NCF Nation: Demar Dorsey

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's safe to assume that Eddie Jackson understands the opportunity ahead of him at Alabama. He can't say as much publicly because of the school's policy prohibiting freshmen from speaking to the media. But given all he's already gone through, it would be a wonder if he didn't look back on his road to Tuscaloosa and comprehend the enormous turnaround it took for him to get there.

It's a wonder he's wearing Alabama's signature crimson helmet in the first place. The fact that he's starting at cornerback for the defending national champions is something even more implausible considering where he was at this time last year.

Jackson needed a change of scenery before any of the chips fell into place. He likely learned the value of a fresh start from his brother, Demar Dorsey, a former blue-chip defensive back prospect who signed a letter of intent to play for Michigan in 2010 but never made it to Ann Arbor. Dorsey's past included poor grades and three felony charges that robbed him of the opportunity to play at a BCS-level football program. He failed to meet Michigan's standard for admission, announced he would transfer to Louisville, failed to make it there because of more issues and eventually landed at Grand Rapids Community College. Dorsey was supposed to transfer to Hawaii in 2012, but he never reached the Big Island and today is not listed on Hawaii's roster.

[+] EnlargeEddie Jackson
AP Photo/Dave MartinEddie Jackson was a virtual unknown in recruiting at this point last year. Now he's a key piece on defense for the No. 1 team in the country.
Wayne Blair knew of Dorsey's story when Jackson walked into his office at Boyd Anderson High in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., looking to transfer after becoming academically ineligible at his previous school. Blair saw Dorsey's "pitfalls" up close at nearby University School, where he was an assistant in 2009. He took a chance on Jackson, who was then a junior with serious eligibility issues. His grades were "way below normal standards," said Blair, who helped get Jackson eligible just in time for spring football.

Blair's investment and Jackson's hard work paid off instantly.

"He played free safety for us at the time," Blair said of the spring game against University School, a national powerhouse. "He had an interception, he returned one for a touchdown and then had another interception. And I realized then that I had something really, really special on my hands."

Jackson, though, had no college offers at the start of his senior season. Blair worked the phones, calling contacts at all the major conferences looking for someone to take a flier on his wide receiver/defensive back, a tall kid with enormous raw potential. Blair said he told them, "I got a guy that if I can get him NCAA eligible, you might want to go ahead and put your vested interest into him." Of course, no one took him seriously.

What Jackson did on the football field as a senior caught their attention, though, making him an increasingly rare sight in college recruiting: a late-blossoming prospect.

"Every game he either did something extraordinary offensively or completely excellent defensively or on special teams," Blair said. "And the buzz started growing as we had ourselves a good year. We went into the playoffs and he went off."

Jackson's grandmother passed away early in Boyd Anderson's postseason run. Blair said that's when "he went from good to great within a two-week span."

Blair had to chuckle when he retold his "folklore of Eddie Jackson" by telephone this week. He remembered how Florida State offered Jackson as a wide receiver, LSU wanted him as a defensive back and Miami looked at him as a wide receiver. Alabama had him strictly as a cornerback, though, drawn to his raw athleticism and 6-foot-1 frame.

"We thought Eddie was a good player," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "There were some academic questions and some of those things. We're always looking for longer corners, guys that have got a little bit more size. We had Maurice [Smith], who had committed to us. We were still looking for somebody else and we found Eddie. We'd known about Eddie, but we weren't sure we were going to be able to recruit him. As soon as we found out that he would be qualified and all that, we really jumped on him."

Being able to work closely with Saban, who coaches cornerbacks one-on-one at Alabama, was part of what swayed Jackson to sign with the Tide. The other factor was timing. With last season's top corner for Alabama, Dee Milliner, likely to enter the NFL draft and not much behind him in terms of depth, Jackson and Blair saw an opportunity to play right away.

"I knew he'd probably be jumping into the starting lineup; I just didn't know when," Blair said. "I was thinking by Week 6. Low and behold, here we are."

Blair's prediction was off by two weeks. Jackson accomplished the improbable, learning enough of Alabama's complicated defensive scheme by Week 4 that he was inserted into the starting lineup against Colorado State.

A week later he proved that his first start wasn't a fluke opportunity against a cupcake opponent, starting again against No. 21 Ole Miss. On Saturday, Jackson was fourth on the team in tackles, had two pass breakups and a key interception against the Rebels, prompting senior cornerback Deion Belue after the game to say, "We finally found a piece to our secondary so that we all can come together."

"He fit in perfectly," said safety Vinnie Sunseri. "Having Jarrick [Williams] and Deion [Belue] back was a huge part of it, too, but Eddie in there, and him getting comfortable and getting that one pick, kind of gave him that confidence booster that he needed. He played unbelievable. I was so proud of him."

Jackson's first-half interception was a defining moment. The rookie corner whiffed on Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss' veteran wideout, on the previous play, allowing a 36-yard gain and a first down. Coach Hugh Freeze then reached into his bag of tricks, calling for a backward pass to Laquon Treadwell, who looked toward Jackson's side of the field for a pass. But Jackson didn't bite on the fake, stuck to his assignment and secured the ball for the takeaway.

"He did everything perfect," Sunseri said. "He jammed the guy off the line, stayed, stepped in the divider, and he threw one right to him and he got the pick. It was a great momentum swing for us."

Saban, who covets long, aggressive corners such as Jackson, was pleased. He and his staff had been searching for an answer at the position after John Fulton and Cyrus Jones were torched by Texas A&M and Mike Evans, and in Jackson it appears they've found someone to work with. He's still just a freshman, but he's already done more in one game than all but Belue, Alabama's top on-ball defender.

"He played well," Saban said of Jackson. "Made a couple of mistakes, but I thought that most of those were because of communication, which is one of the things that we emphasize, where he wasn't sure about what the call was. But when it came to just his technique and what he was supposed to do and the way he competed in the game, I thought he did a really good job."

Blair, who talks to Jackson regularly, said it's now "his position to lose."

"Before it's all said and done, he could end up being the prototype defensive back like that guy over at Seattle, Richard Sherman," he said. "You have a tall, smart kid with good range, good hips. He can end up being the prototype Coach Saban has been looking for."

Reading into Blair's comments, it's clear he thinks that development could happen quickly. And why shouldn't it? It might seem improbable, but everything about Jackson's journey, going from academically ineligible with no college offers to a top prospect signing a letter of intent with Alabama, has been just that.

Jackson turned it around in a hurry in high school. What's to say he can't take the next step in just as timely a fashion? He's certainly showed he's no stranger to making the most of an opportunity.
Michigan will have all the intangibles on its side Saturday afternoon against Connecticut.

The rededication ceremony will be held for Michigan Stadium, as the school celebrates an extensive renovation that makes the Big House into the Bigger House. Brock Mealer, the brother of Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, who was given almost no chance to walk again following a car accident that killed his father and Elliott's girlfriend, will led the Wolverines out of the tunnel.

[+] EnlargeMichigan
AP Photo/Tony DingThere was a time when opposing teams would be intimidated to play at Michigan.
And as always, Michigan players will wear winged helmets and touch the "Go Blue" banner at midfield as "The Victors" blares in the background.

The place will be rocking. But will it matter?

The Michigan mystique used to be a very real thing. Opposing coaches have admitted that the winged helmets and the Big House equaled 14 points on the scoreboard for the Maize and Blue.

Things are different at Stadium and Main. Appalachian State happened. Then 8-16 happened.

"Everybody’s like, 'Oh, they've got the winged helmet and they've got the Big House, but nobody's worried about the Big House,'" Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree told

"But come September 4th, it's a different Michigan team."

For Rich Rodriguez's sake, it had better be. Arguably no coach in the country needs a strong opening performance from his team more than Rodriguez.

A turbulent offseason once again directed the spotlight away from the field, as Rodriguez and other Michigan officials dealt with an NCAA investigation into alleged rule violations. Michigan in May admitted to committing major violations for the first time in program history, and the school is awaiting final penalties from the NCAA's Committee on Infractions following an August hearing. The offseason also featured a saga surrounding heralded recruit Demar Dorsey, several player departures and questions about quarterback Tate Forcier's commitment to the program.

That's the beauty of Saturday's opener against Connecticut (ABC/ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET). It's all about what happens between the lines.

"There’s been a lot of side stuff, and a lot of it has been nothing to do with football," defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "We just want to play for the program and get out here and play hard for coach Rod and all the fans, and show all the work we’ve been putting in."

Connecticut won't be intimidated by the spectacle on Saturday. The Huskies won at Notre Dame last year and fell just short at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, falling by a combined nine points.

Head coach Randy Edsall consistently sends players to the NFL and returns a team that three ESPN experts pick to win the Big East.

"They are an older group of guys that have kind of been there, done that," Rodriguez said. "So it's not a team that is probably going to make mistakes. If we want to win the game, we have to go win it."

Martin says Michigan is hungrier than it's been in a long time. Roundtree says players are "finally all in."

After the last two years, Michigan players know they're entitled to nothing. In fact, quite a few folks -- ahem, Brian Bennett -- pick the Wolverines to lose to UConn on Saturday.

"That's their pick," Roundtree said. "Everybody has their own opinions. It's Michigan against the world, and if that's how it's got to be, then hey, we know who's in our circle, and we know who we're playing for every weekend.

"We're tired of losing, and it's time for a change. It's time to come here and win."
If you asked me Tuesday morning to form a short list of players Michigan must have on the field this fall, Troy Woolfolk's name would be right at the top.

Woolfolk isn't Michigan's best player, nor is he the team's most talented. By most measures, he was an average Big Ten cornerback for the half season he spent there in 2009.

[+] EnlargeTroy Woolfolk
Eric Bronson/Icon SMITroy Woolfolk, who was in line to be Michigan's No. 1 cornerback, reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his leg in practice on Tuesday.
But Woolfolk brought leadership and experience to a secondary that severely lacks both. Plus, he eased some concern (not all) at a position that has gone through a major talent drain in the last 10 months.

That's why the news that Woolfolk reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his leg at Tuesday's practice is so painful for Michigan to endure. Head coach Rich Rodriguez hasn't said much about the situation, only that it was a lower body injury and that Woolfolk went to the hospital from practice.

But Woolfolk's high school coach, Jim Creech, told colleague Joe Schad that "it looks like [Woolfolk will] miss the season." Woolfolk was treated and released from University Hospital on Tuesday night, and his father told multiple media outlets that a decision on surgery will be made later.

Woolfolk posted on his Twitter page late Tuesday night: "Even though T-Woolf will be absent, Troy will be on sidelines coaching&cheering for Michigan till all air has vacated my lungs." T-Woolf, for those who don't know, is Woolfolk's alter ego.

Fortunately, Woolfolk has a redshirt season and could return in 2011, but his injury leaves Michigan young and thin at cornerback. Considering how well Michigan has recruited the cornerback spot in recent years, it's amazing to think that the program could get to this point.

Remember these guys?

  • Donovan Warren: First-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 declared for the NFL as a junior but wasn't drafted in April.
  • Boubacar Cissoko: Blue chip recruit started the first four games in 2009, missed two games because of a suspension, returned for a game and then was dismissed for violating team rules. In a truly sad story, Cissoko is now in jail serving time for his role in multiple robberies.
  • Demar Dorsey: The Big Ten's top-rated recruit signed with Michigan in February but was denied admission in June, a decision that didn't sit well with the coaching staff. Dorsey is still waiting to see whether he gets admitted to Louisville.
  • Adrian Witty: Signed with Michigan in 2009 but never made it to Ann Arbor because of academic issues. He eventually landed at Cincinnati, where he has been impressive in training camp.
  • J.T. Turner: Decorated recruit was granted his release from the team last week and intends to transfer.

It's quite a list, and Michigan certainly could use the help this fall.

I wonder if Pacman Jones has any eligibility left. Or Charles Woodson.

Michigan feels good about J.T. Floyd at one corner spot, but the other spot is a mystery and the overall depth is very shaky. The Wolverines have been fighting a numbers game on defense since Rodriguez's arrival, and the situation at cornerback has exacerbated the problem.

One thing is clear: youth will be served in 2010, and freshmen like Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery had better grow up fast.

Big Ten preseason power rankings

August, 10, 2010
It's that time again. Let's take a look at the power rankings as camps are under way throughout the Big Ten.

1. Ohio State: There isn't a glaring weakness on this team. History shows the defense will be extremely stingy, and if quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues to develop, the offense should be more than capable of putting up points. A bona fide national title contender.

2. Iowa: The core from the Orange Bowl championship team returns, led by defensive end Adrian Clayborn and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Iowa must reload at offensive line but has a strong tradition there. A Week 3 test at Arizona could be tricky, but Iowa will be a BCS bowl contender if it defends its home turf.

3. Wisconsin: No Big Ten team returns more individual stars than the Badgers. A balanced offense led by one of the nation's best lines could be unstoppable if John Clay, Scott Tolzien and others can stay healthy. The defense is young in spots but talented, and safety Jay Valai promises me they'll lay the wood. Can head coach Bret Bielema take this program from very good to great?

4. Penn State: I had the Lions tied with Michigan State coming out of the spring, but Penn State's historic success on defense and its superior line play provides an ever-so-slight edge right now. Given the inexperience at quarterback, Penn State will need to rely on its run game and its defense. Joe Paterno has won that way a few times before.

5. Michigan State: The Spartans boast more depth at the offensive skill positions than any Big Ten team. Linebacker Greg Jones returns to lead the defense. My only hesitation here is the line play on both sides of the ball. I'm tempted to buy into Michigan State, but I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach for now.

6. Northwestern: Quarterback Dan Persa has done everything right in the offseason. Now he needs to prove himself when it really counts. The secondary and the rushing game concern me, but running back Arby Fields is poised for a big year. This isn't a championship-level team but one that should make a school-record third straight bowl.

7. Purdue: Like Persa, Robert Marve has established himself as a leader before starting his first game at quarterback for the Boilers. If Purdue fills a few gaps on the offensive line, its offense could be very good. The defensive front seven should be better against the run, but Purdue must replace its entire starting secondary, which is never easy.

8. Michigan: Regardless of who wins the starting quarterback job, Rich Rodriguez's offense will put up points. But if the defense doesn't make a major jump in 2010, nothing else will matter. Demar Dorsey's departure from the secondary could hurt, and while I'm interested to see what Cam Gordon and others can do on the field, it's hard to buy into this unit right now.

T-9. Minnesota: There has been too much change in personnel and on Tim Brewster's staff the last two years for me to give the Gophers a stamp of approval at this stage. Quarterback Adam Weber certainly is talented enough to turn things around, especially with some help from the run game and the offensive line. I'm not counting out Minnesota by any means, but a very challenging schedule combined with a lot of new faces creates some concern.

T-9. Indiana: I'm buying into Ben Chappell and the Hoosiers offense. If the unit stays healthy, Indiana will put up points and improve in critical situations (third down, red zone). Not surprisingly, the major concerns come on defense, where Indiana hopes a switch to the 3-4 alignment pays off. A very favorable schedule gives IU a chance to make it back to a bowl game.

11. Illinois: The Grand Experiment begins Sept. 4 against Missouri in St. Louis. Great recruiting classes haven't translated into on-field success for the Illini. Perhaps an upgrade in coaching will make the difference. Linebacker Martez Wilson's return provides a boost, but Illinois needs to help young quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase as much as possible.
Way back on Feb. 3, Michigan signed the Big Ten's largest recruiting class -- and also one of its best.

ESPN Recruiting listed the Wolverines' 27-man class as the nation's 14th best overall and the Big Ten's second best class behind Penn State (No. 11 overall). Michigan moved up the rankings largely because of a Signing Day surprise, the pledge of cornerback Demar Dorsey, the nation's 12th best prospect and the highest-rated prospect in the Big Ten, according to ESPN Recruiting.

Despite a second consecutive losing season, Rich Rodriguez and his staff did what they needed to on the recruiting trail entering a pivotal 2010 campaign.

Michigan's recruiting class still could turn out to be very good, but it looks a little thinner now. Dorsey was denied admission to Michigan earlier this month and has since landed at Louisville, taking away a likely starter in the Wolverines' secondary.

Two more Michigan recruits, linebacker Antonio Kinard and athlete Conelius Jones, are heading to prep school and likely won't enroll for the 2010 academic year. Neither Kinard nor Jones are as decorated as Dorsey coming out of high school, but both are three-star prospects who could have been factors for a team that needs a jolt from its freshmen this fall.

The 27-member class has been trimmed to 24, and Rodriguez's critics have a little more ammunition. They'll not only question his ability to win in Ann Arbor, but the types of players he and his staff are recruiting. Although Michigan players have performed well academically during Rodriguez's tenure, the coaching staff lost some battles with the admissions office in recent weeks.

Without Dorsey, Michigan's class likely falls out of the top 20 of most national rankings. I still think there are enough players to help the team this season, but whether the Wolverines get the major boost they need from the incoming recruits remains to be seen.
It was obvious during spring practice that Louisville lacked playmakers on defense.

Well, Charlie Strong has addressed that with two apparent summer upgrades.

Former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey has pledged to play for the Cardinals. And now ex-Southern Cal linebacker Jordan Campbell says he's transferring to Louisville.

Campbell, a junior, served mostly as a backup and special-teams performer for the Trojans, registering just 16 total tackles in 17 career games. He started last season's Washington State game and had eight tackles before injuring his ankle late in the contest.

Because of the NCAA sanctions levied against USC, upperclassmen from that school can transfer to another team and be immediately eligible.

The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Campbell was ranked as the 42nd-best inside linebacker by ESPN's Scouts Inc. coming out of high school. Louisville's top two linebackers from a year ago, Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa, were both seniors. Though Campbell saw little playing time at USC, he seems talented enough to step in right away and contribute, if not start, for the Cardinals. Dorsey is in the same situation at defensive back.

So Strong might have found two defensive starters in the summertime, or at the very least a couple of playmakers. That could be a huge boost for Louisville's chances this fall.
It appears that former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey is headed to Louisville, but that's not official yet. The Cardinals have yet to receive any written word from Dorsey that he will be playing for them this season; Dorsey would sign a financial aid agreement rather than a letter of intent at this point.

[+] EnlargeDemar Dorsey
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIDemar Dorsey commited to Florida as a high school junior when Charlie Strong was defensive coordinator.
Still, all signs point toward Dorsey coming to play for Charlie Strong, and that's good news for Louisville.

Of course, he does come with some baggage. Michigan released Dorsey from his letter of intent after he wasn't admitted to the school. He also had some legal issues in his past. He was arrested twice as a juvenile, gaining acquittal on a robbery with a deadly weapon charge and having another burglary charge dismissed.

But Strong should know all about Dorsey's character. The Fort Lauderdale native originally committed to Florida as a high school junior when Strong was the Gators' defensive coordinator. Strong has done his homework on Dorsey and apparently feels quite comfortable bringing him in. And remember that while Michigan didn't admit Dorsey, he qualified academically under NCAA standards and should have no problem getting cleared to play for Louisville.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound safety was rated as the 12th best player overall by ESPN's Scouts Inc. for the Class of 2010. That would obviously make him the highest-ranked player to enter the Big East this season. And better yet for the Cardinals, he fulfills a position of great need. The Louisville secondary had lots of holes this spring, and Dorsey could easily challenge for a starting spot right away.

Louisville has taken other players with baggage before, sometimes with great success (Nate Harris) and sometimes not (Willie Williams). Dorsey doesn't appear to have as many red flags as either of those two guys. And given Dorsey's prior relationship with Strong, this looks like a coup for the first-year Cardinals head coach, who continues to improve the talent on his roster dramatically.
Rich Rodriguez spent a chunk of national signing day defending Michigan's new addition of defensive back Demar Dorsey, a blue-chip prospect with a checkered legal past.

Rodriguez is once again stumping for Dorsey, this time with the university's admissions office. The coach and his staff could be in for a tough fight.

[+] EnlargeDemar Dorsey
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIHighly ranked recruit Demar Dorsey has yet to be admitted by the University of Michigan.
After months of speculation that Dorsey wouldn't qualify academically to play college football this fall, learned Monday that Dorsey indeed made the cut to play for an FBS program in 2010. Just not for Michigan, at least right now.

Dorsey, the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit according to ESPN Recruiting, hasn't been allowed to enroll at Michigan, his high school coach Mark James told Corey Long.
"Demar is an NCAA qualifier with a 2.5 or 2.6 GPA and an 18 score on the ACT," said James. "But he hasn't yet been granted at Michigan."

Controversy surrounded Dorsey's commitment to Michigan when it was disclosed that he was arrested twice as a juvenile. He was acquitted on a charge of robbery with a deadly weapon in 2008 and had a previous charge of burglary dismissed.

James suggested that some of Dorsey's issues with his admission may stem from his previous transgressions with the law.

Both James and another source close to Dorsey told that Michigan's coaching staff is still working very hard to get him admitted.

If Dorsey doesn't get the green light, he could re-open his recruitment or enroll at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where in April he signed a letter of intent as a fallback plan.

"Right now I think the plan would be to re-open his recruitment and see what's out there," James said. "If he can't find something he likes he'll probably go to a juco for a year and try it again."

So where does this leave Rodriguez and Michigan? The coach can't be too thrilled that a player he recruited -- not to mention an elite prospect who could fill a major position of need -- might never wear the Maize and Blue despite meeting the NCAA's academic standards to play. Would Dorsey be in limbo if he signed with West Virginia, Clemson or Tulane? Probably not.

It's not like Rodriguez should be surprised. He knows that Michigan always has had higher academic standards for admissions than many powerhouse football programs. He knows that some of the players he recruited at previous coaching stops wouldn't be admitted to Michigan.

In November, he spoke about wanting to sign a junior college player or two but not getting his hopes up.

“There’s not a lot of transferrable credits for junior-college guys to come in here,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes people look at that as a quicker fix. That’s not going to really be an option for us just because of the academic differences.”

It's also interesting what James said about Dorsey's past possibly affecting his admission to Michigan. Shouldn't that have been reviewed by all parties before Dorsey signed? Dorsey has had no known incidents for quite some time. The only thing that changed was the media reaction (mostly negative) after he pledged to play for Michigan.

Everyone wants to gauge how much Michigan support Rodriguez has heading into a huge 2010 season. The school seemed to be firmly in his corner regarding the recent NCAA violations.

The outcome of Dorsey's situation could be another clue as to how much backing the coach has from his employer.
During his two-plus seasons at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez often has mentioned the numbers game on defense, a game that the Wolverines have been losing.

Rodriguez isn't talking about numbers of points allowed or yards allowed, although it's all connected to the larger problem the Wolverines' defense has endured. Michigan simply hasn't had enough capable players to succeed on that side of the ball. And without the numbers, or adequate depth at certain positions, the defense has plummeted. In the last two seasons, the Wolverines have finished 67th and 82nd in yards allowed, and 84th and 77th in points allowed, respectively.

[+] EnlargeDemar Dorsey
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIThe Wolverines will likely be counting on highly touted cornerback Demar Dorsey to contribute right away as a freshman.
High attrition has certainly played a major role, and of those who left, many were top defensive prospects. Recruiting also has played a significant role, much of it before Rodriguez's arrival, as Michigan signed small classes with not enough defensive recruits. Mgoblog has a great breakdown of the problems here and here.

Heading into a pivotal season, can Michigan survive the numbers situation on defense?

"It's still limited, to an extent, this spring," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson told me earlier this month. "Now there's going to be 14, 15 guys walking in the door [in the summer]. How many can you count on as freshmen? Time will tell that. Craig Roh played as a freshman [in 2009].

"So it can be done."

Michigan's incoming freshman class will be a huge factor in the defense's results, one way or another. Unlike past classes, the 2010 crop is both sizable and filled with defensive players.

Cornerback Demar Dorsey, the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit according to ESPN recruiting, will contribute right away as long as he qualifies for admission. Other defensive recruits like Cullen Christian and Marvin Robinson also are good bets to see the field this fall.

"We may have some young guys come in this fall and provide some competition, which is a little scary when you're talking about true freshmen," Rodriguez said. "But we want to play more people defensively and offensively."

Several defenders who stepped up this spring also should help in the numbers game.

Safety Cameron Gordon, a converted wide receiver, was arguably Michigan's top spring performer. The coaches also singled out linebacker Kenny Demens, cornerback J.T. Floyd, Teric Jones, defensive linemen Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse and others for their play. Redshirt freshmen like Cameron Gordon and safety Thomas Gordon drew more attention during the spring session.

"You notice them," Robinson said, "and that is good. It's just the numbers aren't there yet. There will be a real infusion in August. We're going to get it done, but I know where the work is. It's about developing young players as quickly as we can. You've really got to count on 18, 19 guys, so the depth is what we have to establish."

Robinson admits Michigan never truly had adequate depth in 2009, and the results showed.

"We lacked depth, we lacked maturity at times," he said. "But that's last year. It doesn't really matter. There's no reason to be putting rose-colored glasses on it. At the same time, can it be an improved defense? Yep. It's the year 2010 and it's the 131st defense to perform here at Michigan.

"And doggone it, we're going to find a way to be better."
There's a different mentality to playing cornerback versus safety, and Troy Woolfolk knows this better than most.

Woolfolk split his time evenly between cornerback and safety in 2009, starting six games at each position. The Michigan senior began the season as a safety, switched to cornerback in Week 6 against Iowa and stayed there until the season finale against Ohio State, when he moved back to safety.

[+] EnlargeTroy Woolfolk
Eric Bronson/Icon SMITroy Woolfolk says he became more of a student of the game while sitting out last season because of an injury.
Hopefully, there will be no such shuffling in 2010, as Woolfolk expects to be Michigan's No. 1 cornerback this fall. This spring, he's embracing the swagger cornerbacks need to succeed.

"It's more confidence versus being physical," Woolfolk said of the difference between cornerback and safety. "For corner, you need to be very confident because when you're out there alone on an island, it's just you and [the wide receiver]. If you have any doubt in your mind that he will beat you, then most likely he will. You have to win before the play starts.

"I feel like I can stop anybody, and hopefully it shows in my play."

The 6-foot, 186-pound Woolfolk gained confidence from his first career start at cornerback, during a nationally televised night game at Iowa on Oct. 10. The Hawkeyes immediately tested Woolfolk, throwing the ball his way, but he responded with a pass breakup and four tackles.

Although Woolfolk and the other Michigan defensive backs endured their struggles last season, he has carried over the boost from the Iowa game into spring practice.

"He's been very good, but that doesn't surprise me," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "He's an experienced football player now, and he looks like it. With Troy, we don't have to worry much about him out there. That's a nice thing."

After being burned multiple times last season, Michigan's secondary will be in the spotlight until the season opener in September. First-team All-Big Ten cornerback Donovan Warren declared early for the NFL draft, and the competition at safety is wide open, as converted wide receiver Cameron Gordon and others are in the mix there.

Michigan coaches expect to play several true freshmen defenders from a talented recruiting class, and the secondary likely will be an area where the newcomers contribute right away. Much of the buzz has centered on defensive back Demar Dorsey, the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit for 2010, according to ESPN recruiting.

Woolfolk welcomes competition and said "nobody really has a [starting] spot," but he clearly isn't too concerned about Dorsey's arrival this summer.

"What's his name again?" Woolfolk deadpanned when asked about Dorsey.

"I'm just joking," he continued, smiling. "To live up to the hype, you've got to show me something. Until he gets here, I won't be excited."

Woolfolk also doesn't back down from his teammates, particularly quarterback Denard Robinson, whose speed and moves frustrate defenders in both practice and games.

"He knows not to come my way," Woolfolk said. "We always talk trash to each other. It creates a rivalry and makes you want to go out there and perform."

Woolfolk attributed the secondary's problems in 2009 to missed assignments, not a lack of speed or physical toughness. This spring, the coaches and players have stressed the need to improve communication, a topic they also pointed to last summer but didn't translate to the field.

Michigan is working more with the 3-3-5 defensive alignment this spring, but Woolfolk downplayed the change, noting that the team still uses four-man fronts in practice.

"We haven't changed that much stuff," he said. "It's not too much to adjust to. Adjusting from safety to corner is what I worry about."

Woolfolk has seen improved competition in the secondary, recognizing players like Gordon and cornerback J.T. Floyd for their play this spring.

As someone who has been around Michigan's program his whole life -- Woolfolk's father, Butch, was an All-American running back for the Wolverines in 1981 -- Woolfolk understands the expectations for the defense and the team in 2010.

"Our fans are pretty smart," he said. "They know we made big progress [from 2008 to 2009]. They're on board, even though they might not say it. They will be able to back us up. And as for the players, I know for a fact we think we're going to be good. We should have won half the games last year.

"This is the year we're going to come back."

Big Ten pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
It's that time again.

Four weeks have passed since the year-end installment of the power rankings, and while no games were played during the span, there has been some news. We know who's coming back (Greg Jones, Evan Royster, Cameron Heyward) and who's not (Thaddeus Gibson, Navorro Bowman, Amari Spievey). We also can size up the recruiting classes for each Big Ten team.

Spring practice in the Big Ten officially kicks off March 13 at Wisconsin, so let's take a look at how the teams stack up heading into the spring. Please remember that the power rankings can -- and will -- change several times before the season begins Sept. 2.

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will be a consensus top 5 team and a legit national title contender entering the fall. Heyward's decision to return is huge for a talented defensive front. If quarterback Terrelle Pryor builds off of his Rose Bowl performance and Ohio State solidifies things at left tackle, safety and possibly running back, this team will be scary good.

2. Iowa: The NFL draft stung the Hawkeyes a bit, as both Spievey and left tackle Bryan Bulaga opted to turn pro. But All-America candidate Adrian Clayborn returns, and Iowa will be stacked at both running back and wide receiver in 2010. Rebuilding the offensive line will be Iowa's top priority as it aims for a Big Ten championship this fall.

3. Wisconsin: The mojo is back in Mad-town as Wisconsin returns the core players from a team that went 10-3 and finished 16th in the final AP Poll. Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay leads a balanced and efficient offense, while the defense boasts a lot of young talent but must replace star pass rusher O'Brien Schofield.

4. Penn State: No Big Ten team lost more standout players than the Nittany Lions, but Penn State has shown an ability to reload, particularly in the defensive front seven. Royster's decision to return is huge for Penn State, which will rely on the rushing attack and an improved offensive line in 2010. A crucial quarterback competition begins this spring, as Kevin Newsome tries to hold off several young challengers.

5. Michigan State: I'm a bit leery to put Michigan State this high after 2009, but Jones' decision to return eased some concerns about the defense. The Spartans must get better on both lines and in the secondary, and quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to rebound after a rough finish to his sophomore season. Recruits William Gholston and Max Bullough should help the defense right away.

6. Northwestern: The Wildcats proved in 2009 that they could overcome the losses of several offensive standouts. They'll need to do it again as All-Big Ten quarterback Mike Kafka departs and junior Dan Persa steps in. Northwestern must revive its rushing attack this spring behind an offensive line that returns fully intact. The secondary also is a concern as three starters graduate.

T-7. Michigan: The offense will put up points again, but Michigan's big concerns rest with a defense that loses standouts Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren. A recruiting class headlined by safety Demar Dorsey certainly should help matters, as Michigan needs immediate contributions from its young players. The Wolverines need a strong spring from their early enrollees as they prepare for a critical 2010 season.

T-7. Purdue: It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finishes in the top half of the Big Ten in 2010, but a few key questions remain. The biggest one comes at quarterback, where Miami transfer Robert Marve and sophomore Caleb TerBush will compete for the top job. Purdue also must reload in the secondary and improve a run defense that has ranked last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons.

9. Minnesota: Spring practice will be critical for a Gophers team trying to establish an identity on offense and reload on defense. The starting quarterback job is up for grabs as incumbent Adam Weber tries to hold off MarQueis Gray and impress new coordinator Jeff Horton. Minnesota must replace all three starting linebackers, both starting defensive tackles and both starting cornerbacks.

10. Indiana: The Hoosiers should be very dynamic on offense in 2010, but they must address their chronic defensive woes as soon as possible to rebound this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch is moving several offensive players to defense this spring, and IU's ability to identify impact players likely will determine whether it can rise up the rankings.

11. Illinois: Things have been anything but quiet around Champaign the last eight weeks, as head coach Ron Zook shuffled his coaching staff, bringing in two new coordinators and four new position coaches. Illinois doesn't have time for growing pains, and the new assistants will need to implement the scheme and get the most out of a roster filled with question marks. One way or another, Illinois will be a fascinating team to watch between now and the season opener.
We've already looked at the big shoes to fill throughout the Big Ten in 2010.

So who steps in this fall? Here are five newcomers to watch.

Penn State QB Kevin Newsome: All the candidates for Penn State's starting quarterback job -- Matt McGloin, Robert Bolden, Paul Jones -- could be listed here, but Newsome saw the most action in 2009, appearing in 10 games. Penn State hoped to get Newsome more field time, but he showed good mobility with two rushing touchdowns and completed 8 of 11 pass attempts. His development during the winter and spring will be critical as Penn State looks to replace Daryll Clark.

Purdue QB Robert Marve: The Miami transfer finally gets his chance to compete for the starting job as Purdue must replace the productive Joey Elliott. Marve sat out the 2009 season, though he would have missed most of it with an ACL injury. He hasn't been on the practice field much at Purdue, but he'll be viewed as the front-runner for the top job along with Caleb TerBush.

Ohio State RB Jaamal Berry: Ohio State fans clamoring to see Berry since early last season will finally get their wish. A hamstring injury kept Berry from playing as a true freshman in 2009, but he'll be ready to push Brandon Saine and Dan Herron for the starting job this year. Though both Saine and Herron performed well down the stretch and in the Rose Bowl, Berry comes in with impressive credentials and could have what it takes to become a featured back for the Buckeyes.

Michigan CB/S Demar Dorsey: His signing generated plenty of controversy at Michigan, but there's little doubt Dorsey will be an impact player this fall. Michigan desperately needs to upgrade its secondary, and the heralded Dorsey will compete for immediate time, first at cornerback and possibly at safety down the road. Dorsey brings tremendous athleticism and a willingness to bring big hits on ball carriers.

Michigan State LB/DE William Gholston: The Spartans' defense regressed in 2009, and Gholston will have an immediate opportunity to contribute. Gholston is a unique specimen at 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, and the heralded recruit should be able to help Michigan State's pass rush from an outside linebacker or rush-end position. It'll be interesting to see how the Spartans coaches use Gholston in 2010, but he'll undoubtedly have a major role for the defense.

Five more to watch: Michigan QB Devin Gardner, Iowa TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana CB Andre Kates, Penn State LB Khairi Fortt
Demar Dorsey's surprise decision to sign with Michigan has once again put head coach Rich Rodriguez and the "character issue" in the spotlight at Schembechler Hall.

Dorsey is the highest-rated recruit in the Big Ten this year, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. The safety from Florida fills a vital need for Michigan, which struggled mightily in the secondary last year and loses its top defensive back (Donovan Warren) to the NFL. If the Wolverines turn things around in 2010, many may point to Dorsey's signing as a big reason why.

But it's not Dorsey's talent, but his checkered legal past, that has generated a ton of attention since Wednesday afternoon. Dorsey's legal issues are chronicled here, but basically he confessed to two burglaries and had a connection to a third burglary. He has never been convicted and instead went through a diversion program for juvenile offenders.

Dorsey, in an interview with the Detroit Free Press, acknowledged his past problems and said he plans to "show everybody I'm not that person who I was a couple years back then, hanging with the wrong crowd and stuff like that." He said he picked Michigan in part because it allows him to get away from home and start fresh.

Dorsey deserves a chance to start fresh and play college football. And he had several good options on signing day.

The real question here is: Should Michigan be the team to provide him that chance?

Some say no, citing the risks of Dorsey falling into trouble again. Michigan has had players fall into legal trouble, including former quarterback Justin Feagin, who was dismissed from the team in June. Then again, almost every team in the country has had similar cases, if not worse. Just look around the Big Ten and you'll find several examples. Better yet, look around the SEC. Yikes.

Rodriguez and Michigan are assuming a risk with Dorsey, a larger risk than with most players because of his history. If he gets in trouble in Ann Arbor, the head coach and the university will take heat for it. Heat they'll deserve.

But is that risk large enough to push the Wolverines away when other programs wouldn't think twice about adding Dorsey to their roster? Does Michigan have to hold itself to a perceived higher standard, a standard that might not even exist in college football, much less at U-M? Some will say yes, but these folks need to open their eyes and realize this is big-time college football.

Lloyd Carr gave players second chances, too. He assumed the risk of them messing up again. Every college football coach does. Like it or not, it's part of this sport.

Michigan shouldn't have to stay away from every promising recruit with a checkered past because it's Michigan. Rodriguez has given second chances before, and some have blown up in his face. But he shouldn't stop doing it entirely.

If Rodriguez and his staff are satisfied that Dorsey's troubles are behind him, they have the right to bring him on board. They also have the right to be criticized if he messes up again.

It seems like a pretty fair deal.
As signing day mania reached a fever pitch Wednesday, the Big Ten almost seemed like a forgotten conference.

Big Ten teams certainly signed their share of top prospects, but the landscape around the league seemed much quieter than the ones in the SEC, Pac-10, ACC and Big 12. If I had to list the major newsmakers on signing day, it would look something like this: Urban Meyer, Lane Kiffin, kid picking from several hats, Mack Brown, Seantrel Henderson, kid mispronouncing the name of his new school, Derek Dooley, Kiffin, Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Mack, Gene Chizik. Did I mention Kiffin? Kiffin!

You get the point.

Aside from Demar Dorsey's surprise signing with Michigan and the testy Rich Rodriguez news conference that ensued, the Big Ten was completely out of the spotlight.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think it is.

"There hasn't been much drama or excitement," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "which is OK with me."

Fact: the Big Ten didn't have a banner year in recruiting. The league certainly lost some key homegrown players (Henderson, Jordan Hicks) to other programs. And recruiting plays a major role in winning national championships. I get that. But so does coaching. And player development. And guys truly blossoming after they arrive at college.

I don't think the hoopla of signing day matters as much to the Big Ten as it does to teams from other leagues. How many times have you heard how great Clemson will be after signing day? Or North Carolina? Or Mississippi? Or Auburn? Or California? When was the last time those teams won anything significant?

The Big Ten doesn't need to make a lot of noise about new players who might be good. Certain Big Ten teams like Wisconsin and Iowa make noise when it counts, during the season, largely with unheralded recruits.

"I'd rather be ranked at the end of the year than the start of the year, and the same thing holds true in recruiting," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema told me Wednesday. "It doesn't really matter, coming in, how many stars you have behind your name. It's about what you do while you're there. We recruit to that motto a little bit.

"It was brought to my attention today, we're ranked by one recruiting service at 30th and another at 83rd. There's so many factors into this recruiting that are off-the-wall ridiculous."

And some of those things take place on signing day.

"I don't cohabitate very well with prima donnas," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The hat charade and the decommitting and the recommitting, I'm not looking to recruit those kind of young people. Those aren't the things that we believe in and value in our program. ... I don't really care what anybody ranks our class right now. They fit us, we believe in who they are, and more importantly, we trust our evaluation."

Although Ohio State was involved in post-signing day drama with Terrelle Pryor in 2008, several of the Buckeyes' recent stars (James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins) weren't big names on the day they signed. A bunch of first-team All-Big Ten players in 2009 -- Daryll Clark, Greg Jones, Tyler Sash, Tandon Doss, Sherrick McManis -- arrived as largely unheralded recruits.

Does a quiet signing day really hurt the Big Ten? Doubtful.

"I don't want to win signing day," Fitzgerald said. "I want to win on Saturdays in the fall."

Michigan recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
Michigan Wolverines

The class

Recruits: 27 (all high school seniors, seven early enrollees)

Top prospects: Safety Demar Dorsey is the top-ranked recruit in the Big Ten, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. Quarterback Devin Gardner, an ESPNU 150 selection, will compete for snaps right away. Defensive recruits like Marvin Robinson, Cullen Christian and Richard Ash might be able to help the beleaguered unit early on.

Sleepers: Safety is a huge need for Michigan in 2010, and Ray Vinopal and Carvin Johnson both could factor into the mix there. Linebacker Jake Ryan, a late bloomer during recruiting, also is a player to watch.

Needs met: Arguably no Big Ten team needed to bolster a particular position like Michigan needed to bolster its secondary. The addition of Dorsey gives the Wolverines a possible immediate contributor in the back four. Rich Rodriguez added the quarterback he needs in Gardner, and Michigan also stocked up at wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker.

Analysis: Michigan started quickly, lost a bit of ground with elite prospects and then finished strong by adding Dorsey on National Signing Day. Rodriguez signed a large and important class that must help a struggling defense this fall. Gardner will push Tate Forcier at quarterback, and the early enrollees at both wide receiver and running back will be fun to watch this spring. If this class doesn't bolster Michigan's defense immediately, the Wolverines will be in trouble.

Scouts Inc. grade: B-plus

What Rich Rodriguez said:
  • "Demar is a very athletic guy. Very fast. Has indicated he may run track as well. So it will be good news for our track program. A fast guy. He can play corner and safety. We'll probably start him at corner first, eventually teach him the back end stuff as well. Also returns kicks. Runs very well."
  • (on Devin Gardner) "It helps he got in early. I don't know if 15 spring practices can really give you a whole thing. But I know it helped Tate [Forcier] last year. Devin is going to have pieces around, veterans that know what we're trying to do offensively and all that. But again, until I see him at spring practice and how quickly he picks up the plays and all that, I couldn't tell you. I know he's very competitive. He's one of those guys eager to learn."
  • "Our back-end guys, linebackers and safeties and corners, are guys we felt we needed to play in space. And so we tried to address that with the athleticism. Again, these guys are young. Let's not put too much on too soon. They have to come and earn a spot and all that. But immediately the competition has risen on the defensive side of the football."