Michigan football latest experiment: Making two more two-way players – Detroit Free Press

As the clock melted away in the final stages of Saturday’s blowout against Hawaii, a pair of Michigan football players appeared in unusual spots on the field relative to their natural positions.
Defensive lineman Dominick Giudice, a sophomore whose development was praised by head coach Jim Harbaugh throughout fall camp, logged 15 snaps at right guard with the third-string offensive line. And freshman wide receiver Amorion Walker, whom the Wolverines flipped from Notre Dame, played five snaps at cornerback.
The moves reflect Harbaugh’s willingness to explore the talents of players who contributed on both sides of the ball in high school. Giudice and Walker join inside linebacker Kalel Mullings, who moonlighted at running back, and nickelback Mike Sainristil, who converted from wide receiver, on the list of notable changes since the end of last season. It’s reasonable to believe the smoothness of Sainristil’s transition — an idea first posited by Harbaugh over the winter — emboldened the coaches to think more creatively at positions with crowded rotations.
“Mike Sainristil was all over the field,” Harbaugh said after Sainristil notched three tackles and a sack against Colorado State in his first game on defense. “I mean, he was everywhere.”
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Harbaugh explained Giudice’s move during his appearance on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show earlier this week. Giudice committed to Michigan as a three-star prospect from Freehold, New Jersey, where he anchored the offensive and defensive lines at Mater Dei High School. Harbaugh said he remembered watching Giudice play center during the recruitment process.
But it wasn’t until last Tuesday — four days before kickoff against Hawaii — that Harbaugh approached Giudice and asked if he wanted to play offense. Giudice, 6 feet 4 and 290 pounds, embraced the idea. His father texted Harbaugh shortly thereafter to offer a stamp of approval.
“Then we went to the practice field and in one day it was like, man, I’m not a very smart guy,” Harbaugh said on the radio show, “(because) it took me a year to think of this. I’d never seen a guy pick it up that fast and then play.”
Giudice allowed one pressure and one quarterback hit against the Rainbow Warriors.
“Tuesday he makes the switch (and by) Saturday night he’s pulling, he’s making calls from the right guard (spot),” Harbaugh said. “Now, the center was probably telling him what call to make, but he’s making calls and he was pass protecting. It’s like, yeah, I wish I had been a little smarter and thought of that one sooner.”
Walker’s trial at cornerback was more surprising. A three-star recruit from Ponchatoula, Louisiana, Walker arrived in Ann Arbor with a reputation as deep-ball threat capable of acrobatics downfield. He has been described as one of the fastest players on the team and turned heads in fall camp with his athleticism — even if the path toward playing time was largely blocked by Michigan’s populous wide receiver room.
At 6-3 and 180 pounds, Walker has an unusual frame for a defensive back. He’s taller than every corner on the roster and lighter than every scholarship player in the secondary aside from cornerback DJ Turner, who also weighs 180 pounds but is 3 inches shorter.
“The vision there is he’s got special, unique abilities in terms of athleticism,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something that he wants to do and something that he is smart enough to do, to be a two-way player. You saw that play out on Saturday night when he had extended snaps on defense, and I thought he did really well. I think he’s got a bright future right now being a two-way player.”
Despite lengthy careers in both college football and the NFL, Harbaugh and first-year UConn head coach Jim Mora have almost never crossed paths. In fact, Mora told reporters in Connecticut that he didn’t believe he and Harbaugh competed against each other in more than 50 years of combined experience.
But it appears the two men did share a field once, on Nov. 3, 2002, when Mora was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and Harbaugh was quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders. Harbaugh’s pupil, quarterback Rich Gannon, completed 18 of 28 passes for 164 yards and one score against Mora’s defense. The 49ers prevailed, 23-20, on a field goal in overtime.
“I think (Harbaugh is) one of the premier head coaches in all of football,” Mora said this week. “I think he’s proven that by the records he’s been able to put up in the NFL and at Michigan. I have great respect for the way he weathered that storm a couple of years ago. Hung in there and built this thing the way he wanted to build it. I’m sure it wasn’t easy on him to be criticized the way he was, given the skins that he’s put on the wall.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I think he’s a guy with an incredible amount of integrity.”
Inside linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green (soft-tissue injury) and offensive tackle Karsen Barnhart (ankle) are trending in the right direction for Saturday’s date with UConn.
Hill-Green was sidelined for the opener and participated in warmups for Week 2 but never entered the game.
Barnhart was injured when tailback Donovan Edwards rolled up on him during a running play against Colorado State. He suffered a sprained ankle and did not dress against Hawaii.
Harbaugh said both players are “somewhere between questionable and probable” for this week’s game.  
Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.


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