Michigan football entered the offseason in need of at least one new starting cornerback.
Then Ambry Thomas, the sole returning first-stringer, opted out of the college football season.
Now, the Wolverines must replace both starters from last season. According to defensive coordinator Don Brown, the search continues as Michigan is slated to begin padded practices and fall camp this week.
“Well, we've got a number of guys that we're looking at there," Brown said during a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. "DJ Turner, Jalen Perry, probably are the two, I would say, guys that are the closest, but again, we really don’t want to shut anybody out, because we still have three solid weeks of work prior to the game week."
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Entering this offseason, the Wolverines knew they would have to replace cornerback Lavert Hill, with the multiyear starter exhausting his eligibility. Thomas, who started last season and played well, was expected to solidify the other outside cornerback position after deciding to return for his senior season instead of declaring early for the draft.
The COVID-19-induced postponement of college football, though, threw a wrench in Michigan's plans. Thomas opted out of the season in mid-August, declaring for the draft and reportedly signing with an agent, and has not provided the Wolverines with any indication of opting back in.
“Right now, at this point, Jalen is the only one who submitted that waiver to opt back in," said Jim Harbaugh on the "Inside Michigan Football" radio show with Jon Jansen.
Of the returning players at the position, only one has started a game before: Redshirt sophomore Vincent Gray, who played in all 13 games last year and started in place of an injured Lavert Hill at Illinois.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gray allowed the third-lowest completion percentage at outside cornerback in the nation last fall.
Lowest completion % allowed at outside CB in 2019:— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 6, 2020
1. Cedrick Dort Jr, UK - 30%
2. Caleb Farley, VA Tech - 33%
3. Vincent Gray, UM - 34% pic.twitter.com/ZoEzK7Wc7b
Earlier this offseason, Brown told reporters Gray could be a future NFL draft pick, calling the cornerback "an outstanding player with tremendous range.”
Brown didn't mention Gray until the end of Wednesday's Zoom call — but not because of his performance.
"Vince Gray rotated and played all year and is playing at a very, very, very high level," Brown said. "We really feel good about him. I don’t think I mentioned him earlier. That’s unfair because he’s playing really, really well. I’m really happy with the way he’s playing.”
In addition to Gray, Turner and Perry, Brown also mentioned Keshaun Harris, a walk-on; Eamonn Dennis and George Johnson, who were both former receivers in high school; and Gemon Green, a redshirt sophomore. Other cornerbacks include true freshmen Andre Seldon Jr. (Belleville) and Darion Green-Warren, and then there's also safety Daxton Hill, who often played nickel cornerback in 2019 and could potentially move around the secondary this fall.
Gray seems like a good bet to take over as the starter at one of the outside spots. Hill could earn playing time at the unit, too, based on Brown's comments on Wednesday about his versatility. And everything else appears to be up for grabs, with Brown content to let things play out as Michigan settles into a normal preseason routine.
"We still have some significant practice times in front of us before we make any decisions," Brown said.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's best options to replace Ambry Thomas and Lavert Hill