Michigan Defensive Backs were arguable the most improved players from 2010 to 2011. They were the biggest part of the Wolverines huge turn around through that time, and it was hard to not be impressed with the progress the Defensive Backs showed last season.
Now we are about to begin the second season with Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison heading up the defense that was the statistically most improved unit last year, while basically using the same personnel that embarrassed the program a year earlier. Defensive Backs will once again have a huge influence on how this defense fairs against a relatively tougher schedule.
J.T. Floyd is entering his final season as a Wolverine, and it's needless to say he has experienced a lot during his time in Ann Arbor. Redshirting during his Freshman year of 2008, Floyd did not see playing time until the next season, where he played in 9 games. It was obvious he had a lot of potential to his game; it was just a matter of when he would pop out of his shell and become an impact player. Well, that time has come.
Last year, as a RS Junior, Floyd played in all 13 games for the Wolverines and was arguable one of the most improved players on the team. His personal turning point came early in the season against Notre Dame. Floyd covered stand-out Wide Receiver Michael Floyd most of the night, and he was by himself for a lot of that time. While Floyd still made plays for the Irish, that other Floyd that a lot of people didn't know about was proving his legitimacy as a cover corner. From that point on, J.T. Floyd did an outstanding job with some of the best receivers in the Big Ten.
Courtney Avery hasn't missed a game in his time with Michigan, but he is looking at his first opportunity to be a consistent starter at Defensive Back. Of course, everyone remembers Avery for his game-ending interception of Braxton Miller to give Michigan their first win over Ohio State since 2003. While that is certainly an impressive accolade to have to your name, it's important to note that Avery did do other things that season to help the Wolverines. Avery had 26 total tackles and 2 interceptions.
Avery has continued to make great sides throughout this off-season and is primed for a third straight year of heavy impact for the Wolverines. Part of what makes Avery such a good Defensive Back is his speed and ball tracking. He does a fine job of making a play on the ball and disrupting the flow of the offense. Another plus is his ability to get into the backfield on a blitz, making him a very dynamic player for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
Blake Countess was tossed into the action right away his Freshman year, and he did not disappoint. Countess ended up being one of the pleasant surprises for the Wolverines in 2011, and that has everybody very excited to see how he responds in his Sophomore season. Countess never took on any huge responsibilities during 2011, but look for that to change this season. He has continued this improvement, and having that first year under his belt will be a huge advantage. Having to step up to the plate will be nothing new for Countess.
The biggest thing I'm looking for out of Blake this season is for his maturity to catch up to his talent. He obviously has a lot of skill on the field; otherwise, he wouldn't have started as a True Freshman. But he will be looking add his experience to the list of pros to his game.
Delonte Hollowell saw some playing time as a Freshman, both at Cornerback and on Special Teams. He will continue that same general trend heading into his Sophomore season, but it is looking like he will see more time as a corner because of his development. As a Freshman, Hollowell held his own and really gave no reason for doubt. Everyone is just waiting to see how he responds when being called upon more often.
Look for Hollowell to have more big-game impact this season. He should be getting plenty of opportunities to prove himself on the field against some of the better competition the nation and the Big Ten has to offer. He has shown the ability to have a sizable impact on the game, too. Delonte is the type of player who has the ability to alter the course of a game in a single play, something the Wolverines are already doing a nice job of.