Spring Preview: The Defensive Backs

GBW continues to preview each position on the Michigan offense and defense -- both for the spring and the fall. How do the defensive backs stack up going into Spring Practice? Here is GBW's anaylsis, including comments from former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet.

Michigan has the advantage of returning three cornerbacks with starting experience for 2003, in Marlin Jackson, Jeremy LeSueur, and Markus Curry. However, with the loss of Zia Combs to injury, the Wolverines will be desperately short of depth. Unfortunately, no answers will come to that problem in Spring Practice. Instead, the Spring will provide new defensive backs coach Ron English with the opportunity to get to know the players that he will be instructing.

Mark Ouimet: "With Marlin Jackson on one side, and Jeremy Lesueur on the other, Michigan could have as good a pair of starting cornerbacks as they have ever had."

Marlin Jackson returns with two years of starting experience. In 2002, he broke Charles Woodson's single season record for passes broken up, and was named first team All-Big Ten by both the media and conference coaches. A great athlete, Jackson provides size and aggressiveness at corner, and will be an All-American candidate in the fall. After struggling through injuries last season, Jackson will need to concentrate on conditioning to have the great season that fans expect of him.

Ouimet: "Marlin Jackson will probably be a preseason All-American. He has great athletic ability. He is a very good corner, approaching great. Last season he played with a knee injury which had lingered from his freshman year, and he had a hand injury as well. He's fine now. After this season he should be right up there with Woodson and Ty Law as great Michigan corners. And he'll leave with the Michigan record for pass breakups."

Marlin Jackson (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Opposite Jackson, Jeremy LeSueur is expected to hang on to his starting job. LeSueur made tremendous strides last year, in both his conditioning and confidence. He provides the Wolverines with another big and aggressive defender. Together, Jackson and LeSueur will form arguably the conference's best pair of corners. LeSueur will continue to face fierce competition from Markus Curry, and he will need to maintain his focus through out the spring and summer to hold on to the job.

Ouimet: "Jeremy Lesueur beat out Marcus Curry during the season last year, in the Purdue game I believe. LeSueur has had a long haul off the field; to his credit he has solved those things and has really come on."

Jeremy LeSueur (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

Markus Curry started the first three games of the season last year. Despite losing his starting job, he continued to see extensive game action. Curry isn't as tall as Jackson or LeSueur, but he provides the team with another good aggressive corner. He will continue to push for playing time, and should be the number one option at nickel back. If Willis Barringer stays at corner, he will also fight for time.

Ouimet: "Markus Curry will be a swing guy as the third corner, playing both sides. He has also come back from off the field problems. The problem in the spring is that there is not much depth at corner. I expect a running back to come over -- Darnell Hood is my favorite. They can also move Willis Barringer, who is at safety right now, if they have to. Barringer is raw, but he's progressing. He will contribute down road and perhaps even this season."

Markus Curry (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

Michigan did well in cornerback recruiting, grabbing Leon Hall, Quinton McCoy, and Brandent Englemon. Michigan fans should expect to see at least one of them on the field in the fall, to help provide depth. However, LeSueur is entering his senior year, Jackson may leave early for the NFL, and Willis Barringer may move to safety. This makes getting a top cornerback a priority for the class of 2004.

Ouimet: "In the fall they'll have Quinton McCoy, Leon Hall, and Brandent Englemon coming in. One has to play out of gate. McCoy is my favorite if he meets all academic requirements."

Leon Hall

At safety, Michigan loses three experienced players, but reloads with great talent. Two years ago, Earnest Shazor was rated as one of the top safeties in the country. As a redshirt freshman last year, he earned limited playing time, and impressed on special teams. He is expected to start, and will provided Michigan with unusual size in the defensive backfield. Most quarterbacks aren't used to throwing the ball over a 6-4 safety. Spring Practice will give Shazor the opportunity to continue developing his skills and knowledge of the position.

Ouimet: "Ernest Shazor is an unbelievable athlete. This year people will get to see what he can do."

Earnest Shazor (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

Jon Shaw will man the other safety spot in 2003. Shaw stepped in last year while Julius Curry and Cato June were out with injury. In his time spent at free safety, he impressed fans with his instincts and skills of playing the ball. While not as big or fast as some other safeties, Shaw plays the position very well. Against Minnesota, he played the entire game at free safety while the Michigan State game saw Shaw and Shazor rotate at the position. However, late in the blow out game against Illinois, the two played on the field at the same time. In that situation, Shaw lined up at strong safety, with Shazor at free safety. That may be the anticipated arrangement for 2003, but Spring Practice will give the coaches a chance to work out the exact positions. Given Shazor's size and great skill in run support, and Shaw's ability to play the pass, there may be the temptation to switch their respective safety positions (Shaw at free and Shazor at strong). Jacob Stewart will also compete for time in the spring, and Willis Barringer may move over to safety.

Ouimet: "Jon Shaw will be the strong safety. He's a fifth year guy. He came on strong last season when he got his chance to play. He's very reliable."

"The back-ups this spring are Jacob Stewart and Wiillis Barringer -- both will have to be ready to play in the fall."

Jon Shaw (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

In the fall, Michigan will receive more help at the safety position, when top recruits Ryan Mundy and Prescott Burgess show up. Mundy is great in coverage as a free safety, and has the athletic ability to compete for time as a nickel back. Burgess is a big aggressive strong safety, who will see time on special teams, and compete for playing time on defense.

Ouimet: "The freshmen safeties coming in are Prescott Burgess and Ryan Mundy -- both are great athletes and could play right away. If Michigan plays them, they could move Barringer back to corner. If they do play, they'll play all special teams as well. You want to try to play them a lot if you're going to play them as freshman; you don't want to 'waste' their redshirt on appearances in the first two games and then not play again."

"My candidates for freshman to play right away are Burgess and Mundy, and Lamarr Woodley and Garrett Rivas. And I don't think Burgess moves to linebacker , not this year anyway; Michigan needs him at safety."

Ryan Mundy and Prescott Burgess

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