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Posted on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 5 p.m.

Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs is more comfortable, sees defensive improvements coming

By Jeff Arnold


Jordan Kovacs led the Michigan defense with 11 tackles in the Wolverines' 42-37 win over UMass. The former walk-on is feeling more comfortable at safety a little more than a year after making the team during an open tryout. Angela J. Cesere |

Few people were more frustrated than Jordan Kovacs after the Michigan defense was shredded for 439 yards in the Wolverines' 42-37 win over Massachusetts.

The redshirt sophomore safety made a team-high 11 tackles, but acknowledged that the Wolverines' defensive efforts fell short. As the unit strives to improve, Kovacs - a former walk-on who earned a spot on the Wolverines roster in an open tryout - has discovered a comfort level on the field and in his role as a leader.

Kovacs' 27 tackles this season ranks second behind Jonas Mouton.

Although Kovacs just earned a scholarship this year, he has earned the respect of his teammates and discovered a new-found popularity that he is still getting used to. Kovacs' ability to grasp Michigan's defensive scheme has given him more responsibility on a defense that is seeking redemption Saturday against Bowling Green (Noon, ESPN2).

Q: After such a shaky performance last weekend against UMass, where do you think the mind-set of the defense is right now?

A: Obviously, we're not satisfied with how we played defensively. We did struggle, but it's nice to get that with a win and it's nice that you get that early in the season. It's pretty clear that there are a lot of things that we need to correct.

Q: Do you write Saturday's struggles off as a fluke or do you think there are deeper issues defensively that need to be addressed?

A: I expect it to be a one-game slip-up, and we'll make the corrections we need to. I'm sure the coaches won't let that slide again, and I expect the same out of the defense. I don't think it's going to take too much (to correct). I think they're pretty simple things, and I think basically what it comes down to is some technical errors and people not understanding their assignments.

Q: Do you think some of the missed assignments and mistakes had something to do with the big plays the defense gave up against Notre Dame?

A: That could be the case where players were hesitant and maybe guys are just inexperienced and aren't feeling comfortable in their zones yet. But I expect it to change. We're a very young defense, and I expect us to get better drastically every game.

Q: For you personally, are you feeling different now as a full-time starter after you started eight games last season in your first year?

A: I definitely feel much more comfortable with my role on my team and on the defense. I see myself as more of a leader after going through everything last year. So I definitely see a change. The most important thing is that I have game experience and we still have a lot of young guys on the defense in there and they're improving every week.

Q: Coach Rodriguez has joked a lot lately about looking for a kicker in an open tryout. As someone who came out of that and won a spot on the team, what's that experience like?

A: It's amazing that Coach Rod gives those guys opportunities. I'm sure there's many more guys on campus like me who just dreamed of wearing the winged helmet. It's definitely a neat experience. Not many people think, 'Oh I could go play at Michigan,' but you never know until you try.

Q: What's that first practice like when you're trying to make a good impression on coaches?

A: My head was spinning. We have a fast-paced practice, and you don't know exactly where you're supposed to be and Coach Rod just says, 'If you don't know where you're supposed to be, just run in place.' I think I did that a few times. But when you first walk on, you want to prove yourself to the coaches and so you're going extra hard on special teams and trying to catch one of the coaches' eyes. That's what I did when I first walked on, and I try not to lose that chip on my shoulder.

Q: When they held the last student open tryout, did you watch it?

A: I just stuck around and reminisced and thought, 'That was me a year and a half ago' and it was like, look how far I've come. But I came here intending to make the football team and the first day of class we had tryouts at 6 a.m. I was nervous as heck - I was nervous I was going to over-sleep, but I made it to the tryout and I guess I caught a few of the coaches' eyes and the rest of history.

Q: Do you have any advice for any potential walk-ons?

A: Don't be late and just be yourself - you're just playing football. It's a game and just enjoy it and live in the moment.

Q: Coach Rodriguez called you one of the defense's most consistent players. Are there times when it's hard to believe you have come this far in such a short time?

A: I have to remind myself how lucky I am every day. Some days, you're going to practice and it's like, 'Oh, God, practice', but I try to stop and look around and look at the helmet I'm putting on. This is what I have dreamed of. I try to just live in the moment and not get caught up with the media (attention) but just to enjoy it. I'm playing football and I'm really enjoying it.

Q: Are you getting used to the attention that comes with being a Michigan football player or is it still a little weird?

A: It is weird because I just look at myself as just another guy and I don't really understand why people would want my autograph.

Jeff Arnold covers sports for and can be reached at (734) 623-2554 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyparnold.


Sean T.

Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 1:23 p.m.

Well said, Rightmind. I hear ya!


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

You can have success in the 3-3-5 but if you do some research it is usually a pass-coverage defense or a small conference scheme. What else would you expect from a couple "small conference" coaches?

Sean T.

Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 10:51 a.m.

EthanBlue, Most of your post solidifies the fact that the scheme is the issue. Roh is a natural DE by his own attributes; speed rushing and his inability to play in space or pass coverage. Ezeh is a true "mike" LB, meaning he needs the shield of the DT's ahead of him to make quicker reads, which leads to making better plays. That leaves Mouton whom I believe could be a true force if he's allowed to chase down the ball-carrier like a weak OLB should but Ezeh cannot get out of his way because he gets caught at the second level by the interior lineman. That's why I prefer the 4-3 because Ezeh would be out of the way. The 3-3-5 has the same gaps as the 3-4 in which the inside LB's must have a kamikaze mentality when taking on blocks and filling the gaps. But the issue is they have too many DBs on the field without more physical players applying pressure. RR uses speedy players to apply pressure which isn't bad but you lose some of your physical play with that gamble. You can have success in the 3-3-5 but if you do some research it is usually a pass-coverage defense or a small conference scheme. The issues are fixable but the players don't seem comfortable in this scheme.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 7:15 a.m.

OSUdon'tknow, the 3-3-5 is way too much hyped as the excuse we are not doing well on defense. If you actually watched the games instead of peered from the periphery through articles you'd know we play four down lineman on most plays. Roh is listed as one of the LBs, but he was a DE last year and you can find him on the line most plays. The problem isn't the scheme, but the lack of tackling from the players on the field (and missed assignments due to inexperience). Our backfield seems small, and so does Carvin Johnson and T. Gordon. Gordon and Johnson are playing the hybrid position, and need to bulk up or summons all their fundamentals and power more consistently play to play. Kovacs needs to admit that he missed assignments, too, though. It's easy to say "we" when he should be saying "I," too. He's a run-first safety who bites too much on the play action, opening up the tight ends. James Rogers, due to his inexperience, plays off a yard or two too much (because he fears getting beat deep?). JT Floyd is aggressive, and hopefully he'll work on his hips, etc., because he's close to being a good pickpocket. The problem in the secondary is that we have no true, highly-recruited studs at DB who have lived up to potential. Dorsey didn't qualify (and I don't think he got in at Louisville) and JT Turner transferred because forgot that he needs to earn playing time because this isn't high school. Ezeh needs to play better game to game, too.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 4:10 a.m.

3,3,5 in most of its forms is a Prevent D. Little to no pass rush, Average run stopage, and the D backs are making the majority of the tackles. 3 down linemen, 3 line backers, so on the play side there is only one down lineman to take care of (Asuming the center ties up the nose tackle) and 2 linebackers. So pull a back side guard on a simple HS trap and now you have 3 o linemen, a full back and a Slot/wing/tight end, thats 5 on 3 and free running into the secondary all day long. now if the safties/OLB's adjust up, now you have a WR standing alone on the backside waiting for the ball. Its simple numbers game, and the 335 makes it all that much easier You have to know that the success of a football team starts at the line of scrimmage. if you dont own the line, you dont own much.


Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 9:27 p.m.

As a UM fan living in the Syracuse area, I caught a lot of grief when we picked up G-Rob as our DC. I fought back with every weapon I had, claiming that he was probably in over his head as a D-1 head coach, but just wait to see what he does as a college DC with Michigan's recruiting power. Well, I'm still waiting, and unless we start making some halftime corrections and playing with a little more assertiveness, I'm not going to be able to show up for work on Mondays. This is the year for Robinson to show that he can coach college kids...if we grind through this season without dramatic, measurable improvement then he deserves to be gone. As a true fan I hope that's not the case, but on the other hand it drives me absolutely crazy to have a defense that's the laughing stock of college football.

3 And Out

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 7:38 p.m.

good point Jaxon.


Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 6:35 p.m.

I think this is all part of the defensive plan - to let the opposing offensive skill players slip into the secondary so that the safety and defensive backs gain more experience in these early games. Ingenious really.


Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 6:16 p.m.

"I expect it to be a one-game slip-up, and we'll make the corrections we need to." - Jordan Kovacs I'm going to cling to that quote like grim death.


Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 6:05 p.m.

Kovacs grasp of the defensive is why he as walk on is playing better than some teammates, who were recruited athletes. I know injuries are a problem, but the grasp of the defensive by the athletes who are still able to play most improve.

3 And Out

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 4:43 p.m.

Kovacs seems like a nice kid...and he has good football instincts, the problem is that he has MAC level talent and MAC level speed at best. He is better suited to bulk up and play LB than safety but right now it is what it is. Good for him that he has made it from walking down the street to starting for the Michigan defense...but it also says a lot about the current state of affairs for the Michigan football program under Rich Rodriguez.