Michigan‘s linebacker group is one of the deepest positions on the roster as the coaching staff has really addressed it in recent recruiting classes. The players compromising that depth may have been heavily recruited and highly ranked, but they are very young with plenty of promise. All-Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL during winter workouts, but word out of Ann Arbor is he’s progressing at a nice pace and could return in October.
Senior Cam Gordon will have the task of filling in for Ryan at strong side linebacker. Gordon will not be expected to match Ryan’s impact on the game, but as a veteran he can be counted on to make the necessary plays. That’s not to say he can’t produce as he started all 13 games in 2010 making 77 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, and three interceptions. Rotating in with Gordon will be Brennan Beyer who is moving back to linebacker after spending 2012 as a defensive end where he started eight games. The junior has a similar body type to Ryan and is a quick twitch athlete who can provide pressure on blitzes on passing downs.
At the weak side outside linebacker position is breakout star candidate James Ross III. Ross, a sophomore, enjoyed a great true freshman season, playing in every game and being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team by multiple outlets. He doesn’t possess prototypical size or athleticism but is technically sound, hits like a truck, and has a very high football IQ as evidenced by his impact as a true freshman. Backing him up is fellow sophomore Royce Jenkins-Stone. He saw special teams action in every game last season and has a nice blend of size and athleticism.
Desmond Morgan will slide over from the weak side to his more natural position of middle linebacker. Entering his junior season, Morgan has lots of experience playing in 23 games, with 16 starts, in his two years as a Wolverine. He made 81 tackles last season, 5.5 for a loss, and would’ve had more but he missed two games to injury. Like Ross, Morgan is an extremely intelligent football player and coupled with his experience as a high school quarterback should have no problem making calls from the middle linebacker position. Spelling Morgan will be sophomore Joe Bolden. Bolden enrolled early out of high school and that allowed him to see significant playing time in his true freshman year. He made 31 tackles, four for a loss, and was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team by ESPN.com and BTN.com.
The Wolverines have even more depth coming in as four star prospects Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon will join the team this summer. If they are able to pick up the defensive schemes they could see the field as well.
Michigan has young pieces in place to have one of the better linebacking units in the Big Ten. The loss of Ryan will obviously hurt, but if he comes back at full strength he will make a good group even better.