Editor's Note: Please welcome Trevor Woods to Maize n Brew as he will be helping out with the football coverage. Trevor has been around the SB Nation network for awhile and currently writes for Niners Nation, our 49ers affiliate on the network. Him being a fan of Michigan and the Niners, the latest stops for Jim Harbaugh, makes this the perfect fit. Welcome, Trevor!
Football is back in season for the Wolverines, as Michigan prepares for next months Spring Game. This is a key time for players to make an impression on the new coaching staff and solidify their position on the team.
For the linebacker group, they will be working with defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. Durkin was both the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Florida. Michigan's defense will maintain some of Greg Mattison's defense scheme, while also integrating Durkin's philosophies to create a hybrid attack. "We’re going to go through and install quite a bit, a lot of the stuff that I’ve done before, and then we’ll just sort it out and see what we’re best at." Durkin said two weeks ago. I would expect to see a hybrid defense from the Wolverines, utilizing both 3-4 and 4-3 packages.
Durkin also said that the scheme can change week to week based on matchup, and year to year based on personnel. A hybrid defense will be able to keep opposing teams guessing, and sports writers as well!
While there are undoubtedly front runners to start at linebacker, with new coaches that stress hard work and competition, no spot is guaranteed. "I want these guys to know that maybe you're a guy that hasn't played much, you have a new opportunity to do that. Maybe you're a guy who has played a lot, it's just not going to be given to you." Durkin said. Those comments make up for intriguing months ahead leading up to kick off week one.
The 2015 recruiting class for Michigan didn't feature any linebackers. The Wolverines must make the do with the players they have at the position for this season. The good news is... it's a talented bunch.
James Ross III- Height: 6-2 Weight: 232 Year: Senior
Ross III has experience playing Sam linebacker, which will bode well for him in Durkin's scheme. After having an impressive season in 2013 in which Ross had 85 total tackles, his production dipped in 2014 with just seven starts and 32 tackles. Expect to see an improved player this year. The talent and athleticism is there. Ross III is very fast for the position. To go along with speed he has strength, and a knack for finding who has the football while taking a good angle to get there.
Desmond Morgan- Height: 6-1 Weight: 236 Year: Senior
Morgan was granted eligibility to play as a fifth year senior. That is good news for Michigan. Last season Morgan missed 11 games because of an off the field incident. That will not be held against him as every player has a clean slate. I imagine Morgan is thrilled at the opportunity to come back and solidify his status as a solid linebacker in hopes of making the NFL at season's end. When Morgan was healthy, he was steady contributor for the Wolverines, with 63, 81, and 79 tackles from 2011 to 2013. The better part of a year removed from live action, Morgan will be looking to not only make an impression on the new coaches, but will also be shaking off the rust.
Joe Bolden- Height: 6-3 Weight: 232 Year: Senior
"You know, you're never happy with a loss," Bolden said after a loss to Minnesota. "If you love to compete, you're never happy unless you win. And when you win, you want to still compete and you want to keep on it." Comments like that show a player's love for the game, and their will to succeed. In terms of production, Bolden had a great season in 2014, recording 102 tackles and two sacks. Bolden plays with fearlessness and diagnoses plays quickly. The type of tenacity he displays should resonate with Durkin and Harbaugh. It would be no surprise to see him become a favorite before long.
Ben Gedeon- Height: 6-3 Weight: 241 Year: Junior
Gedeon has appeared in 25 games for Michigan over the past two seasons, tallying 36 tackles and two sacks. His first sack came against Ohio State, and the most tackles he has had in a game came against the Buckeyes. Maybe he is made to perform on a big stage? I consider Gedeon to be a "dark horse" candidate to see some extended playing time this season.
The rest of the bunch
Besides the familiar names listed above, the rest of the linebackers will have to compete and see how the depth chart shakes out. Special teams experience and spot starts fill up the rest of the names at linebacker.
Senior Royce-Jenkins-Stone has been a steady special teams contributor, and has always looked beastly. It would be nice to see him get a long look from the new regime. Sophomore Mike McCray also has contributed positively on special teams. Other names such as Chase Winovich, Noah Furbush and Jared Wangler were red-shirts last season and need to make a name for themselves.
A better picture of how the linebacker group will come a month from now after the spring game. Right now, scheme is still being fine-tuned and implemented and improvement with a new staff does not happen the first week of spring practices. We will be keeping a close eye on the linebackers in the months ahead.