Michigan's staff came into the 2014 recruiting cycle planning on taking two or three linebackers. At first, it looked like the class would indeed house three linebackers at the very most, with Michael Ferns and Chase Winovich eagerly awaiting the decisions of players like Dwight Williams, Noah Furbush, Jimmie Swain and Drue Tranquill. Furbush eventually stepped forward, accepting a Michigan scholarship and effectively ending Michigan's recruitment of the linebacker position.
Or not. Michigan lost inside linebacker Antonio Poole, giving the staff room to offer another 'backer. Three-star linebacker Jared Wangler had been committed to Penn State for quite some time, and for a while it looked like the Nittany Lions had themselves an underrated linebacker who was a lock to remain at Happy Valley. The Michigan legacy recruit loved Michigan, but the Wolverines never extended an offer his way.
Then, Michigan's linebacker dominoes began to fall. The staff passed on a very similar prospect in Drue Tranquill, then it let Jimmie Swain fall to TCU without putting up much of a fight. Michigan continued to pursue players like Dwight Williams, and their eyes slowly turned back toward in-state prospect and UM legacy Jared Wangler.
After taking a long look around the country, the staff pulled the trigger and let Wangler know that he could play football at the University of Michigan on full scholarship. Wangler was taken aback by the offer, unsure if he wanted to stay committed to Penn State or switch to the school that he had very, very deep ties to.
Hardest decision I've ever had to make...— Jared Wangler (@Jwangles2) August 6, 2013
His father was one of the best passers in Michigan history, and his older brother had just walked on to Michigan's team next to fellow De La Salle product Shane Morris. The odds were stacked against his commitment to Penn State.
Wangler took a trip to Ann Arbor shortly after being offered, but he didn't pull the trigger that day, instead waiting until Friday morning to inform his father of his decision to attend the University of Michigan. Not long after, this Vine post went up:
Michigan now has not one, not two, not three, but four linebackers in the bag. Michael Ferns and Noah Furbush will both start their college careers on the inside, while Chase Winovich and Jared Wangler will begin at the SAM; Winovich is the only one of the bunch who isn't capable of playing both spots. More on this in a bit.
Wangler won't cause anyone to do a double take when they look at him. He checks in at 6'1", 220 pounds, which leads many to believe that he's destined to play on the inside. The coaching staff sees his natural instincts and ability to make plays in the open field, which is probably why they're going to start him off on the outside.
The tape says it all. Wangler has the athleticism and size of a three-star linebacker, but his instincts and play-making ability separate him from players with the same physical attributes. Penn State, Michigan State, LSU and Michigan all
The most common mistake young, gifted linebackers make is over pursuing plays. Wangler doesn't do this. He holds the edge well, and he comes into the backfield from outside in, either making the play on the ball carrier or forcing him to run into the teeth of the defense. Jake Ryan did this in every game he played in last year, and Wangler is constantly doing it in his high school game film. The difference between Ryan and Wangler is length: Ryan is around two inches taller and definitely has a longer wingspan, allowing him to keep tight ends and tackles at bay before disengaging to make a play. Wangler has the head and hips of a SAM, but he doesn't have the length.
Wangler's ability to contribute in pass defense could eventually force the staff to move him to the inside, where he can contribute in underneath and even deep zone coverages. He doesn't have the length or pure burst to be a blitzing threat, so this role might be a more natural fit than the SAM position. He shows great coverage ability in his 7-v-7 highlights:
Whether or not Wangler plays the SAM or WILL/MIKE depends on how Michigan's other SAM prospects develop. The staff is set on starting Noah Furbush on the inside and Chase Winovich on the outside, leaving Michael Ferns and Jared Wangler as the two linebacker vagabonds. I would like to see Ferns start on the inside and Wangler on the outside, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the two eventually ended up switching places. Ferns has the length needed to play on the outside, but he lacks the same ability to play in space that Wangler has. Wangler, on the other hand, is better on the edge but is about two inches too short for the position. The versatility of this group will eventually become a strength, but growing pains are to be expected.
This absolutely ends Michigan's recruitment of linebackers in general. The class still needs a true safety and a strong side defensive end; Montae Nicholson and one (or please both) of Da'Shawn Hand or Malik McDowell are the most likely candidates to fill those spots.