Playing aggressive defense requires strong pass rush, ability to get home on the blitz and discipline. It also requires cornerbacks who can play press coverage, put a bad play behind them and be physical enough to make it work.
None of U-M's corners are particularly big, but they'll surprise some people this with their strength, sophomore Jourdan Lewis said during Media Day.
It takes more than that though, senior Raymon Taylor added.
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"It's hands and feet - moving your hands and feet, being able to get your hands on a receiver a lot easier," he said. "You've just got to stay in front of the receiver, be physical at the line. That gives you a better chance to stay on top of the route. It can be very difficult. It depends on who is going against you at receiver, too. You've got to know your opponent.
"But everyone has got another year [of experience]. The game speed has slowed down for us, so we know what to expect. From last year, we're a better group on the whole. We took major steps from last year to this year looking on film at our backpedal, our press. We've improved a lot as a group."
They're embracing being on an island, he said, a necessity for the position.
By all accounts, Lewis is one of the stickiest corners Michigan has seen in a while. Taylor and redshirt junior Blake Countess are becoming complete defensive backs.
"Ray has been pretty solid for us," head coach Brady Hoke said. "Blake has come back from a little bit of a groin that he had early in camp and is making progress. Jourdan Lewis is still showing up every time. [Freshman] Jabrill [Peppers] at the nickel has done a nice job, and so has [junior] Delonte Hollowell."
Peppers moved out to the corner for the first time recently, too.
"He's kind of got his feet wet and knows what's going on at the nickel position, and [sophomore Channing] Stribling has improved," Hoke said. "All of them have improved from a fundamental standpoint, and it's competitive."
Competitive, too, between the defensive backs and the receivers, Taylor added.
"The offense is a lot different, he said. "There are different players and deeper routes this year. They're all competing, and we come to work every day trying to make each other better.
"They are great receivers - and [junior] Devin [Funchess], I like the taller receivers. You have to get your hands on him and just compete for the ball, hopefully knock it out of his hands."
It's given him - and the rest - confidence in a year in which there's plenty to prove.
Peppers has adapted well to the college game, Taylor said.
"He played in the scrimmage, and he looked great," he said. "We just all want to communicate with the defense, get everyone set from threes to ones. It's a marathon season, so everyone is competing and learning the plays right now."
Hoke said sophomore safety Delano Hill (broken jaw) is progressing and will be back soon to battle.
"[Sophomore] Dymonte Thomas has been competing with [junior] Jarrod Wilson and [redshirt sophomore] Jeremy Clark," Hoke said. "I would say when Delano gets back, that's another talented athlete that we'll be excited about."
Juniors James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone continue to battle at SAM linebacker, Hoke said. The other linebackers are playing well.
"That's a tribute to Royce. He had a very good spring," he said. "James Ross recognized that and has played very well so far this fall. They're competing, and it's a really good competition.
"[Senior] Desmond [Morgan], [junior] Joe Bolden and [fifth-year senior] Jake Ryan inside, [sophomore] Ben Gedeon … [redshirt freshman] Mike McCray really had a good scrimmage in a lot of things he did yesterday afternoon [during the scrimmage]. You look at the three guys that have a lot of experience, and all three of them may not be your starters."
Ryan is "probably as solid as anybody," he added, in terms of a starting job.
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