April 26, 2012

Borton's Blog: No safety first

Thomas Gordon got the message loud and clear: don't hold anything back. It's not like he intended to anyway, but when you're still feeling your way as a starting safety, it can happen.

So Brady Hoke challenged the redshirt junior to take a hard look at video from last year's season, before heading into spring practice. He wanted the free safety out of Cass Tech to see where he could have become more aggressive in attacking ballcarriers, making plays, etc.

Gordon watched, and learned. He saw himself playing it too cautiously at times, despite a campaign that featured him making a number of big defensive plays.

He obviously wasn't thrilled with getting bumped from the starting lineup late in the season, when fifth-year senior Troy Woolfolk moved in from cornerback. Gordon bounced back to start two of the last three games - including the rout over Nebraska and the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech - and it's clear he doesn't intend to get moved out of the lineup again.

That said, he admitted it's a fight every day. Michigan's depth at safety impresses Gordon, who noted junior Marvin Robinson is continually improving and that true freshman Jarrod Wilson made a big impression in the spring.

Wilson had a wealth of information to digest, after arriving in January. But he's already shown enough to convince many he'll play early.

"He's learned a lot this spring," Gordon noted. "I'm looking forward to him contributing this fall, too. He's real rangy. He's a long kid - long arms, long legs, and he's got a lot of range. He's going to be a good player."

Meanwhile, Gordon and fifth-year senior Jordan Kovacs return as Michigan's starters, with starters returning as well in cornerbacks J.T. Floyd, a fifth-year senior, and sophomore Blake Countess.

"All four of the guys coming back in the second year in the scheme, we're looking to make a whole lot more plays this year," Gordon said. "With Marvin and Jarrod behind us, they've been working hard. We're looking for them to contribute. We've got a lot of depth, and with the other freshmen coming in, in the summertime, we should be really deep."

The biggest factor of all, Gordon pointed out - playing a second year under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, in the same system. When challenged before spring practice, Gordon knew exactly what to look for, in terms of improvement.

He knows precisely what's expected in the various defensive situations he's facing. That feels different than anything he experienced at Michigan previously.

"It's real comfortable," he said. "We just feel like we've got a handle on everything, and we're throwing new wrinkles in. We just can't wait until the season gets here. It's going to be a lot of fun."

It's also going to be a lot of work, and a constant challenge. Gordon knows better than anyone that jobs can be lost on a week-to-week basis.

"Coach Mattison is always on us," Gordon said. "We're always improving. There is always pressure, because Coach Hoke is all about competing. You've always got to compete for your job, day-in and day-out."

Gordon takes that challenge like a Sahara trekker safeguarding his canteen - which can only help Michigan's secondary come fall.


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