February 5, 2014

SIGNING DAY: Thomas, Mallory talk secondary

There's the recruitment process, and there's the de-recruitment process, according to many who follow the talent-procurement game. That wasn't Dymonte Thomas' experience with the DBs coach Curt Mallory or the Michigan football staff.

Thomas appeared on the Inside Michigan Football Signing Day Special on MGoBlue.com today and lauded U-M bosses for a what-you-see-is-what-you-get consistency. Many coaches feel the need to break players down after all the heady recruiting hype, but the sophomore defensive back saw no such veil lifted.

"When they're recruiting you, they treat you well, and when you get here, they treat you the same," Thomas said. "A lot of people say that coaches change once you get on campus, but I've not seen that. I really appreciate them for always loving us and having our backs through thick and thin. They showed me that through my recruiting and my visits."

One of the most hyped members of the 2013 class, Thomas appeared in all 13 Michigan games on special teams and three as a defender. He recorded seven tackles, blocked a kick on special teams, and admitted he had plenty to learn as a rookie.

"I came a long way and I learned a lot through experience," Thomas said. "I learned a lot through the seniors and the coaches. One of the main important things I learned was, you've got to stick together no matter what…

"There were a few times a bad play would get in my head, and I messed up the next few days in practice. It made me have a bad week of practice and brought me down on myself. But once I was able to [overcome] that, I started having good practices and kept on working to become better and better each and every day."

Mallory noted that Thomas started out as a cornerback, got some time in at nickel, and will be settling in to be groomed as a safety in spring football. He's working on that now, throughout winter conditioning.

"It's reps, and getting into playing back there," Mallory said. "He's back on an island, deep in the middle of the field. He needs to see the field, play the field, and have an awareness of where his threats are coming down the middle of the field, so he can get off the hash and play the middle of the field.

"It's going to be a big spring for him. He'll get a bunch of reps, and we'll look forward to seeing what he can do."

Thomas certainly isn't the only young defensive back who will be under the watchful eyes of Michigan's defensive coaches. Cornerbacks Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis both played as true freshmen, and have plenty of film - both good and bad - to learn off.

"Channing got a lot of reps this fall," Mallory said. "He did some really good things and had some plays where we've seen him make plays on the ball. He's going to be better because of that. There were times when he'd go up and get it. We've seen him do it day-in and day-out in practice.

"I see him learning from some, maybe not-so-good things. He's definitely a young man who is going to grow from those mistakes, but he's got a lot of upside. He works hard. He's a long guy, which we're looking for, and he's a student of the game. We're expecting him to have a great spring."

"It's the same with Jourdan. Jourdan got a lot of valuable reps this past fall. We expect him to grow from those. He's a great competitor, has great feet, great ball skills, and we're really excited to see what those two guys can do this spring."

Veteran starting defensive backs Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor work extensively with the younger players, Mallory noted. They're confident in maintaining spots while building up the secondary as a whole, which certainly requires a number of contributors.

"Blake made a lot of plays at the nickelback position," Mallory said. "He made six interceptions, and they were all at the nickelback position. That's where a lot of his cover ability plays in. When you can get a guy to cover out on a slot, it gives you more ability to get into a dime package, where you're bringing in another corner and getting into six defensive backs.

"Your four underneath guys are cornerback types of guys. You're seeing so much spread, especially on third down, it gives you the ability to jump into those types of packages."

Newcomer Brandon Watson also impressed Michigan coaches last summer at U-M's football camp, Mallory noted.

"His strength at the line of scrimmage [is impressive]," Mallory said. "He's playing press coverage, and his competitiveness … there was something about him. He's big, he's strong, he has great length. There is just something about the way he competed."

Of course, the talk of the present recruiting class is five-star DB Jabrill Peppers, out of New Jersey. He'll be looked upon to make an immediate impact and will be working toward that end, according to Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

So the Wolverines should feature a decent mix of experience and youth throughout the secondary, an area Brady Hoke said needs to take a major step forward this spring.

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