If you missed part one of our chat with Marcus Ray, click the following link: Rays of Light: Peppers a Natural at Safety
Sam Webb: If you play Jabrill at safety, what about the other safety? (At corner) I think you have to be pretty confident in Jourdan Lewis. I thought Jourdan Lewis from start to finish was probably their best player defensively. Now Frank Clark became their best player defensively as the season went on, but from the Notre Dame game on, the most consistent player was JD. Who is the guy on the other side? Is it Blake Countess? Is it Channing Stribling? Who do you see that might be able to step up and seize that other side?
Marcus Ray: “Honestly I don’t know. I think Channing Stribling has the most upside potential as a pro believe it or not is he every decides to turn up and focus and play a little mentality tougher and take football a lot more serious. I love Channing and I’ve told him that. Really who it could be is Jeremy Clark. I think Clark is a natural corner anyway. He’s long, he can run, he’s not very physical, but if you coach him up, we’re in man to man or your just going to sit here and play zone, I think that better suits his game and I think he matches up better on the perimeter than those short corners that really aren’t as fast anyway. So when you bring in Greg Jackson, he’s going to look at the secondary, he’s going to say, ‘I’ve got 34, I don’t know this kid very well, but they say he can hit. I think if he plays corner that’s going to give us some length on the corner.’ (That) moves Jabrill inside, JD, #26, he’s the best guy naturally. He loves football. He wants to play at the next level. Okay now we got Jarrod Wilson and that’s your four starting off unless a big time corner walks in the door. When you have coaching changes, I think one of the things that happen in recruiting is that coaches who like to play freshmen… that’s going to help you in recruiting. You would think the next guy following this corner coming (would say), ‘man I’m not going there… he’s already starting I ain’t never going to play. ‘ That’s not how it works. It’s, ‘oh, Harbaugh is playing freshmen! He’s giving everyone a chance.’ Mr. Football is not supposed to be on the bench for political reasons and probably for talent reasons. So the big time guys that come in that are really legit, they’re going to get a chance to play because it is in with the new and out with the old. Now the old guys will have a chance starting off because of spring ball, but then those coaches are going to find out real quick, ‘oh no that’s not going to work. I can’t wait until so and so gets here so we can slide him in there and I can live with him being out there.’
“Jabrill is staying, changing position and he’s finally going to get a chance to show you all, show us who he is at this level and then it is going to help bring in those other guys. Your other corner for me, if I was coaching in the secondary right now, I would train Jeremy Clark at the corner position. I would have JD out there. I would have Wilson at safety. I would put Jabrill at safety. I said Jabrill should have been at safety from the get go. Then at nickel back, I’m not sure how I would do it, I’d let some guys compete depending on who’s still in the program. Maybe Channing Stribling comes in and plays the corner and you move Jeremy Clark to nickel back. He’s big. He’s taller than Charles, same body type, but he can blitz. That gives you kind of a linebacker presence underneath and if you coach him up. It’s all about coaching. That’s the one thing about great coaches. They’ve got swag. ‘Line him up… who is he?... I can teach him’ (is their mentality). If I was coaching Jeremy I bet you I could get him to line up at corner and run down the field and run with guys like Devin Smith and not give up a big play. I just would be able to coach him and do that.”
Sam Webb: That was discussed last year, Jeremy Clark playing some corner. I remember Jeremy Clark at camp when they first saw him playing corner, and that’s how he came to their attention. I want to go back to that Rutgers game. They were in I believe cover-2 and he would have gotten beat, I think it was on the backside. It was one of those instances, man, him at corner, while he might naturally have the hips, you can coach around that, but you also have the added advantage of him being able to play freer and when adjustment time comes, he has Marcus Ray, aka Jabrill Peppers or Jarrod Wilson there to say hey, ‘you know what Jeremy, this is what you’re going to do.’ (They could) kind of direct him in traffic a little bit more, then say if he was at safety and he is the one that has to direct traffic.
Marcus Ray: “Sam that’s a great point because every player is not a thinker or cerebral like that. Everybody is not like that but when you’re a great coach, you understand how to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and on that one play that you’re talking about. Remember I said it was cover-2 to the boundary and then it was cover-4 to the field, but it was really kind of man to man for the corner and the safety was playing run… but it’s called four hard. Really what should have happened, it is like a baseball term. When you coach defensive backs, you teach them how to read the quarterback like a guy who is on first base reads the pitcher. So we know when a right hand pitcher goes back, turns his back to pitch the ball, you can steal second. Meaning that the pitcher can’t see you and on that play Jeremy Clark, if he was coached up or if he knew his wide receiver to the boundary. He ran like a 10-15 yard in route, we call it a dig, 10 yards and across the middle, so he had no work. Right then immediately he should have kept getting depth and stole second on the quarterback. Because if the quarterback is looking at a post to the field, he’ll never see the backside safety. Ed Reed is the master at stealing second base and that’s a term that you coach up, a term that you give those defensive backs and now if you have a guy that can do that, then you intercept that deep ball even if you don’t make that adjustment in cover-4 to the field. So when you get everybody on the same page, it is called stealing second. Now when you move Clark to corner, now it takes all the thinking out. Charles Woodson wasn’t a thinker. He’s a smart player, but he didn’t have to think. That’s why he was a young player he had guys that would get him lined up. It was listen, here’s what you got dog, go do it. I got you. Then in his second year, we were roommates. He asked Vance Bedford, ‘can Marcus and I be roommates during training camp because he knows the defense and I want to learn the defense.’ I used to teach and tutor Charles in South Quad during training camp, eh this is this. I would draw up a paper, we would go the playbook and then he started picking it up and then he started seeing little stuff on his own, but when we lined up, I would just be that insurance policy. Jeremy Clark is a guy that I think athletically is a corner, is really an NFL body, game type corner and if he gets coached up, he could play in that league for a long time. Michigan has the pieces still. They have the luxury of a Jabrill Peppers. You have a veteran safety, you have a junior cornerback in JD, who is going to get stronger, faster and better. Look for him to just have a breakout year. Then if they can figure out that other corner, which I think is Clark starting off and if you take the thinking out of it for some players, then they can be who they are physically and that’s why Charles Woodson was a great player. He didn’t really become a student of the game until his eighth year in the NFL, when he was leaving Oakland and said okay, I’ve got to start studying this. That’s why he had that breakout year in 2008-2009 with the Packers because Charles was getting those other guys lined up. When you can do that, when you have a guy that can do that, you make everybody around you better. It’s like having a great quarterback or a point guard, but his title is a field general. When you got a guy who can command the field, take the defense and make it right, then it just comes down to you’re either going to make a play or you’re just going to get beat, but you’re not going to have missed assignments or mental errors.”
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