Michigan assistant Michael Zordich has a well-earned side trip planned for when the Wolverines wrap up practice in Rome next week. He’ll be visiting his son, Alex, who is finishing a master’s degree in winemaking in northern Italy.
The younger Zordich, following in his maternal grandfather’s footsteps, has been an aspiring vintner for several years. The Michigan-based Zordich said he’s got a batch of his son’s work at home, but he’s waiting patiently before trying it to make sure it ages properly. He doesn’t have the same luxury with the Wolverines secondary this coming fall.
Michigan’s cornerbacks are the peak of the oozing-with-potential, lacking-in-experience make-up of the team’s defense heading into 2017. Zordich said he can’t remember working with a less experienced group in his coaching career, but he won’t be letting the players ferment any longer by changing up the way the Wolverines play defense.
“We’re going to do everything we did with [last year’s veterans],” he said earlier this week. “We have to. We play man [coverage]. We need to make all the same calls with the young guys as with the old guys. That’s what we do. We’re not going to stray from what we do. We’re going to find the guys that are going to be able to handle it.”
A year ago, seniors Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling were two of the top cover corners in the Big Ten, if not the nation, and played a big role in creating the stingiest pass defense in the FBS. Their ability to lock down receivers in press man coverage also gave defensive coordinator Don Brown and his staff more opportunities to dip into his deep well of blitz packages and control the line of scrimmage. Both players rarely left the field, which means the pool of mostly underclassmen vying to replace them is virtually untested.
Sophomores Lavert Hill and David Long have been considered the most talented candidates to win those jobs throughout the spring. Hill has suffered through some minor injuries, which Zordich said is part of the process of learning to play at a higher level. He added that the competition for those jobs is “absolutely 100 percent wide open” as spring practices draw toward a close.
Freshman Benjamin St-Juste, who enrolled in January, played more snaps than anyone else in the group during Michigan’s spring game last Saturday. He intercepted a pass and made three tackles, but Zordich said he and fellow early enrollee Ambry Thomas both started to drift away from the techniques they’ve been taught as the game went on.
“Maybe when you get a little bit tired you start losing concentration and his technique started to wane and he gave up some plays,” Zordich said. “It’s good for him, too, because he felt bad after the game. He felt bad, but it was his first time here. It was a good experience for him.”
On the more experienced end of the spectrum, redshirt junior Brandon Watson has been the most consistent player in coverage for the Wolverines this spring, according to his coaches. Redshirt sophomore Keith Washington has also made good strides this spring after the former high school quarterback spent the last two seasons putting on weight and getting comfortable in a collegiate defensive backfield.
Zordich said that despite some growing pains, the entire group benefited from Michigan’s four-hour practice sessions during the first month of spring ball. Long days add up to a lot of extra reps, which is what his group needs more than anything at this point.
“We’re young and talented, but there is still a ways to go,” Zordich said. “Those guys being here and getting all those reps in practice right now, they’re going to walk in here in August and say, ‘OK this is pretty good, pretty easy.’ This time will be the hardest on them.”