December 16, 2009

Cornerback Justin Turner wowed behind the scenes

Cornerback Justin Turner, his enrollment at Michigan in limbo all summer, did the Wolverines a disservice by showing up in Ann Arbor out of shape when he was finally cleared to practice, but he'll have four years to rectify his mistake …

The 6-2, 187-pound freshman was the jewel of the 2009 recruiting class, ranking 35th nationally, the No. 1 player in Ohio and the No. 3 safety in the country. However, snags academically delayed his arrival at U-M and when he did become a Wolverine, he wasn't ready to compete for playing time.

"Guys were a little surprised he reported to camp overweight because when we met him in the spring, he was one of those guys that just jumped out at you physically," said a teammate.

"Maybe it's one of those things that any other season wouldn't have been a big deal, but we were really hurting at cornerback and when Troy [Woolfolk] had to move from safety, I think J.T. knew that he could have played and could have made a difference."

Almost every Monday, at his weekly press conference, Rich Rodriguez was asked about Turner's availability and U-M's coach repeatedly remarked "when he's ready." It turned out, he never was, taking a redshirt in 2009, but Turner, motivated, didn't wallow on the sidelines, lamenting his situation.

"The thing that will make him great is that he takes constructive criticism so well - every day he gets better because he listens to what the coaches tell him he needs to work on and goes out and practices that," senior defensive end Brandon Graham said. "Right now, he just doesn't know the defense well enough but he's a really good athlete and he's making plays just off athleticism. Once he learns his role defensively, he'll take off."

Working with Michigan's scout team extensively in the fall, Turner routinely turned heads with his performances.

"He's a big, physical defensive back that will bring an intimidation factor to his individual matchups," departing placekicker Jason Olesnavage said. "He really likes to play aggressive and I think he'll be one of those guys that lays a pretty nasty hit every week. And he has the size to battle the big receivers you see in the Big Ten also."

With junior Donovan Warren potentially opting for the NFL and Woolfolk likely headed back to safety, Turner can play a critical role at cornerback next season for the Maize and Blue.

"We really struggled at defensive back and I think J.T. is a guy that can come in and make a big impact because of his attitude," departing tailback Ben Sutton said. "He trains extremely hard because he's excited about next year. He knows there will be an opportunity there for him.

"He knows he has something to prove and all fall he had a chip on his shoulder. If he keeps that up, I really think he's someone that next season everyone will notice."

Keep an eye on linebacker Brandin Hawthorne too. The Pahokee, Fla., native saw some time in 2009 on special teams but not enough to lose his redshirt eligibility. He will begin the spring competing with classmate Mike Jones to replace Steve Brown at spinner.

"I think he'll play the position that Steve Brown is leaving, and if he can understand the defense - because he's so young - he could be exactly what our team needs," fifth-year senior wide receiver LaTerryal Savoy said. "He's very aggressive and very physical, loves to hit players, and we need more people like that. I think he'll make a lot of big plays."



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