Safety Gordon flashes big-play ability

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The seeds for Thomas Gordon's fumble recovery and interception against Eastern Michigan began the moment coach Brady Hoke came to Michigan.

"He's been on my head about becoming more of a football player," Gordon said. "Not just on the field, but off the field -- watching film, being more dedicated. In the weight room, the coaches have done a good job of making me more explosive and being a better football player overall."

With the change of the coaching staff, Gordon also saw a change on the field -- the move from hybrid linebacker to free safety. He'd played some safety in high school, though he was mainly a quarterback at Detroit Cass Tech.

But on Saturday on Eastern Michigan's first drive, the explosive redshirt sophomore recovered a fumble forced by Kenny Demens at the 35-yard line. Gordon said he was just in the "right position" to pick it up, but his recovery ensured that the Eagles would be the first team Michigan has played this year that wouldn't score on its first drive.

And in the second quarter, after recognizing the Eagles were in a "funky formation," with their backup quarterback on the field, Gordon made a one-handed interception at full speed on the 3-yard line. The play held Eastern at bay at a point when the Eagles could've taken a 10-0 lead.

"I thought it was going to be an overthrow, but I just stuck my hand out and it came down in my glove," Gordon said.

The two plays were highlight-reel worthy, and for a defense that has been struggling, those kind of plays have been huge.

"When we came in as freshmen, I saw him do some crazy stuff like that," quarterback Denard Robinson said. "So I wasn't surprised."

But several people have been surprised at the productivity of Gordon in the secondary after a relatively quiet 2010 season.

Last season, Gordon started only four games. He played in nine and caught some attention when he posted Michigan's first sack of the 2010 season. But once Nov. 13 rolled around, he didn't see the field again the rest of the year.

This year, Gordon has started all three games for the Wolverines at free safety and has recorded at least six tackles in each game. Against Notre Dame, he was second, only to Demens, with nine tackles, and the Michigan coaching staff has been impressed with the former quarterback, former linebacker turned safety.

"Thomas had a really good summer," Hoke said. "It starts there -- what he did with his weight and how he reported to camp. I think his attitude and Michigan football being important to him and his teammates being important, and just the way he has come to practice every day.

"I'm really proud of him doing those things. It is paying off for him, and it's paying off for us."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com.