|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|James Ross||Jr.||Jake Ryan||Sr.*||Joe Bolden||Jr.|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone||Jr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.|
|Allen Gant||So.*||Mike McCray||Fr.*||Ben Gedeon||So.|
Despite the move to a 4-3 over we're going to keep the convention we've had in previous years where two of the linebackers are designated "inside" and addressed together while the third gets separate mention. In both cases the WLB and the MLB are designated "inside" and the strongside backer is addressed separately. In the under it's because the SAM is half DE; in the over it's because he's half DB.
Michigan returns their entire linebacking corps save backup-ish SAM Cam Gordon, and they now have a healthy Jake Ryan instead of one fresh off an ACL tear midseason. This is good. Better still is their depth: no freshmen on this three-deep and one guy getting praised to the moon when a very solid returning starter is available. If the DL improves these guys are going to seem shockingly better.
There's just that thing about moving that guy to a place…
INSIDE LINEBACKER: CONAN IN A STRANGE LAND
please be this guy again somehow [Eric Upchurch]
Man, I do now know what to expect from JAKE RYAN this year. He was every bit the flaming meteorite your memory suggests he was in 2012. We've been talking up Willie Henry and Frank Clark based on UFR scores that were consistently positive and encouraging. Make no mistake, though: those are not star-level performances. Jake Ryan's 2012 is the last time a member of the Michigan front seven turned one of those in:
|Alabama||4.5||3.5||1||I may have not picked up some things he was doing that were bad.|
|Air Force||13||2.5||10.5||Ran up the score with +4 on final three plays. Option blame fell elsewhere.|
|UMass||8.5||-||8.5||Essentially a DE in this game.|
|Notre Dame||8.5||3||5.5||Great tackle on screen.|
|Purdue||10||-||10||I call him mini Clay Matthews.|
|Illinois||14||3||11||I call Clay Matthews mini Jake Ryan.|
|MSU||17.5||3||14.5||I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS|
|Nebraska||10||7.5||2.5||Got edged a lot; Nebraska used his aggression against him successfully.|
|Minnesota||14||6||8||JMFR; did get edged a couple times.|
|Northwestern||8.5||4||4.5||A bit of a quiet day, only 4 tackles, no TFLs.|
|Iowa||5.5||-||5.5||Nearly had an explosive sack.|
That is a star, and that is a guy on the verge of writing his name in sloppy red ink across college football. That's the kind of season before the season that Brandon Graham had as a senior, that Mike Martin had as a senior. Screw you, ACLs. Because that Ryan was not this Ryan:
|6||Penn State||3.5||2||1.5||…this gentleman.|
|7||Indiana||5||2||3||Coming on a bit.|
|8||MSU||6||3||3||Good until ARGH RYAN on final play, still doesn't seem all the way back.|
|9||Nebraska||4||1||3||One RYAN BACK play, but not every-down impactful yet.|
|10||Northwestern||6||3||3||Showing that crazy redirect a little more often.|
|11||Iowa||6.5||-||6.5||Created free touchdown.|
And while that's still a respectable player, I'm not into Jake Ryan because he's really respectful and mom likes him, you know? I would prefer Jake Ryan to mount his Harley and run roughshod across the league wearing a thirty-inch skull on his back. And maybe his forehead. As many skulls as possible, really. I mean, I didn't feel this quote from a 2012 Big Ten OL in 2013:
"We were watching film and our coach stopped it and said, 'Where's he at?' And it took you a second to realize he was lined up at defensive end. Then he hits the play button, and it's like the guy gets shot out of a cannon. He has speed, and he just has this ability to know where the football is and he attacks it. "
So there's that. And now he's a middle linebacker. Hooray?
Look… I can't tell you this is a great idea. The way Ryan plays is 80% chaos, 20% hair metal, and he's kind of tall and weird-shaped for middle linebacker. It's easy to envision a guard getting under his pads and taking him for a ride. And it's easy to envision him failing to funnel to his help, because at SAM your help is always very easy to figure out: inside. Chaos!
Chaos is probably not great for a MLB.
But it might not be a bad one. Ryan has taken on a lot of blocks in his time and even if he has to invent and patent ways to get rid of them, he generally does. The guy does not stay blocked.
When Michigan had problems with wide receiver screens a couple years ago they slid Ryan over the slot; problem solved. That combination of tackling and the ability to get to the productive side of a block is encouraging. It's going to be a bigger project against OL instead of TEs, but he's been a defensive end an awful lot—he's not going to be surprised.
The concern at MLB is that his tendency to shed at all costs will put him on the wrong side of a blocker. That concern is considerably less urgent than the prospect of lining up a 256-pound strongside end, but your evaluation should be in that context: this is a move about what is best for the defense as a whole, not necessarily Jake Ryan's individual fit.
That said… healthy Jake Ryan.
Healthy Jake Ryan is a menace shot out of a cannon who impacts you fiercely and rocks you back and then runs really fast at the guy with the ball. While middle linebacker may be an awkward fit, there are not many Jake Ryans out there, and when the guy is sent on a blitz, opponents are going to feel it.
It is not going to feel good.
[After THE JUMP: the Bolden Question, the Morgan Binkie, the Ross Explanation]