Other than Kenny Demens who played at 250 pounds and Jake Ryan who plays at 240, Michigan’s linebackers haven’t exactly been giants in recent years.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is changing that. “Football has changed,” he said. “With all the read option and all the spread things, you have to have a linebacker inside that can see over the top of big offensive guards and tackles. And this guy (Michael Ferns) gives you the size, speed, the intelligence. This is a big linebacker and that’s something we needed sorely. As 2014 signee Michael Ferns is, who’s here right now. That’s something we had to do. We had to get a little bigger backers.”
“Now we feel we have a group that are back to the old Michigan linebackers,” he added.
Ferns arrived at Michigan at 6-3, 235 while Chase Winovich and Noah Furbush each arrived at 6-4 .
Michigan will begin fall camp with 13 scholarship linebackers (see chart below), with five being a part of the freshmen class.
For the 2015 class, it’s anticipated that the Wolverines will sign three linebackers, unless they discover a prospect they can’t refuse. Let’s take a look at six of the prospects:
Malik Jefferson, 6-3 220 Lbs., SAM, Mesquite (TX) Poteet
Recruiting Malik Jefferson to Michigan is a longshot at best.
The Mesquite, TX linebacker is being wooed by every major program in the nation, and two of them—Texas and Oklahoma–are virtually in his backyard. Add Texas A&M, Alabama and Ohio State to the mix and Michigan will be hard-pressed to to land the nation’s No 1 outside linebacker prospect.
Jefferson, when speaking of the Wolverines, spoke of a small obstacle that could stand in the way.
“It is important that the coach is going to be there for the long haul,” Jefferson said. ” I want to know the type of relationship they have with their players. The style of defense I like to play in is the 3-4 standing up and coming off the edge.”
Michigan of course spends most of the time in the 43 under defense, but seriously, the outside backer in the 3-4 has similar responsibilities so that shouldn’t scare Jefferson away.
As a junior in 2013, Jefferson racked up 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and four blocked kicks. to earn Honorable Mention All-State honors.
Justin Hilliard 6-2, 225 lbs, MIKE, Cincinnati St Xavier (HS)
For the Wolverines to get a commitment from Hilliard, they will have to steal him away from Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Other teams in the running are Iowa, Notre Dame and merely 25 more. The Hawkeyes might have an edge because Hilliard’s brother C.J. is a 2014 signee.
Justin attended the Michigan-Notre Dame “Under the Lights II” extravaganza and came away impressed.
“It’s definitely impressive to see that they can get over 115,000 plus people to come up for a game and everything. But the way they treat the players is incredible.
“They are telling me it’s a small class and that they need a linebacker,” he said. “They are recruiting me as a middle linebacker and they are going to keep recruiting me.”
“I really like the coaches,” Hilliard added. “I feel real comfortable. I’ve become real good friends with some recruits out there. There is a (comfort) level. I feel comfortable up there. I really haven’t been on campus that much. I probably need to talk to some (current) players. I had a chance to talk to a couple of seniors and that was pretty cool. But I haven’t been around campus.”
Hilliard has been rated the No. 1 player in Ohio and the No. 1 linebacker. Nationally, Hilliard is scout.com’s No. 5 linebacker prospect.
Jerome Baker, 6-1, 205 Lbs., OLB, Cleveland (OH) Benedictine
“The tradition of Michigan is what I want to see,” Jerome Baker said. “You always hear about it, you always read about it, I mean, we’re in Ohio so you really can’t feel it, what Michigan is.
“So when I get up to Michigan I want to see the Michigan helmets, the buildings, the legends of Michigan; I just want to experience the whole thing.”
Ohio State, however is more of the same. “They show me a lot of love,” Baker said. “Ohio State, I call them probably every other week or something. I just talked to Coach Meyer a few days ago but Ohio State is just Ohio State. It’s my hometown team and we have a great relationship with Ohio State.”
Asked just how difficult it’ll be for another program to rip him away from Urban Meyer and Ohio State, Baker said that’s what visits are for.
“If I go somewhere else and I love it, that’s where I’m going to go,” he said. “It’s pretty simple. I wouldn’t say it’s that hard.”
As of right now, Baker plans to take all five of his official visits next fall and make a decision after that.
Current linebackers by class
James Ross III
R. J. Stone
Nick Benda-walk on
|Mike McCray |
Tyric Thompson, 6-1, 215 lbs, OLB, Detroit M.L.King HS.
The Michigan coaching staff would like to see outside linebacker Tyric Thompson follow in his father’s footsteps.
Tyric’s dad Clarence was a defensive back for the Wolverines from 1993-95.
Despite his dad’s good intentions, Tyric sees Michigan State as a possibility.
“It’s a little different (now),” he said. “Like I said before, I’m not going to base my decision on (where his dad played)”.
“My decision will be based on where I feel is the best fit for me, where I feel I can be successful for the next four years.
Josh McMillon, 6-2, 230 lbs, OLB, Memphis
“I was kind of happy with the whole situation,” McMillon said on receiving an offer from the Wolverines. “I talked on the phone with (defensive coordinator) Greg Mattison, who coached the Baltimore Ravens. He talked about how he coached Ray Lewis. Overall, it was a great time talking with Greg.”
While McMillon spoke highly of his first conversation with Mattison, he also has a family member who has educated him on what the Maize & Blue have to offer.
“My cousin is alumni, so he is always telling me great things… since I was in the ninth grade… about Michigan,” McMillon said. “They’re overall No. 1 in academics in several (majors). They are also No. 1 on the field. They make sure you get your class work in. Then after class, they make sure you prevail on the football field.”
“I plan on taking a visit up there,” McMillon said. “My coach is trying to get me up there for a visit. … I’m not sure when it will be.”
Cameron Smith 6-3, 247 lbs, MIKE, Granite Bay HS (CA).
From just outside Sacramento it’s no surprise that Smith is looking favorably toward USC and UCLA.
Although he hasn’t been offered yet by U-M, he’s already received a visit from Michigan, and is very familiar with the Maize and Blue.
“Michigan has a great tradition and environment,” Smith told scout.com. “They have over 100,000 in the Big House every game. It is a big deal up there. They are a college town. I really like the fan base, and I could see myself wearing the Maize and Blue. I have watched Michigan on TV and I have played NCAA football with Desmond Howard on the cover, so I do know about Michigan.”
Other than his lack of speed, scout.com’s No. 1 middle linebacker, has all the tools to become a Mike Boren-type terror. If Hilliard decides to go elsewhere, the Wolverines will probably jump on Smith.
2015 Linebacker Targets (To be consistent, all ratings supplied by scout.com)
Nat'l Pos. Rank
|Malik Jefferson||6-3, 220, SAM||5||1||1 (TX)|
|Justin Hilliard||6-2, 225, MIKE||4||5||1 (OH)|
|Jerome Baker||6-1, 205, OLB||4||6||3 (OH)|
|Tyriq Thompson||6-1, 215, OLB||4||21||5 (MI)|
|Josh McMillon||6-2, 230, S/W||4||22||6 (TN)|
|Cameron Smith||6-3, 247, SAM||4||1||7 (CA)|
Also on the radar: Jeffrey Holland, Wyatt Cook, John Houston, Ricky DeBerry, Cameron Thompson, Osa Messina, Darrin Kirkland, Jr., Josh Barajas, Anthony Wheeler. ♦
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Joel Greer