the team in interceptions last year with 3, while also making 21 tackles and 3 pass breakups. Clark is just about the biggest cornerback you’ll see at 6’4″, 210 lbs. but he makes up for a lack of great speed by using his length and reach advantage. If it were up to me, Clark would be above Stribling, but I just get the feeling Stribling will get first crack at the position once again. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Watson is physical but not as athletic as the top three corners. Redshirt freshman Keith Washington is still very skinny at 6’2″, 170 lbs., but the coaches like his speed and attitude. Redshirt junior Reon Dawson technically exists, but he has not stepped on the field even once during his first three years. Junior Freddy Canteen started off at wide receiver initially, moved to corner early last season, and is now reportedly getting a chance at both receiver and corner. Either way, he does not appear to be strongly in the mix for a starting position.

#1 thing to watch:¬†Michigan’s top three cornerbacks are seniors, and nobody else got noteworthy experience in 2015. Who will take over their spots next year? Watson and Washington are the most likely guys on the current team to stake their claim for a starting position in 2017, but there are some highly touted freshmen joining the team in the summer. I will be interested to see if someone steps up this spring, because if not, there could be a youth movement soon. I imagine a couple of those backup corners are feeling the pressure to perform.

24 comments

  1. Avatar
    Comments: 1331
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    WindyCityBlue
    Mar 02, 2016 at 6:49 AM

    Like so many positions, we’ll be fine at starter this year, but experienced depth is very limited, and next year looks scary, at least at this point. Hopefully either Hill or Long or both will be able to step up this fall and be contributors, but the coaching staff has their work cut out for them.

  2. Avatar
    Comments: 1290
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Roanman
    Mar 02, 2016 at 7:13 AM

    New heights and weights must have been completed recently. I’m feeling a lot better about stuff with Furbush listed at 242 than I did with him at 217. The notion of Gedeon and McCray inside along with Peppers/Furbush at SAM feels like it could potentially be awesome.

    Now they just need to find a guy that can fill Henry’s shoes.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 3616
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Mar 02, 2016 at 5:36 PM

      Yeah, the official roster on MGoBlue was just updated yesterday, I believe.

  3. TriFloyd
    Comments: 33
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    TriFloyd
    Mar 02, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    What about moving Jeremy Clark back to safety? Stribling could be the other starting job, and there are seemingly capable back-ups freshman coming in the Fall. Also, Clark at safety could allow Dymonte Thomas to move closer to the line of scrimmage in a LB hybrid-type role.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 5906
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Mar 02, 2016 at 3:45 PM

      a) You need 3 CBs
      b) Clark didn’t look very good at Safety (lacked instincts/reaction/reads)
      c) Thomas and HIll have Safety locked down.

      If Thomas or Hill get hurt, Michigan may have to scramble a bit, but I’d rather see Peppers back there than Clark.

      I don’t think Michigan needs or wants Thomas at OLB with Peppers there.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 3616
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Mar 02, 2016 at 5:38 PM

      Stribling and Clark were almost co-starters last year, and it’s good to have a third corner. You can work another guy in if someone gets winded or injured. At least in the spring (without Long or Hill), there’s not really enough depth at corner to move Clark around. Otherwise, you’re left with Dawson and Washington on the two-deep.

  4. Avatar
    Comments: 66
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    umfarnn
    Mar 02, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    I get the feeling Long and Hill may get some mop up duty this year in an attempt to get them ready to start in 2017. Both seem like the types who may only play 3 or 4 years so a redshirt would be pointless.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 5906
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Mar 02, 2016 at 3:43 PM

      Bit early to assert early-entry to the NFL for almost any recruit, but I agree that one or both are likely to see the field to prepare for 2017.

  5. Lanknows
    Comments: 5906
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Mar 02, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    Very happy with our situation at CB. Having Stribling reassert himself pleases me because of my long-standing pro-Channing stances. But Clark seemed to outplay him by the end of last year and so there’s a long way to go before we gave an actual ‘starter’ there. Which is just fine; I’m actually glad one guy hasn’t shot past the other because I’d very much like to have 3 excellent CBs.

    As for the future, yeah it’d be nice if Stribling had been red-shirted or something but having 3 seniors doesn’t necessarily mean future doom. I tend to have more faith in underclassmen who haven’t played when the vets ahead of them are really dang good than when they’re just placeholder guys. In other words, Watson may have seen the field already if Lewis, Clark, and Stribling weren’t taking up every available snap.

    Between the underclassmen and the highly regarded recruits coming in the fall, I’m not going to fret about the 2017 CB situation right now. Especially since that’s a spot where freshman often play reasonably well (as opposed to say safety or LB, where freshman starters tend to be an indicator of panic).

    I was encouraged to see that Dawson and Washington are still working at CB and haven’t moved yet. Those were, like Stribling and Clark, physically gifted high upside players who came in raw raw raw. If they are good by their 3rd year on campus,they’re ahead of schedule. Dawson’s entering the make-or-break phase of his career (he was in the same recruiting class as Stribling) but Washington will only be a red-shirt freshman this fall.

    The present is bright. The future is bright. I’m very excited about our CB situation. I’d argue it’s the strongest position on the team right now, pending how the youngsters look during the season.

    • Avatar
      Comments: 1331
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      WindyCityBlue
      Mar 02, 2016 at 9:47 PM

      We look OK for 2016, but the future is anything but bright. We have nobody back in 2017 with any experience or proven talent. Watson hasn’t even shown a flash so far.

      • Thunder
        Comments: 3616
        Joined: 7/13/2015
        Mar 03, 2016 at 6:33 AM

        I wouldn’t say it’s “anything but bright.” We’ll have two sophomores at that point who were highly touted in Lavert Hill and David Long.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 5906
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Mar 03, 2016 at 11:48 AM

        My point was that there is a very good reason why no one is ‘proven’ at this point. It’s one thing when (as with our LB situation in 2016) the returning guys didn’t play ahead of some ho-hum vets like Bolden and another when they sit behind an all-american and a couple of physically gifted starters who could be NFL players. In one case you can think “uh oh”, in the other – you don’t know one way or the other.

        Given the recruiting profiles of the underclassmen, I would say the future is bright, for the same reason that I would say the future is bright at QB. O’Korn, McCaffrey and Peters are very good prospects, even if they aren’t ‘proven’. One or two may bust but we have a lot of talent in the pipeline for this stage in the game. Likewise, at CB. Watson, Washington, Long, and Hill all project as great fits in our system. Watson has received praise for his practice performance and there was even speculation last year that he might surpass Clark or Stribling.

        Obviously, with the guys we will lose, it will be important to keep an eye on the youngsters this season, but at this point there is no cause for alarm. Actually, I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic – especially with the way the seniors improved over the last 14 months.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 5906
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Mar 03, 2016 at 11:52 AM

        Also “we look OK for 2016” is understating it by a good bit. We have one of the 5 best corners in college football and not one but TWO very good seniors opposite him, both very tall and fast.

        It doesn’t get much better than that. This is the best CB trio Michigan has had since 97, and they’ve had a lot of NFL players role through in that time.

        The 2016 CB situation is: elite.

        • Avatar
          Comments: 1331
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          WindyCityBlue
          Mar 03, 2016 at 2:11 PM

          Elite? Not even close. Lewis is all-conference and maybe all-american caliber, but Stribling and Clark aren’t even close to that, and after them, we have basically nothing. All it will take is one turned ankle and our nickel packages will start to look very scary.

          This fanbase’s standards for what constitues “elite” talent have gotten very low

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5906
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 03, 2016 at 5:31 PM

            Nickelback is Peppers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

            Lewis is elite. It doesn’t get much better than that.

            We can debate Stribling or Clark but few (if any) teams have a 4th CB as good as whoever isn’t starting between this duo. Anyway, I think you’re dramatically underrating how good the ‘other’ starting CB was last year. The fact that teams kept throwing at Lewis despite his excellence should tell you all you need to know. It’s the same dynamic we saw with Woodson and Weathers. If Weathers isn’t playing at an NFL level, Woodson doesn’t get all those interceptions.

            Also consider that Wayne Lyons – who started on a top 10 defense the year before – couldn’t even break into the regular playing rotation last year. This year, they’ll be even better.

            Can you name another team with a better 3rd or 4th CB than Clark or Stribling? Perhaps speculatively (based on recruiting hype), but nobody has anyone remotely as proven.

            Look at some of the other top tier programs: OSU is trying to convert last year’s nickel to a starting spot and then has total inexperience beyond that. Their CBs are essentially a less talented version of Lewis and Peppers backed up by kids (i.e., no Stribling OR Clark). Notre Dame has one proven guy and then an open competition among unproven players at the other spot (and nickel).

            There’s probably a small handful of teams with a better CB situation than Michigan’s (alabama, USC, LSU?) but I can’t name any of the top of my head. None are as deep and proven as our group.

          • Thunder
            Comments: 3616
            Joined: 7/13/2015
            Mar 03, 2016 at 5:41 PM

            I tend to agree with Lanknows here. Lewis is elite, and Stribling/Clark played pretty well last year (5 picks between them, very few big plays allowed). It’s not that they’re all future 1st round draft picks or anything. It’s that I think you would have a hard time naming many teams with a better combination of cornerbacks.

            Also, there’s the ever-confusing use of the word “elite.” Does it mean top 3 in the country? Does it mean top 10? Does it mean top 25? Does it mean greatest in school history?

            I generally take it to mean roughly a top-10 situation in the country, and I don’t know that you could name 10 better cornerback combinations in NCAA football.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5906
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 03, 2016 at 8:27 PM

            Granted that the definition of ‘elite’ is arbitrary, but I don’t think anyone can match Michigan’s top 4 CBs (including nickelback). At the very least, I would say they are in the top 5 programs in the country. To me, that’s elite.

            I think 3 of the 4 will play in the NFL based on how their careers are tracking. Lewis and Peppers are heading towards the 1st round. Peppers may end up a LB or Safety but he’s still our nickelback in 2016. Stribling’s physical talents are going to get him drafted too.

            Clark’s the only one I question transitioning from the Michigan system to the next level (he relies on length, strength, and straight-line speed to makeup for a lack of quickness and fluidity, which may not to translate). But I wouldn’t be shocked if he found a team that matched his skillset to their needs either. That speed at 6’4 is intriguing and the NFL loves potential.

            • Thunder
              Comments: 3616
              Joined: 7/13/2015
              Mar 03, 2016 at 8:58 PM

              We’ll see about Stribling getting drafted. He couldn’t hold off the guy who you said isn’t going to get drafted. Furthermore, someone like Donovan Warren – who was more talented than Stribling – didn’t get drafted.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5906
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 04, 2016 at 12:38 PM

            Right – but college and NFL are different games. A lot of guys can get away with limitations at the college level that would be exploited in the NFL. Clark seemed to earn the nod over Stribling last year, so he probably will again in 2016 — But that’s in Michigan’s system. If anyone starts picking on Clark (as they did a few times last year), Michigan can pull him for Stribling. It’s a system where Blake Countess was marginalized and he had a huge year at Auburn and is likely to be drafted by the NFL.

            The NFL may not be comfortable with the limitations that Clark has given that the NFL is all about exploiting every tiny advantage. Not a lot of 6’4 CBs out there and Clark’s a little stiff for the position. I think Stribling’s athleticism better matches what the NFL is looking for. His problem has been mostly instincts and strength – both of which are fixable. The NFL is about potential.

            Warren isn’t as talented as Stribling. The reason he didn’t get drafted was that Warren lacked upside and didn’t have great speed or size. He was a bigtime recruit, but he didn’t get much better after high school. Meanwhile, Stribling was super raw coming out of high school and has improved every year. 6’2 with speed – and the NFL has a huge demand for long fast CBs who can get physical AND stay with receivers one on one. Stribling’s gotten better every year and hasn’t maxed out yet. He’ll get drafted, barring injury.

            The size/speed thing plays for Clark too of course. I’m sure the NFL would LOOOVE to have a 6’4 CB who can fly. I just have doubts on his ability to cover one on one. He’s making up for letting guys get open by being physical and using his straightline speed. I’m not sure that’ll fly in the NFL. But it might… if his combine measurables are impressive, a team may take a flier on him. Of nothing else, his special teams potential should be excellent, and that may be enough to get drafted late. Or Clark could prove me entirely wrong and end up all conference this year with 8 INTs and relegate Stribling to bench/dime package.

            We’ll see how it works out. Bottom line: I’d be shocked if Lewis, Thomas, and Peppers aren’t drafted in the top 4 rounds. I’d be surprised if Stribling wasn’t drafted. Clark and Hill could be too, as they are also gifted athletes for their size.

            It would not surprise me one bit if Michigan ended up with 5 DBs in the 2017 draft. (Lewis, Peppers, Thomas, Stribling, Clark or Hill). I wouldn’t rule out any of them heading into their senior year. I’d set the over/under at 3.5 DBs drafted, since Peppers could elect to come back.

            • Thunder
              Comments: 3616
              Joined: 7/13/2015
              Mar 05, 2016 at 6:03 PM

              I disagree on Warren vs. Stribling. Stribling hasn’t done anything yet to make me think he’s more talented than Warren. But to each his own.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5906
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 05, 2016 at 6:34 PM

            depends how you define talent. Warren wasn’t big or fast.

            • Thunder
              Comments: 3616
              Joined: 7/13/2015
              Mar 06, 2016 at 4:03 AM

              That’s not much of an argument. “Warren wasn’t big or fast” doesn’t really have much to do with whether he was more talented than Stribling. Stribling is taller but lighter. Stribling also isn’t known for his speed. Warren was also significantly more productive. By this point in his career, Warren’s career was finished because he declared for the NFL Draft. Stribling has 40 tackles, 3 PBUs, and 2 INTs for his career. Warren bettered that as a junior in 2009 alone (52 tackles, 11 PBUs, 4 INTs) and was All-Big Ten. Also, he wasn’t beaten out for a starting job by a 6’4″, 210 lb. backup safety.

              But I’ll say this for Stribling: He is indeed 6’2″. So there’s that.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 5906
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Mar 06, 2016 at 2:03 PM

            Production and talent are two very different things. They may correlate, they may not, though obviously having talent helps.

            One has to distinguish between ‘talent’ – which is generally what you’re born with – and skills, strength, and effort – which can be developed. A big part of talent, arguably the biggest, is physical traits including size, speed and ‘athleticism’.

            Warren wasn’t a great athlete, wasn’t real fast, and wasn’t very tall. There wasn’t much room for improvement, and that’s what the NFL is looking for.

            Stribling may be skinny, but adding weight is something that can be changed through development and training (generally). In other words, that’s not a ‘talent’ issue.

            I’m under the impression that Stribling is pretty fast. I don’t know if the 40 times reflect that or don’t, but he seems to always be around the ball when he’s covering people. His issues have mostly come from getting outmuscled for balls and being inconsistent in timing his attempts to knock the ball away.

            Stribling’s physical gifts are ‘talent’ in my mind, and I believe the NFL scouts will see it that way too. I don’t dispute that Warren was a more productive college player, but that has nothing to do with why he went undrafted.

            It’s possible I’m wrong about Stribling’s speed and the NFL will see that as a liability. That’s far more likely to matter than the number of tackles, PBUs, or INTs.

  6. Lanknows
    Comments: 5906
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Mar 04, 2016 at 1:01 PM

    Ironically, I think some Michigan fans are a little gunshy when it comes to expecting excellence because there are so many unreasonably optimistic projections thrown out there every single year. When you expect people like Shane Morris to be great based on little more than hope and hype, and you hear fawning praise over guys like Amarah Darboh and Jerald Robinson (due pretty much to a lack of competition in practice) and then it doesn’t pan out on the field, you start to get skeptical. That’s understandable.

    But you have to differentiate between what’s pure hype and reasonable performance-based expectations. This secondary was already VERY good last year. Lewis was elite. Clark/Stribling were good (despite Clark moving positions). Thomas started living up to his hype by the end of the year and displaced Hill (who was also pretty solid). Peppers looked like what he was a 5-star freshman who had elite athleticism, even though he was a little rough around the edges (like in coverage.) ALL of these guys are going to get better. MOST of these guys are going to be seniors. The DL is going to create a ton of pressure and force bad throws that this secondary will take advantage of. It’s not just hype – these guys have ALREADY played like a top 10-15 defense and almost everyone is back, with arguably a better D-coordinator.

    Michigan’s secondary is going to be excellent, elite, dominant… whatever superlative you want to use. Michigan will have the best secondary in the country.

    Your expectations should be sky high for the 2016 defense as a whole, especially given the easier schedule. You will rarely see DL or DB situations better than this and you may never see DL AND DB situations combined, as good as 2016. Yes, LB is an unknown, and that could come up as a problem down the line, but Michigan really only needs 2 guys there and between Dan Brown, Ben Gedeon, and Mike McCray, the situation should work itself out just fine. If nothing else, it’s an excuse for Brown to blitz even more often than he would otherwise.

    I expect a top 5 defense. As long as most of the key players stay healthy, that’s a reasonable projection. That means, it may be the best Michigan has had since 1997 — and maybe even including that team. There are future NFL players at almost every position and future NFL players at backups and elite difference makers (Lewis, Wormly, Peppers)… just like there was in 1997.

You must belogged in to post a comment.