Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 150 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 149 1. Jake Ryan — An underrated three-star recruit, Ryan was viewed as nothing more than a stopgap when he filled in for Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker in the 2011 opener. By the time Gordon was ready to return a few weeks later, though, the redshirt freshman Ryan had proven invaluable, and he would never lose his starting job again, save for an ACL injury in the spring of 2013 that sidelined him for the first five games that season. Even then, Ryan defied the odds, returning to the field in an accelerated six-month span. Ryan was a consistent playmaker when he put his hand on the ground, attacking the of - fensive backfield as a pass rusher in his versatile role at strongside linebacker. He racked up more tackles for loss in his first two seasons (27) than any other player in Michigan history, and would finish his career seventh all time, and second amongst linebackers, with 45.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Possessing an outstanding work ethic and a selflessness that epito - mized a true teammate, Ryan was an ideal role model for the coaches to build their defense and team around. 2. Devin Gardner — Gardner was and will continue to be a polar- izing figure in the Michigan football landscape, with his backers and his critics. There is no denying the immense talent. He is arguably the most skilled dual-threat quarterback in program history because of his proficiency as both a passer and a runner, but he struggled to find the consistency of an elite athlete. There were moments he looked like he was one of the best ever: Gardner's 161.7 pass efficiency rating in 2012 ranks as the fourth-best single-season tally in Michigan history; in 2013 he became the first U-M signal-caller to throw for 400 yards in a game, doing so twice with 451 against Ohio State and 503 against Indiana; he also accounted for five touchdowns in a contest on four occasions, including a single-game Michigan-record six-TD effort against Iowa in 2012. But the interceptions — 32 in 787 attempts (once every 24.6 throws) — the mediocre record (15-13 in 28 starts) and a widely held opinion that he regressed each year after 2012 leaves many wondering where it, seemingly, all went wrong for Gardner. Perhaps history will be kinder to him. At the end of his career, he ranks fourth all time in passing yards (6,336), sixth in passing touchdowns (44) and ninth in pass efficiency (138.30), buoying his résumé with achievements that few have matched. 3. Ray Vinopal — Though he spent only one season at Michigan, Vinopal enjoyed a solid career that outperformed many of his former U-M classmates. After leaving the Wolverines, Vinopal sat out a year, adjusting to his new surroundings at Pittsburgh. In 2012, he appeared in all 13 games for Pitt, making one start and contributing 14 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. He emerged as a full-time starter for the Panthers in 2013, recording a career-high (and team-leading) 83 tackles, with three interceptions and six passes broken up in being named honorable mention All-ACC. A fifth-year senior, he ran his consecutive starting streak to 26 with 13 more starts in 2014, this time tallying 68 stops for the 6-7 Panthers, adding two more picks and five passes broken up. He had six career interceptions and 14 passes broken up. He also had 198 tackles. 4. Courtney Avery — Some will argue that in any era of Michigan football, except for the last decade, Avery would have been a bit player, seeing the field defensively only in nickel-back situations. However, he found ways to contribute through sheer will and did whatever was necessary to help the Maize and Blue. That meant starting five games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2010 even though he may not have been ready physically. That meant starting two at corner and two at nickel among 12 defensive appearances in 2011. That meant filling in for an injured Blake Count - ess and swallowing his pride when Raymon Taylor took the cornerback job away from him in 2012. And that meant moving to safety in his senior year to fill a need, starting five of 11 games. Appearing in 50 games, with 19 career starts, Avery tallied 112 tackles, eight passes broken up and two interceptions. 5. Drew Dileo — Recruited out of a small town in Louisiana (Greenwell Springs), Dileo was viewed as a likely kick returner at Michigan — he averaged 16.4 yards on punt returns, with three touchdowns, and 33.3 yards with four scores on kickoff returns during his prep career. He would evolve into much more than that, becoming a reliable third-down target. Dileo played in just one game offensively in his true freshman season, but by year two, he saw the field in every game and had nine receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns. He also made his mark on special teams, twice rushing for first downs on fake field goals and once completing a pass from his holder's position. Dileo may have been a utility player, but he was extremely reliable at receiver, catching anything that touched his hands. Over his final two seasons, he would make 36 grabs for 505 yards and four touchdowns, and was regarded for his physical and mental toughness. Top Five Players NFL Draft Picks Jake Ryan — Green Bay Packers, round four, No. 129 overall, 2015. Josh Furman — Denver Broncos, round seven, No. 252 overall, 2015. Linebacker Jake Ryan racked up more tackles for loss in his first two seasons (27) than any other player in U-M history, and finished his career seventh on the school's all-time list with 45.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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