Michigan Wolverines: Rebuilding the Defense — Linebackers
Linebackers are like knights and bishops on a chessboard. All three are all over the place: sometimes they go in straight lines and sometimes they jump all over the place.Michigan has a decent core of linebackers. There are identified strengths in this group. First, Jake Ryan will now be in a position, at the Mike, where he can most influence the game. He resembles the decades old image of a tough middle backer who can read quickly and plug a running gap. He can go sideline to sideline, although many others are faster in a straight-line race. This is not a track meet, football speed must be observed by more than a watch. If healthy, Ryan should be at the top of postseason Big Ten teams.
Second, there is clearly depth, more so than in many previous seasons. At the very least, Michigan has at least six capable linebackers to man three spots. This does not include freshmen, at least two or three of which will join the number of players coaches have no fear of playing by late this year or next year.
Third, the linebacker responsibilities have changed. The Mike is somewhat protected by the nose tackle who plays straight up or is angled to the weak side of the center. The Sam strong linebacker is off the line of scrimmage in the 4-3 over. The Will must control a gap on the weak side and is critical since the 4-3 over hedges to the strong side.
Below is a discussion of Michigan’s linebackers. But it would not surprise anyone if there are further changes, especially if the best three will play mantra becomes reality.The Will position could well feature Desmond Morgan and Ben Gedeon. The two are somewhat dissimilar, not a critical thing. Morgan is very coachable and he possesses great experience. His field intelligence is similar to Jordan Kovacs. He likes to hit people within the confines of a football field and has some drive in his tackling. Morgan was recruited as a middle of the road three star, come on down type. The hope that he would ascend has been reached. Desmond is not the fastest, or strongest, or most mobile guy on the team. But he is the type of player who once is in the starting line-up is difficult to displace. Desmond can be mismatched in space, a potential concern as one of his responsibilities is to help the five-technique weakside end to hold the edge. He can use his tackling skill by covering the trouble bubble of the weakside B gap. Gedeon is another story in comparison to Morgan. Gedeon was pretty highly recruited and could best be described as a mid-level four-star recruit. He ascended to notoriety with his athletic measurables. He has speed, strength, decent size, and has better mobility when compared to Morgan. He is still young, and it is a good thing that the two can be rotated in and out to balance athleticism and knowledge of the game.
The Mike will be manned by Jake Ryan. What he brings to the defensive table has been discussed above. Again, it seems to make perfect sense to place the most seasoned, impact type player in the middle of the new alignment.Joe Bolden is perfectly able to back-up and relieve Jake Ryan. Joe has finally gained some size and continues to excel at understanding assignments and delivering technical football. Joe is not an elite type at sideline-to-sideline play, but he is pretty close. His attitude is outstanding as is his focus. Joe is a throwback to the no-nonsense, get it done type from previous eras. He may be, probably is, actually, one of the better three linebackers Michigan currently has on the roster. As such, a move to another spot may be in his future.
Mike McCray has good size but is only a redshirt freshman. He was recruited for increasing the size of Michigan’s linebacker corps.The strong side linebacker is up for grabs between James Ross III and Royce Jenkins-Stone. Both are a little undersized for the strong position, but not as undersized as one year ago. Ross is a little like Jeremy Gallon; he is just a very good football player. His height has been mentioned as a deficit, but folks have played linebacker with success at around six feet many times before. Jenkins-Stone has very high level potential regarding athleticism and the get it clock appeared to tick much faster this spring. The winner of the battle may see the field more, but both players will contribute and play.
Besides McCray, Michigan will have the luxury of bringing along Michael Ferns, Noah Furbush, and Jared Wangler in a fashion that is conducive to good player development. Remember though, linebackers and safeties tend to see the field on special teams, especially if the hunger to play provides enough motivation to win the position.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Doc4Blu
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