Michigan football declines to say whether Dax Hill traveled for Orange Bowl

DANIA BEACH, Fla. — Where is Daxton Hill?

With two days remaining until Michigan football faces Georgia in the College Football Playoff, it’s unclear if Hill — the team’s starting nickelback and a first-team All-Big Ten performer — will be available to play or if he’s even in Florida with the rest of the Wolverines.

Rumors circulated on social media Wednesday regarding the status of Hill, a potential first- or second-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and whether he traveled with the team for the Orange Bowl. Both U-M spokesmen who handle football declined to say if Hill made the trip when contacted by the Free Press and instead issued the following statement: “We will reach out if there is anything to share.”

Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill warms up before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Subsequent attempts by the Free Press to reach both Hill and his family were unsuccessful.

Without confirmation from the player, coach Jim Harbaugh or the athletic department, Michigan’s other players were left to answer questions about Hill during the Orange Bowl’s virtual media day session Wednesday morning. Quarterback Cade McNamara and center Andrew Vastardis were each asked if Hill traveled with the team and gave nearly identical responses.

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Said McNamara: “You know, it’s not our job to comment on other players, so we’ll let coach Harbaugh answer that question.”

Said Vastardis: “Really that’s a question for coach Harbaugh, not for us.”

But unlike Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who is scheduled to speak with the media twice this week, including Wednesday morning, Harbaugh is only being made available to reporters during the head coaches’ joint news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday on Zoom — at which point he surely will face questions about Hill’s potential absence.

Hill was scheduled to speak to the media Dec. 21 in Ann Arbor, but that appearance was nixed at the last minute when a U-M spokesman said Hill had “something come up.” Additional clarity surrounding the cancellation was not provided at the time and hasn’t been provided since.

Hill’s older brother, running back Justice Hill of the Baltimore Ravens, was placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list on Dec. 25, according to a report from The Baltimore Sun. Whether Daxton Hill’s potential absence is related to COVID-19 is unclear.

If Hill is unavailable to play against the Bulldogs, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will be without one of his most trusted players. Hill has logged more snaps than anyone else on defense this season while commanding the nickelback or star position that requires a unique skillset to float between corner- and safety-type responsibilities. He ranks second on the team in tackles (65) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) and pass breakups (seven).

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“That position is very valuable,” safety Brad Hawkins said on a Zoom call Wednesday morning. “You do a lot of things. You move around. You’ve got to think on the fly because you’ve got to change strength of the defenses. It’s all interchangeable really, so it’s just the type of defense that we play. Everybody can be in every spot at one point in time, depending on what play it is. But yeah, that position is very, very valuable to the defense. And he does a lot, he thinks a lot. He communicates a lot.”

A potential replacement for Hill could be true freshman safety Rod Moore, who spent the early part of the season practicing at nickelback before moving to free safety. Moore supplanted starting safety R.J. Moten beginning with the win over Penn State and maintained his place atop the depth chart for the remainder of the year. He averaged 63.5 snaps and 5.75 tackles per game during wins over Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State and Iowa.

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Moore has been praised by teammates and members of the coaching staff for his open-field tackling, vigorous commitment to film study and overall maturity for a first-year player. If he moves from free safety to the nickel position, Moten could slide back into the safety role he played for most of the season.

“I feel great about the depth of the safeties,” Hawkins said Wednesday. “Rod Moore is a tremendous player. He’s a leader as a young guy. He listens. He wants to learn. He wants to get better every single day. He comes out here, he works his butt off. You know, for a young guy to be thrown into the fire like that and continue to grow and continue to play well, tremendous for him, and he’s going to continue to grow as a person and as a leader on this team. So I’m just very happy for him and can’t wait to see his success in the future.”

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan won’t say if Dax Hill traveled for Orange Bowl