Let's All Do Ourselves a Favor and Not Panic about Jake Ryan's Injury

Gregory Shamus

Jake Ryan tore his ACL, but it's not the end of the world. So everyone needs to chill the hell out.

Sometimes I think people go looking for bad news.

Sometimes I think people actually look forward to it. Sometimes I think they enjoy it. Sometimes I think they want it, desperately, so they can either feel some type of balance in the universe or have an excuse to go off on a Sopranos-style cursing rant. (Note: link contains no actual cursing.)

Earlier today we found out that All Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL in spring practice. This most likely means that he will be out for the 2013 season. Here are Brady Hoke's comments from the official press release:

"You always hate when anyone gets injured and unfortunately we've dealt with our share of injuries in the last 12 months," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "We will support Jake to make sure he has everything he needs to get through this. I know he will attack his rehabilitation just like he does everything else and will be back when he's ready."

The internet was significantly less calm.

Right here on Maize n' Brew, our friendly neighborhood Zach Travis told everyone to go ahead and cry and/or drink:

So yeah, this is bad. Like, really about the worst thing that could have happened. The timetable on recovery from these injuries isn't favorable to Ryan being able to play this season, and it could limit him until spring practice next year (or longer).

It is way too early to say what this does to Michigan's defense next year outside of "leaves it without its best player". One thing Michigan is going to have to figure out is a way to seriously up its pass rush, as Ryan was one of the few players last year capable of getting to the quarterback.

I'm going to go drink now.

Brian on mgoblog expressed his panic by posting a video of things burning, and later a post-panic report of sorts. There is also the ridiculous mgoboard reaction.

Normally I would have put something like what I'm about to say in the comments section of Zach's article, but frankly the reaction to Jake Ryan's injury has been so overblown that this deserves its own article, where someone is actually the voice of reason.

Everyone needs to chill the hell out. The injury to Ryan is big but it's not give-up-everything-and-get-drunk worthy. It is certainly not go-ahead-and-cry worthy.

Let us first acknowledge that Jake Ryan is an integral part of the Michigan defense and many see him as a playmaker, which he rightfully is.

He is an All Big Ten linebacker who was the leading tackler on the team in 2012, with 88 total, 56 of which were by himself. He also had 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage (a.k.a. stops/tackles for loss), 4.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles.

So to suggest that the loss of Jake Ryan to injury is insignificant would be absurd. Anytime Michigan loses a player of Ryan's caliber and potential for the season it hurts and it's certainly not fun to see the breaking news about it.

However, when Brady Hoke made the announcement about Jake Ryan's injury, apparently people forgot to tell him to weep and include the words "Armaggeddon" and "hopeless defense" in the release, because that's essentially how everyone on the Michigan blogosphere has reacted. I must be in need of psychiatric evaluation because I might be the only Michigan blogger who is not panicking.

So why am I not throwing around my computer or crying like it's the end of the world or downing a stiff shot of whiskey while encouraging everyone I know to do the same?

Here's why:

Linebacker is arguably our deepest position. Jake Ryan was/is a star for this team, but he's hardly the only one. And he's hardly the only player who made any type of impact. Michigan has been recruiting linebackers like crazy even going all the way back to Hoke's scramble-finish 2011 class.

If you take a look, here were the incoming linebackers from 2011:

Desmond Morgan
Antonio Poole
Frank Clark (now essentially moved to DE)
Kellen Jones (no longer with the team)

Of those four, Desmond Morgan and Antonio Poole have seen the most playing time. (Edit: A generous commenter pointed out that Poole has not actually seen playing time. Upon further review, this is correct. I was thinking of Raymon Taylor, who plays cornerback.) Morgan in particular was Michigan's go-to backup (serving for both Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens) for most of 2011 and had a great year in 2012 fulfilling much of the same role.

Hold on. Didn't we have a crazy amount of linebackers come in 2012? Wait, yes we did:

Joe Bolden
James Ross III
Royce Jenkins-Stone
Kaleb Ringer

But it's not like we took any linebackers in 2013 that could play as true freshmen, right? Uh, sure, let's go with that:

Ben Gideon
Mike McCray

That's nine scholarship linebackers. Nine. (Eight if you count Frank Clark as a defensive end.) Here are the guys of those nine who have already made an impact as underclassmen:

Joe Bolden
James Ross
Desmond Morgan
Antonio Poole

So that's four guys and possibly a fifth if either Gideon or McCray find a way onto the field as a true freshman. All of them were rated at least four stars coming out of high school. In 2012 their flurry of commitments prompted many Michigan blogs to do a collective double-take (MOAR Linebackers?) at the amount of depth the coaching staff was looking to build at the position.

But none of them is Jake Ryan, so we're screwed, and you can start crying now. In fact you should. And you should drink heavily. Because Jake Ryan was and is this entire defense, and without him we are nothing.

I suppose if you look at it like Brian of mgoblog does, that the only real option to replace Jake Ryan is the perpetually-underachieving Cam Gordon, one of the few upperclassmen linebackers on the roster, then yes, it looks pretty bleak.

There are other options. James Ross, a guy of which I'm a huge fan, immediately springs to mind. The linebacker position--especially in relation to the strongside ("Sam"), the middle ("Mike"), or weakside ("Will")--is one that is heavily dependent on instincts and fundamentals (i.e. tackling technique, ability to plug roles).

Despite a redshirt prediction and an overall "meh" attitude from Michigan bloggers sans myself, one of the reasons why Ross was a spectacular linebacker in high school and somehow against all odds was able to find significant playing time as a true freshman is because his instincts are ridiculously good.

There is also Joe Bolden, who got a jump on the depth chart in 2012 because he decided to enroll early. Both Ross and Bolden are slated to play mostly at weakside or middle, but the fact that the linebacker position is more dependent on instincts ("how you play the game of football," to use a cliched trope) means that those three positions are almost like zones that the linebackers cover and are generally interchangeable, depending of course on the offense they face. The point: you can move Ross or Bolden to Ryan's position and not see your defense fall apart.

Ryan was so effective at strongside because he was big, fast, and he played some downs as a defensive end. So he was already a natural pass-rusher. Ross and Bolden are more tacklers in open space (Ross especially) and guys who are excellent at filling the holes to stop the run, but they rushed the passer too.

Additionally there is Desmond Morgan, a guy who has served as dual understudy to Ryan and Kenny Demens, was seen as Ryan's eventual replacement, and who spent some time at middle linebacker. The tentative thought process going into spring football was that Morgan would have the middle linebacker pretty much to himself, Ryan would take strongside, and Ross/Bolden would battle for weakside.

It could be an option, though I don't know how feasible, to move Bolden to strongside to fill in for Ryan, put Ross at weakside, and keep Morgan in the middle. It's not like Michigan doesn't have the depth at linebacker to experiment and find something that works.

It's also not like this has never happened before. Remember Blake Countess? He had a huge impact in 2011 as a freshman and was expected to blow up in his sophomore season. Yet he tore his ACL in the first few minutes of the Alabama game, and I don't know how Michigan did it but they were able to survive on defense without him.

Injuries happen. Yes, it hurts that Jake Ryan will most likely lose a year of eligibility. However, he was not the entire defense, and Michigan has the depth at linebacker to go this season without him. It won't be easy, but it's doable.

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