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March 31, 2013Michigan lost an abundance of locker room guidance to graduation over the offseason, particularly in the defensive backfield with the departures of safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd. That's not to say leadership will be an issue for the 2013 Wolverines.
The void left by those who have exhausted their collegiate eligibility is also an opening for a new assembly of Maize and Blue elder statesmen to place their own unique stamp on the storied program.
For cornerback Courtney Avery and the rest of U-M's senior class, the preeminent goal is to capture the school's first Big Ten Championship since the 2004.
"When you lose a leader like Jordan Kovacs, it just means that others have to step up," Avery said. "As a senior class, we need to always look to motivate the team and move in the right direction to meet our goal - a Big Ten championship.
"We have a good senior class. Everyone has stepped their role up from last year, and this is the time to be selfless. We have to show the underclassmen our goals and how we are going to accomplish them.
"We need every single person from freshman to seniors, we need every single person."
A fresh start this spring represents a chance for those donning the wing-tipped helmet, regardless of class, to step up between the hashes. While jobs are typically not captured in March and April, spring ball represents an opportunity to hone the little things in preparation for the dog days of fall camp.
Avery, who has appeared in 39 games in his career, will be battling for the distinction of working with the top defensive group at Michigan's Spring Game Apr. 13.
Ultimately, these early practices provide a measuring stick heading into summer workouts.
"It's definitely a competition," said Avery, who has tallied 81 tackles and intercepted two passes as a Wolverine. "We are all competing for our spot. That is the great thing about spring; competing, getting better and just honing in on our skills.
"Guys are really working hard and are really taking spring ball as an opportunity to get better. That is the great thing about the spring, you see where you are at and have a whole off season to work on the things you need to improve upon.
"With the types of different pressures we send, the defensive backs need to hone on our keys. We have to make sure our eyes are right and we are making the right reads. This time of the spring, it is just live action; you really get to focus in on those things, which you really can't work on as much outside of spring ball."
Despite the immense pressure that accompanies the fight for roster position, at the end of practice, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's back line is a close group. These early practice sessions present a means of connecting as a unit, both on and off the field.
"As defensive backs we have been doing a great job of communicating and coming together," Avery said. "We are really working on executing and getting better each practice.
"We're really excited. We're excited just to be working with each other again, and encouraging and uplifting each other. That's the good thing about our defensive backs, we are a close knit group."
Avery gives his early impressions of sophomore Amara Darboh and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson from the other side of the line of scrimmage ...
"I'm sure they have," Avery quipped when asked if the two young receivers have beaten him deep during spring drills. "They definitely have some speed on them.
"I think Amara and Jehu, and really all of the receivers, are working hard and doing a great job of running routes and blocking well.
"They work hard and they run crisp routes. They have speed and are going to continue to work hard this spring. They are going to continue to improve."
"[Ross Douglas] has been working at the corner spot," Avery said. "With those young guys, you just want to get them in here, and get the concepts and techniques down. The main thing is they are showing effort and working really hard.
"[Dymonte Thomas] is doing well," Avery added. "He is learning the different techniques and working really hard."