Michigan freshman safety Jarrod Wilson brimming with talent, not experience
Jarrod Wilson celebrated his 18th birthday last month. Four weeks later, he was on a practice field playing safety for the Michigan football team.
The true freshman from Akron (Ohio) Buchtel High School has enrolled early with the Wolverines. And, while his raw talent has impressed coaches in spring camp, his youth leaves him a long way from cracking the rotation.
"Jarrod, he’s pretty good playing the ball and those things," coach Brady Hoke said last week. "At the same time, he’s learning all this stuff -- this coverage is this, and when they motion this guy over, what do you do? And is it a zone, a fire, or a zone blitz, or is it man coverage?
"I mean, there’s a lot of things and it’s always hard at the safety position. Probably as hard as any within the defense because of the adjustments they have to make.”
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Wilson is one of three early enrollees on campus for spring camp, joined by linebackers Kaleb Ringer and Joe Bolden. Michigan was scheduled to hold its sixth practice Tuesday, and will have seven more before concluding camp with an open scrimmage April 14.
Wilson, one of the 20 best high school safeties in the class of 2012 according to Rivals and Scout, is getting some much-needed seasoning in his first camp. That includes not only learning the 4-3 scheme, but also its terminology.
"The biggest thing high school kids, or new people, have to adjust to when they come to a new program, or from high school to college, in my opinion, is the language of what you call things," linebackers coach Mark Smith said of the early enrollees during a recent interview.
"They’ve each done things that are similar to what we’ve done (schematically), but they have to be able to understand what we call it, and how we line up."
Wilson and the early enrollees also are adjusting to college life, while their friends back home go through proms and graduations without them.
"Believe me, those kids will be homesick," Smith said. "Every time they’re looking down, I just tell them, ‘Miss your girlfriend? Well, don’t worry. She’s back home, hanging out with your best buddy, if you know what I mean.’"
Smith was joking about that last part. What isn't a joke is Wilson's potential.
He stands 6-foot-2, which matches junior Marvin Robinson and sophomore Josh Furman for tallest player in the secondary. He's taller than any of the starters.
In recent seasons, he perhaps could have competed for one of those jobs because of massive turnover and attrition in the secondary. But this year, the Wolverines have one of their more stable backfields in years, returning seven of their top eight players from a pass defense that ranked 16th nationally last season.
The only loss is cornerback-turned-safety Troy Woolfolk, who was outplayed by Blake Countess at cornerback and Thomas Gordon at free safety anyway.
Gordon is back at free safety, with all-Big Ten strong safety Jordan Kovacs alongside him as a fourth-year starter and probable team captain.
Kovacs has started 33 career games, which trails only defensive end Craig Roh (38) among returners. His experience could help Wilson's development.
"I think he's going to be a good ball player -- but at the same time, it's a bit early," Kovacs said of Wilson. "He's made quite a few plays so far. He's had the opportunity because we've been somewhat thin at safety (in spring).
"He's been getting a good look and he's been taking advantage of it. But like I said, he's still got a ways to go, he's still young. But I think he's got a bright future here."