ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Before Michigan’s season started, the Wolverines’ secondary looked like a group with the potential to be the best unit on the team.
It returned all four starters and most of its depth. It had an All-Big Ten safety in Jordan Kovacs, a ballhawk in Thomas Gordon, a consistent presence in J.T. Floyd and a potential shutdown corner in Blake Countess.
Then Countess went down for the season with a torn ACL less than 30 minutes into the season opener and while expectations might have changed, the Wolverines’ play in the secondary wasn’t affected too much.
Michigan was able to endure the loss of its top cornerback, the sophomore Countess, for the season in the opener against Alabama and did so with little drop-off once Raymon Taylor picked up the starting role.
The pass defense was ranked highly -- at one point midway through the season as the top pass defense in the nation -- but was rarely tested until November due to matchups with run-oriented teams.
Taylor specifically emerged as a capable starter in his sophomore season with room to grow and could be a good complement to Countess for the next two seasons. Floyd had moments of brilliance while struggling at other points, especially late in the season.
Michigan’s safeties, Kovacs and Gordon, were both quite good most of the season in run support. They were fourth (Gordon, with 75) and fifth (Kovacs, with 65) on Michigan in tackles, and both had four or more tackles for loss and at least one sack and one interception. When Gordon would drop down to nickel coverage, the Wolverines inserted freshman Jarrod Wilson, who is the future at the position.
For all of the highly rated pass defense talk with Michigan this season, the Wolverines weren’t as good as their numbers would indicate. They managed only five interceptions as a unit and part of the reason for the good yardage numbers came because they were not tested often.
Their struggles were displayed the most early and late in the season, when Alabama and A.J. McCarron had the secondary beat on some big passes, as did Braxton Miller and Ohio State.
In terms of pass efficiency defense, Michigan ranked 35th nationally and that might be a better barometer of where the Wolverines were. It is a small quibble, as Michigan was still in the top third of teams in the NCAA, but a far notion from being the top-ranked pass defense in the nation.
While likely not as talented as Michigan’s linebackers or as deep, the Wolverines should be set in the secondary for a while. Provided Countess returns from injury well, he’ll start opposite Taylor next season with Avery in a nickel role again. Richardson, along with incoming freshman Jourdan Lewis, should push those guys for time. Channing Stribling and Ross Douglas, down the road, also could be very good.
At safety, Michigan has a ton of future talent to line up next to Gordon between Jarrod Wilson and incoming freshman Dymonte Thomas. There also will be a more veteran presence in depth from Marvin Robinson and Josh Furman -- and it is possible one of them beats out either Wilson or Thomas for the starting slot next to Gordon. Redshirt freshmen Allen Gant and Jeremy Clark give the Wolverines more options for flexibility as Michigan’s last line of defense.