Size matters: Michigan signs big DBs in Dymonte Thomas, Channing Stribling and Reon Dawson
ANN ARBOR -- Curt Mallory doesn't exactly need elite size and length in his defensive backfield.
But it certainly doesn't hurt.
"It's not that you cant play with smaller guys, we've certainly had success doing that," Michigan's defensive backs coach said Wednesday. "If they play big and play physical, you're fine. Blake Countess is a great example, he's not as tall, but he plays big ... he's a football player, and I would never, ever give up Blake Countess.
"But a guy that's a little bit longer can sometimes matchup and have some flexibility -- maybe he can play safety, corner, nickel. We didn't have a lot of guys that weren't that much taller than 5-10."
Well, they do now.
Michigan signed six defensive backs in the 2013 class, and three of them will enter the program standing at 6-foot-2 -- immediately giving a rather vertically challenged Wolverine secondary a boost in length.
Last season, Michigan had one safety (freshman Jarrod Wilson) in its regular rotation that stood at least 6-foot-2.
The Wolverines, for the most part, used players that didn't have elite size and length -- and still managed to finish the season as the fifth-best pass defense in America.
But now, by adding lengthy players like four-star safety Dymonte Thomas (6-foot-2, 195), three-star corner Reon Dawson (6-foot-2, 175) and three-star corner Channing Stribling (6-foot-2, 170), the back end of Greg Mattion's defense is starting to have the look and feel that he wants.
"You envision our defense not having to blitz all the time," Mattison said. "You want to be able to play a four-man rush and play some zone coverage. In order to do that, you have to have bigger corners to cover the big wide receivers that you see now.
"It's the length. Some guys can be 5-10 but their vertical jump is 40 inches, and that makes them 6-foot. It all comes down to them having the ability to cover the wide receivers we're seeing at that position."
Michigan added traditional corners in four-star signees Ross Douglass (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) and Jourdan Lewis (5-foot-10, 159 pounds).
But Stribling and Dawson appear to be wild cards with their size.
Dawson is an Illinois decommitment who flipped to Michigan in January, while Stribling is a summer camp star -- a player that earned a scholarship the old fashioned way, by coming to Michigan's football camp and earning it.
"Channing came to our camp (in the summer) not only for a day, but for the whole week, I got a chance to be around Channing all week long," Mallory said. "I really got to work with him more than just once. You see his height, you see his range and you see his competitiveness.
"The more you were around him, the more you fell in love with him -- he really brings a lot of length to the position."
And while players like Thomas (who enrolled in January), and Cass Tech product Delano Hill enter Michigan with projections at safety, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll stay at that spot forever.
In terms of returning talent, Michigan confirmed earlier on Wednesday that Countess -- who missed basically the entire 2012 season with an ACL injury -- will be ready to return to action when spring practice begins. Michigan also brings back starting safety Thomas Gordon, as well as replacement starting corner Raymon Taylor and nickelback Courtney Avery.
The Wolverines will have to replace both starting safety Jordan Kovacs and starting corner J.T. Floyd.
It remains to be seen how the competition shakes out with another relatively deep secondary group. But one thing's already certain.
There's a lot more versatility, and a lot more size to work with.
"You're seeing a lot more (tall defensive backs)," Mallory said. "You're seeing people going to that. Seeing guys that have longer arms because you want to be able to re-route a receiver to get in on him.
"And that extra few inches can get that ball out of his hands."
-- Download the Michigan football on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Download the Michigan basketball on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Follow Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner on Twitter
-- Like MLive's Michigan Wolverines Facebook