The linebacker position at Michigan is a position that has lacked a true star since the departure of David Harris after the 2006 season. With the way that Brady Hoke’s staff has recruited defensively, it won’t be long before Michigan starts pumping out All-Big Ten linebackers on an annual basis. The current crew, coached by Mark Smith, looks to be a strength of the defense this year.
Kenny Demens has shown to be a consistent tackler from the MIKE position and really impressed with his coverage ability last season. While he may not be a sure bet to play at the next level, he will be one of the leaders on defense and a reliable player manning the middle. He will be backed by Mike Jones and Joe Bolden. It seems like it is only a matter of time before Bolden takes over the second spot on the depth chart and has the natural football instincts to become a great middle linebacker in the future.
The WILL position will once again be held down by true sophomore Desmond Morgan. The coaching staff has raved about Morgan since he arrived on campus, and it was no surprise that he started a majority of the season last year. While he lacks the ideal athleticism that you’d hope for from the WILL spot, he has a knack for finding the football and he always arrives at the ball in a bad mood. Morgan’s competition will come from true freshman James Ross, senior Brandin Hawthorne, and redshirt freshman Antonio Poole. I have been high on James Ross from the time he popped onto the radar as a recruit. Ross has all of the potential to be a future all-conference player. While he lacks some size, his athleticism and football IQ were a main reason he was a top recruit in the Midwest for the 2012 class. Hawthorne was recruited as a safety, but also played some defensive end in high school. He has always been the tweener type player at Michigan, but he showed some flashes in the spring game that makes me believe he will provide adequate depth. Poole is still recovering from a previous injury and I don’t expect him to earn much playing time this season.
The strongside is arguably the most talented position on Michigan’s roster. Redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan looks to be a future NFL prospect. Ryan started nearly every game last year after jumping Cam Gordon on the depth chart during camp. Jake shows a wide variety of skills on the field as he is often moved to defensive end when Michigan moves to the nickel package. Expect to see Ryan wrecking havoc in opposing teams’ backfields for the next few seasons. As previously mentioned, Cam Gordon is no slouch as a backup. He has started and played significant minutes for Michigan throughout the past few seasons and is one of the most athletic players on the team. Look for him to see plenty of playing time this season.
The two freshmen that I see redshirting are Kaleb Ringer and Royce Jenkins-Stone. Ringer is a definite redshirt due to an injury that he suffered during fall camp. Look for him in the future at the MIKE/WILL position. Jenkins-Stone could play this season if something catastrophic were to happen injury wise. While he has the athletic ability to play right away, he still is very raw and needs some time in the weight room before he sees meaningful snaps.
Glimpse of the Future:
Michigan has recruited the linebacker position exceptionally well since Mattison and company took over the defensive reins. So well, in fact, that moving forward they will have the luxury of being extremely selective when choosing which linebackers they want. For the 2013 class, Michigan has accepted commitments from Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray, both future OLBs from the state of Ohio. To go along with them, Michigan has also accepted its first 2014 recruit in future SAM, Michael Ferns. Look for the linebacker position to be a strength of the Michigan defense well into the foreseeable future!