The Michigan Wolverines will be now forced to attack the 2013 season without the assistance of junior linebacker Jake Ryan, who tore his ACL during a workout on Tuesday and is out indefinitely. A second-team all-Big Ten selection a year ago, Ryan will likely miss most, if not all, of the upcoming season—a devastating blow to a defense that follows his lead.
The 6’3″, 242-pound strong-side backer led the Maize and Blue with 88 tackles in 2012, including 16 for loss. His absence creates a gaping hole far too big for any one man to fill, but the Wolverines fortunately have ample depth at the position to help lessen the blow.
The one problem with that, however, is most of the reserves are smaller players, guys better suited for the weak-side or middle linebacker positions. Ryan’s size allowed him to take on blockers and still disrupt the backfield with ease, and that’s what makes him so hard to replace. Senior Cam Gordon will likely step in as the starter, but even with the experience he has under his belt, he just doesn’t instill fear in the opponent the way that Ryan does so effectively.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is surely going to have his hands full with this one, as he’ll now have to mix and match linebackers to find out what works best on the field. Incoming freshmen Mike McCray II and Ben Gedeon should be able to compete with sophomores Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone for playing time, but for now, the onus will likely be on Gordon to handle the responsibilities that Ryan leaves behind.
Luckily we’re still in Mid-March and spring practices have just gotten underway, so there’s plenty of time for Mattison and Co. to explore potential avenues. But, for now, this is a devastating blow to a team trying to bounce back from a disappointing 8-5 season in 2012.