When a team loses its emotional leader, filling that void is rarely easy. The Michigan Wolverines have that void to fill this season, as former walk-on Jordan Kovacs has used his eligibility.
The safety was the heart of the Michigan defense in 2012, recording 68 tackles and 2.0 sacks. More importantly, he was the leader and captain of a defensive unit that has improved drastically under head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Kovacs was a big reason for that improvement, and his versatility will be hard to replace.
Kovacs was able to line up everywhere on the field in Troy Polamalu fashion, making plays both in the backfield and 50 yards downfield. While another player like him may not come around for a while, the Wolverines must replace Kovacs one way or another.
First and foremost, I like LB Jake Ryan to develop into the leader that Kovacs was. Ryan plays the game with Kovacs-like fire and intensity, and is a very good player to boot. Ryan led the Wolverines with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2012.
As far as the starting free safety job, there are a few guys who will compete for minutes. Sophomore Jarrod Wilson appeared in all 13 games as a freshman and will factor into the competition at safety. Senior Marvin Robinson also saw limited action for the Wolverines in 2012 and will get a shot at the starting job.
The most intriguing safety prospect is incoming recruit Dymonte Thomas. The four-star recruit was pursued by Ohio State and Notre Dame, but chose Michigan. Thomas has Kovacs-like versatility and should see playing time in his first year in Ann Arbor.
This competition will heat up as spring practice rolls on, and Rant Sports will keep you updated.
Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny