Michigan's Woolfolk embraces CB swagger

There's a different mentality to playing cornerback versus safety, and Troy Woolfolk knows this better than most.

Woolfolk split his time evenly between cornerback and safety in 2009, starting six games at each position. The Michigan senior began the season as a safety, switched to cornerback in Week 6 against Iowa and stayed there until the season finale against Ohio State, when he moved back to safety.

Hopefully, there will be no such shuffling in 2010, as Woolfolk expects to be Michigan's No. 1 cornerback this fall. This spring, he's embracing the swagger cornerbacks need to succeed.

"It's more confidence versus being physical," Woolfolk said of the difference between cornerback and safety. "For corner, you need to be very confident because when you're out there alone on an island, it's just you and [the wide receiver]. If you have any doubt in your mind that he will beat you, then most likely he will. You have to win before the play starts.

"I feel like I can stop anybody, and hopefully it shows in my play."

The 6-foot, 186-pound Woolfolk gained confidence from his first career start at cornerback, during a nationally televised night game at Iowa on Oct. 10. The Hawkeyes immediately tested Woolfolk, throwing the ball his way, but he responded with a pass breakup and four tackles.

Although Woolfolk and the other Michigan defensive backs endured their struggles last season, he has carried over the boost from the Iowa game into spring practice.

"He's been very good, but that doesn't surprise me," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "He's an experienced football player now, and he looks like it. With Troy, we don't have to worry much about him out there. That's a nice thing."

After being burned multiple times last season, Michigan's secondary will be in the spotlight until the season opener in September. First-team All-Big Ten cornerback Donovan Warren declared early for the NFL draft, and the competition at safety is wide open, as converted wide receiver Cameron Gordon and others are in the mix there.

Michigan coaches expect to play several true freshmen defenders from a talented recruiting class, and the secondary likely will be an area where the newcomers contribute right away. Much of the buzz has centered on defensive back Demar Dorsey, the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit for 2010, according to ESPN recruiting.

Woolfolk welcomes competition and said "nobody really has a [starting] spot," but he clearly isn't too concerned about Dorsey's arrival this summer.

"What's his name again?" Woolfolk deadpanned when asked about Dorsey.

"I'm just joking," he continued, smiling. "To live up to the hype, you've got to show me something. Until he gets here, I won't be excited."

Woolfolk also doesn't back down from his teammates, particularly quarterback Denard Robinson, whose speed and moves frustrate defenders in both practice and games.

"He knows not to come my way," Woolfolk said. "We always talk trash to each other. It creates a rivalry and makes you want to go out there and perform."

Woolfolk attributed the secondary's problems in 2009 to missed assignments, not a lack of speed or physical toughness. This spring, the coaches and players have stressed the need to improve communication, a topic they also pointed to last summer but didn't translate to the field.

Michigan is working more with the 3-3-5 defensive alignment this spring, but Woolfolk downplayed the change, noting that the team still uses four-man fronts in practice.

"We haven't changed that much stuff," he said. "It's not too much to adjust to. Adjusting from safety to corner is what I worry about."

Woolfolk has seen improved competition in the secondary, recognizing players like Gordon and cornerback J.T. Floyd for their play this spring.

As someone who has been around Michigan's program his whole life -- Woolfolk's father, Butch, was an All-American running back for the Wolverines in 1981 -- Woolfolk understands the expectations for the defense and the team in 2010.

"Our fans are pretty smart," he said. "They know we made big progress [from 2008 to 2009]. They're on board, even though they might not say it. They will be able to back us up. And as for the players, I know for a fact we think we're going to be good. We should have won half the games last year.

"This is the year we're going to come back."