Last week on the Big Ten blog we looked at a position group for each team that needed some help from the incoming freshman class. This week we’ll be taking a look on the brighter side and breaking down the strongest link for each of the conference’s 14 teams as they head into the 2016 season. Next up is Michigan.
Position of strength: Secondary
2015 production: Michigan was the most difficult team in the country to pass against during its first year under head coach Jim Harbaugh and his new staff. The Wolverines allowed the fewest yards per passing attempt (5.4) and the lowest completion percentage (47.5) of any team in the bowl subdivision in 2015.
Lewis elevated himself from a respected defensive back to one of the best cover corners in the nation. He set a school record for passes defensed before deciding to return for his senior season in 2016. Safeties Jarrod Wilson (61 tackles) and Peppers (5.5 tackles for loss) provided solid run support while directing traffic in the back end of the defense. Wilson is out of eligibility, but the secondary returns a group full of impressive athletes with high football IQs.
How they can help: The secondary will be expected to be the physical and mental leaders of the defense, and the entire Michigan team, which is already being pegged as a contender if not a favorite to win the Big Ten title.
They have star power with Peppers and Lewis and a strong supporting cast around them. Players like Delano Hill, Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark are experienced contributors who are capable of taking another step forward in 2016. There is more depth behind them as well. It won’t be hard to find five capable defensive backs to keep on the field in most situations, which should be a big help for a linebacker corps that has to replace all three starters.
The only major shortcoming in the back end of the defense last fall was a lack of turnovers. Only two teams in Power 5 conferences (Wake Forest and Oregon State) created fewer takeaways than the 12 that Michigan had in 2015. For all his success in breaking up passes, Lewis had only two interceptions during his junior season. Peppers had none in his first full year as a starter.
Michigan’s defense will need to be more opportunistic if it’s going to live up to the hype next fall. That starts with the most capable playmakers on the roster, most of whom reside in the secondary. If they can consistently disrupt opposing offenses, the Wolverines have a good chance to catapult themselves to the top of the Big Ten.