Head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter — who will operate as head coach on Saturday while Harbaugh serves the first of his three-game university-imposed suspension — joined the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show Monday evening and got into more detail about the current health of the roster, which as it stands, is a bit banged up.
"Still going to wait and see what that looks like this Saturday,” Harbaugh said of the tandem. “Nothing long-term. There are none of the sixth-month variations of injury. At safety, Makari and Rod have both had some things they’re working through.”
Moore led all U-M defensive backs with 71 tackles and 1½ tackles for loss in 2022, to go with a team-best four interceptions and seven pass breakups as he played in all 14 games (13 starts) and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention.
Paige, who split the starting strong safety job a season ago with RJ Moten, but was expected to move into the full time role this year. Also an All-Big Ten honorable mention, Paige made 41 tackles with one sack and one interception among three pass break ups.
As for who might fill in should one be unavailable, Harbaugh was quick to name a true sophomore who has turned heads.
"Keon Sabb has gone straight to the top," Harbaugh said. "Amazing player who has really come into his own. He did last year on special teams, but we didn’t play him enough. We didn’t play him enough, in my opinion, at safety. He’s gotten a ton of reps — starter-quality player. ”
Sabb, a 6-foot-1, 208-pound former four-star defensive back from Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy, was rated the No. 84 overall prospect in the Class of 2022 per 247Sports Composite rankings, as well as No. 9 among all safeties and No. 12 among players in Florida. Zeke Berry could be an option as the starter at the opposite safety position.
Meanwhile the second cornerback spot appears to have gone to UMass transfer Josh Wallace. The three-time captain from the Minutemen is said to have been, "in Mike (Sainristil's) hip pocket" from the moment he got here, which has seemingly paid dividends.
In the spring, Wolverines coaches lauded the lengthy, speedy sophomore Amorion Walker as the favorite to start opposite Will Johnson, but earlier this month he was seen on crutches. On Monday, Minter listed a number of potential options at the spot, instead mentioning Ja'Den McBurrows, freshman Jyaire Hill and former walk-on Keshaun Harris, but not Walker.
“He’s been working through something all of camp,” Harbaugh said of Walker. “So just getting him back healthy is what we’re hoping for and looking for.”
The other two notable injuries are perhaps two options to get plenty of reps in the wide receiver room: Tyler Morris and Payton O'Leary.
Morris, a 5-11, 185-pound receiver from Bolingbrook, Illinois, was reported to be the No. 3 wide receiver, in large part thanks to the chemistry he had with quarterback J.J. McCarthy dating back to their early high school days.
Morris played in eight games (seven at wide receiver) and caught three passes for 25 yards as a true freshman, including a 9-yard reception for a first down against Rutgers.
O'Leary, a former walk-on who was put on scholarship this past offseason, burst onto the scene in the maize and blue scrimmage in the spring, when he had a game-best six catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
“They stepped up and then halfway through camp, they were working through something,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll hopefully be back close to full strength this week — if not week one or two, we’ll see.”
Harbaugh singled out Cristian Dixon among U-M's most available wideouts to step up in the meantime, and mentioned a trio of freshmen — Fredrick Moore, Karmello English and Semaj Morgan — as possibilities as well.
'Current status quo is unacceptable'
Harbaugh opened his news conference Monday doing something he's done before, but more emphatically this time.
Advocating for players. Not just those on his team, but all who fall under the NCAA jurisdiction.
Harbaugh spoke Monday, ahead of perhaps his football program's most anticipated season of the century, to look at the “big picture” of college athletics and give what he called "my thoughts, my opinions" both on where things stand and where they're headed.
“What I don’t understand is how the NCAA television networks, conferences, universities and coaches can continue to pull in millions — and in some cases, billions — of dollars, in revenue off the efforts of college student-athletes across the country without providing enough opportunity to share in the ever-increasing revenues,” he said. “When student-athletes call it a game, the corporate types call it a business. When the student-athletes call it a business, corporate types call it a game.”
Harbaugh is calling for a revenue sharing model with the athletes. It's not the first he mentioned this idea; he said he first floated it in 2020 and then brought it up again last year at Big Ten media days, but this was the most in depth he got with the topic.
He was far from lining up the specifics — he said it's up to the "legal experts" — but did say it is clearly overdue given how the sport has grown exponentially since he first observed. Harbaugh pointed out when he grew up, perhaps only one game a week was nationally broadcast. Now, anybody can find any game.
In the half-century of time that's passed, nearly everybody has received a piece of the financial pie. Television networks, conferences, universities and coaches all continue to profit. Except the athletes.
“The current status quo is unacceptable and won’t survive,” he said. “In my opinion, when we capitalize on the talent, we should pay the talent for their contributions to the bottom line."
The world of the athlete has progressed well in recent years; with the advent of NIL in July 2021, student-athletes have been able to profit off of their name, image and likeness. On Monday, defensive tackle Cam Goode said the development has been a nice change from when he first began college.
"I think the NCAA is doing a good job, honestly," he said. "NIL is booming right now."
Running back Kalel Mullings said he doesn't have time to think about those things, but said it's exactly why he appreciates Harbaugh and how he "uses is very influential voice to advocate for us in the best way possible."
"What I hope to accomplish today is sparking constructive conversation and timely action," Harbaugh said. "With and between the NCAA, conferences, coaches, universities, certainly a group representing the student-athletes, as well as experts and legal minds who specialize in revenue sharing."
For openers: Pirates
Matchup: No. 2 Michigan (13-1 in 2022) vs. East Carolina (8-5 in 2022).
Kickoff: Noon Saturday; Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.
TV/radio: Peacock (online only); WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).
Line: Wolverines by 35½.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football beat up a bit at safety, WR entering season opener