ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan freshman Khaleke Hudson is a well-rounded athlete, but he still needs time to adjust before becoming the type of safety envisioned by Wolverines defensive backs coach Brian Smith.
However, Hudson took a few steps in the right direction during a 63-3 toppling of Hawaii, ending the day as one of 17 true freshmen to register stats: one solo tackle. That might seem paltry, but it was something. He gained productive reps behind veteran mainstays.
“He can be a very good player, you know, he’s just got to take it one day at a time and continue to improve,” Smith said during Wednesday’s media availability at Schembechler Hall.
The day-by-day process should push Hudson — an aggressive, 6-foot, 205-pounder out of talent-rich Pennsylvania — throughout the season and his career in Ann Arbor.
As a prep senior, he racked up 60 tackles and returned a pair of picks for touchdowns; he knows what it takes to man the position.
He also excelled as a running back, and the days of toting the rock could shape Hudson’s future as a bruising defensive back. In 2015, he scored 17 touchdowns — so he should know exactly how to stop the other team’s guy from doing the same.
“Knowing how a running back thinks, you know, I guess that helps,” Smith said. “You’re kind of seeing the same thing he sees, but from the other side. When you’re playing against the run game, you’re seeing the same holes that he’s seeing — so having that vision helps on the defensive side.”
It’s not a total polar flip, but it’s similar. For a first-year guy, everything — every bit of context — helps while making the transition from high school star to one of Jim Harbaugh’s up-and-comers.
“Khaleke came in (as a) freshman, didn’t know much — he played running back in high school, kind of an option-running back,” said Smith, later noting Hudson’s skillful approach as a blitzer. “You know, you can see the maturity that he has for a young guy coming in. And he’s really learned a lot in the past couple weeks.
“I’ve been happy with his progression, from where he started to where he is now… just got to keep going every day, you know, getting better and just learning the game. Learning the safety position, but he’s done a nice job so far.”
While a 63-3 shelling doesn’t do much for an ascending power such as Michigan, it does serve as an invaluable teaching aide for young players.
“We try not to worry about the score and just focus on doing your job to the best of your ability, and getting better from a technique standpoint. The score takes care of itself, so we just focus on how to plan. Snap-to-snap, every snap. Are you getting better? Are you improving? Are you taking plays off? That’s kind of how we look at it.”
Should Hudson continue to work to Smith’s satisfaction, he could earn a consistent depth role behind seniors Delano Hill, who had a pick-6 this past Saturday, and Dymonte Thomas, who has been a “steady player for us all camp,” according to Smith.
On National Signing Day, Harbaugh described Hudson as a “football player.” Wolverines secondary coach Mike Zordich used an identical phrase to portray Hudson.
Hudson can play.
“I think as soon as I get there, I’m going to have an impact on the team,” Hudson told PennLive this past summer. “I’ll be at strong safety my first year, and then my second year, they’re going to be putting me on offense and giving me some plays and stuff.
“They want me to get the defensive part down pat, and then they’ll throw me in the offense.”