There are keystones on every Big Ten roster. While there are no one-man shows in football, these are the players that change expectations for a team and could potentially reroute a season if they aren’t able to take the field.
This week the Big Ten blog is identifying the most indispensable player in each locker room around the league. Whether it’s their individual talent, their importance in a team’s scheme or the lack of depth behind them, these are the guys that teams can’t afford to lose. Next up is Michigan.
CB Jourdan Lewis: The surest way for Michigan to take the small, difficult step forward from a 10-win team to a playoff contender is to become even stingier on defense -- to eliminate the leaks that sprung in its run-stopping front seven against teams like Ohio State and Indiana late in the year. To do that under the direction of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, the Wolverines need to be able to trust their defensive backs to fend for themselves in the passing game. And to do that, they’ll need Lewis.
The Detroit native graded out as one of the country’s top cover corners last season during his first year under former coordinator D.J. Durkin. His star rose steadily during a junior season that included a school-record 22 pass breakups and led many to believe he would be off to the NFL this spring. For an encore, his teammates and opponents expect him to be responsible for neutralizing top receivers and eliminate large patches of turf from a quarterback’s list of options in 2016.
Michigan’s roster has no shortage of potential game-changing players this season. All-America tight end Jake Butt is a name that stands out on offense. Redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers stands outs no matter where he plays. Both give Jim Harbaugh & Co. options in play calling and schemes that would disappear if either of those players was unavailable. Both are candidates for a “most indispensable” designation. But the passing game has veteran experience and talent without Butt, and Peppers’ many roles could be filled by spreading out the burden of his absence. Lewis edges them because his contribution as a shutdown corner is harder to replace with a group effort.
There are capable cornerbacks behind Lewis on the depth chart. Channing Stribling, Jeremy Clark, a host of younger players and even Peppers in a pinch can step in and play the position if needed. None of them, though, has proved yet that they have the ability to take away large parts of the field like Lewis does. He allows Michigan’s defense to double down on Brown’s blitz-happy approach to attacking the line of scrimmage, which makes him an essential building block to what the Wolverines believe is a championship-caliber defense.