DBs looking to make big leap

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A year ago at this time, the Michigan football team was giving its secondary a complete makeover. Now, a season removed from that, and a year deeper into defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's schemes, the secondary -- one of the most experienced groups to return -- is working to build on what it already has learned.

As a unit, the Wolverines' secondary played above expectations last season, at least until the final two games. But in wins against Ohio State and Virginia Tech, the secondary allowed eight plays of 20 or more yards, including two for 40 or more yards.

Possibly more nerve-racking is that five of those plays came against Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who averaged 13.6 yards per completion last season.

"You know my feeling on big plays -- one of them makes you want to get sick to your stomach," Mattison said. "We had too many of them at the end of the year, which means we have to go back and see why and get that all corrected."

Mattison said those kind of plays come from mistakes on assignments but can be fixed, and that in his second year as coach and in the team's second year with his scheme, those fixes should come about a bit more easily.

"The learning curve and believing in what is taught and them knowing that this is the kind of defense we're going to play and this is what is expected, all those are kind of gone," Mattison said. "I know they hear it all the time from us. Once they know that defense, then they can understand why they should do little subtleties to allow them to play better."

That learning curve also will be assisted by the fact that the Wolverines are returning most of their starters. Rising seniors Jordan Kovacs and J.T. Floyd, along with rising junior safety Thomas Gordon, should lead the secondary. And rising sophomore Blake Countess, who is coming off a breakout year, should be another big contributor.

Beyond that, Michigan has a tested cornerback in Courtney Avery, along with talented newcomers like freshman safety Jarrod Wilson, who should compete for time in the secondary.

"I like the guys who we have, and I like the guys who are coming in," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I think we'll have great competition by the time Sept. 1 gets here. ... I like having guys who have some experience and where can they take the next step within the fundamentals and schematically of what we're trying to do, so you don't get beat by Michigan State, and you don't get beat by Iowa, or you don't give up this many points against somebody."