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Woolfolk free to show his speed

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- No one ever doubted the confidence the coaches had in fifth-year senior Troy Woolfolk.

Even after a shattered ankle, a broken hand and a couple of other random injuries, the cornerback was still on the field, starting all but a single game for Michigan this season.

But with the emergence of freshman cornerback Blake Countess, questions began to circulate after the Michigan State loss about where Woolfolk fit in. The coaches talked to Woolfolk about a shift to the free safety position.

The fifth-year senior had played safety before at Michigan. He couldn't remember much about how the position was different schematically, but he did remember that he had more fun there.

The coaches wanted to make the switch so Woolfolk could use his make-up speed in the backfield. And defensive coordinator Greg Mattison explained there were several things that went into the decision of moving Woolfolk, including his speed, his experience, and Countess's abilities at corner.

They weren't worried about the shift because they knew that with Woolfolk's experience he was technically sound, which, according to Mattison, is one of the keys to playing in the secondary.

"You have to read run-pass first, and then when you get that reaction you have to come beat a guy who's blocking you," Mattison said. "Out there in open spaces you don't have time to not have perfect technique."

Woolfolk actually prefers safety to cornerback because it gives him the chance to show off his speed. He spent the bye week practicing at safety with junior Jordan Kovacs and sophomore Thomas Gordon.

Against Purdue, while Kovacs was out with a knee injury, Gordon and Woolfolk saw reps at safety, though Woolfolk said he wished the Boilermakers would've tested him deep.

"Right now, I like the versatility and being able to cover more ground at safety than I do at corner," he said. "I feel like I can make a bigger impact on the team."

While playing cornerback, Woolfolk had 13 tackles, averaging less than two per game. But in his two appearances at safety he has made a bigger impact, averaging five per game.

Mattison mentioned after the Purdue game that he could see Kovacs, Gordon and Woolfolk playing at safety. However, after an Iowa loss in which Gordon played only on special teams, it seems Woolfolk has taken the spot from the team's second-leading tackler.

"When I first came here I knew Michigan was known for its defense," Woolfolk said. "People feared their defense. Ever since that I've just wanted to try and get that back."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.