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Steve Clinkscale assesses Michigan freshman DBs Will Johnson, Keon Sabb, more

Clayton Sayfie08/11/22
Article written by:On3 imageClayton Sayfie

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Michigan Wolverines football defensive back Keon Sabb was a top-100 recruit per the On3 Consensus. (Photo by EJ Holland / TheWolverine.com)

Michigan Wolverines football has a talented group of six freshman defensive backs, led by former five-star recruit Will Johnson, an early enrollee cornerback who went through spring ball. Cornerbacks Kody Jones and Myles Pollard and safety Keon Sabb also joined the program in January, while safeties Zeke Berry and Damani Dent came to Ann Arbor this summer.

The early enrollees are ahead of those who arrived in the summer, Michigan co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said Thursday, but they’re all coming along. In fact, they’re ahead of most of their peers who were first-year defensive backs last season/

“The young men that were here in the spring actually have a slight advantage, as far as understanding the system,” he explained. “The two other gentlemen who just got here this summer, they’re in academics, they’re in class, so adding that to their plate with football and still in school right now, it’s a little challenging for them.

“They’re performing — Zeke, especially — to a level that you can see the instincts and you can see why we recruited him and what he’s going to be able to do. But as far as Will, Myles and Kody [and Sabb, who Clinkscale said he forgot to mention], you definitely see that they’re a little bit further ahead than the freshmen were last year that we were able to get, except for [safety] Rod Moore. He was different last year.”

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Johnson is repping at cornerback and some nickel, the Michigan assistant coach said, and he’s in line for playing time at both spots. The others will fight for it and earn their snaps as fall camp and the season continue.

“Those guys are all developing right where we need them to,” Clinkscale continued. “We’re all going to ask all of them to help us at some point. The capacity is going to really be up to them — what they know and what they understand and what they can execute.”

One who Michigan may call on — Sabb. He hasn’t garnered a ton of hype since arriving on campus despite being the nation’s No. 89 overall player in his class, but he did flash in the spring game. He’s been learning two of the hardest positions on the Michigan defense, both safety spots. Again, though, he’s ahead of schedule.

“Keon has done a great job,” Clinkscale said. “He’s got probably the hardest job of the bunch, of those four, because he has to know both safeties so he knows what he’s doing. It’s now just taking that step forward on the field and applying it and being able to let loose and make some plays.

“Yesterday, we thought he had a really good practice, and he keeps getting better every week and every day. But he’s really, of all of them, has the biggest load.

“Playing corner, the big responsibility is not getting beat deep, right? Nickel, you’ve got to understand the nuances, but safety, you have to know what everybody is doing, make all the checks. And for him being a freshman, I think he’s doing a great job.”

Michigan has three top players at cornerback as it stands now in Moore and juniors R.J. Moten and Makari Paige. The trio has emerged as potential starters, considering that Moore can also play nickel. Sabb will be able to do so down the line, too, with his size at 6-1, 208 pounds making him an ideal defensive back to cover tight ends and the like.

But with the way Sabb is improving, there’s a chance he could find his way onto the field.