Editor’s note: This is part three of 10 positional previews on the Michigan football team entering the 2014 season. Check out our other previews here.
By GEOFF MEHL, Staff Reporter
After losing standout outside linebacker Jake Ryan in spring camp before the 2013 season to an ACL injury, Michigan had a sizable question mark at the linebacker position. This season, the Wolverines look to have experience and stability on their side.
In the third of 10 position previews on the Michigan football team, Geoff Mehl takes a look at the Wolverines’ linebackers.
Ryan came back to play in eight games last season, starting five and racking up 30 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3, 236 pound redshirt senior will switch to middle linebacker this season and take over as leader of the defense.
“We are a whole different team, we’re a whole different animal,” said Ryan.
The transition to middle linebacker is a change for Ryan. But according to him, he seems to be getting the hang of it.
“It’s going well,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot over these past couple of months, you know from spring to fall camp it’s been great.”
With Ryan being injured last year, it allowed for several young linebackers to gain experience. One of those linebackers was junior James Ross III. Ross III played in 12 games and started nine for the Wolverines while tallying the second most tackles on the team with 85.
He cemented a role for himself by adding 1.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Ross has embraced the experience of the linebackers and isn’t shying away from the challenge.
“It’s a lot of competition in all aspects,” he said. “That’s the best thing about this team this year, that everybody’s job isn’t safe and everybody could get their jobs taken.”
Another senior member of the linebacking core will be outside linebacker Desmond Morgan. He started all 13 games for Michigan last season and will add much needed leadership. Morgan had 79 tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery as one of the most efficient players on defense.
According to Morgan, he has found it important that the defense is maturing.
“I think a lot of guys have stepped up,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of positive things.”
Beyond the starters at linebacker, several young players were given a chance to gain experience that will be leaned on as depth this season, junior Joe Bolden being the most improved.
Head coach Brady Hoke made it a point to mention Bolden without being asked about him and there is a good chance that he is one of the starting three linebackers when the season starts. Bolden played in all 13 games in 2013 and contributed 54 tackles and 2 sacks.
Ben Gedeon and Royce Jenkins-Stone will also be used in rotational roles and depth. They both have limited experience as injury replacements but will be contributors on special teams.
Depth/Special Teams: Michael Ferns (FR), Jared Wangler (FR), Chase Winovich (FR), Dan Liesman (RS SO), Allen Gant (RS SO), Mike McCray (RS SO).