- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I'm doing everything they allow me to do, and I feel really good doing it," Wolverines cornerback Blake Countess told ESPN.com on Thursday. "That's always a plus, to get back in the swing of things. Everything is feeling good."
Countess' recovery is on track after he tore the ACL in his left knee in the first quarter of Michigan's season-opening loss to Alabama last September. Although he's not taking contact in spring practice, he's participating in individual drills and has no limitations on his running and cutting.
Barring a setback, Countess should be completely cleared for the start of preseason camp.
"In spring ball, there's really no need for me to go out there and push it," he said. "As far as contact, I can't wait to get back into it, but I'm not going to rush anything."
The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Countess played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2011, starting the final six and recording 44 tackles with six pass breakups and a forced fumble. Pegged as one of the nation's top young cornerbacks entering 2012, Countess instead underwent surgery in early October and redshirted the season.
Countess felt optimistic about his progress since the start of his post-surgery rehab, but a return to the practice field this spring has provided another boost.
"That's the biggest thing, getting the trust and confidence back [in the knee], and that's coming every day," he said. "I'm doing more drills, getting a little faster here. It's building every day. That's really what spring ball's really for, and I'm glad I'm getting to make those steps."
Unfortunately, Ryan is at the start of the process. Countess has talked to his teammate about what to expect.
"He's going to attack his rehab, just like he attacks everything else," Countess said. "Jake's already come to me with a couple questions. I'm here for Jake, just like Jake was here for me when I was going through it. He'll be back.
"As far as the team, the next guy has to step up, and we know that."
Raymon Taylor stepped in for Countess last year, and the secondary responded. Michigan tied for fifth nationally in pass yards allowed (169.5 ypg) and finished in the top 20 in both total defense and scoring defense.
Many expect Countess to regain his starting role alongside Taylor this season, but Countess knows there are no guarantees.
"I've been around the program and I've been with the coaches for a while, so I feel somewhat like a veteran," Countess said. "But I'm still fighting every day to prove myself to the other guys and to my coaches. There's no sense of entitlement."
Countess spent most of last season watching games and taking mental reps, but when asked what areas he needs to improve on the field, he mentioned his eyes.
"My freshman year, I had some eye problems, as far as glancing in the backfield and things like that, taking my eyes off of the receiver," he said. "So just my eyes, staying low in my backpedal, being more explosive out of breaks and making big-time plays."
Michigan needs more big plays from its defense, especially if Ryan, who accounted for four of the team's 12 forced fumbles last season, misses the season. Although the Wolverines didn't allow many pass yards, they also tied for last in the Big Ten in interceptions (7).
"We have to step up and take it to the next level," Countess said. "8-5 is not acceptable, and the goal is always going to be a Big Ten championship."