Rays of Light: Spring Standouts

Former Michigan standout and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray shares his thoughts on a few players that rank among Michigan's top performers through spring practice thus far. Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Brian Cole, and Jabrill Peppers were highlighted.

Sam Webb:  A guy that I’ve been hearing more and more about… I heard a few practices ago that he was able to break free and nobody was able to catch him including a guy named Jabrill Peppers… that’s Brian Cole.  Brian Cole is a kid that I’m hearing more and more about. I’m curious as to what you’ve seen from the young man from Saginaw Heritage.

Marcus Ray:  “He’s getting better every day.  I watched him catch a pass (Tuesday) and I’m not exactly sure where he was lined up.  It might have been the slot or it was in a two back set and he was the flanker on the outside.  He ran a skinny post because they had a little red zone session going on.  It was like from the 20 yard line going in, maybe the 25.  He defeated double coverage, caught the ball with both hands with no fear, came down with it, hit a burst, split the safeties, scored a touchdown and got up and celebrated with his teammates.  That was one of those plays where if you’re a parent or a recruit standing there and you’re over there talking about whatever and (someone says), ‘did you guys just see that play?’  Meaning, it got your attention.  He’s going to be a difference maker and just watching an 18-year-old kid come into the door, he has been here two months tops and make a play like that, he shows you that he has got something.  He may be a little faster than people think, deceptively fast is the term I like to use.  But he showed hands, confidence, toughness, and speed, all on the same play.  It was enough for me to say this kid is going to be on the field.  No. 81 is going to make some plays to help Michigan win next year.”

Sam Webb:  Let’s go to the other side of the ball and starting up front, I guess my question to you about Big Willie Henry is consistency.  I hear good things about him virtually every practice.  ‘Willie did this… Willie made a big play.’  Is he doing that, and will he do that consistently are the questions.

Marcus Ray:  “Truth is, he is doing that.  He’s getting better.  I’ll make this point again, he’s getting coached.  He’s just getting coached.  Last year, let’s say you had Brady Hoke in there, Mark Smith, Mattison and Will Carr….when you’ve got that many defensive eyes on you, you don’t ever get that prescription that you need.  You’re getting that general kind of, do this, do this, do this, do this and you don’t which one to pick from.  There is less thinking in it for Willie Earl right now.  He can put his hand on the ground, know he has this B-gap, use a technique or stunt, get there a pass rush move.  He’s virtually unblockable I think for the guys.  I think the guys he goes up against every day can’t block him.  So we don’t know how good he’ll be in the season.  Now if he was going up against Brandon Scherff from Iowa this year at that tackle spot then we’ll see who Willie Earl really is.  He needs to have the type of impact that Michael Bennett has down in Columbus… that Adolphus Washington has, because believe it or not what’s happening in college football and this is what Urban Meyer has figured out.  Defensive line is going to win you a championship.  It ain’t the defense no more.  It is your defensive line because the rest of Ohio State’s defense stunk expect for upfront, but they wore people down with Bosa and those guys.  Michigan’s defensive line can be, not as good as those guys down in Columbus, but one tier down from it.  I think collectively Michigan’s secondary is going to be better.  Linebacker play needs to step up a little bit more.  I’m not sold on that group yet.  Up front, Earl, when those guys get healthy, Taco…”

Sam Webb:  What about Chris Wormley?

Marcus Ray:  “Wormley is a beast.  They almost can’t move him out of there either.  See going to this true 3-4 front, where you can line up in different places where that defensive end, some people call a tackle, can line up, head up on a tackle or inside right in that B gap, between the guard and the center or outside of that tackle, man those guys are hard to move.  Wormley is a big body guy and just watching how they break practice down.  You have three defensive line coaches, like Greg Mattison will take a few guys, Will Carr will take a couple of guys, GA will take a couple of guys.  There is a lot of teaching going on and that’s what is helping guys like Willie Earl.”

Sam Webb:  It’s fitting that we close with the secondary play.  You always start talking about Jabrill.

Marcus Ray:  “I’m going to tell you right now, it’s looking like the same four – Jabrill, Jarod, JD (aka Jourdan Lewis), and Countess.  I’m going to tell you what Countess had a great practice yesterday.  He is getting better at his man-to-man technique.  I was a little worried about him because he’s not the fastest guy.  He’s more of a zone corner, a cover-2 guy sitting down in the flats, playing a lot of underneath stuff.  The further you take him down the field then he gets in deep waters is what it is.  Jabrill brings such an energy.  I have never seen a guy get more excited for another guys success than Jabrill Peppers.  If someone gets an interception or a pass breakup and it’s not him, he’s the first guy to go celebrate with his teammates.  He could have played with the Bad Boys in the mid ‘90s.  He comes with that, I love football, I love my team, I just love being out there, shaking hands, kissing babies… and he’s doing all kinds of stuff that brings that positive spirit to the secondary.  Countess is getting better.  He made a great interception.  Delano had a one had interception that was just amazing at (Tuesday’s) practice.  I’m not going to say which quarterback it was, he had no business throwing this ball, it was late, it was in double coverage, it was just like a safeties dream and Delano went up with one hand on the sideline and intercepted it.  You can see those guys playing competitively.  So when they play nickel, Jabrill comes down, plays a little nickel and then they bring in Delano at safety and keep Jarrod and Delano Hill at the safeties and you bring Jabrill down and keep your corners the same, which is a change up from last year, because Blake would move inside whenever JD or Ray Taylor was in there.  I think the secondary…believe it or not, that’s the strength of defense right now.”

Sam Webb:  Over the defensive line?

Marcus Ray:  “Yeah.  Defensive line has too many injuries.  They’ve got a couple of spot players, but they’re not a fully loaded clip right now.  Ojemudia is out.  You’ve got different guys that are not out there, so they’re hard to gauge and I was talking to Greg about that (Tuesday).  I was like, ‘you know I’m calling the game and I’m going to give your D-line a hard time.’  He said, ‘what D-line?’ (Laughter).  I was like, ‘yeah you’re right.’  Right now I think the secondary is holding it down.  Those guys are having fun.  In those four hour practices no one is complaining.  They’re out there getting it in and playing football, and Jabrill Peppers is just an injection of enthusiasm.  Young kid, smart… he communicates on every snap and he wants everybody to be where they need to be and when someone makes an interception he’s running, he’s chest bumping.  It’s just good to see that because that wasn’t there the last four years.” 

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