While Michigan football continues to retool a secondary that lost several key pieces this offseason, there's at least one experienced player it can count on at cornerback.
Lavert Hill was faced with a decision following his junior year, a season that saw him earn third-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors. Hill, a multi-year starter, could've turned pro. His fellow starting cornerback and classmate David Long chose that option.
Hill, though, chose to return to Michigan for his senior season.
Why? Well, that was easy.
"Man, I came here to win," Hill said Monday afternoon ahead of Michigan's season opener against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday. "We ain't win nothing. Just gotta come back and try to do it again."
Michigan will be relying upon Hill again as the team's top cornerback - although this is a different situation than what he has known throughout his career. When Hill arrived in Ann Arbor, he learned from veterans such as Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark. He ascended to a starting position as a sophomore, playing alongside Long, safety Tyree Kinnel and nickelback Brandon Watson over the past two seasons.
Long, Kinnel and Watson are all gone now. Hill, along with safety Josh Metellus, is the veteran in the room now. And Michigan needs him more than ever.
Junior cornerback Ambry Thomas continues to recover from colitis, with an unknown timetable for his return. Thomas was projected to start opposite of Hill. Now, it appears that - at least to start the season - Michigan will call upon one of Vincent Gray or Jaylen Kelly-Powell.
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"Vince Gray has had a good camp," said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday. "He's had a good spring and a good camp and a good summer. He's ready to play ball. Excited for him. Jaylen Kelly-Powell, also. We've got good options there. We'll see about Ambry as well, because he's a heckuva good football player."
While Gray, Kelly-Powell and freshman DJ Turner (and even Thomas) remain unknown commodities, Michigan knows what it has with Hill, who is the only returning cornerback with starting experience. According to Pro Football Focus, Hill leads all returning Big Ten cornerbacks with 0.64 yards per cover snap allowed. He has been a reliable player on the outside who is rarely beat or out of position, while also possessing the versatility and athleticism in the slot.
Past performance usually predicts future success," Harbaugh said. "(Hill's) had a really good camp. He's always been a dynamic player for us. He's doing good, keeping it simple, just trying to get great at football. Improvement is good and noticeable.
"Love everything that Lavert's been doing. He'll be right there in the middle of things, one of our top defensive players."
Michigan's secondary entered 2019 with the unenviable task of replacing three veteran starters. It only figures to be more difficult while they await Thomas' return. Hill, though, remains confident.
"I try to take on a role as a leader," Hill said, "but I know that the younger guys, they're going to step up to the plate in Ambry's absence. We'll be ready."
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