Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 105 of 163

104 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW LINEBACKERS "He's a nice player, but you don't win championships with nice players. I think if those two guys inside are your leaders, and are your best linebackers … that makes me nervous. "They have to play the best football of their careers, by a lot, or it'll be a long season even for a defense with a really good line and a secondary that should be pretty special too." Junior Ben Gedeon and redshirt sophomore Mike McCray are ea- ger to vie for playing time behind Bolden and Morgan, with the 6-3, 241-pound Gedeon posing a bigger threat. "He's super stout, and from what I hear, he's a super strong kid," said former linebacker Clint Copenhaver (1995-98). "He's 'a workout warrior,' but he needs better vision. He gets sucked in to the line of scrimmage, but he's a good tackler, a good kid." McCray has been battling injuries and might not be available to the Maize and Blue to start the season. Ross could be the emergency fill-in at an inside linebacker post, sliding over from strongside, and that is where Ray would like to see him permanently, believing the 6-1, 232-pounder is not quite cut out to be a Sam in a 3-4 alignment. "They could do that and then move Royce Jenkins-Stone over to the Sam and get someone like [redshirt freshman] Lawrence Marshall and Mario Ojemudia on the field more at the rush position," Ray said. "Ross is fast, he's strong, but he's not as good in space as adver- tised. He could be an asset as an inside linebacker, but I think they have him playing out of position. "Their problem is they don't really have a strongside linebacker on this team that can play over a tight end and take on pulling guards. [Redshirt freshman] Jared Wangler is a tough kid. He played safety in high school and likes to come downhill, but I don't know that he's big and strong enough [at 6-2, 230] to be effective at that position." For now, Ross and Wangler will compete with redshirt junior Al- len Gant, 6-2, 225, to start at strongside linebacker, though U-M will likely utilize five defensive backs often, bringing a third safety onto the field. On the opposite bookend of the defense, Jenkins-Stone, Ojemudia and Marshall are jockeying to be that elite weakside pass rusher criti- cal to the success of a 3-4. Ojemudia has been the most productive of the three, with six sacks among 11.5 tackles for loss in his career, but he functioned at defen- sive end previously. He will be asked to drop into coverage some in his new role. Complicating his learning curve, the 6-2, 252-pounder missed much of spring with an injury. "There's a transition there, and those reps in the spring are invalu- able," Ray said. "I don't like that he wasn't in there. But I think with Mario, he'll be a certain kind of player for them. When they're in a true 3-4, he probably won't play much, but when they shift down to a 4-3, he could see a lot of run." Both Marshall, 6-4, 238 pounds, and Jenkins-Stone, 6-2, 240, saw significant snaps in the spring, and both have traits they offer to a position that requires a versatile athlete capable of creating havoc in the backfield while also falling back into coverage when U-M zone blitzes with other front-seven players. "I really think with Royce's size and speed, he could be a guy that disrupts an offense and hits the quarterback," Ray said. "He's been playing linebacker his entire career, and he also understands the other responsibilities, like dropping into coverage, picking up players out of the backfield. "He might be a tweener, but you see him play with a sense of ur- gency because he knows this is his last chance. "Marshall runs like a deer, but I question whether he can play the run for four quarters. I think he'll tire out. I know he can get to the quarterback because those explosive qualities for a defensive end are there, but can he do it four plays in a row? Can he do it two plays in a row? "He's an incredible athlete, but it's about discipline. It's about dig- QUICK FACTS Position Coach: D.J. Durkin (first season). Returning Starters: ILB Desmond Morgan (31 career starts), OLLB James Ross (18), ILB Joe Bolden (16). Departing Starter: MLB Jake Ryan (41). Projected New Starter: OLB Royce Jenkins-Stone (2). Top Reserves: ILB Ben Gedeon, OLB Lawrence Marshall, OLB Mario Ojemudia (3), OLB Allen Gant. Newcomers: None. Moved In: Lawrence Marshall and Mario Ojemudia from defensive end. Moved Out: Chase Winovich to tight end; Bobby Henderson to fullback. Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Jenkins-Stone. Best Pro Prospect: Bolden. FYI: Michigan's five senior linebackers — Ross, Bolden, Morgan, Ojemudia and Jenkins- Stone — have 181 combined appearances and have made 70 career starts defensively …The 2012 recruiting class of Ross, Bolden and Jenkins-Stone marked the first time three true freshmen earned a letter at linebacker since the 2000 season (Emmanuel Cas- seus, Zach Kaufman and Larry Stevens) …Ojemudia is not included because he played defensive end in his rookie year…Morgan is one of 10 defensive players in U-M history to record at least 200 career stops (229) without a 100-tackle campaign (Obi Ezeh ranks first among those 10 with 292 tackles from 2007-10) …Jake Ryan's 112 tackles and Bolden's 102 in 2014 represented only the fourth and fifth 100-tackle efforts by a Wolverine since 1998 … Ojemudia's six career sacks are the most of any current Wolverine …Redshirt sophomore Mike McCray's first career tackle, in 2014, was a tackle for loss …Gedeon is one of four defensive players since 2000 to score a touchdown off a blocked punt, joining Roy Manning (2000), Marlin Jackson (2001) and Brandon Graham (2009). Senior Royce Jenkins-Stone has made two career starts, but he could see more action this season than any previous year. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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