ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With the Wolverines' best cover corner lost for the season in the first quarter of the opener, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday that his wish is to identify the one guy who is ready to step in for sophomore Blake Countess.
"It's hard to rotate a corner," Mattison said. "Corner is different than other positions because a corner gets in there and he gets the feel for it. The thing you always worry about putting a guy in at cornerback there is it's a different deal. You don't usually try to rotate corners very much."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that he'll likely turn to junior Courtney Avery as the starter for the Air Force game. Backing up Avery will be sophomores Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell, as well as true freshman Terry Richardson.
Avery looked shaky after he replaced Countess in the first quarter against Alabama, falling down on an eventual touchdown pass, missing tackles and eventually getting pulled in favor of Taylor, but the coaching staff believes he's their guy.
"Courtney is a seasoned veteran," Hoke said. "Courtney has a lot of experience, you know. He's played a lot of football here. … We trust Courtney. I think that's the biggest issue."
Despite his struggles on Saturday against Alabama, Avery is Michigan's most experienced corner who wasn't already starting, which is why he has the trust of the coaching staff. He has appeared in 26 games, registering 62 tackles, including 15 for losses. Taylor, on the other hand, has played in only 10 games, making just two tackles. Hollowell has played in five games, though mainly on special teams. And Richardson, who was the Wolverines' highest-ranked recruit in the 2012 class, is talented but untested.
The Wolverines won't lose out on size no matter who they put on the field. All the possible backups are comparable to Countess, who's 5-foot-10, 180 pounds.
Because of how early Countess' injury occurred, Avery or whomever the coaches decide on as their player will have an opportunity to get his sea legs against teams that pose less of a passing threat -- Air Force runs the wishbone and Massachusetts just moving up from the FCS level -- before facing Notre Dame and the Big Ten schedule.
"It means the next guy is going to have to step up," Mattison said. "Blake Countess is a tremendous young man, he's a very gifted athlete. He has played some outstanding football for us at a young age and now the next guy is going to have to step up. That's the nature of football."
But the nature of being a backup behind Countess was that you didn't see the field often. Michigan, according to Hoke, won't change how its defense functions without Countess on the field, which should aid the transition for Avery and the rest of the Michigan secondary.
"Not one guy we have out there is going to change the defense in schematics," Hoke said.
This shift will affect the Wolverines' nickel package, in which Countess was a staple. Hoke said he would most likely move in Avery or redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon, who have both practiced a lot in that position.
Mattison said every player he mentioned received plenty of reps in camp at nickel or corner, so each should be prepared.
Countess won't be easily replaced. But luckily for the Wolverines, they have a few games to prepare, and by the time Michigan heads to South Bend, the secondary should be no excuses.