5-foot-7 Dennis Norfleet is Michigan's shortest DB since 2000, but Brady Hoke isn't worried
ANN ARBOR -- Of all the cornerbacks who have played for Michigan the past 12 years, none stood shorter than 5-foot-8.
Until two weeks ago.
The Wolverines moved tailback Dennis Norfleet to cornerback after the regular-season finale against Ohio State, and coach Brady Hoke said the freshman could debut there as soon as the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against South Carolina.
The move makes the 5-foot-7 Norfleet the program's shortest defensive back since walk-on Brian Smalls in 2000. Smalls was 5-6.
The shortest defensive back on the current two-deep roster is Courtney Avery at 5-11.
Norfleet's physical tools are unquestioned -- he's considered one of the quickest players on the team, which has helped him become the Big Ten's third-best kick returner in just his first season.
But his height could pose problems as he tries to match up against receivers, almost all of whom will be taller, and some by as much as half a foot or more.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke, though, isn't concerned, and noted the successes of former Ohio State cornerback Antoine Winfield at 5-foot-9.
Winfield became a consensus All-American with the Buckeyes and made three Pro Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings.
"I think you can be concerned (about the height), but one guy I always kind of looked to was Winfield," Hoke said Friday. "He's not very big, and he's pretty good. Still playing (in the NFL).
"His ball skills are really pretty daggone good. Good quickness. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, obviously, but he’s a competitor and he loves to play. Is it difficult? Give me about four more days and I’ll let you know, to be honest with you, and to be honest with that kid, but he’s willing to learn. He’s a guy who just loves to play football.”
Hoke said coaches began thinking about the move during the season, and executed it two weeks ago in an effort to get Norfleet's athleticism on the field.
The freshman was buried behind Fitz Toussaint, Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes at tailback, and his slight stature doesn't fit into the power-run game Michigan hopes to phase in over the next few years.
Hoke also has been pleased with the play of true freshman Drake Johnson, who is redshirting this year.
Norfleet likely won't play much defensive back in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, and his frame likely makes him a situational cornerback going forward.
But he probably would have seen even less time at tailback, given Michigan's depth chart and the pro-style scheme it hopes to employ after the graduation of quarterback Denard Robinson.
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