Heading into the 2014 season, Michigan needs to find themselves an identity, something that they sorely lacked last year. The Wolverines are well-known for being a physical group that is led by their defense and running game.
That’s what Michigan football is to many people and in recent years, they seem to have lost that. If this 2014 batch of Wolverines are to be successful, they will have to be led by their defense, headlined by senior linebacker Jake Ryan.
Several shakeups have been made on the defensive side of the ball heading into this year in both the coaching staff and personnel. Ryan will be switching from an outside linebacker to middle linebacker, where he will surely factor in every play and for better or worse, be the quarterback of the Michigan defense.
Ryan has fantastic ability and a nose for the football, which he has displayed so far in his time in Ann Arbor. The switch over to the middle will make better use of his skill set.
He has some accolades to his name, being a freshman All-American in 2011 and named to the All-Big Ten Conference team in 2012, but 2013 was a bit of a step back for him, not necessarily on the field but health-wise. Ryan tore his anterior cruciate ligament during Spring practices last year, but returned in October and played out the rest of the year.
In the 2011-12 seasons, Ryan was a tackle-for-loss machine, recording 27 TFLs and 7.5 sacks in two seasons. When healthy, he is a guy that can stuff the run and get to the quarterback on occasion. He is not the most athletic linebacker out there, so moving to the middle works for him because he will be asked to rush the passer less.
Ryan is a captain and one of Michigan’s best leaders both on and off the field, and to expect anything less this season would be silly. This is a group that has a lot to prove and the defense does have the ability to carry this team. They are in good hands with Ryan holding down the middle linebacker spot, and we should see a huge improvement from Michigan on that side of the ball this year.
The sack numbers will be down, but Ryan has the look of a guy who could easily surpass 100-plus tackles on the year with about 13-15 TFLs. As mentioned above, he will be a factor in almost every play.
He is on the Butkus Award Watch List for 2014, which is rewarded to the best linebacker in the nation at season’s end. Ryan has shown he has this type of ability and he will be looking to put it all together in 2014 and lead the Wolverines somewhere they have not been since 2006: The Rose Bowl.
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