ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The past two seasons have seen much of the same mantra when it came to the Michigan secondary. There would be Jordan Kovacs, the walk-on turned pro prospect who was the obvious leader of the secondary and almost the entire Wolverines defense.
Then there would be everyone else.
Not that they weren’t good players or didn’t make plays, but Kovacs had been such an unlikely story and such an obvious leader, everyone else was somewhat overshadowed.
Thomas Gordon understood that to an extent. While Kovacs took many of the headlines, Gordon made nearly as many plays as an attacking safety with a penchant for forcing turnovers the past two seasons. Now, his role is shifting.
With Kovacs’ graduation and an ACL injury to linebacker Jake Ryan, Gordon is going to be the leader of Michigan’s defense, almost by default.
“I feel like guys tend to come to me for advice and stuff,” Gordon said. “I’m real natural at it.”
Natural or not, he wasn’t needed in that role in prior years. There was Kovacs, linebacker Kenny Demens and defensive end Craig Roh to handle those responsibilities. Gordon could be a voice, but he didn’t have to be the voice.
He could cede control of those things and just play. That is no longer an option, either in the secondary or on the defense as a whole. Michigan is replacing Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd in the secondary, leaving Gordon as the most experienced defensive back on the roster by far.
“A lot of the time last year, they went back and forth, but Kovacs was definitely more of a vocal leader and made a lot of calls for us,” linebacker Desmond Morgan said. “Tom has really stepped up and he knows what’s going on for sure.
“He’s making calls first, before other guys are.”
While the leadership role is changing, so, too, might be his actual role. The aggressive playmaker may shift into a more natural role for him, one he would play intermittently in nickel packages last season.
Gordon will likely slide down into the position Kovacs played, being able to play both in coverage and down almost like an extra linebacker in run support when necessary.
With his speed and ability to find the ball, it is a good fit.
“I feel like I fit the role of being a strong safety,” Gordon said. “I like being in the box and getting in the mix a whole lot.
“But it doesn’t really matter where I’m at.”
Michigan has mixed things up with Gordon in part to figure out who might play next to him in the fall. Since he can play both spots, by playing him down in the spring allows the coaches to figure out who of Marvin Robinson, Jarrod Wilson, Josh Furman, Jeremy Clark, Allen Gant and Dymonte Thomas can play well enough to line up next to him.
Michigan could also move Gordon down to cover a slot receiver in nickel packages, opening up room for two other safeties in that package. Thus far, Robinson has been the one lining up next to Gordon, but there is time for that to change, especially with Gordon’s flexibility.
“He’s comfortable in either one,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
The comfort is huge, especially since he’ll be relied on more than ever to make calls as a defensive leader. With Ryan down and the rest of Michigan’s leaders graduated, when it comes to being able to set a defense, other than Morgan, Michigan might have no other choice.