Michigan senior Troy Woolfolk embracing position change, understands why it was made
Troy Woolfolk lost his starting cornerback job to a freshman this year, after losing it last year to a vicious leg injury.
The fifth-year senior rehabbed hard to get back into the Michigan football team's lineup, but now has switched positions to make room for Blake Countess at cornerback. Woolfolk will be relegated to backing up both safety positions and playing in nickel packages.
He started last week against Purdue for injured regular Jordan Kovacs (knee), but is expected to play a reduced role once Kovacs returns.
It's been a humbling journey, but Woolfolk is relying on his experience at safety to help him make the transition. He started six games there as a junior in 2009.
"It's not a new position, so it's not that hard to adjust," Woolfolk said. "(It's) just making it more exciting because sometimes, at corner, you don't always get the ball thrown your way, so you really don't have anything to do. At safety, I feel like I could have impact on both sides of the field."
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Beyond starter Thomas Gordon, Kovacs and Woolfolk, the only healthy scholarship player is redshirt freshman Josh Furman, who has played almost exclusively on special teams this year.
"I'm about to buy a rabbit foot to keep for good luck," said Woolfolk, who also has struggled with ankle, hand and nose injuries this year and was in a car accident two weeks ago. "I feel good. That bye week was much-needed.
"I don't have any injuries. I feel like a regular person for once."
Woolfolk said he was approached after the Michigan State game about making the switch to safety. He used the off week to get comfortable with the new position.
The move provides some depth there, but originally was executed to get Countess in the lineup. The 18-year-old from Baltimore has played a progressively larger role each week (at the expense of Woolfolk) since debuting against Eastern Michigan, and played all but the first few snaps against Michigan State.
"Our thing will always be to put the best 11 on the field," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "Having Blake and Troy rotating wasn't really necessarily having the best 11 out there. The combination of him and Jordan (at safety) should be good."
Countess has 27 tackles, four pass breakups and a forced fumble. However, defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said earlier this week the best sign Countess is excelling is not a statistic, but a lack thereof.
"Other teams will try to pick on a freshman, especially in the secondary, because of how exposed they can be, especially in a man coverage," Van Bergen said. "I don’t think anybody’s really been trying Blake."
Woolfolk understands the reason the move was made, and is trying to embrace his new role. He noted his speed might actually be better utilized at safety rather than cornerback.
"We need a little bit more speed back there," Mattison said.