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2012 Michigan Preview – Linebackers

August 30, 2012

Linebackers 

Probable Starters: MLB – Kenny Demens (Sr.); SLB – Jake Ryan (So.); WLB – Desmond Morgan (So.)

Backups: MLB – Joe Bolden (Fr.);  Mike Jones (Sr.) SLB – Cam Gordon (Sr.); WLB – James Ross (Fr.); Brandin Hawthorne (Sr.)

Whether through coaching or talent upgrades, we’ve come a long way from Obi “Shamwow” Ezeh a few years ago at the linebacking position.  While we are still very young across the board, the talent and production is certainly much better.  Last year the linebacking corps had the benefit of a stout defensive line ahead of them.  This year they won’t be as lucky, but it may not matter in terms of production.  The leader of the linebackers is senior Kenny Demens.  Demens still has some trouble shedding blocks, but proved to be a solid player last year, earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten Honors.  He’s poised for a big season and should be an All-Conference pick again.

While Demens will serve as the senior leader of the linebackers, the two young guns flanking him will probably end up being the stars.  Both Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan saw significant playing time last year as freshman.  Morgan looked like a future All-American at times, but also like a freshman at others.  If he can learn to not overrun the play and cut down on other freshman mistakes, he has All-Conference potential as well.  And if you read my blog at all last year, you’re well aware of my mancrush on Jake Ryan.  Something tells me that my early identification of Ryan as a future star will pay off this year.  He’s had a very solid spring and fall, is a fulltime starter now, and has even longer hair.   By midseason not only will Michigan fans know who he is, but I expect the rest of the country to as well.  And for those who are tired of my Jake Ryan mancrush, I apologize in advance.

Backing up Demens, Ryan and Morgan is a handful of players who could be starting under other circumstances.  Freshman Joe Bolden is the next great Michigan linebacker who probably will see the field quite a bit this year and might be starting if there wasn’t an experienced senior ahead of him.  Bolden was an early enrollee last spring and it paid off for him, vaulting him up the depth chart.  Bolden’s father was a college linebacker himself, so it runs in the family.

Another freshman who may make waves is James Ross.  Ross is on the smaller side and is built like a safety, but he’s managed to crawl up the depth chart to #2 at weakside linebacker, beating out the experienced senior, Brandin Hawthorne.  I expect both to see the field when Morgan needs a rest.

Backing up Jake Ryan is senior Cam Gordon, who is playing his 3rd position in 4 years.  Gordon came in as a safety, then moved to wide receiver, then back to safety and is now settled at linebacker.  He is an athletic player who may have been starting if he had stuck with linebacker from the beginning.

STRENGTHS

Besides the power of Jake Ryan’s golden mane of hair, the true strength in this linebacking corps is the level of talent both across and down the depth chart.  Ryan, Morgan, and Demens could all end up on All-Conference teams, and Bolden would be on an All-Freshman team in most years.  Even with the season ending injuries to Kaleb Ringer and Antonio Poole, Michigan has enough depth at linebacker to be competitive the entire game and season.

WEAKNESSES

If there is any weakness, it’s the youth of this unit.  Demens and Gordon are the only seniors on the two deep, with Mike Jones potentially in the mix at MLB if things go badly for Demens or Bolden.  What that means is that mistakes will still be made.  The hope is that the talent of guys like Ryan, Morgan and Bolden will outweigh those mistakes.

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