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March 19, 2014
Secondary split a good move for Michigan
Michigan coach Brady Hoke's decision to split responsibilities in the secondary was met with a few raised eyebrows but it's commonplace among the Big Ten, and is already paying off for the Wolverines.
In February, Hoke announced that Curt Mallory would focus exclusively on the safeties after spending the past three seasons coaching both safeties and cornerbacks, while Roy Manning would move from outside linebackers coach to cornerbacks.
In just six spring practices so far, the players have seen a tremendous difference, especially the safeties.
"It's been much better as compared to the last few years because we actually get a lot more attention and as far as last year, we didn't," junior safety Jarrod Wilson said. "Coach Mallory had the corners and safeties, and for the most part, the safeties kind of got put to the back, to the side I believe. So it helps.
"Just our technique and fundamentals are a lot better. We hone in on them and we actually get the time to go in and watch the film and watch our mistakes to learn and get better."
Especially with so many young players seeing the field at cornerback in 2013 - true freshmen Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling consistently played - Mallory spent considerable time and effort with that group, the players said. And it was easy to do so considering he had a fifth-year senior, Thomas Gordon, anchoring the safeties.
With Mallory locked in on the safeties this year, those competitors feel their making dramatic strides.
"It's a big difference," sophomore Dymonte Thomas said. "When you made a mistake on the field, he was looking at the corners and the safeties and he could be talking to a corner and a safety messed up. I have a question on a play and he didn't see it, and the whole practice would go on and I'm making the same mistake.
"Now when he's just at safety if I make the mistake, I can just ask him and he'll tell me to fix it, and next play if it comes up again, I'll fix it.
"In the meetings, Coach Mallory would try to focus on the safeties, and try to focus on the corners, and when I was at nickel, I was really not even in the picture [on film] a lot. He was really focused on three different people, and was giving us all attention.
"Now that he can focus on one different group, and give us all the attention that we need, the plays are becoming easier and playing is going to become easier."
Mallory is one of four safety-specific coaches in the Big Ten, with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin also dividing their secondary between two coaches. In total, nine programs (and Indiana at two spots) split responsibilities at a single position (see chart).
Manning is the newcomer to the secondary, having never coached the position before; he previously worked with U-M's SAM linebackers (2013) and offensive linemen (2011), and Cincinnati's running backs in 2012. He was a defensive assistant with the Bearcats in 2010.
His new charges have welcomed him enthusiastically, and are already reaping the benefits of Manning's approach.
"Coach Manning always says if you get beat or if something bad happens, just 'snap-and-clear' and move onto the next play," senior cornerback Ray Taylor said. "Both Coach Mallory and Coach Manning are two great coaches.
"We're just working together and want to compete for the Big Ten Championship."