Defense must cope without Countess

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- This was exactly the news Michigan didn’t want to hear. The deepest position on its team, the group perceived as strength of the defense this season, is now down a man.

Not only a man, but its best player. Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess (torn ACL) is out for the year for Michigan, a season-long residual of an already rough few days for the Wolverines after losing to No. 2 Alabama, 41-14, on Saturday night.

Countess’ loss is a major problem for Michigan. While fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd is an extremely consistent corner, Countess, who had 44 tackles and broke up six passes last season, was the one capable of making the exceptional play. He could cover a receiver close enough to get into a receiver’s head and take him out of a game.

And now, less than a quarter into his sophomore season, he is done for the year. The good news for Countess, if there is any, is he will likely be a candidate for a medical redshirt, which would mean he would be a redshirt sophomore next season.

The kicker for Michigan, and what could frustrate the Wolverines, is Countess’ injury didn’t come during a defensive play. It came when he was almost out of the play on punt coverage, where he was one of the two gunners along with Delonte Hollowell. He was well down field, was blocked by an Alabama player and fell down.

He got up, started to hobble off the field and never returned, appearing after the game on crutches.

But now Michigan must adjust. Courtney Avery, who originally replaced Countess when he went down in the first half against Alabama, struggled and was eventually pulled in place of Raymon Taylor.

Avery, Taylor and true freshman Terry Richardson likely will compete for the slot. If Avery wins the job and moves to corner full time, it could mean Taylor at the nickel or perhaps moving safety Thomas Gordon to nickelback and inserting true freshman Jarrod Wilson as a safety, a grouping Michigan used against Alabama after Countess’ injury Saturday.

It also affects the depth at corner. In the middle of July it looked like the Wolverines had seven strong cornerbacks -- Floyd, Countess, Taylor, Avery, Hollowell, Richardson and Terrence Talbott. Talbott left the team in July and now Countess is out for the season.

The only consolation for Michigan it has some time to work out the kinks before it will face another capable passing attack. Air Force is primarily a run team out of the wishbone, and Massachusetts is still making the transition from FCS to FBS.

However, Michigan now has to make sure it has a solid starter in place by Sept. 22 when it travels to Notre Dame to play the Irish.