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2013 Preview – Linebackers

August 27, 2013

Linebackers 

Probable Starters: MLB – Desmond Morgan (Jr.); SLB – Cam Gordon (RS Sr.); WLB – James Ross (So.)

Backups: MLB – Joe Bolden (So.);  SLB – Brennen Beyer (Jr.); Jake Ryan (Jr.); WLB – Royce Jenkins-Stone (So.)

With two team captains at the linebacker position, this group is not short on leadership or talent.  Though not quite as deep as the defensive line, there is a lot to like about the 7 or 8 guys who will rotate through at linebacker this fall for Michigan.  Super sophomore James Ross and junior Desmond Morgan return as starters, and the legend of Jake Ryan continues to grow as the latest update has him potentially returning from an ACL injury by the beginning of Big Ten play.  Apparently trimming his golden locks did not diminish his super powers (nor apparently my man crush).  Until Ryan is healthy, fellow co-captain Cam Gordon will get the start at weakside linebacker.  Returning to the youngsters for a second, Desmond Morgan and James Ross both showed last year that they could play and play well at this level.  Ross has great athleticism for a linebacker, and Morgan is just a guy who knows how to make plays.  He is continually referenced as a guy who doesn’t look that impressive but is always where he needs to be making plays.  

Cam Gordon has played linebacker, safety, wide receiver and even tight end for a bit in his time at Michigan.  He finally settled in at linebacker last year and found a home.  Playing behind Jake Ryan has kept him from being noticed, but Gordon has the athleticism and experience to hold his own and will do just fine until Ryan returns.  

Make no mistake though, the stud of this group continue to be Ryan.  He’s been the best defensive player on the team the last two years, and even coming off of an ACL injury, I expect that to continue.  Ryan may be a step slower at first, though the progress he is making rehabbing his injury is impressive.  Ryan is well ahead of the late October timetable originally set forth, and barring a setback will likely suit up after the bye week against Minnesota.  We can still win the Big Ten without Ryan, but I don’t want to try.  

After the starters, Michigan there is a bit of a dropoff if only because of the lack of experience.  Joe Bolden got some snaps last year and there was even talk he was pushing Morgan for the middle linebacker position, but in the end Morgan’s ability to be in the right place won out.  Bolden will contribute though.  Brennen Beyer played some last year and will continue to play.  The only reason he won’t play more is because both Gordon and Ryan are ahead of him on the depth chart.  Like Bolden, his day will come.  Backing up Ross is Royce Jenkins-Stone.  RJS was a highly sought after recruit who took some time to adjust to the college game last year.  Like Ross he is a sophomore, though things seemed to have clicked for Ross a little earlier.  I’m interested to see what RJS can do down the road.  

STRENGTHS

Have I mentioned yet that we have Jake Ryan?  Yes, he’s coming off of an injury, but by late October he should be back to his old self. (I hope).  The other thing I really like about this linebacking group is their speed.  Ross, RJS and Gordon, are all fast, and Ryan was before his injury.   Finally, this unit has experience.  Morgan, Ross, Ryan and Gordon have all played quite a bit, and Beyer and Bolden aren’t strangers to the field either.  When it comes to reading the offense, that sometimes matters as much as physical talent.  

WEAKNESSES

While there is experience at linebacker, the depth just isn’t as strong as in other areas.  While RJS, Beyer, and Bolden are all capable, they would be a dropoff from the starters if something were to happen to them.  Having Gordon start the year and then adding Ryan to the mix will shore up some of that as it will allow some mixing and matching among the linebackers if someone goes down.  We can survive some injuries here, but its not preferable.

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