ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Of all the position groups where Michigan football is bringing in first-year players as part of the 2022 recruiting class, none is more impressive from top-to-bottom than in the secondary.
The Wolverines brought in six defensive backs — five-star Will Johnson, four-stars Zeke Berry, Keon Sabb, and Kody Jones, as well as three-stars Myles Pollard and Damani Dent. While some will play corner and others will play safety, it’s a versatile group that can transcend a traditional role in one or the other.
Johnson is contending for the starting cornerback job opposite DJ Turner, but the group as a whole is performing well in fall camp. However, the bigger question isn’t about Johnson, Sabb, Jones, or Pollard — as the foursome has been on campus since January and participated in spring ball. Of equal importance is how Berry and Dent are acclimating.
In the eyes of co-defensive coordinator and defensive pass game coordinator Steve Clinkscale, so far so good, across the board.
“I think the young men that were here in the spring have a slight advantage as far as understanding the system,” Clinkscale said. “The two other gentlemen who got here in the summer are under academic — they’re in class. So, adding that to their plate with football, still in school right now, it’s a little challenging for them. They’re performing — Zeke (Berry) is especially performing to a level where you can see his instincts. You can see why we recruited him and what he’s gonna be able to do.
“But as far as Will, Myles, and Kody, you definitely see they’re a little further ahead than the freshmen were last year. We were able to get — except for Rod Moore, he was different. Those guys will develop right to where we need them to. We’re going to ask all of them to help us at some point. The capacity is really going to be up to them, what they know, what they understand, how they can execute.”
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Considering that Clinkscale mentioned every other name, we asked him specifically about Sabb, especially considering that he was once rated a five-star — he finished at No. 84 overall in the 247Sports Composite, but he was ranked as high as No. 5 overall in his initial ranking in 2019. He was ranked No. 22 just 13 months ago — which was around the time of his visit to Ann Arbor — before getting passed by a number of other high-profile recruits.
Clinkscale says that he’s liked what he’s seen ranging from spring ball into fall camp, but given that he’s locked into the position of safety, and he’s learning both the free and strong roles, it’s been a little more challenging for him than most.
“Keon’s done a great job. He’s probably got the hardest job of the bunch, of those four, because he has to know both safeties,” Clinkscale said. “He knows what the safeties are doing, now it’s just taking that step forward on the field and applying it. And being able to let loose and make some plays.
“Yesterday, he had a really good practice and he keeps getting better every week and every day. He’s really evolving and he’s really got the biggest load. Playing corner, the biggest responsibility is not getting beat deep. Nickel, you’ve gotta understand the nuances. But safety, he’s gotta know what everybody’s doing, make all the checks. And for him being a freshman, I think he’s doing a great job.”
We’ll get to see what, likely, all of the above look like early in the season, starting with Michigan football’s first game on Sept. 3 against Colorado State.