This was all set to be the strength of the defense and then leading tackler Jake Ryan tore his ACL in the spring. While he is hopefully back by October, the rest of the linebackers press on without him. The other two linebacker positions now have depth and a serious breakout star in James Ross. The obvious question is who replaces Jake Ryan?…
1. Strongside LB- Ryan was Michigan’s most productive linebacker last year and served as their best pass rusher. He is also versatile enough to go out and cover the slot when the opposition went to three and four wide sets. Basically he was Mattison’s Swiss army knife and hopefully he can make it back for B1G season.
In the meantime Senior Cam Gordon is expected to step into his spot. You may remember Gordon from being used as a free safety by Rich Rod in 2010. (Sweet Jesus (Sidenote: no highlight package should have music over it.))
Gordon missed the majority of 2011 due to injury as Ryan took the SAM spot and spent the majority of last year with mop up duty. Mattison did mention that he wished he used Gordon more so there is optimism that he can produce at a decent level. I’m skeptical.
Also competing for the job is Junior Brennen Beyer who spent his frosh year as Ryan’s backup and then moved to WDE last year where he split time with Clark. With the injury they moved him back and he actually started the spring game at the SAM. Beyer was mainly used in run situations and I expect something similar to start the season. Cam will be used on passing downs and Beyer on run downs. I also expect nickel Dymonte Thomas to be used quite a bit to try and replicate what Ryan can do in third and long situations.
So basically us Beyer + Gordon + Thomas= Jake Ryan. Hopefully Jake can be back come November when things get tough.
2. Middle LB- Junior Desmond Morgan moves over from WLB to compete with Sophomore Joe Bolden for this job. Morgan started the last 2 years and while he didn’t come to Michigan as highly touted as Bolden he is solid and is one of the biggest hitters on the team.
Bolden backed up the departed Kenny Demens last year as a frosh and did a good job with the snaps he played. Freshman Mike McCray will be third string and will provide depth and see some special teams action if they don’t redshirt him.
3. Weakside LB- The reason Michigan was able to move Morgan over to MLB is the simple fact that sophomore James Ross is more than ready to take over the position. Constantly mentioned throughout the spring and is expected to be the big hitter of the LB corps.
Fellow sophomore Royce Jenkins-Stone not only has a badass name but also looks like he is thirty five years old. RJS didn’t redshirt last year for some reason and played sparingly on special teams. Freshman Ben Gedeon might be too good to keep off the field as well. As you can see Michigan has depth at the middle and weakside LB spots. This makes me happy.
Meaningless Prediction- Ross will live up to the hype and be forecasted as a potential player to leave early for the NFL draft after next season. The Morgan/Bolden combo does their job so know one speaks poorly or highly of them. The SLB position is held together until Jake Ryan’s return in which he isn’t as good as last year for the simple reason he just tore his ACL seven months ago. (I like Ryan but he’s not an alien like Adrian Peterson.)
This unit is solid but will be beastly in 2014 with a healthy Jake Ryan and an upperclassmen James Ross. (I hope you are sensing a theme here on defense)
Next Up- Michigan tries to replace everyone’s favorite walk-on Jordan Kovacs and the rest of the secondary.