Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 104 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 103 LINEBACKERS ing, yelling out signals, getting guys lined up and making plays, but when it's lights on, camera, action we don't always hear from Joe. We might see him make a play here or there, but he tends to disappear for large stretches on Saturdays. "If Michigan is going to be great against the run and the pass and be strong up the middle, he has to be special, and I think he has the skill set to do it. He's a smart kid; he's tough. "He's a football player that knows how to get off blocks. He does everything you want on the practice field, but I know the coaches were frustrated that it didn't translate. "Will that change his senior year? He was the best player on the field in the spring game, but that was practice." Morgan has consistently performed on game day, recording 63, 81 and 79 tackles from 2011-13 in making seven, 11 and 13 starts. He missed the 2014 season with a hand/wrist injury suffered the first week of the year. At 6-1, 236 pounds, Morgan has adequate size for the middle, but can be overpowered by bigger ball carriers. "Ohio State two years ago when they had Carlos Hyde [6-0, 235], they picked on Desmond," Ray said. "I like Desmond. He's smart. He's a leader. The want is there, but to come off an entire season with an injury and to be the starter by the end of spring practice raises some red flags for me. Senior outside linebacker Mario Ojemudia has posted 53 career tack- les, including 11.5 for loss with six sacks. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Leading Returning Tackler At Linebacker Year Player Solo Asst. Total TFL Sacks 2014 Joe Bolden 55 47 102 4.0-18 2.0-15 2013 James Ross III 46 39 85 5.5-23 1.5-17 2012 Jake Ryan 56 32 88 16.0-71 4.5-35 2011 Kenny Demens 49 45 94 5.0-20 3.0-18 2010 Kenny Demens 47 35 82 1.5-2 0.0-0 2009 Obi Ezeh 27 42 69 5.0-8 0.0-0 2008 Obi Ezeh 59 39 98 7.0-27 1.0-7 2007 Obi Ezeh 33 35 68 4.0-18 2.0-14 2006 Shawn Crable 28 9 37 10.5-40 4.5-26 2005 David Harris 44 44 88 7-20 1-4 PRESEASON ANALYSIS: LINEBACKERS Starter ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ Michigan's expected interior tandem of seniors Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden has the game experience to have their best years yet. The physical talent, the size and strength, and the athleticism are there, but neither has had an All-Big Ten-type campaign yet. Supporters are confident their efforts leading up to 2015 have been a prelude to a dominant fall, but both must prove themselves better than average. Royce Jenkins-Stone is the presumptive favorite to start at outside/rush linebacker and is a bit of a mystery, with 13 career appearances defensively and little production (19 tackles). No one has emerged at the second outside linebacker spot when U-M employs a 3-4 defense, but the frontrunner is senior James Ross. Depth ✪ ✪ ✪ Michigan has depth at the outside/rush linebacker post, with senior Mario Ojemudia and redshirt freshman Lawrence Marshall jockeying with Jenkins-Stone for snaps. Inside, if Morgan and/or Bolden were to suffer injury, Ross and junior Ben Gedeon could fill in. They might not be as capable, but the drop-off should not be significant. The Wolverines need to develop a slew of other linebackers with limited experience: redshirt junior Allen Gant, redshirt sophomore Mike McCray, and redshirt freshmen Noah Furbush and Jared Wangler. Redshirt junior walk-ons Nick Benda and Dan Liesman each had four stops in the spring game, and could be emergency fill-ins if needed. X-Factor Michigan has not utilized a full-fledged 3-4 defense since 2005, and that defense had a difficult time rushing the quarterback that season, recording 26 sacks in 12 games (2.2 per game). A year later, switching back to a 4-3, U-M had 42 QB takedowns in 13 contests (3.2 per game). Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is expected to bounce between multiple fronts — a 3-4, a 4-3, a 3-3-5 and maybe even a 4-1-6 — but how effective will his odd-man fronts be at creating chaos in the offensive backfield? How effective will his rush linebackers be? Jenkins-Stone, Marshall and Ojemudia have six career sacks, but a true threat off the edge would double that tally. They don't have to do it alone, but combined, they must. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ If former players such as Clint Copenhaver (see sidebar) are correct, then Michigan fans are in for a treat this year because both Morgan and Bolden will provide the formidable inside presence the Wolverines have lacked since David Harris was garnering second- team All-America honors in 2006. Still, it is understandable to be skeptical —- neither has put together a full season of outstanding play. Hope. That's where U-M finds itself today — hopeful the seniors emerge as intimidat- ing, productive linebackers while hoping the trio of outside linebackers give the Maize and Blue consistent pass rushing. It could all go Michigan's way, but after two under- whelming seasons, the Wolverines must prove themselves to a disbelieving crowd. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars.

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