Michigan Football lost their best defensive player, Jake Ryan, to a likely season ending knee injury. Last year, Ryan, who was injured early in spring practice, led Michigan in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (4). Where do things stand in the wake of this most unfortunate injury? The good news is that linebacker is one of the deepest position groups on the team.
Here is a look at each of the linebacker positions and who will compete for playing time.
SAM: This is the spot that would have been occupied by Jake Ryan. Now Cam Gordon and converted rush end Brennen Beyer will compete for the starting assignment. Gordon is a 5th year senior, who has impressed Greg Mattison. “I made the comment to some of the coaches that maybe I got him out too fast sometimes,” Mattison explained. ” As we watch the film when you’re sitting in your chair, you keep saying, ‘he did pretty good job on that play. He continuously gets better.”
Beyer is a talented player that the coaching staff is also high on. He started 8 games last year at defensive end and racked up 18 tackles and 1 forced fumble.
MIKE: Desmond Morgan has been moved from the weak side spot, where he started 11 games last season. He finished third on the team with 78 tackles. He will compete with Joe Bolden. A sophomore, Bolden showed flashes of great potential last year.
WILL: Sophomores James Ross III and Royce Jenkins-Stone will battle for the starting position. Ross III started two games last season and displayed good speed and instincts as he totaled 34 tackles. Jenkins-Stone played primarily on special teams last year, but is a very talented player.
Greg Mattison likes what he has seen from James Ross. “He’s a very instinctive, smart football player that can run and is not afraid to hit,” he said. “You’ve hit three pretty good components for a linebacker and he gets better and better every day, too. Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, too. What we need now is for them to keeping coming on to add depth.”
No matter how you slice it, losing Ryan will hurt. However, Michigan does have a talented group of linebackers and the competition for playing time will be fierce, which is good. The Wolverines have two freshman linebackers coming in for fall camp; Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray II. Freshmen linebackers have received a lot of playing time in the first two years of the Hoke regime, so don’t be surprised if you see Gedeon or McCray in the mix during fall camp.