Rick Osentoski - USA Today

Brian Smith breaks down the safety position heading into the spring.

During an exclusive sit-down with The Michigan Insider, Michigan defensive backs coach Brian Smith sheds light on the improvement of Tyree Kinnel, Josh Metellus, J'Markick Woods, and Khaleke Hudson and more.

Sam Webb:   This is your second spring ball. First just compare heading into this spring compared to obviously being a newbie last spring.

Brian Smith:  “It is definitely a lot different between this spring and last spring.  My first day on the job, we were out there in spring ball and I was learning the defense right along…I think the players knew the defense better than I did that first day.  This is a much different scenario now and we got a little more meeting time with the players this year.  This is the guys second year in the system for the most part, so they know the system, so now it is about fine tuning it and learning the details of it.  Definitely, I feel a lot more comfortable just with the place and I actually know the names of the players now.  It has been a much smoother ride for me so far as opposed to this time last year. “

Sam Webb:  When you lose guys like Delano and Dymonte, the automatic thought from the outside looking in is they might not be able to do that at least to begin with.  In the spring, do you start off where you left off even though you got all new guys there or because you have new guys there that may have played some, but not a ton, do you build up like you did during the course of last season?

Brian Smith:  “I think every year is a new year.  No matter what kind of guys you have coming back whether you have veteran or younger guys, you’ve got to kind of approach it from the ground up because you don’t want to lose sight of the fundamentals and the details of your position.  We’re approaching it that way, starting from the group up and working our technique.  We’ve got some you guys coming in that have never played college football before and there is a lot that goes with it.  We’re just taking our time and trying to get the small details that are going to separate you from the next guy.  We’re just focusing on that right now and we’ll see where we can get to by the end of the year.”

Sam Webb:  We know about Tyree.  I’ve know Tyree since he was a freshman over at Huber Heights Wayne.  He started as a freshman, one of the best programs in Ohio. You felt like his learning curve was going to be real quick and we see that.  Outside of Tyree, you’ve got to bring me up to speed.  Who else is factoring in what role in the backfield?

Brian Smith:  “Right now just trying to get them all to learn, basically kind of have almost three safety positions.  I’m just trying to get them to learn all three and then as we get going we’ll figure out where each one is going to be.  I think Josh Metellus is doing a great job right now.  He is a really smart kid and he had some experience last year in that Florida State game and he is just a natural instinctive football player.  He has grown up around the game and he understands things and he picks up things pretty quickly.  I’m definitely excited about his development.”

Sam Webb:  Tell me about Josh physically because you might be able to appreciate this.  People looked at his offer list and looked at his star rating, a couple of stars there, looked at a scouting report that may have been based on people coming out to watch the other guys and then just seeing him.  They are not really paying attention to him, just mentioning him because he is on the team.  Jim popped on some tape, I was over here a few weeks ago, popped on some tape and Josh Metellus is winning the conditioning drill.  Josh Metellus is one of the fastest guys in the 40.  Bring me up to speed and the people up to speed on who Josh Metellus is physically.  It does not sound like he is just this heady guy, just this IQ guy out there on the football field.

Brian Smith:  “Recruiting really is an inexact science.  Guys come from all kinds of different backgrounds and a lot of times it is hard to judge what a guy is going to project too, but he has got physical tools, as well as the mental side of the game. He’s worked on his speed.  He actually came in a little overweight to camp last year because he had a shoulder surgery.  So he wasn’t really able to work out in the off-season while he was in high school as much as he would have liked to.  So when he first came in, in the summertime, he was a little out of shape and I think just getting into the program.  Getting into shape and getting healthy, helped him out by the end of the year, he was clicking on all four cylinders and he really improved.  Again the mental side of it, him being able to process things so quickly makes him a quicker player on the field, but athletically, he is right up there with the other guys athletically.  He’s fast.  I don’t want to put a number on it just yet (laughter).  He’s fast and he’s got good change of direction.  He’s got what you’re looking for.”

Sam Webb:  A guy who passed the look test from the moment you watch him on high school film is Khaleke Hudson.  When we talked to Coach Brown and he said, he started noticing the growth in Khaleke in bowl prep.  I’m curious if you had the same sort of observation and how have you seen him come along.

Brian Smith:  “Yeah.  You could see it, he is the guy once he got comfortable with his position in that bowl week, you could definitely see it.  He was clicking and his coverage ability was showing.  He was more confident at what he was doing, able to make checks.  I think once he got to the point where he knew what he was doing and he was confident, you definitely saw and it showed in that bowl week when we were just practicing against our own offense, he definitely flashed as a guy that has potential to be a player.”

Sam Webb:  Was it knowing where to be in coverage or was it growth in coverage technique.  I’m covering this guy man to man, being able in my man-to-man technique is just better.  I’m flipping my hips better.  I’m playing the technique better, was it that more so?

Brian Smith:  “Yeah.  I think it was a combination of both.  He was confident in who he is supposed to be covering and then he worked on his coverage technique.  Coming from high school never having done the technique before and going through week after week doing the same thing over and over again.  It really helped him and hopefully it will continue during the spring and they will continue to get better, but you know the sky is the limit as far as his potential.”

Sam Webb: Tell me about J’Marick Woods.  I know you haven’t had a chance to coach him in the scheme yet, but you have obviously had a chance to see him in conditioning.  Tell me about his skill set and what he could bring to the table for you?

Brian Smith:  “I think J’Marick is a guy who brings size and length just right off the top.  He has got the length to go in and make the plays.  He can match up against tight ends and he’ll be a guy that won’t necessarily looking up to tight ends.  He’ll be almost at eye level with them, so that automatically gives him an advantage.  He has got long arms, so he can get his hands on guys and be able to press them.  He also has some ability in the post.  He has got good range at the post and that’ll definitely help us in our man to man. Now it is just a matter of getting his technique right and he is a smart guy.  He had over a 3.5 GPA and I was able to talk a little ball with him for the whole recruiting process while the recruiting process was going and he picks up things quickly.  His coaches have a lot of great things to say about his football IQ.  That is something that you’ve got to be able to do to play safety and so I’m excited about working with him.”

Sam Webb:  I know you vibe with all the guys, but one of the guys I know best in the class is one of the guys that you seem to vibe with the most is Jaylen Kelly-Powell.  It just seems like you guys clicked in recruiting.  Was that kind of the case how you felt as well?

Brian Smith:  “Yeah yeah.  I definitely think we clicked.  He made a lot of visits up here to Ann Arbor… not a very far trek coming from Detroit and he’s familiar with the guys.  He established a lot of good friendships, but definitely excited about working with him and we’ve been able to talk a lot of ball and he would always ask questions about techniques and what we were doing.  So we kind of established a relationship that way and he’s a great kid.”

Sam Webb:  For him and it sounds like from Z and Don Brown, the plan for him to start is learn safety and then branch off of that later on, is that about right?

Brian Smith:  “Yeah.  The safety position is a little bit more difficult to grasp.  You’ve got to see the whole field and I think there are some elements in the VIPER position that go along with safety.  Once he masters safety, then it’ll be an easier to transition to go down and play that VIPER position.”

Sam Webb:  I’m going to ask specific questions, but there is room to be broad in your answer.  As you’ve looked at winter conditioning, who are the guys that you’ve seen make the biggest physical strides, gains, whether it is speed, whether it is strength, endurance, who has jumped out at you and said, that dude over the last couple of months has jumped off the screen?

Brian Smith:  “That’s a tough one.  There are a lot of guys that have been improving.  Josh Metellus, he’s a guy that jumps off the top.  I think David Long is having good offseason. Rashan Gary, obviously.”

“I’m excited about it.  There are a lot of guys.  One thing about conditioning is competition.  Guys are competing and getting after it.  Chris Evans is doing a good job.  He’s kind of standing out over there on offense.  There are a lot of guys competing and getting after it, so it is neck and neck in a lot of races and competitions.  Just got done grading a few just now.  Guys are neck and neck.  There are a lot of good competition going on.”

Sam Webb:  Talk me through this because on paper everyone looks at the losses you guys had from a great defense… a lot of guys going to play in the NFL.  You look at that and say there is no way that you don’t have a drop.  Coach Brown said, ‘alright I hear what everyone is saying, but here is what they aren’t seeing.  They see the guys that are physically talented and experienced going on to the NFL.  What they don’t see are the guys coming back maybe not being as experienced, but being experienced in the scheme.  They’ve been in the scheme for a year, so they are going to be able to play faster than maybe some guys that had actually played before at this time last year.’  It seems like he is saying because of the knowledge of the scheme those guys are going to be able to better than a lot of people think.

Brian Smith:  “Yeah.  I agree.  It is just like when I came in last year and didn’t know the system, now I know the system.  The confidence level that you have as a player going in and knowing the details of it.  A lot of times when you don’t know the details of it, you’re kind of a step behind.  Now you the details of the position and you can think ahead and you can anticipate things happening and these guys just haven’t done it for a full year.  You are so much farther ahead than this time last year and you’ve got to be excited about it.”

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