- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Dennis Norfleet always has been Michigan’s shiftiest, fastest freshman on the field. This movement, though, had little to do with his speed.
Norfleet has made the move from offense to defense, settling in the last two weeks at cornerback instead of running back, where he saw limited action. It is a move the coaches have contemplated for a while, but they didn’t make the switch until after the regular season concluded.
“We talked about it for a while,” coach Brady Hoke said. “Just to get another good athlete on the field.”
It is an athleticism Norfleet showed a multitude of times this season returning kickoffs, which is a role he will still play. It is there where the 5-foot-7 freshman made the most impact, gaining 795 yards and coming within one cut of breaking long returns a handful of times this season. He also showed promise returning punts, averaging 26.5 yards in his two punt returns.
As for his switch, Hoke said the move wasn’t made due to depth at either spot, although Michigan now has two healthy, scholarship running backs in sophomore Thomas Rawls and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes. The Wolverines have a little more depth at cornerback with senior J.T. Floyd, junior Courtney Avery, sophomores Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell and freshman Terry Richardson.
Despite having more corner depth, it is a move the coaches felt they wanted to make. Norfleet played corner as a sophomore and junior in high school, Hoke said, citing his ball skills and speed as advantages he could have at the position.
Norfleet’s height at corner also could be a concern, especially against taller receivers, but Hoke didn’t seem too bothered by it.
“One guy I always look to is [Antoine] Winfield, who played at Ohio [State] and now plays with Minnesota,” Hoke said. “He’s not very big, and he’s pretty good. Still playing.”
Both Norfleet and Hoke appear to hope this move will give the freshman more of a chance to play beyond being a returner.
NOTE: Michigan receiver Jerald Robinson, who had five catches for 69 yards this season, has left the team. Hoke did not give an explanation for Robinson’s departure.
1034dAustin Ward and Michael Rothstein