Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 106 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 105 LINEBACKERS ging down to be the best player you can be every snap, and like a lot of young guys, I don't think he's there yet." Linebacker should be a heavy-emphasis position for recruiting over the next few years because to truly brandish a 3-4 like the NFL's Green Pay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers run, Michigan needs differ- ent body types and athletes than its roster currently holds. "I think we're going to see so many different looks this year defen- sively because they have pieces but not the whole puzzle," Ray said. "They have defensive linemen and linebackers that are better in a 3-4 and some in a 4-3. They have three really good safeties, and you want to get those guys on the field together. "There will be a lot of mixing and matching, different fronts series to series, maybe even play to play because when they bring new personnel in to give guys a breather. Some guys fit this, and some fit that. You'll see Michigan changing up a lot to make best use of the players they do have." ❑ It remains to be seen what configuration the Wolver- ines use at linebacker this fall, but this much is certain — Michigan will employ a veteran group, and experience is a significant factor in success. "With the guys that I personally think will be starting, experience is everything," said former U-M linebacker Clint Copenhaver (1995-98). "The expectations put on younger players, even the four- and five-stars, I think are unrealistic. "You can play and even start freshmen and sophomores, but when you're counting on them to be your best players, you're in trouble. If you look at our linebackers, it wasn't very long ago that Desmond Morgan and James Ross were starting as freshman [in 2011 and 2012], and Joe Bolden also [2012]. "I don't care how good of an athlete you are, how tal- ented you are, your head is spinning with the speed of the game and the intricacies of the offenses you have to prepare for and the defense you're running. You need experience." Experience will not be an issue for the Maize and Blue linebacker corps this season. Morgan is a fifth-year senior with 31 starts among 37 appearances. Bolden, Ross, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mario Ojemudia are veterans of 38 (16 starts), 37 (18), 36 (two) and 34 games (three), respectively, heading into their senior seasons while junior Ben Gedeon has played in 24 contests. "I think what will help this crew is these guys have that experience," said Copenhaver, who started 20 games in his career. "You get away from playing tentatively, from reading too much. Playing defense, linebacker especially, is about reacting and attacking. "At the end of the day, what gets these guys in trouble is playing timid. When you're not committed to where you need to be, you get knocked off the ball, get lost at the line of scrimmage and get pushed aside. "When you're experienced, you play fast, you attack, you go where you're supposed to go without even thinking about it because you just know. From what I saw in the spring, we have some really good, innate football players at linebacker that are ready to have good seasons." No one excites Copenhaver more than Morgan. The Holland, Mich., native is back for a fifth year after playing in just one game in 2014 before a season-ending hand injury. Morgan's 229 tackles and 14 tackles for loss are both team highs among current Wolverines. He also has six pass breakups. "In high school, this kid was a quarterback so he's a good athlete," Copenhaver said. "I don't think he's a burner, and I think sometimes people confuse speed with athleticism. But he's quick and he seems like a really smart kid. "He attacks the line of scrimmage. He reads plays really well. He doesn't get lost in the wash very much because he doesn't put himself in bad situations that he can't win. "The coaches gave him a legacy jersey when he was a sophomore, so behind the scenes they clearly thought the kid had some good attributes to him. On his pass drops — he roams a little bit but that can get fixed pretty easily. "All in all, he's a pretty good package. He's not an overly powerful kid, but at the end of the day, he's a good hard- nosed football player." Bolden actually has one career game on Morgan, and is on his teammate's heels with 187 tackles. He's had to fight a perception that he has never lived up to his recruiting hype — rated a four-star, he was the No. 111 prospect na- tionally in the 2012 class — but Copenhaver feels Bolden is ready to silence his critics. "Of anyone on the defense that could have a breakout year, it's him," said Copenhaver. "There were such high ex- pectations coming in, and he played so much as a young kid. When you're at any big-time program, when you play early, instantaneously the expectations put on you are crazy. "He's always had the ability, and from what I saw in the spring game, he's a football player. Is he going to be out of position at times? Yes, but he's a good tackler, and he plays with a mean streak. He has a swagger to him. He gets after it. "He really sees the plays develop. Some guys see some- thing happen and they take off for the line of scrimmage. Those are the guys that get lost in space because they're not anticipating where the ball is going to go. They run to where the ball is. But he has a knack for where the football will be, and he attacks with that anticipation." With so many other unproven pieces in the linebacker corps, Morgan and Bolden will be even more critical to the defense. "They have to be as good as they can be because they're really going to dictate how the linebackers play," Copen- haver said. "They're older guys, they're leaders, they should be your best players at that position, and could be catalysts for a great defense." — Michael Spath Experienced Linebacker Corps Should Thrive Senior linebacker James Ross III has appeared in 37 career games, with 18 starts, recording 153 tackles, including 11 for loss. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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