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April 8, 2013During one scrimmage session this spring, sophomore safety Jarrod Wilson lined up across the field from the offense and started dissecting what he saw.
When the wide receiver broke into a post route, Wilson already knew what was coming. He jumped in front of the route, intercepted the redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner's pass and ran it back for a touchdown.
"Yeah, he got me. I don't want to take about it," Gardner said, with a playful smile.
For Wilson, who has caught the Michigan coaches' eyes this spring, it was the culmination of some serious off-field work that has helped him become a much more confident player.
"My first year, the game was really fast for me," Wilson said. "This spring, it has slowed down a lot more compare to last year. It has slowed down a lot even from the bowl game.
"Going against Gardner every day, it helps. He's a great quarterback, and he's really good at looking you off. By reading him and understanding him, it will help me."
Wilson has attacked this offseason, hitting the playbook and the film room, filling up notebook upon notebook with copious scribblings on his own mistakes, opponents' tendencies and defensive scheme.
He started watching film in high school, but as he has learned more from defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, his film-watching habits have gotten much better - and he is starting to see payoffs.
"I probably watch film four or five times a day," he said. "I do a lot of it on my own. When I go back to my dorm, I watch a lot of film. I'm always on hudl.com, throughout the day. Just looking at plays I've seen before, looking at old film and comparing how I look now to then.
"I have learned what to look for while I am watching film, not just sitting there and watching plays over and over. I can watch my mistakes a lot better, along with my opponents'."
The coaches are starting to take notice, too.
"I have seen it since the day he got here. He was one of the first we brought in at semester. He's very mature," Mattison said. "He's a young man who studies the books, studies exactly what he is supposed to do by position. He has great opride in the way he plays, and he is a very good athlete, and all he needs now is continued reps in game-like situations.
"He is a very consistent football player, too. A lot of times, the young guys will show you flashes of why you recruited him, and then you'll say, 'Oh man, he took a step back.' This guy has continued to improve every day he is out there."
This spring, Wilson is seeing reps at both free safety - where he played in a backup role last season - and strong safety. The other safeties, including fifth-year senior Thomas Gordon and senior Marvin Robinson, are also rotating among the two spots.
The free safety is the last line of defense, with a clear view of the play unfolding in front of him. The strong safety lines up closer to the line of scrimmage, and has more responsibility in the run game.
Wilson has adapted nicely to both roles.
"I can play both," he said. "It's not really a huge adjustment. It's more of coming down into the box and being in the run game. As a free safety, I'm just making sure that nothing gets behind me.
"This position is based on your eyes, what you see. You have to go with. Especially as the deep-middle safety, it's all about instincts and making a play.
"I have been playing football since I was eight. The game hasn't changed that much, just the terminology. By learning the defense better, it helped me become a better overall player."