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Posts Tagged ‘James Ross’

New in Blue: 2017 LB Josh Ross

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Josh Ross(

Josh Ross – LB | 6-2, 225 | West Bloomfield, Mich. (St. Mary’s)
ESPN4-star, #11 OLB Rivals4-star, #9 OLB 2474-star, #6 ILB Scout: 4-star, #10 ILB
247 Composite: 4-star, #7 ILB
Other top offers: Ohio State, Michigan State, LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisville, Arkansas

Just a day after stealing a 2018 recruit from Ohio, Michigan landed a 2017 commitment from its home state. Josh Ross, the younger brother of James Ross, who played out his Michigan eligibility this past fall, announced his commitment to the Wolverines.

Ross is a consensus four-star recruit according to the four major recruiting services. 247 ranks him the highest as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the 2017 class. Rivals ranks him as the ninth-best outside linebacker, while Scout has him as the 10th-best inside, and ESPN the 11th-best outside. ESPN ranks Ross the highest nationally at 162nd, while 247 has him 173rd, Rivals 189th, and Scout 228th. Per the 247 Sports Composite, he’s the seventh-best inside ‘backer and 188th overall.

Scout lists Ross’ strengths as instincts, shedding ability, and tackling technique, and his areas to improve as pass coverage skills. They also say that he has room to improve.

“Physical linebacker who is best when coming forward. Takes on blocks with aggressiveness and leverage and likes contact. Anticipates well and shoots gaps. A sure tackler who wraps up and drives through the ball carrier. Can continue to get quicker and improve in pass coverage.”

Ross has visited Michigan several times over the past few years thanks to his brother, but has also visited the other in-state school, Michigan State, nearly as many times. His commitment to Michigan is a big in-state recruiting win for Jim Harbaugh over Mark Dantonio. Ross also held offers from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisville, Arkansas, and received an LSU offer a month ago.

Ross joins quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, tight end Carter Dunaway, running back Kurt Taylor, offensive lineman Ja’Raymond Hall, and defensive back Benjamin St-Juste as the current members of next year’s class. With spring practice culminating with the spring game under the lights next Friday, this likely won’t be the last commit in the next couple weeks.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The linebackers

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015


Joe Bolden(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Michigan’s linebacker corps was rock solid last season, but with its fearless leader Jake Ryan graduating to the NFL, it’ll be critical for a largely unproven group to fill the void.

As a unit, the Michigan linebackers were great in the run-stopping game last season, flocking to the ball, and for the most part, keeping running backs from getting to the outside. For the defense to take a step forward in 2015, the three starters will have to lock down the middle of the field and support the defensive line in the run game.

Here’s how the linebackers stack up.

Probable starters

More so than with other positions on the roster, there’s a clear separation in the chain of command within the linebacker core. The starters will be three seniors with a ton of experience over the past three seasons.

Joe Bolden figures to be the physical and vocal leader of the group after starting all 12 games in 2014. Bolden was a beast in the middle of the field, making 102 tackles, and at times, defending the pass. With the departure of Ryan, Bolden is the most likely candidate to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. He has five career sacks and 12 tackles for loss as a linebacker and continues to improve each season.

In the middle will be redshirt senior Desmond Morgan, whose 2014 season was lost to injury after the opener against Appalachian State. Morgan was Michigan’s best linebacker in 2013, with Ryan sidelined by injury, recording 79 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three passes defended. Morgan is valuable in the middle of the field because he can dominate all aspects of the position, swallowing up ball carriers and dropping back into coverage. Morgan’s return will help soften the blow of losing Ryan, who was the undisputed leader last year.

The final starting spot will go to James Ross, who recorded 32 tackles in 12 games last season. Ross was quiet in 2014 after picking up 85 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore and beginning the season with huge expectations. He can drop into coverage with tight ends and make plays on the ball in the backfield, though he disappeared at times last season. He’ll need to be closer to the player he was in 2013 to be a threat from the outside.

Projected Stats – Bolden
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
80 5.0 3.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 99 88 187 5.0 12.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Morgan
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
100 7.0 1.5
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
37 111 118 229 2.5 14.0 1 2 1
Projected Stats – Ross
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
50 5.0 1.0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
37 86 67 153 2.0 11.0 2 1 0

Returning contributors

This is where the linebacker core gets a bit thin for Michigan. Royce Jenkins-Stone has the best chance after the starters to make an impact at linebacker this season after playing in 11 games last year. His value comes from his speed and athleticism, as he can drop into coverage better than most linebackers and can get around blockers to make a play on the ball. Jenkins-Stone has just eight career tackles, but he’s a candidate to break out in 2015 if he earns more snaps.

Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray also saw some time on the field last year, playing in 11 games apiece. Gedeon made 17 tackles and picked up a sack against Miami (Ohio). His specialty is getting into the backfield, where he can be disruptive off the edge. McCray, however, is more of a form tackler and can make plays if he’s in position. He’s the slowest of this group of linebackers, but he won’t miss a tackle and he can shed would-be blockers.

Michigan will need at least one of these three players to step up and give the linebackers some depth heading into the season.

Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 6 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Gedeon
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 21 15 36 2.0 2.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – McCray
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 2 0 2 0.0 1.0 0 0 0

New face

Michigan didn’t bring in any high-profile linebackers to fortify the position this offseason, but they did move defensive end Jack Dunaway, from Bloomfield, to linebacker as a freshman. Dunaway likely won’t play much of a role on the field in 2015, but he’s a good tackler and can make plays in the backfield. The coaching staff hopes his move to linebacker will add depth to the position, which looks so thin after the starters.

Meet the rest

Allen Gant – senior, 6’2″, 225 from Sylvania, Ohio (Southview), 12 games played, 5 total tackles
Jared Wangler – sophomore, 6’2″, 230 from Royal Oak, Mich. (De La Salle), no career stats
Chris Terech – freshman, 6’2″, 215 from Saline, Mich. (Saline), no career stats
Nick Benda – senior, 6’0″, 223 from Champion, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
John Andrysiak – freshman, 6’1″, 215 from Flint, Mich. (Powers Catholic), no career stats
Michael Wroblewski – junior, 6’2″, 241 from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit), no career stats
Tommy Whitted – freshman, 6’1″, 225 from Winter Park, Fla. (Winter Park), no career stats
Dan Liesman – senior, 6’2″, 233 from Lansing, Mich. (Lansing Catholic), no career stats
James Offerdahl – freshman, 6’2″, 220 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Cardinal Gibbons), no career stats
Noah Furbush – sophomore, 6’4″, 217 from Kenton, Ohio (Kenton)
Cheyenn Robertson – freshman, 6’3″, 220 from Union City, N.J. (St. Peter’s Prep), no career stats

Predicting Michigan: The linebackers

Sunday, July 20th, 2014


Ryan-Morgan(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

PreviouslyQuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight EndsOffensive Line

Despite the overall struggles of the defense for the majority of the 2013 season, the linebacking corps laid a solid foundation for Greg Mattison and carried the bulk of the load between a mediocre defensive line and frustrating secondary.

The unit took a huge blow during the 2013 offseason when its leader, Jake Ryan, tore his ACL and figured to miss the majority of the year. Ryan astonished the trainers by returning against Penn State on October 12, one week short of seven months after suffering the injury. The captain made an immediate impact by recording his first tackle for loss of the season.

Mattison will surely look to his linebackers to lead the defensive turnaround this season. Three of the most talented players on the Michigan roster will start for this unit and set the tone for an otherwise unproven defense.

The Starters

Ryan is a lock to start the season at middle linebacker for Michigan, coming off a year in which he won his second straight Roger Katcher Award for best Michigan linebacker despite missing the first five games of the season. He made the move from strong-side linebacker in the spring as a way to put the best player in the middle of the defense. Brady Hoke said that teams were able to run plays away from him and take him out of the play last season. The move to the middle will keep that from happening.

During his last full season, 2012, Ryan was clearly the most talented defensive player on the team, leading the team with 88  tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The fifth-year senior has five forced fumbles and over 150 tackles in his Michigan career.

Alongside Ryan will be senior Desmond Morgan, perhaps the most consistent linebacker from a year ago. Morgan started all 13 games for Mattison and held the unit together during Ryan’s absence. Morgan snagged a critical interception at Connecticut to help Michigan escape a major upset bid and recorded 79 tackles to bring his career total up to 223.

The final piece to the starting linebacking corps will be James Ross III, who emerged as one of the best young players on the team in 2013. Ross played in 12 games as a sophomore, missing only the Ohio State game in which the defense allowed 393 yards on the ground. Ross recorded 85 tackles last season and will be crucial in the run-stopping game at strong-side linebacker.

Career Stats – Ryan
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
34 99 56 155 7.5 31.5 5 3 0
Career Stats – Morgan
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
36 107 116 223 2.5 14.0 1 2 1
Career Stats – Ross III
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 67 54 121 2.0 8.0 2 1 0

Veteran Depth

A pair of juniors emerged from camp as potential contributors to the linebacker rotation after strong springs. Joe Bolden was one of the names that coaches talked about having an incredible off-season in early April, and he took first-team snaps at weak-side linebacker during the spring game. Morgan will almost certainly retain his starting position after a third fantastic season in a row, but Bolden has a chance to make a major impact after racking up over 50 tackles in 2013.

Bolden is joined by classmate Royce Jenkins-Stone in his battle to crack the starting lineup. Jenkins-Stone took most of the snaps at strong-side linebacker during the spring game, but he will almost certainly play behind Ross when the season begins. The junior has played just one game at linebacker in each of the last two seasons and hopes to play a more important role in 2014.

Sophomore Ben Gedeon played in six games at linebacker as a true freshman last season, but saw extended action against Ohio State, recording six tackles and a sack, flashing the potential he showed as a consensus four-star recruit. He’ll see increased action this fall rotating in for Morgan.

Career Stats – Bolden
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
26 44 41 85 3.0 8.0 0 1 0
Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 5 6 11 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Gedeon
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 9 10 19 1.0 1.0 0 0 0

The Newcomers

Linebacker was a major focus for Brady Hoke during the 2014 recruiting process as he brought in three freshman to provide some added depth. Four-star Michael Ferns enrolled early and has been working with the coaches throughout the offseason. Ferns totaled over 130 tackles in each of his final three years in high school and gives Hoke an option behind Ryan on the inside.

Three-stars Jared Wangler and Noah Furbush will also join the defense in 2014 after committing to Michigan last summer. Wangler has a strong chance to see the field as a freshman as he offers help in the pass coverage game and spent much of his high school career in the secondary. Furbush could also earn some playing time with a strong summer, though the outside linebacking core is crowded.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Linebackers (part one)

Thursday, July 17th, 2014


This is the seventh installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. The analysis provided is thorough and in-depth, so each position preview will be split into two parts. The best Big Ten players on offense and the defensive line have been covered. This week, it is time to preview the linebackers. Here is Part One:

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two.
Running Backs: Part One, Part Two.
Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two.
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two.
Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two.
Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two.

10. Michael Rose, Nebraska | RS Sophomore – 5’11”, 240 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 39 27 66 6.0 0 2
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 39 27 66 6.0 0 2
(247 Sports)

(247 Sports)

Last week, Tom Dienhart of—a notable media outlet—published his Big Ten linebacker unit rankings for 2014. Which school had the best set of linebackers according to Dienhart? Nebraska. If a person took only a quick peek at the most basic defensive stats, an argument could somewhat be substantiated that the Huskers do indeed have the best linebacker crew in the conference. Nebraska returns all three linebackers who were starters by the end of last season, and those three combined for 205 tackles, 18 tackles-for-loss, and five sacks. They also contributed to a rushing defense that allowed only 3.78 yards per carry, which was fifth in the Big Ten. And, finally, all three have been praised for their athletic ability and speed. If these were the only metrics and attributes that determined the skill of a linebacker, then Dienhart decision to select Nebraska as the Big Ten school with the best set of linebackers would be understandable.

The problem, though, is that those are not the only metrics and attributes. I was shocked—yes, shocked—when Dienhart put Nebraska at the top of that list. Why? A deeper dig into the numbers reveals that Nebraska’s rushing defense was actually quite poor last season. Its yards-allowed-per-carry figure is very misleading. In college football, sacks and sack yardage are tallied as carries and rushing yardage. It is silly. Because of this, basic statistics suggest that college teams with a superb pass-rush have a better run defense than they actually do. Nebraska is the perfect example. The Huskers were tied for seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten in sacks per game. However, when these sacks are excluded, Nebraska’s yards-allowed-per-carry figure rises from 3.78 to 4.60 and is sixth in the conference. Further, the Huskers’ Rushing Defense S&P+ ranking, which takes an advanced look at a team’s rushing defense, was 84th in the nation and the worst in the Big Ten. Yes, even worse than Illinois and Purdue. While some of this must be attributed to Nebraska’s defensive linemen, including pass-rushing extraordinaire Randy Gregory, much falls on the shoulders of Nebraska’s linebackers. So Dienhart can continue to be fascinated with Nebraska’s linebackers’ tackle totals and athleticism, but, until they can prove they are not members of the worst rush defense in the conference, they are not part of the best linebacker crew in the Big Ten. Sorry, Dienhart.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that there is no talent there. Middle linebacker Michael Rose has the potential to be a budding star for Nebraska. As a redshirt freshman last season, Rose started only seven games. In those starts, he tallied 62 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, and one pass breakup. Accordingly, Rose averaged 8.86 tackles per game in his seven starts, which would have been the fifth-best in the conference if he had started the entire season. Further, Nebraska’s rushing defense actually improved in the final five weeks of the year—all of which Rose started. In those last five contests, the Huskers allowed only 4.09 yards per carry once sacks were excluded. This is not an elite number, but it would have been just shy of the fourth-best in the Big Ten. Rose’s presence helped solidified Nebraska’s linebacker corps. And his impact should be even greater in 2014 as the starter for an entire season with another offseason of development under his belt. Rose may not be able to rectify all of Nebraska’s rush-defense woes, but he could be a breakout star next season.

9. James Ross III, Michigan | Junior – 6’1″, 225 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 46 39 85 5.5 1.5 1
2012 21 15 36 2.5 0.5 0
Career Totals 67 54 121 8.0 2.0 1


James Ross III is listed at No. 9 by himself, but the space here will be dedicated to both Ross III and fellow Michigan linebacker Desmond Morgan. Ross III and Morgan were members of a Michigan defense that eroded as the season progressed. Early in the season, the Wolverines’ defense was stout. Through the first five games, Michigan had allowed only seven offensive touchdowns, which was one of the best marks nationally. However, Michigan’s offense self-destructed midway through the year, resulting in an endless supply of tackles-for-loss allowed and three-and-outs, and it forced Michigan’s defense to spend more minutes on the field than desired. The defense could save the offense’s behind only so many times each game before it wore down. By season’s end, the defense was a shell of its former self.

Despite this, Ross III and Morgan turned in respectable seasons. As a sophomore in his first season as a full-time starter, Ross III was Michigan’s second-leading tackler, notching 85 stops, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, and 1.5 sacks. He was the only Wolverine to average over seven tackles per game, and his 7.08 stops per game are tied for the fourth-most among returning Big Ten linebackers. He also added two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and two pass breakups. On the other hand, Morgan’s junior season eerily resembled his sophomore campaign. After recording 81 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, a half-sack, and two pass breakups in 2012, Morgan had 79 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and three pass breakups in 2013. Morgan also generated a few turnovers last year, forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble, and intercepting a pass one-handed to jumpstart a second-half rally against Connecticut.

Together, Ross III and Morgan spearheaded a solid rushing defense. The Wolverines allowed the fifth-fewest yards per carry in the Big Ten once sacks were excluded and ranked 33rd nationally in Rushing Defense S&P+. This may not seem applause-worthy until one realizes how undersized and injured Michigan’s defensive line was. During the season, nose tackle Ondre Pipkins tore his ACL, and nose tackle Quinton Washington was sidelined for reasons unknown. This forced Jibreel Black to be inserted at nose tackle despite weighing only 285 pounds. Also, Brennen Beyer, who weighs only 250 pounds, started at strong-side defensive end in a 4-3 under scheme, which essentially made him a defensive tackle. Accordingly, Michigan’s defensive linemen were tossed around like rag dolls, and it forced Michigan’s linebackers to eat blocker after blocker. So, given these circumstances, it is quite remarkable that Ross III and Morgan did what they did.

Next season, both Ross III and Morgan likely will be two of the top 10 linebackers in the Big Ten, or at least near it. The reasons why Ross III is slotted at No. 9, while Morgan remains unranked, are that Ross III has more potential and should benefit more from Michigan’s transition to a 4-3 over scheme. Entering last year, Ross III was tabbed as a potential breakout star. Notwithstanding his smaller size, Ross III possesses amazing football instincts and the athleticism to capitalize on them. However, he works better in space and struggles to get off blockers because of his smaller stature. With Michigan’s defensive line unable to keep gaps clean for him, Ross III did not have the impact many expected him to have. This fall, Ross III will shift to strong-side linebacker in Michigan’s 4-3 over. In this spot, he should have more of an opportunity to use his instincts to read the play and his speed to shoot into the backfield for more tackles-for-loss. Conversely, Morgan’s transition from the middle to the weak side should see him continue to eat blocks as offensive guards should be able to release to the second level without much trouble. While Morgan’s thick build will allow him to remain effective in these situations, it would not be surprising to see his production decline from the past two seasons. This is why Morgan just missed the cut, while Ross III made it.

8. Kevin Snyder, Rutgers | Senior – 6’3”, 235 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 46 50 96 7.5 2.0 3
2012 12 18 30 7.0 2.0 0
2011 13 27 40 2.5 1.0 1
Career Totals 71 95 166 17.0 5.0 4
(Keith Freeman, The Daily Targum)

(Keith Freeman, The Daily Targum)

Rutgers had a very substandard defense last season, finishing 73rd nationally in total defense, 80th in scoring defense, and 91st in Defensive S&P+. But this was mostly the fault of a horrendous secondary that allowed Rutgers to be ranked 120th in passing yards allowed, 100th in passing efficiency defense, and 99th in Pass Defense S&P+, not the fault of a surprisingly solid linebacker unit. And one of those linebackers was Kevin Snyder. Snyder manned the middle of the field for the Scarlet Knights in his first season as a starter last year and made his presence known. He was the team’s second-leading tackler with 96 stops, which would have been the third-most among returning linebackers if he was in the Big Ten last season. Further, Snyder is not shy about introducing himself to the quarterback or the running back in the opponent’s backfield. He had 7.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks just one year after he recorded seven tackles-for-loss and two sacks as a reserve in 2012. Snyder has proven himself to be one of the few solid talents on a lackluster defense.

The one area where Snyder makes his impact felt the most is preventing the run. Notwithstanding Rutgers’ poor ranks in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense, the Scarlet Knights actually were quite terrific at defending the run. They were fourth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 100.77 rushing yards per game. They were fifth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.10). Once sacks are removed, Rutgers allowed only 3.82 yards per carry, which would have been the third-best in the Big Ten, just behind excellent rush defenses in Michigan State and Wisconsin. And, lastly, Rutgers finished 22nd nationally in Rushing Defense S&P+. Although the advanced statistics suggest that Rutgers’ rushing defense was one of the five best in the nation as the basic statistics do, it was still quite stingy. While much of this credit belongs to Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, who is No. 9 in my Big Ten Defensive Line Rankings, Snyder deserves a big chunk of it for his production and organization of the front seven as the middle linebacker.

However, there are two concerns about Snyder’s game that must be addressed as the 2014 season approaches. The first is how Snyder and Rutgers’ front seven handle the transition from the AAC to the Big Ten. As I wrote when breaking down Hamilton last week, the offensive lines in the AAC are much smaller in stature than the behemoths in the Big Ten. Also, there are more offenses in the Big Ten that prefer to line up in power formations and run the ball down a defense’s throat than in the AAC. It will be interesting to see how much this affects Snyder’s performance, especially if his defensive line cannot keep the gaps as clean as they did last season against weaker competition. The second concern is Snyder’s ability as a defender against the pass. While many of Rutgers’ struggles in pass defense are due to the secondary’s awfulness, Snyder and his fellow linebackers are not free from blame. They play a vital role in the back seven, and their lack of aid in that area is a giant red flag. If Rutgers wants to enjoy some success in its inaugural Big Ten season, Snyder must be better when dropping into coverage. This is why a man with 96 tackles that was a key cog of one of the better rushing defenses in the nation is not higher on this list.

7. Matt Robinson, Maryland | 5th-yr Senior – 6’3”, 240 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 43 30 73 10.0 0.5 0
2012 21 5 26 1.0 0 0
2011 24 12 36 2.0 0 0
2010 18 11 29 0 0 0
Career Totals 106 58 164 13.0 0.5 0
(Karl Merton Ferron, The Baltimore Sun)

(Karl Merton Ferron, The Baltimore Sun)

Whereas the first three Big Ten linebackers on this list have shown their worth as run defenders, Maryland’s outside linebacker Matt Robinson has shown his as a defender against the pass. Robinson’s skills as a coverage linebacker are no surprise because he started his collegiate career as a safety. In fact, as a true freshman in 2010, Robinson played all 13 games and even started his first career contest at safety. He made seven more starts at the position over the next two years, but missed large chunks of both seasons due to injuries. Nonetheless, when Robinson recovered, bulked up, and transitioned down from safety to outside linebacker in preparation for the 2013 season, his coverage skills were still intact.

The Terrapins’ pass defense was below average by any metric one uses—57th nationally in passing yards allowed, 64th in passing efficiency defense, and 64th in Passing Defense S&P+. But one man cannot shut down an entire passing offense—unless he is Charles Woodson, of course. Alas, Robinson is no Woodson. However, this does not mean that Robinson did not provide excellent coverage in the middle of the field, especially against slant routes. This is evidenced by the four pass breakups he notched last season. Further evidence of Robinson’s prowess as a coverage linebacker can be seen by looking at how opposing tight ends and slot receivers performed when he missed two games with a shoulder injury. With Robinson absent, Virginia tight end Jake McGee had his best game of the season with eight receptions for 114 yards, while Wake Forest slot receiver hauled in 11 throws for 122 yards. Maryland may have issues in other spots critical to its passing defense, but Robinson is a strength in coverage in between the hash marks.

Although Robinson was one of only three Terrapins with double-digit tackles-for-loss last season, tallying a smooth 10 of them, his presence in the rushing defense leaves much to be desired. Some have praised Robinson for his run support, including those who have watched more Maryland football than I have, but I remain somewhat skeptical. Last season as a full-time starter at linebacker, Robinson made only 73 tackles. The total number may not seem like it should invoke uneasiness, but Robinson was involved in only 9.13 percent of Maryland’s tackles. For context, every other linebacker on this list that started for a full season was involved in between 11 and 17 percent of his team’s tackles. Then, it is even more troubling when one realizes that 17 of Robinson’s 73 tackles were in one contest against North Carolina State. Accordingly, Robinson had only 56 tackles in his other 10 starts. Hmm.

Why was Robinson not more involved in Maryland’s rush defense? Was it a consequence of Maryland’s 3-4 scheme? Or was Maryland’s strategy to send stud outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield, who recorded 15.5 tackles-for-loss, towards the line of scrimmage while dropping Robinson back into coverage? Either way, Robinson still needs to prove he can flow to the ball more consistently and make more plays at the line of scrimmage. With Whitfield gone after graduating last season, Robinson should slide into Whitfield’s role and do just that.

6. Mike Hull, Penn State | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 232 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks QBH
2013 44 34 78 4.5 0.5 0
2012 34 24 58 5.0 4.0 0
2011 6 12 18 1.5 0 0
2010 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 84 70 154 10.5 4.5 0
(Mara Ticcino, Collegian)

(Mara Ticcino, Collegian)

For decades, Penn State has been a football factory that has pumped out excellent linebacker after excellent linebacker. There was Dennis Onkotz, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, and Paul Posluszny, all of whom were two-time first-team All-Americans. Between the four of them, they won three Chuck Bednarik Awards and two Dick Butkus Awards, which are given to the nation’s best defensive player and best linebacker, respectively. There have been nine other Penn State linebackers that have been named a first-team All-American once. And then there are numerous others who were named second-team All-Americans or had successful NFL careers. Because of this, Penn State was bestowed with the moniker “Linebacker U.”

For the upcoming season, there does not appear to be a linebacker on the Penn State roster that will contend for All-American honors like those that played in State College before him. But the one that has the best chance to do it is Mike Hull. Last season was Hull’s first year as a full-time starter at middle linebacker. However, he started only eight games because he suffered a minor knee injury early in the season that sidelined him for two games and forced him to see only limited action in another two. Nonetheless, Hull was at his healthiest in the Nittany Lions’ eight conference games. In Big Ten play, Hull posted 73 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, a half-sack, a forced fumble, and two pass breakups. His 9.13 tackles per conference game were the highest on the team and are the best among returning Big Ten linebackers. Additionally, Hull compiled these stats for a defense that was considered one of the 25 best overall and one of the 10 best against the run according to advanced metrics. Hull did not earn any all-conference honors for his production, likely due to the injury, but was named to Athlon Sports’ preseason All-Big Ten first team and Phil Steele’s preseason All-Big Ten second team for 2014.

Yet, Hull will face a new challenge this fall. Last year, Hull benefited enormously from defensive tackle DaQuan Jones’ presence on the defensive line. Jones was a monster. Not only did he penetrate into the backfield for 11.5 tackles-for-loss, he also had the ability to consume double-teams without losing ground. Accordingly, this allowed the Penn State linebackers, including Hull, to surge freely into the gaps without the obstruction of an offensive lineman for easy tackles at the line of scrimmage. This season, Hull will not have such a luxury as Jones now is in the NFL. Although Penn State returns its two starting defensive ends, both of whom are talented, there is lots of uncertainty regarding who will replace Jones inside. It seems likely that, no matter who the replacement is, he will be inferior to Jones. This will make life harder for Hull as the middle linebacker. It may be more difficult for Hull to have a clean path to ball-carrier to make stops. This could lead to a dip in his statistics. But, given that Hull is a senior product of Linebacker U, it may be best to give him the benefit of the doubt.

What do you think so far? Do you agree with our rank of the five players listed above? Who should have been ranked higher: James Ross III or Desmond Morgan? Should both Ross III and Morgan have been included in the top 10? Was there anyone missing from this list in your opinion? Who do you think will be in the top five? Please post your comments below as we will reveal tomorrow who will be the five best linebackers in the Big Ten in 2014.

Third annual M&GB Hail Awards

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

It’s that time of year again – time to take one final look back at the football season that was and hand out our awards for the top players, plays, and moments. The past two years we posted this on Christmas Eve, but this year decided to wait until after the bowl game.

Team 134 held high expectations by most, coming off of a disappointing 8-5 season. With Devin Gardner at the helm, most assumed the pro-style, power running offense was about to take flight. And through the first two games there was nothing to make anyone think otherwise. Michigan throttled Central Michigan to start the season and then beat Notre Dame in style under the lights. At that point, Michigan fans were certain this team could win the Big Ten and possibly compete for a national title.

But back-to-back scares at the hands of Akron and UConn tempered those expectations quickly, and after a good win against Minnesota, Michigan suffered its first defeat of the season in quadruple overtime at Penn State. From there, it was pretty much all downhill save an offensive explosion against Indiana and a triple overtime win at Northwestern. Michigan State and Nebraska held the Wolverines to a combined negative-69 yards rushing. Iowa held Michigan to just 158 total yards and 10 first downs and the regular season culminated with a fantastic performance that ultimately came up just short against rival Ohio State. In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan was completely outclassed by Kansas State and the season ended with an even more disappointing 7-6 record.

The underachievement prompted the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges and the hiring of Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to the delight of Michigan fans everywhere. The doom and gloom of 2013 finally, briefly, gave way to hope for 2014. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s relive the top moments of Team 134.

To revisit previous years awards: 2012, 2011.

Harmon Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

Everyone knew entering the season that Jeremy Gallon was in for a big year. He came alive at the end of the 2012 season when Denard Robinson went down and Devin Gardner stepped in at quarterback. But no one expected a record-breaking season.

His 1,373 yards broke Braylon Edwards’ single-season receiving record of 1,330 which was set in 2004. He also shattered the single-game receiving record (and the Big Ten’s) with his 14-catch, 369-yard performance against Indiana.

“For decades, the prototypical wide receiver at Michigan has been 6’3″, 210 pounds, and had an ability to outmuscle an opposing secondary,” said Drew. “Yet, despite being listed at a minuscule 5’8″, Jeremy Gallon completed of the best statistical seasons for a wide receiver in the 134-year history of Michigan football. Although opposing defenses knew U-M could not run the football and that Gallon would be Devin Gardner’s go-to target, Gallon still broke record after record after record.”

“Was the leader on an offense that struggled to do much of anything this season,” said Chris. “Was consistently reliable any time the team needed him.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Gallon

Gallon finished the season with 89 receptions, 1,373 yards, and nine touchdowns. The next closest receiver, Devin Funchess, had 49 for 748 and six. No running back did much of anything this season, and only Devin Gardner could be considered for the offensive player of the year award in terms of production.

Gallon had big-time performances against Notre Dame, Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State and came close to 100 yards in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He caught at least four passes in all but one game (Minnesota).

“Record setting year and pretty much the only consistent player on the team,” said Josh. “Without him we might have had a losing record.”

“Devin Gardner and Taylor Lewan each had great seasons that will be overlooked because of turnovers and Michigan’s record, respectively,” said Drew. “But this is an easy choice. Jeremy Gallon was Michigan’s best offensive player. Not only did Gallon have the most receiving yards and second-most receptions in a single season in school history, he also caught at least four passes in 12 of 13 games in 2013. On an offense that was wildly inconsistent, Gallon was one of the few constants.”

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year Blake Countess

No Michigan defender truly stood out this season, especially with last year’s winer, Jake Ryan, sidelined for the first half of the season. But Blake Countess recorded a team-high six interceptions, including one in the end zone against Notre Dame to seal the win. He had a 72-yard interception return for touchdown against Minnesota and also picked off Braxton Miller.

Countess also tied for the lead among the secondary with two tackles for loss and recorded four pass breakups. He was named first team All-Big Ten by the media.

“After missing the 2012 season with a knee injury, there were some questions whether Blake Countess would be able to return to his form from his freshman season,” said Drew. “Thankfully, for Michigan fans, Countess not only returned to form, he improved upon it. Countess was one of the few playmakers on U-M’s defense in 2013. His six interceptions were tied for third-most in program history and the most by a Wolverine since Todd Howard’s six picks in 2000. And once Countess made those picks, he knew what to do with them, garnering 169 interception return yards – the third-most in the nation and the second-most in U-M history.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III, Raymon Taylor, Desmond Morgan (1 each)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Jeff Hecklinski

After a season in which Michigan underperformed all around and offensive coordinator Al Borges was let go, voting for Coach of the Year was not an enviable task. But alas, one position group did perform well and that was the receivers, so Jeff Hecklinski gets the honors.

Jeremy Gallon set the all-time Michigan single-season receiving record and combined with Devin Funchess to set the record for most receiving yards by a duo in school history (2,121). In addition, Jehu Chesson developed into a solid blocking receiver.

“Hecklinski wins for me because his receivers showcased big play ability, were a consistent bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season, and laid some big-time hits (see: Jehu Chesson vs. Notre Dame),” said Sam. “Hecklinki’s unit was all the more impressive considering one of the two presumed starters, Amara Darboh, went down late in fall practice with a season-ending injury and didn’t play a game.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Greg Mattison (1), None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Greg Mattison
2011: Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame

Had Michigan converted the two-point conversion against Ohio State, that would have been the hands-down favorite, but instead the big early September victory over Notre Dame takes the cake.

The season still held high hopes and a win over the defending BCS runner-up in the final meeting between the two storied schools in the Big House was a surreal scene to behold.

“It was the second night game in the history of Michigan Stadium,” Drew said. “It had the largest attendance to ever witness a football game. And, most importantly, it was Michigan’s most complete performance of the season. Devin Gardner lit up the Fighting Irish for five touchdowns, throwing three to Jeremy Gallon, and the Wolverines’ defense allowed only two offensive touchdowns.”

“Gardner was both spectacular and spectacularly bad all in the frame of one half, Gallon was outstanding, and the season seemed oh-so-promising on that warm September night,” said Sam.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Near upset of Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Fire drill FG to force OT at Northwestern

For the second straight year our play of the year involves a game against Northwestern. Last year, Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch to set up the game-tying field goal got the honors. This year, it is the fire drill field goal at Northwestern to get Michigan into overtime that gets top billing.

With 18 seconds remaining, trailing by three, facing 3rd-and-23, Michigan snapped the ball at the Northwestern 44-yard line. Devin Gardner dropped back and fired a bullet to Jeremy Gallon at the 26 near the right sideline. But he was hit immediately and couldn’t get out of bounds.

As the clock ticked down, the field goal unit ran onto the field. Holder Drew Dileo slid into position and kicker Brendan Gibbons simply took a few steps back as the snap went. He then booted it through the uprights sending the game into overtime where the Wolverines won.

“Incredible effort and execution to save the game, and essentially a winning season,” said Josh.

“Even though it shouldn’t have been needed after poor clock management by the Michigan coaches, the field goal unit did a great job of getting out on the field quickly and Brendan Gibbons did a great job to make a rushed, pressure packed field goal in a less than ideal situation,” said Chris.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Desmond Morgan’s game-saving one-handed INT at UConn (1)

Past Winners:
2012: Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch against Northwestern
2011: Denard’s touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to beat ND

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner against Ohio State

This one may be semi-controversial since it came in a losing effort, but the vote was nearly unanimous. In the biggest game of the season, Devin Gardner put together a performance for the ages. Battling injuries, the junior shredded the Ohio State defense, passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for another. Had he completed the two-point conversions it would have gone down as one of the greatest performances in Michigan history.

“Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon broke school and conference records with their spectacular performances against Indiana,” said Drew. “But Gardner’s 451-passing-yard, five-touchdown performance against one of the best defenses in the nation in Ohio State was absolutely sensational. Not only did Gardner shred OSU’s defense, he continued to do so after he broke his foot. After suffering the injury in the third quarter, Gardner fought through it, completing 18 of 27 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, and was a two-point conversion shy of leading Michigan to its biggest upset win over its bitter rival from Columbus since 1969.”

“After a season of inconsistent performance following the Notre Dame win, Gardner came on strong against Ohio State to give the team and fans hope for a stronger senior season next year,” said Chris.

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Jeremy Gallon’s 14-catch, 369-yard, 2-TDs vs Indiana (1)

Past Winners:
2012: Denard recording 101% of offense vs Air Force
2011: Denard’s five TDs in win over Ohio State

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

Devin Gardner struggled early in the season, but his decision making and accuracy improved as the season went on. He finished second in the Big Ten with 246.7 yards per game, as well as second in total offense (286.9) and fourth in pass efficiency. His total yards (3,443), passing yards (2,960), and total touchdowns (32) are second best in school history and he didn’t even play the bowl game. He had dynamic performances in big games against Notre Dame and Ohio State and committed a total of just seven turnovers in his final eight games.

“His heart and toughness helped lead this team, though not always consistently, to a winning record,” said Josh. “He was just shy of only the second ever 3,000-yard passing season in history and bailed out the team time and time again despite an inept line. Without Gardner this team would be 4-8, or worse.”

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Heston Running Back of the Year None

For the first time in the short three year history of the M&GB Hail Awards, we are leaving one award on the table. It’s no secret that Michigan’s running game was subpar this season, and it wasn’t all the fault of the running backs, but four of our six writers voted to award it to no one at all.

“None of the three Wolverines that carried the football at least 30 times this season – Toussaint, Devin Gardner, and Derrick Green – averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry,” said Drew. “Only three Wolverines averaged more than five yards per carry: Dennis Norfleet, Shane Morris, and Devin Funchess – a wide receiver, a backup quarterback, and a hybrid tight end-wide receiver, respectively. Further, Morris notched U-M’s longest run of the season with a 40-yard draw on U-M’s final drive of the season. That is depressing.”

“When your leading rusher recorded 648 yards on 3.5 yards per carry and the longest run of the season came in a blowout bowl game by your backup QB, no running back deserves this award,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Fitzgerald Toussaint (2), Derrick Green (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Jeremy Gallon

What else is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Gallon swept the player of the year, offensive player of the year, and now receiver of the year awards thanks to a record-setting season. He also won this award last season.

His 1,373 receiving yards, 105.6 yards per game, and 6.8 receptions per game each ranked second in the Big Ten behind Penn State’s Allen Robinson. His nine touchdowns ranked third. He also recorded a catch in 39 straight games. Remarkably, he was edged out by Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis for first team All-Big Ten despite Gallon having better numbers in every receiving category.

“Gallon is the only Wolverine to be ranked in the Top 3 in Michigan’s record book for most catches and receiving yards in a game, season, and career,” said Drew. “No, not even Braylon Edwards, Desmond Howard, or Anthony Carter can say that.”

“What Gallon did in the Indiana game was incredible, but it was just one sample of his incredible season,” said Derick.

Votes: 7
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Taylor Lewan

Everyone knows that most of Michigan’s struggles this season stemmed from the offensive line. It’s hard enough to break in the entire middle of your line in one season, let alone doing so with walk-ons and freshmen. But Taylor Lewan was not part of the problem. Sure, he let his emotions get the better of him against Michigan State, but he performed arguably better than he did last season.

For the second straight year, Lewan was named the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year for the Big Ten. His decision to return for his senior season didn’t pay off with a Big Ten title or a trip to Pasadena, but his mentoring of the young linemen will pay dividends in the years to come.

“It’s very difficult to evaluate individual linemen without a trained eye, and even more so when the whole line appears to be a sieve, but Taylor Lewan will be a top-15 NFL draft pick for a reason,” said Sam. “Re-watch a few games and only pay attention to Lewan and you will see why…and wonder how the line could be so bad.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Clark

Michigan fans have been waiting for Frank Clark to break out, and while he still hasn’t shown his full potential, he did have a solid season on an underwhelming defensive line. He started all 13 games and recorded 42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries. He was named All-Big Ten second team by the coaches. In the loss to Penn State, Clark had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown.

“The one ‘bright’ spot on the line,” said Josh. “He was not always consistent, a theme for the whole team, but he showed progress and appeared to make some significant improvement as the season wore on.”

“In a six-game stretch from the Minnesota game to the Iowa game, Clark accumulated 9.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks,” said Drew. “In that span, Clark also recovered two fumbles, including one he returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Clark’s playmaking ability made him Michigan’s best defensive lineman in 2013, but Clark needs to showcase that ability consistently as a senior in 2014.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry (2)

Previous Winners:
2012: William Campbell
2011: Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Desmond Morgan

This was the closest vote of all the awards, but Desmond Morgan narrowly edged out James Ross III. Morgan started all 13 games and finished third on the team with 79 tackles, recorded one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He’s not the most athletic player on the field, but is more often than not in the right place at the right time and fundamentally sound. His one-handed interception against UConn saved the game and was likely the difference between a winning season and a losing season.

“James Ross III may have had more tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks than Desmond Morgan, but Morgan made fewer critical mistakes throughout the season,” said Drew. “Morgan was the rock in the middle of the defense that Michigan could count on each game to make thumping tackles at the line of scrimmage. Ross III improved as the season progressed, but sometimes his aggressiveness would throw him right out of the play. Plus, without Morgan’s amazing one-handed interception against Connecticut, Michigan likely would have suffered one of its worst upset losses in school history.”

“More often than not, when Michigan stopped an opposing running back for fewer than four yards, Morgan was in on the tackle,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross (3)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Blake Countess

Countess also won our Defensive Player of the Year award. He came back from a torn ACL and recorded 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, four passes defended, and a team-high six interceptions. He earned first team All-Big Ten honors from the media and second team from the coaches.

“Raymon Taylor led Michigan with 86 tackles, nine pass breakups, and added four interceptions of his own,” said Drew. “But Taylor had better statistics than Blake Countess only because opposing offenses consistently attacked Taylor’s side of the field, avoiding Countess in the progress. Not only did quarterbacks avoid targeting Countess’ side of the field, when those quarterbacks did try to attack Countess, he made them pay. Countess made great plays on the ball on each of his six interceptions, which are tied for the most by a Wolverine this millennium.”

“Countess seemed to always be making plays on the ball on his way to a Big Ten-high six interceptions and All-Big Ten honors,” said Sam.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons had quite the career in Ann Arbor, going from a freshman unable to hit the broad side of a barn to Mr. Clutch and Michigan’s all-time most consistent field goal kicker. He finished his career having made 45-of-60 with a record 16 straight and a 141 straight extra points. This season he converted 15-of-20 field goal attempts and finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring.

“Northwestern game tying FG saved the season,” said Josh. “We’d easily be 6-7 without it.”

“After making only one of five field-goal attempts as a freshman in 2010, Brendan Gibbons made 29 of 35 field-goal attempts (82.9 percent) during his sophomore and junior seasons,” said Drew. “Gibbons was close to maintaining that conversion rate in his final season, making 15 of 20 field-goal attempts for a 75 percent conversion rate. And, most importantly, Gibbons oozed reliability at the position. Gibbons set school records for most consecutive field goals (16) and most consecutive PATs (141) this season. Further, Gibbons made three game-tying field goals in the final five minutes of regulation or in overtime in 2013. Gibbons may never have had had a booming leg, but Michigan fans will learn they took him for granted next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Dennis Norfleet (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

Hart Newcomer of the Year Jake Butt

For the second straight year this award goes to a tight end. Jake Butt stepped in as a true freshman and worked his way onto the field, ultimately becoming a key piece of the offense by season’s end. He started eight games and played in all 13, recording 20 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest game came against Ohio State when he caught five passes for 85 yards and a score. He also made a great one-handed touchdown catch in overtime against Northwestern.

“When Brady Hoke stepped on campus, he made it clear that tight ends would play a pivotal role in his offense,” said Drew. “In his first full recruiting class, Hoke reeled in Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams. However, both has had trouble maintaining blocks, which led to Funchess’ transition to wide receiver. Enter: Jake Butt. Butt, as a true freshman, was not only Michigan’s third-leading receiver with 20 catches, 235 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, but he also displayed an ability to block that Funchess and Williams have not. If Butt can add a few more pounds in the offseason, expect him to contend for All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Derrick Green (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jeremy Gallon

This is always a hard one to pick each year because there are usually two or three departing seniors that have left their mark on the program and will be missed. A case could certainly be made for Lewan here, but six of the seven of us went with Gallon.

When the diminutive slot receiver from Apopka, Fla. first stepped foot on campus no one could have imagined he would finish his career as one of the best receivers in Michigan history. But that’s just what he did. He broke Braylon Edwards’ single-season receiving record, caught a pass in 39 straight games, and set the Big Ten record for receiving yards in a game.

He finished his career third in receptions (173) and yards (2,704) in Michigan history.

“From RichRod’s leftover to Michigan record holder,” said Josh. “He was the one bright spot in an otherwise disappointing and depressing season filled with inconsistency and baffling play/play calling. He made an impact on the program that no one could have imagined and will remain in the record books for years to come.”

“Consistently counted on to make big plays, always stepped up when it mattered, provided good leadership for the rest of the team,” said Chris.

“In eight Big Ten games, Funchess averaged 4.88 catches and 72.75 receiving yards per game,” said Drew. “His improvement at wide receiver will allow Funchess to be Gardner’s top target in 2014. Funchess has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but he must limit his dropped passes next season.”

Votes: 6
Others Receiving Votes: Taylor Lewan (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Devin Funchess

Last season, Devin Funchess won the Newcomer of the Year award. This year, he adds the Most Improved Player of the Year award. While he burst onto the scene in Week 2 of his freshman year, he was one-dimensional and faded in the second half of that season, finishing the year with 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he was a consistent receiving threat all season, upping his numbers to 49 receptions for 748 yards and six touchdowns.

“His blocking left much to be desired but his ability as a pass catching nightmare match-up stood out,” said Josh. “A few too many drops for someone with his skill set but still made a major jump from 2012 to 2013.”

“Funchess had some bad drops toward the end of the year, but after finally moving to wide receiver for good, Funchess wreaked havoc on some opposing defenses on his way to a solid 49-catch, 748-yard season,” said Sam.

“In eight Big Ten games, Funchess averaged 4.88 catches and 72.75 receiving yards per game,” said Drew. “His improvement at wide receiver will allow Funchess to be Gardner’s top target in 2014. Funchess has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but he must limit his dropped passes next season.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), James Ross (1)

Previous Winners:
2012: Devin Gardner
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

Final Look: Penn State

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

(John T. Grellick, Detroit News)

The way Michigan had been playing in recent weeks, it was inevitable. They were going to lose sooner or later. Most didn’t expect it to happen at Penn State, but alas, it did and meltdown has ensued. Calls for the firing of Brady Hoke, Al Borges, and/or Darrell Funk; for starting Shane Morris over Devin Gardner;  for making Gardner the lead rusher; for completely abandoning the run in favor of the spread; and for any number of “solutions” one can come up with. Some are more outrageous than others, and some actually make sense, but the reality is Michigan lost a game it should have won and the Michigan faithful aren’t happy.

Now, Michigan returns home to face an explosive Indiana team before getting a bye week to prepare for the final stretch of the season. But before we fully turn our attention to Indiana, let’s take a final look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 43-40 quadruple overtime loss to Penn State.

Three big moments

1. Frank Clark’s scoop and score

Michigan wasn’t able to muster much offense in the first half and found itself trailing 21-10 at the half. Penn State started the second half with possession and a chance to stretch the lead to three scores. On the first play of the half, running back Zack Zwinak took the handoff, was hit two yards behind the line of scrimmage, and bounced off to the left. James Ross III got his hand on the ball and knocked it out. Frank Clark scooped it up at the 24, evaded a tackler at the 15, and raced the rest of the way to the end zone to pull the Wolverines within four. It was exactly what Michigan needed to kickstart a comeback.

Jake Ryan's return is sure to lift the Michigan defense (

2. Devin squared…twice

Entering the season, everyone knew Devin Funchess had the ability to be something special. But through the first four games he made just eight catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. After the bye week, however, Michigan began lining him up at receive and he went off for 151 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions against Minnesota. Many wondered whether he could do it again against Penn State, and he did.

In the first quarter, he got Michigan’s scoring started with a 59-yard touchdown reception from Devin Gardner. It was Michigan’s third possession of the game after the first one went three-and-out and the second resulted in an interception. The drive began with a 12-yard run by Fitzgerald Toussaint and a 15-yard run by Gardner. On the third play, Gardner faked the handoff and stepped up into the pocket. He pump faked to hold the safety and then unloaded a bomb down the middle of the field to a wide open Funchess who had slipped behind the safety. He caught it at the 13 and easily trotted into the end zone to tie the game at seven.

In the fourth quarter, he did it again. Michigan had taken a 27-24 lead on its final possession of the third quarter and Penn State missed a 47-yard field goal that would have tied it. Michigan took possession on its own 30-yard line. Five plays later, Funchess got behind the Penn State secondary once again. On 1st-and-10 from the PSU 37, Gardner faked the handoff and dropped back. He got great pass protection allowing him to step up into the pocket and heave the ball towards the goal post. It was right on as Funchess hauled it in in the back of the end zone to put Michigan ahead by 10.

3. Jake Ryan’s return

Because Michigan lost and because there were a lot more big plays made by Penn State than by Michigan, Jake Ryan gets the honor for his performance in his return from a torn ACL. He finished with just three tackles, one for loss, but his presence was a welcome sight and Michigan had its best pass rush of the season so far. He played over 30 snaps and said afterward that he felt good and it didn’t bother him a bit. That should lead to an increased work load going forward, especially after the next bye week. Michigan will need his athleticism and experience for the stretch run in November.

The numbers game

4: The number of overtimes, marking the longest game in Michigan history

2004: The last time Michigan scored a defensive touchdown in consecutive games before it did so against Penn State on Saturday

32: Consecutive games with a reception for Jeremy Gallon. It is the third longest streak in Michigan history behind Braylon Edwards (38) and Jason Avant (35)

207: Days from the time Jake Ryan tore his ACL to returning to action against Penn State

127: Consecutive extra points made by Brendan Gibbons. He passed JD Carlson (1988-91) for first in Michigan history

Drive chart

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Record Watch

Instead of three observations this week, since everything has already been played out more than enough, I’m going to highlight where some current Michigan players currently rank in the record books and what they still need to keep moving up the charts. We will keep this as a part of the weekly Final Look feature to show the movement week-to-week.

Career Receiving Yards
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Braylon Edwards (2001-04) 3,541 1,748
2. Anthony Carter (1979-82) 3,076 1,283
3. Amani Toomer (1992-95) 2,657 864
4. David Terrell (1998-2000) 2,317 524
5. Mario Manningham (2005-07) 2,310 517
6. Roy Roundtree (2009-12) 2,304 511
7. Tai Streets (1995-98) 2,284 491
8. Marquise Walker (1998-01) 2,269 476
9. Jason Avant (2002-05) 2,247 454
10. Greg McMurtry (1986-89) 2,163 370
11. Desmond Howard (1989-91) 2,146 353
12. Mercury Hayes (1992-95) 2,144 351
13. Derrick Alexander (1989-93) 1,977 184
14. Jack Clancy (1963-66) 1,917 124
15. Jeremy Gallon (2010-present) 1,793
Career Rushing Yards
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Mike Hart (2004-07) 5,040 2,974
2. Denard Robinson (2009-12) 4,495 2,429
3. Anthony Thomas (1997-2000) 4,472 2,406
4. Jamie Morris (1984-87) 4,393 2,327
5. Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94) 4,178 2,112
6. Butch Woolfolk (1978-81) 3,861 1,795
7. Chris Perry (2000-03) 3,696 1,630
8. Rob Lytle (1973-76) 3,317 1,251
9. Billy Taylor (1969-71) 3,072 1,006
10. Gordon Bell (1973-75) 2,900 834
11. Tim Biakabutuka (1993-95) 2,810 744
12. Lawrence Ricks (1979-82) 2,751 685
13. Harlan Huckleby (1975-78) 2,624 558
14. Ricky Powers (1990-93) 2,554 488
15. Russell Davis (1975-78) 2,550 484
16. Ron Johnson (1966-68) 2,440 374
17. Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-73) 2,343 277
18. Tony Boles (1987-89) 2,247 181
19. Stan Edwards (1977-81) 2,206 140
20. Rick Leach (1975-78) 2,176 110
21. Fitzgerald Toussaint (2010-present) 2,066
Career Field Goals Made
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Garrett Rivas (2003-06) 64 27
2. Remy Hamilton (1993-96) 63 26
3. Mike Gillette (1985-88) 57 20
4. JD Carlson (1989-91) 38 1
5. Brendan Gibbons (2010-present) 37
6. Ali Haji-Sheikh (1979-82) 31
7. Bob Bergeron (1981-84) 29
8. Hayden Epstein (1998-01) 26
9. Mike Lantry (1972-74) 21
KC Lopata (2007-08) 21
Career Point-After-Touchdowns Made
Rank Name Yards Still Needs
1. Garrett Rivas (2003-06) 162 11
2. Brendan Gibbons (2010-present) 141
3. JD Carlson (1989-91) 137
4. Mike Gillette (1985-88) 130
5. Ali Haji-Sheikh (1979-82) 117

Final Look: Minnesota

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013


Michigan finally played a pretty good game that resulted in a convincing win just the way it should. Now, it has a chance to go on the road and prove it’s better than it played in the two games before the bye week. But before we get there, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 42-13 win over Minnesota.

Three big moments

1. Jibreel Black forces a fumble

Many were wondering how Michigan would respond coming out of the bye week that followed back-to-back poor performances against Akron and UConn. Just like in the first four games, Michigan kicked off to open the game, which meant the defense got a chance to set the tone. The kickoff went ominously out of bounds, giving Minnesota the ball at the 35.

On Minnesota’s first play quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for two yards. On the second Leidner completed a pass to tight end Maxx Williams for two more. On 3rd-and-6, Leidner dropped back to pass and then pulled it down to run a draw up the middle. At first it looked like he had a hole, but Jibreel Black came around and hit him at the 35. He got his right hand on the ball, knocking it loose and James Ross recovered, giving Michigan great field position. The Wolverines punched it in six plays later to take an early 7-0 lead.

2. Funchess diving catch

Blake Countess leads the nation in interceptions and INT return yards (

While Michigan got off to a quick start thanks to Black’s forced fumble, Minnesota did a good job of keeping Michigan’s offense off the field the rest of the first half. The ensuing Gopher possession lasted 9:44 and Michigan only got to run 17 plays the rest of the half. With a 14-7 halftime lead, Michigan needed a strong second half to put the Gophers away.

On the first possession, Michigan looked to establish the run. Fitzgerald Toussaint took the first three carries for 14, five, and eight yards, respectively, and then Derrick Green ran for nine. At the Minnesota 44, Gardner connected with Jehu Chesson for a 22-yard gain to put Michigan in field goal position. On first down from the 22, Toussaint lost a yard. On second, Gardner threw an incomplete pass setting up a critical third down. On 3rd-and-11, Gardner dropped back to pass and fired a bullet across the field, towards the pylon at the front right corner of the end zone. Devin Funchess had to come back to get it and dove from the goal line, picking the ball off the turf at the 2-yard line. The play was reviewed and remained a catch and Green punched it in on the next play to give Michigan a 14-point lead. Without the great catch, Michigan would have faced a 40-yard field goal to go ahead 17-7, leaving Minnesota still in the ball game.

3. Countess takes it home

Michigan held a 35-13 lead after Gardner ran it in from two yards out with 2:36 to play. Minnesota got the ball back looking to possibly score once more, but Blake Countess had other plans. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 36, Leidner threw to the left side of the field and Countess stepped in front of the receiver, picking it off at the 28. He then raced 72 yards untouched for a touchdown to bring the final score to 42-13. It was his fourth interception of the season, tying for the most nationally, and the 72 return yards combined with his previous return yards to give him the most interception return yards in the country.

The numbers game

73-24-3: Michigan’s all-time record against Minnesota

86-27: Michigan’s all-time record in homecoming games

0: The number of turnovers by Devin Gardner, marking the first turnover-free game of his career to date

9: The number of consecutive games that Gardner has recorded a rushing touchdown

21: The number of Michigan players to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards. Fitz Toussaint became the 21st with his 78-yard game

0: The number of passes Michigan threw in the first quarter

72: The yards of Blake Countess’ interception return for touchdown, the sixth-longest in Michigan history

Drive chart

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Starting strong

For the fifth consecutive game, Michigan started on defense, and for the fifth consecutive game the defense didn’t allow a point on the first possession. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 plays, 11.4 yards, and 1:35 per opening possession. What’s more is that Michigan’s offense has scored on four of the five ensuing possessions, including the blocked punt returned for touchdown following Central Michigan’s first possession. The only game that Michigan didn’t score right after holding the opponent to start the game was UConn when Devin Gardner threw an interception. Three of the four scores have been touchdowns. The other, against Akron, was a field goal. So that’s a combined 24-point lead that Michigan has taken right out of the bat despite not getting the ball to start the game.

2. Funchess out wide

Devin Funchess' move to the outside provides an instant upgrade to the receiving corps (

Devin Funchess played much of the game lined up as a wide receiver and had the best game of his young career with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. His sheer athleticism and height make him an instant mismatch for opposing defensive backs, so it’s a logical move since Michigan hasn’t found a true downfield threat this season. Funchess provides that. The return of AJ Williams and the development of freshman Jake Butt has allowed Brady Hoke and Al Borges to make this move.

Funchess has struggled with his blocking, but excels at catching the ball. Part of his decline in production as the season went on last season was because opponents knew that whenever he was in the game it was a pass. Oftentimes Michigan used that as a decoy, but it resulted in seven receptions in the final nine games after eight in the first four. Now, with the move to the outside, he can do what he does best and the offense won’t sacrifice anything to get him the ball.

3. Offensive line shuffle

Chris Bryant stepped into the starting lineup, pushing Graham Glasgow to center and Jack Miller out. The numbers don’t show any improvement – Michigan rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry – but it seemed to passed the eye test. There seemed to be a noticeable improvement. Michigan did have four negative rushes, a sack, and a fumbled snap that resulted in a loss of five, but the four negative rushes were only one-yard losses and three of them were by Green.

More importantly, Michigan had just two short drives. Look at the drive chart above and then go back and look at the drive charts from the Akron and UConn games. Those two are littered with short maize lines. The Minnesota game had just two in which Michigan didn’t pick up a first down. That’s an improvement.

In addition, the coaches moved Taylor Lewan around the line on certain plays and ran all but two runs behind him. Whether that’s something they will continue to do the rest of the season or this was just a chance to test it out remains to be seen, but he’s the start of the team and it’s always a good bet to run behind him.

Minnesota’s defense certainly wasn’t a stern test, so the real test of how much this shake-up improves the line is still to come. Penn State will be much better defensively than Minnesota was, so before we go grading the offensive line shuffle let’s wait at least another week.

Fried Chicken: Michigan 41 – Notre Dame 30

Sunday, September 8th, 2013


It was a perfect script through three quarters of play. A raucous Big House that featured multiple fly-overs, a pregame ceremony honoring the greatest player to ever don the maize and blue, the largest college football crowd ever, and a halftime performance with a message from Beyonce complete with lasers and blue LED lights, it was truly a site to behold. On the field, unlike last season’s meeting in South Bend, Michigan was able to move the ball with relative ease, going up and down the field to the tune of nearly 367 yards – 68 more than the entire offensive output last season – and stretching a 14-point lead. It had all the makings of a Wolverine romp in the final Big House meeting against the hated rival who, in Brady Hoke’s words, “chickened out” of the rivalry.

And then it started to unravel.

Over the next ten minutes of game action, the crowd fell silent and the tension permeating through the Big House was so thick it could be sliced with a knife.

Final Stats
Michigan Notre Dame
Score 41 30
Record 2-0 1-1
Total Yards 460 410
Net Rushing Yards 194 108
Net Passing Yards 294 314
First Downs 25 23
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 6-50 4-33
Punts-Yards 3-94 2-80
Time of Possession 34:04 25:56
Third Down Conversions 6-of-12 8-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 1-9 1-8
Field Goals 2-for-2 3-for-3
PATs 5-for-5 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-5
Full Box Score

Devin Gardner, the newly crowned recipient of a Michigan Legends jersey, had avoided costly mistakes until that point and seemed in complete command of the Wolverine offense, even in the face of what will likely be the toughest defense he will face all season. But on 3rd-and-11 from his own 16, he faced a pair of Irish defenders in his face. As he had done all game, he rolled to escape them but this time their containment was too good and he found himself in his own end zone. As they made the hit, Gardner tried to throw it away, but it fell right into the hands of a diving Stephon Tuitt and suddenly Michigan’s comfortable 14-points lead was cut in half.

Needing a big response, Michigan took over once again and Gardner quickly found Jeremy Gallon for a seven-yard gain. But Gallon, who had a career game with eight receptions for 184 yard and three touchdowns, stayed down on the Michigan Stadium turf. He eventually walked off the field, but on the next play a false start negated the gain. On the ensuing play, both Devin Funchess and Taylor Lewan went down and nothing could go right. Michigan was forced to punt and Matt Wile’s boot went off the side of his foot, just 21 yards downfield and Notre Dame took over near midfield.

A touchdown would tie the game and George Atkinson III gashed the middle of the Michigan defense for 16 yards on the first play. Tommy Rees hit Chris Brown for 11 yards and suddenly the Irish were 25 yards away from the end zone. But the Michigan defense stiffened. On 3rd-and-8 James Ross III had a chance to seal the game, but wasn’t able to hold onto an interception in the middle of the field. Notre Dame settled for a field goal to pull within 34-30.

Michigan took over with 9:15 remaining in need of a long scoring drive to turn the momentum back in its favor. In the span of four plays, Gardner found Fitzgerald Toussaint for a 22-yard gain and a 31-yard gain to the Notre Dame 21. Two Irish pass interference penalties later, Michigan had 1st-and-goal at the Irish two. Gardner faked the handoff and rolled to his right, but everyone in the stadium, including ND’s defense, knew it was coming and he was stopped for a two-yard loss. On the next play, Gardner found Drew Dileo for a four-yard touchdown pass and the Michigan Stadium crowd could finally exhale.

Devin Gardner earned Tom Harmon's #98 Legends jersey (

But there was still four minutes on the clock, and if recent history in this rivalry was any indication that was a lifetime. On Notre Dame’s first play of the drive, Brennen Beyer broke through for Michigan’s first sack of the game, a nine-yard loss. But passes of 10, 21, 12, and 11 yards later, Notre Dame was knocking on Michigan’s door once again. Two straight seven-yard completions to TJ Jones took the Irish to Michigan’s six-yard line, but Rees’ pass over the middle sailed high of his target, bounced off the knee of Raymon Taylor and right into the hands of Blake Countess for a touchback.

Michigan ran out the clock after Gardner scrambled for 14 yards and a first down, and for the first time since the third quarter Michigan fans could go wild.

Following the game, there was a sense of relief among the Michigan players, coaches, and fans alike. A joyous occasion – the second night game in Michigan Stadium history and the final home game against Notre Dame – nearly turned heartbreaking. The players spoke with a somber tone, fully aware that they had let the Irish back into it and hammering the point that they still had a lot of work to do.

Yet in the end, it was Michigan’s fourth win over the Irish in the last six meetings and sixth in the last eight. It keeps the Wolverines unbeaten and leaves a lot of excitement for the rest of the season.

Gardner finished 21-of-33 for 294 yards, four touchdowns and the one interception. He also rushed 13 times for 82 yards (96 when sacks are excluded) and another score. Toussaint took every running back carry but one, rushing 22 times for 71 yards and caught one pass for 31. Gallon led all receivers, while seven others caught passes. Defensively, Taylor led the way with 11 tackles, one for loss.

Michigan accumulated 460 yards of offense, more than any team gained against Notre Dame last season except for Alabama. The 294 passing yards were more than anyone except Oklahoma. While Michigan’s defense was content to sit back and rush three or four, Rees passed 35 times and threw two interceptions. The Michigan offense out-rushed the Irish 194-108.

Michigan hosts 0-2 Akron next Saturday, travel to 0-2 UConn after that, and then get a bye week before opening Big Ten play. The next three weeks should give the Wolverines a chance to work out some kinks from the first two games and rest up the injured players before getting into the real grind of the Big Ten season.

Stay tuned for reactions from the players and coaches, our thoughts on the game, and a look at next week’s opponent, the Akron Zips.

Maize and Go Blue staff roundtable

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Just a few days from the start of the season, the time has come to put our predictions to paper. Or the internet, where they will forever live, serving as a reminder of the surge of optimism that perpetually springs just before the don of a new season. All the usual suspects – Justin, Chris, Sam, Josh, and Katie – will give their predictions, as will the newest member of our staff, Derick, who you have read in our preseason Predicting Michigan series. You can view all of our staff bios on the Meet the Staff page.

With introductions out of the way, let’s get down to business.

What are you most excited about this season?

JUSTIN: I’m excited about the return to the Michigan football of old. Denard Robinson will forever be remembered as a great Michigan football player, but as was apparent he had his limitations and Al Borges was never able to fully implement his offense.

Back when Rich Rodriguez was announced as the new head coach to replace Lloyd Carr, there was a lot of excitement over the kind of offense he could bring to Ann Arbor, the likes of which none of us had ever seen. The Michigan brand of football had gotten a little stale during the latter part of Carr’s tenure, so we were excited for something new. Well, we all know how that turned out and now a return to smash-mouth Michigan football with mammoth offensive linemen and tall, rangy wide receivers sounds more appealing than ever. It’s funny how perspective changes.

Most of us are looking forward to getting back to the Michigan football we all remember

There will still be some pieces of spread mixed in, but with Devin Gardner behind center Borges’ offense will be able to thrive. It will take a little time to be sure, with a young interior line and group of receivers, but I’m excited to see the return to Bo and Mo and Lloyd’s brand of football.

CHRIS: Seeing how the offense will look with Devin Gardner as the starting QB and a stable of quality running backs, including the return of Fitz Toussaint from a major injury, and a group of young, top recruits.

JOSH: Having a legitimate passing threat under center and getting back to real Michigan football. It’s been far too long since we’ve seen that style and been good at it (2006). To me Michigan football is a smash mouth running game and a tough defense, I think we get one step closer to resembling the teams of yesteryear.

SAM: Besides football being back? Well, to start off, I’m excited about the potential of the offense to put up some points with Devin Gardner leading the way, a crowded yet talented corps of running backs, a tight end that can make any defender look foolish, two bite-sized receivers with hands made of glue, and an actual, tangible depth chart on the offensive line that doesn’t read “PANIC” after the starter goes down. I think Al Borges is finally starting to see an offense on the field close to the one he envisioned when joining Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor two seasons ago, and the results should start to show. Denard Robinson was an other-worldly talent, but his skill set simply did not match up with what the New Michigan is looking to do – pound the ball behind a physical offensive line and take deep shots down the field when the safeties are forced to cheat up. Gardner certainly has the physical abilities to run the system to near perfection, and if he starts up where he left off last season, the Wolverines should light up the scoreboard.

As a special aside, I also want to give Dennis Norfleet a quick shout-out as the lead punt and kick returner. Norfleet is probably the single most exciting player on the roster, and I think it’s about time Michigan scored on special teams. Look for that to happen within the first two weeks of the season.

DERICK: The return of a potent passing attack to the offense. As Denard Robinson moves on to the NFL, Brady Hoke and Al Borges will try to move back in the direction of a physical offensive style. Quarterback Devin Gardner will lead the 2013 Michigan offense with a revamped passing attack. During his starts at the end of 2012, Gardner proved that he has an accurate arm and can extend plays with his legs. Receivers like Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Amara Darboh figure to have big seasons with Gardner under center.

KATIE: Seeing what Devin Gardner can do, and if he finds a go-to in Gallon or Funchess.

What worries you the most entering the season?

JUSTIN: My main concern is the inexperience on the offensive line and at receiver. Returning to a power running game is great, but you have to have interior linemen that can open holes for your backs. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are solid bookends, but how quickly will Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis gel? The opener against Central Michigan will be a good dry run, but we’ll get our first real indication in Week 2 against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front.

At receiver, the loss of Amara Darboh to injury is a big blow. Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are well established, but the offense needs a guy like Darboh who can play the Junior Hemingway/Adrian Arrington role. A lot of pressure will fall on Jehu Chesson to step up, which I think he’s more than capable of doing. I’m not sold on Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, who have had three years to step up and still haven’t done so.

The young offensive line worries us the most (John T. Greilick, Detroit News)

CHRIS: How an inexperienced group of players on the offensive and defensive lines will mature and get better throughout the season.  With three new starters on the offensive line, and essentially three new starters on the D-line, I believe this to be the key to how good of a season that the Wolverines end up having.

JOSH: Lack of known commodities on the line, receiver, and running back. A LOT of talented, but inexperienced, kids on this roster at key spots could mean for some serious growing pains early on. With Notre Dame coming to town in Week 2 this more than worries me, even though I am not sold on ND being nearly as ‘good’ as they were last year.

SAM: This might be wacky, but I am going with the offense again, and specifically Gardner. While he possesses all the tools to excel in Borges’s offense, I’m still a little wary of crowning the redshirt junior as the savior of the program, the one who will bring Michigan full circle. I know it’s been a long time since the spring of 2011 and 2012, but Gardner’s struggles in the spring games of those two years will always be in the back of my head.

With his big arm, pinpoint precision, and capable legs, Gardner can be great, but I’m a little skeptical of his decision-making. I’ve seen him scramble and throw an ill-advised bunny one too many times to rest easily this week of the season opener, and I am worried that his success over the last five games of last season were partially a product of opposing defenses having very little information on him. With a full offseason to break down tape, opposing coaches have certainly found new ways to try to attack Gardner, and any hesitancy on his end early on could signal trouble in Ann Arbor.

Again, there is no doubting Gardner’s potential, and I do think he will have a very good year; I am just not quite ready to bring both feet onto the bandwagon.

DERICK: The youth on the interior offensive line. While Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be solid at the tackle positions, the rest of the offensive line is a question mark. Two talented recruiting classes will battle to fill the remaining three spots. Too much youth can be an issue on either line, but fortunately Michigan has Lewan to lead the young players and help make up for any mistakes. If the line can protect Gardner, the offense should be potent.

KATIE: Some of our offensive line is young. That, coupled with an unsure running game.

Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

JUSTIN: Darboh was going to be my pick, so the obvious choice now would be Chesson. But I’m going to go a little out of the box and say Jake Butt. Last year, I correctly picked Devin Funchess, so I’ll stick with that position which Borges absolutely loves. With Darboh out, I could see Borges utilizing the tight end position even more, and Funchess is the known commodity as far as opposing defenses are concerned. That could free up Butt for some open looks much like Funchess got last year, although he likely won’t get as many targets because of, well, Funchess.

CHRIS: Derrick Green– I know that this is the easy pick considering his highly regarded status as one of Michigan’s top signees ever, but this guy is good.  His size and speed are unparalleled for a freshman running back and he’ll have the opportunity get a large amount of playing time given the uncertainty in the Michigan backfield.  With a couple weeks left in fall camp, it appears that Fitz Toussaint is taking control of the top spot, however the offense will feature more than one guy running the ball.  I like Green’s chances to have an excellent season.

We're excited about the potential of Jehu Chesson (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

JOSH: So many options and it seems like a cop out to go with Gardner or Funchess, so I’m going to stick with a first year starting wide receiver, Jehu Chesson. He’s a tall, fast guy that can take the top off the defense and open things up underneath for Gallon, Dileo, and Norfleet. He’s had a year in the system and from what I’ve read he seems to be an incredibly humble and hardworking kid. Not sure he’s Mario Manningham 2.0 yet but he’s got the size and speed to fill that type of role.

SAM: I already alluded to some of his mismatch-making in regards to why I’m excited about the offense this year – I think Devin Funchess is a guy you will see turn heads this year. The sophomore out of Farmington Hills set the world on fire early on in his debut season, catching touchdowns in weeks two and three against Air Force and Massachusetts and recording multiple catches in three of the first four games, but he kind of fell off the map as the season wore on. Over the last nine games of the season, Funchess never recorded a multiple-catch outing, and his highest yardage output over that same span was just 29.

His potential is both clear and vast, however. A whopping 33 percent of Funchess’s 15 receptions last season went for scores, and his 6’5″, 235-pound frame (now with added muscle!) is enough in itself to make defensive coordinators toss and turn at night. In Borges’ offense, tight ends are called upon to block quite often, and blocking is unfortunately the biggest area Funchess needs to improve upon, but his added weight should help him see more snaps and, in turn, more targets this year. His monstrous hands make him an obvious red zone target, and his overall length and athleticism should get plenty of run over the middle and on broken plays where Gardner will be seeking a safety valve. Look for Funchess to at least double his catches in 2013 while recording 600-plus yards and eight scores.

DERICK: I’m going to go with Jehu Chesson now that Darboh is out. I really think that the second receiver behind Gallon is poised to have a big year behind him and Funchess in the passing attack. Gardner should be able to spread the ball out and use his entire receiving core, so if Chesson can step in and take over a big role that I believe Darboh was destined for he can pick up important offensive production that Michigan lost with Roundtree graduating.

KATIE: I would like to see Derrick Green rack up yards as a freshman, like Hart did, and make the next few years look even more enticing.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

JUSTIN: The obvious pick here is James Ross, but in my opinion, he already had a semi-breakout at the tail end of last season. He’s due for big numbers this year. But I’m going to say a guy not many people are talking about: Raymon Taylor. He was thrust into the starting role last season when Blake Countess went down with a season ending knee injury and performed admirably, probably even better than J.T. Floyd. Now, with Countess back and grabbing all the attention, Taylor has locked down the other starting corner spot. He made a big interception against Notre Dame and followed that up with another the next week, and I think it’s safe to say we can expect more from him this season now that he has 11 starts under his belt.

CHRIS: Frank Clark– Even though he played in all 13 games last season, he only started the final four.  In those four games, he had excellent performances, including a huge one against Ohio State.  This season he will be counted on to man one of the defensive end positions and to be one of the defensive leaders.  He is an excitable player who will be counted on to anchor a defensive line which has only one true returning starter, and that player, Quinton Washington, only started 10 games.  Clark must quickly become a force to reckon with if the Wolverines want to win versus better competition.

With Jake Ryan out, James Ross III and Frank Clark need to step up

JOSH: I’d love to say Dymonte Thomas, I think he’s going to be really good, but everyone else probably will say that too, so I’m going to go with Blake Countess. He had a great freshman year then missed all but a few plays of last season. With almost a full year to recover and hone his craft. I don’t think we’re looking at Ty Law or Charles Woodson type play but he seems poised to make a name for himself as another great Michigan defensive back.

SAM: Funchess is a tremendous breakout candidate on offense because of all the physical attributes he possesses, but on the defensive side of the ball, my pick for breakout player will thrive for the exact opposite reasons. James Ross III, another true sophomore, from nearby Orchard Lake, is not the biggest guy on the field, but his instincts and grit will one day make him a great linebacker at Michigan. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, Ross is certainly not a prototypical Big Ten backer, and at barely 19 years of age, “Biggs” is younger than ideal as well, but he has heart and quickness in bunches.

With only 21 solo tackles and 15 assisted tackles last season, Ross has hardly scratched the surface. I love his ability to quickly diagnose the play and react accordingly without hesitation. Yes, sometimes such an aggressive style has and will lead to getting burned on play action, but with more experience will come better decision-making. A James Ross that correctly reads every offensive play is a James Ross that no running back or quarterback wants to face. The second year man is a sure tackler, a solid cover man, and the embodiment of a football player. Look for him to rack up 10 tackles for loss this year on his way to being the second-leading tackler on the team.

DERICK: Frank Clark. The new start at defensive end could be a jump start for Frank Clark’s career. The 6’2″ junior contributed on the line at times during his sophomore season, and figures to play a much bigger role in 2013. It is crucial that Michigan gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers this season, because the secondary has remaining questions. If Clark can be an effective pass rusher it could make a huge different for Michigan.

KATIE: James Ross III. Not that he didn’t have a breakout freshman year, but I’m expecting him to have matured more and be someone who will make a big impact at the linebacker position.

What is your prediction for the season? What will Michigan’s record be? Who will Michigan lose to? What bowl game will Michigan make?

JUSTIN: Great recruiting classes by Hoke the past couple of years have turned up the excitement level big time. But let’s not forget Hoke’s first full class is still sophomores. I think we’re a year away from competing for a national championship, but that doesn’t mean a Big Ten title is out of the question. However, it’s not going to be easy. If Michigan had Ohio State’s schedule, a spot in the Big Ten title game would be a no-brainer, but the November stretch of at Michigan State, home against Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa, and home against Ohio State is going to be brutal. There’s no margin for error prior to November, which means Michigan has to win at Penn State, which I think they will.

Two of the three top contenders in the Legends division, Michigan State and Nebraska, don’t even have to face Ohio State, so they have the easier path the to Legends division title. That means those two games are critical for Michigan. Lose one and the Ohio State game is a must-win. Lose both and Michigan probably won’t make it to Indianapolis.

I think the Ohio State game will be a must-win regardless. I think the only way a rematch happens (without being undefeated) is if Michigan beats Michigan State and Nebraska, but falls to Northwestern…which is exactly what I think will happen. I see Michigan undefeated heading into East Lansing. State just doesn’t have the offense this year, so a win there and a win the following week against Nebraska will leave Michigan 9-0 as they travel to Northwestern. That’s the game that will trip Michigan up coming off of two big wins. Michigan will then beat Iowa and fall to Ohio State, finishing 10-2. Northwestern will also lose to Ohio State and two of the three against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska, finishing 9-3. A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game will fittingly send Michigan to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl where Michigan will lose to Stanford, finishing 11-3 overall.

A trip to the 100th Rose Bowl would only be fitting for the team that won the first one ever

CHRIS: In all reality, the Wolverines have the chance to go 12-0, and I’m not only saying that because every team has a chance to do that each year.  However, Team 134 will need to avoid the pitfalls of some tough games, especially once the November schedule hits.

Prior to Michigan’s first November game against MSU, they need to be 7-0, and I think they will be.  The only tough game during that stretch is Notre Dame, but the game is at home, under the lights, and I believe that the Irish will take a step back this year compared to the 2012 team.  MSU will be a decent squad this year if they can break in new starters for half of the positions on both offense and defense.  Michigan’s offensive and defensive line play will have to be stout by this game, otherwise there could be trouble.  Plus, MSU will be looking for payback after last year’s heartbreaking, last-second loss.

After that, Michigan gets Nebraska at home.  I don’t expect the Huskers to be a very good team this year, especially on defense, where they only return four starters from a defense which wasn’t particularly good last season.  They do return Taylor Martinez at the QB position, who is a streaky passer and a good runner when he gets the opportunity.  Michigan will need to take advantage of a weak offensive line and contain Martinez to win this game, as well as watch out for a potential let-down following the MSU game.

After that comes the game that worries me the most- At Northwestern on Nov 16.  They return 15 starters on both sides of the ball, plus both starters in the kicking game.  They have two good QBs in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, each of which will attack the Michigan defense with different styles.  They also have stud running back Venric Mark returning, who is the top returning player at that position.  The defense will be good as well, with three returning starters in a secondary which struggled at times last season.  I see a couple of keys for Michigan which will allow them to win this game: good defensive line play and a quality game plan by Greg Mattison which will confuse three new starters on the offensive line; and a quick re-focusing by the players after two tough games.  Ryan Field can be a tough place to play, especially if the game is played with a noon EST kickoff.  That’s 11am Central time, and if the Wolverines don’t come focused and ready to play, an upset could happen.

The comes Iowa at their place.  Should be a win.

Then, The Game.  Ohio State will likely come to the Big House 11-0 and looking for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game and a potential BCS National Championship appearance.  The Buckeye offense will be good and will put up a lot of points this season.  Michigan’s defense will be tested by the large number of weapons which Ohio State can attack with.  Defense is another story, however.  They only have four returning starters on this side of the ball, although the spots will be filled by quality, yet unproven, recruits.  With the weapons on Michigan’s offense, this has the potential to be a shoot-out, with the team that wants it the most coming out on top.

I expect this Michigan team to finish the season 10-2 or 11-1.  There’s that potential loss to Northwestern hanging out there, but I think that Brady Hoke will ensure that the team is ready to play against a quality Big Ten opponent.  I don’t think that Michigan has the overall experience and talent yet to beat Ohio State.  While I do think the game will be close, Ohio State will have too much for the Wolverines.  With this being said, there is potential for a Michigan-OSU rematch in the Big Ten Championship.  For this to happen, Michigan cannot lose any other conference games, especially to opponents on their side of the Division.  If the two teams rematch, Michigan will win and take the Big Ten crown for 2013 and play in the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten Championship game could very well be a Michigan-Ohio State rematch

JOSH: I can honestly see this team going undefeated or losing four games again. There is just too much uncertainty at key positions to make a good prediction, but I’ll venture one anyway. There are too many toss-up games on the schedule for me to feel confident about a largely young and inexperienced team. Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, OSU, and you can’t count out Northwestern. 9-3 (6-2), no B1G title game appearance and Outback Bowl again.

SAM: I have Michigan going 9-3 in the regular season and finishing in first place in the Legends Division before heading to the Big Ten championship game, where they will face off with Ohio State before heading to a bowl game somewhere where it’s warm. The schedule is not extremely difficult, but Michigan is still probably a year away from competing on the national level. I see the Wolverines dropping two of the four of Notre Dame, at Penn State, at Michigan State, and at Northwestern, and one to the Buckeyes. After finishing out the regular season, I think Michigan will lose again to Ohio State in Indianapolis before winning their bowl game to finish at 10-4 overall.

If you are thinking, “isn’t this the guy that wants back-to-back matchups with Ohio State?” The answer is yes, I am. Unfortunately this is the wrong year to potentially have that come up. The Game should be a classic, but I think Michigan’s defense will be just a step behind Ohio State’s offense and the Scarlet and Grey will take the cake. Regardless, there is plenty to look forward to this season, and there’s a reason they play the games. Maybe, just maybe, the Maize and Blue will prove me wrong.

DERICK: 11-3, B1G runner-up, BCS at-large. Michigan could definitely go into The Game at the Big House with a 10-1 record. The loss of Everett Golson makes the Notre Dame game very winnable for the Wolverines, but the gauntlet of Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa will be difficult to endure without a loss. If Michigan can go 3-1 through that game I think they can split with OSU (since the Buckeyes will likely be playing in the Big Ten Championship game) and likely win the game at home and get a Sugar Bowl bid if the SEC sends their champion to the National Championship Game. The bowl game will be difficult, obviously, and could be the third straight game against a top-5 team for Michigan. After a strong start to the season, I think the final few weeks could be tough.

KATIE: A 9-3 regular season finish and 6-2 in the Big Ten.

Predicting Michigan: The linebackers

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

(Daniel Brenner,

Today we continue our position preview and predictions series with the linebackers. For previous positions, see quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight ends, and defensive line.

Wounded Warrior: Jake Ryan

Brady Hoke and his staff have had an extremely successful offseason. They brought in a second straight top-10 recruiting class, convinced star left tackle Taylor Lewan to return for his senior season and even found a way to force students to show up to games earlier. However productive the team has been since the Outback Bowl, the news that Jake Ryan had torn his ACL and would miss some of the 2013 season has lingered like a dark cloud over the optimism in Ann Arbor. Ryan, who is possibly the best player on the entire team, let alone the defense, is recovering quickly but doesn’t figure to play for at least the first several games of the year.

When he is on the field, the redshirt junior has a knack for finding the ball. Ryan was a savior for the Michigan defense many times during the 2012 season, making open-field tackles to limit big gains. He is a versatile defender who can get pressure on the quarterback or stay back and cover his zone. Ryan was a nightmare for offenses in the backfield, recording 16 tackles for loss last year alone. While his ability to stuff the running back is impressive, what separates Ryan is his added ability to make the big play. He added 4 forced fumbles to his 4.5 sacks last year, and fans got used to seeing their long-haired leader celebrate flashy plays on a weekly basis.

It’s unfair to expect Jake Ryan to be the type of player he was in 2012 immediately after his return from injury, but something about the fire and intensity he plays with gives Ann Arbor hope that he will. Ryan is the reliable defensive leader that Michigan couldn’t afford to lose, and until he returns it will be a challenge for Greg Mattison to fill that hole.

Career Stats – Ryan
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2011 20 17 37 3.0 11.0 1 2 0
2012 56 32 88 4.5 16.0 4 1 0
Totals 76 49 125 7.5 27.0 5 3 0

Picking Up The Slack

Fortunately for the Wolverines, a couple of veteran linebackers are returning to the defense this season to help dull the pain of losing Ryan. The temporary leader of this unit will likely be redshirt senior Cam Gordon, who has played all over the field in his career. Gordon’s time at safety makes him a very useful linebacker to have on the field against the pass. He converted to outside linebacker in the spring of 2011 after an incredible first season in which he recorded 77 tackles and picked off three passes. Since that great year, Gordon’s career has hit a bit of a lull. A back injury in 2011 put his season on hold and he didn’t appear in a game until week seven in East Lansing. Gordon could never really catch up after getting such a late start to the season, and played mostly on special teams finishing the season with just four tackles.

Cam Gordon looks to step up in Jake Ryan's absence (Scott Kennedy,

Last season similarly failed to live up to the standard that Gordon set for himself in his redshirt freshman year, but it was significantly better than the injury-riddled 2011. Gordon was a reserve linebacker and starred on kick coverage for the special teams. He finished the season with 17 tackles, including three of those for losses. If the linebackers are going to be an effective group without Ryan on the field, Gordon is going to have to be a playmaker like he was at safety in 2010.

Coaches are also expecting big things from junior Desmond Morgan. Morgan accepted the responsibility of being one of the defensive leaders on the team when he changed his number to 48 in honor of former Michigan legend Gerald Ford. Morgan, like Ryan (#47 for Bennie Oosterbaan) have earned the right to play with the Michigan Legends patch on their jersey. This season, Morgan will get a chance to prove his worth. He will be the lone returning starter to take the field at linebacker to open the season, and does so as one of the most productive defenders on the squad. Morgan fell just shy of leading the team in tackles last season with 81, which was seven less than the injured Ryan. The most impressive part about his tackle total is that he almost matched one of the best linebackers in the country, playing in only 11 games, missing two with an injury.

In 2013, Mattison will count on Morgan to be even more of a ball-magnet. The linebackers without Ryan aren’t one of the stronger groups on the team, so a standout player like Morgan will be absolutely crucial until his return. The junior has dealt well with pressure in his young career at Michigan, notching a career-high 11 tackles in both the Ohio State and Michigan State games last season. If he continues to play his best football in the big games, he will find himself right next to Jake Ryan in the fans’ hearts.

Career Stats – Gordon
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2010 40 37 77 0.0 3.5 0 2 3
2011 3 1 4 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
2012 13 4 17 0.0 3.0 0 0 0
Totals 56 42 98 0.0 6.5 0 2 3
Career Stats – Morgan
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2011 26 37 63 1.0 4.0 0 1 0
2012 41 40 81 0.5 5.5 0 0 0
Totals 67 77 144 1.5 9.5 0 1 0

Battle To Start

Gordon and Morgan will likely be starters at linebacker when the Wolverines take the field against Central Michigan on the last day of August. However, in Greg Mattison’s 4-3 defense, there is one more spot up for grabs while Ryan recovers from injury. At this point, there are a few players that seem to have realistic shots to win that spot.

James Ross III worked his way into the lineup as a true freshman and looks to break out in 2013

One of the nice surprises on defense last year was freshman James Ross III’s play at linebacker. In 13 games, only two of those starts, Ross recorded 36 tackles, including 2.5 of them for losses. As a sophomore, Ross appears to be the early frontrunner to take over the third starting spot. When Desmond Morgan missed the UMass and Iowa games with an injury, it was Ross that the coaches called on to make the starts at linebacker. In that one Big Ten start, the fearless freshman lead the team in tackles with 12, which should be a major talking point while deciding the third starting linebacker in 2013.

Perhaps Ross’s toughest competition for the starting spot is fellow 2012 All-Big Ten Freshman Team linebacker Joe Bolden. Though both players received this honor, along with being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team, Ross gets a slight edge over his classmate because he was called on to make starts last season while Bolden played every game as a reserve. Though Bolden recorded five less tackles than Ross, he did spend a bit more time in the backfield. He had four tackles for losses on the year and a memorable 24-yard sack against UMass. The Cincinnati native will have every opportunity to earn big minutes in the upcoming season.

A third sophomore has an outside chance of starting, if he can have an exceptional camp. Royce Jenkins-Stone played 13 games on special teams last season, but only one at linebacker, the position he was recruited to play. The reason Jenkins-Stone has a chance to start is just because of pure ability. As a top-five linebacker recruit last season, the sophomore definitely has the talent to put on a show during practice and fight his way up the depth chart. If he doesn’t win a starting job, expect Jenkins-Stone to contribute more as a reserve linebacker than he did last season.

After moving to linebacker this season, junior Brennen Beyer probably has a chance to start as well. Though the talented sophomore class will likely dominate the linebacker position during the rest of Beyer’s Michigan career, coaches wouldn’t have moved him from his former position at defensive end if they didn’t believe he could get in the rotation. After playing as a reserve on the line, Beyer was moved to linebacker to help solidify the position this Spring. He is a big linebacker and would really strengthen the run-stopping ability if he wins the starting spot.

Career Stats – Ross III
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2012 21 15 36 0.5 2.5 0 0 0
Totals 21 15 36 0.5 2.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Bolden
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2012 16 15 31 1.0 4.0 0 1 0
Totals 16 15 31 1.0 4.0 0 1 0
Career Stats – Jenkins-Stone
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2012 3 3 6 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 3 3 6 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Beyer
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
2011 5 6 11 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
2012 9 10 19 0.0 0.5 1 0 0
Totals 14 16 30 0.0 0.5 1 0 0

Fresh Faces

Hoke’s 2013 recruiting class also brought in a couple for four-star linebackers to help this group. Mike McCray is a really strong player that is also solid fundamentally.  Athletically, there is room for improvement for this freshman, who would potentially be a better fit playing on the line because of his lack of outstanding speed or agility. That being said, the Ohio native was ranked highly as a linebacker in recruiting and will likely contribute to the team somehow this season; either on special teams or as a substitute on defense.

Fellow freshman Ben Gedeon will also battle to get in the rotation at linebacker, after being recruited as a linebacker out of high school. Gedeon also played running back and tight end before college, but was brought to Ann Arbor to play on the defensive side of the ball. His versatility will likely land him a spot on the special teams unit during his first season, but if he does see some time at linebacker, fans will fall in love with his old-school toughness and all-out mentality. Expect Gedeon to be one of the better defenders on the team before his time at Michigan ends.

Wrapping Up

Though there don’t seem to be many standout players in the linebacker core after the injury to Jake Ryan, Hoke and Mattison have several young players that are seemingly ready to make a big difference on defense. A strong sophomore group will likely be the X-factor for this unit in 2013, as they battle for the final starting spot. Depth shouldn’t be a problem with the linebackers, as eight or more players will likely contribute upon the return of Ryan.