The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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150 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Astonishingly, he returned in a little more than six months, suiting up for Michigan's week-six game against Penn State and registering three tackles (one for loss). Overall, Ryan appeared in eight games in 2013, making five starts, and he tallied four tackles for loss among 26 total stops (one for every 6.5 tackles compared to one every 4.5 from 2011-12). Even though he wasn't the same dynamic playmaker, Ryan has no regrets about returning when he did. "I never considered requesting a medical redshirt," he said. "I wanted to get back out there as fast as I could to help this team. "A lot of people look at it as he should have taken the year off, but I made the decision to come back to show how committed I am to Michigan and my teammates, and serving as captain gave me even more motivation to return." Ryan wasn't the 2012 version of himself, but he was no slouch either. "He wasn't as good as he was, but that's not his fault and you could see that he was already better than what we had," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "Now, this spring, you saw the same Jake Ryan again. Running, hitting, all of those kind of things. "Jake Ryan, 100 percent healthy, that gives you a spark. Some of the plays he made in the spring, his teammates were like: 'Whoa.' And there were things he didn't do well, and he would be in my office the next day looking at film and saying, 'I've got to do this better,' but physically he's at a point where he will be an impact player for us." That impact, though, will be at a new position. Ryan said goodbye to the Sam (strongside) position and has moved inside to middle linebacker, where he and Mattison feel the standout will have a better opportunity to make plays for U-M. "We asked ourselves, 'What is Jake best at?' and it's not covering slot receivers, which is what he had to do a lot of times in our defense playing the Sam," Mattison said. "Jake has a nose for the football. He sniffs things out, and then he goes hard, and when you have a guy playing an outside linebacker post, you're doing him a disservice because you're taking him further away from the ball. "You move him inside, and he's right on top of the ball, and now if the play goes right, he has to go five yards this way, and if it goes left, he has to go five yards this way. He has a chance now to be in on every play, and that's what you have to do as coaches — put your best players in a position where they can be your best players." One Final Year To Make His Legacy Inarguably, Ryan is one of Michigan's best players heading into the 2014 season. But over the last 10 years? The last 20? Does he rank among the best linebackers or the best defenders U-M has featured? Ryan admits Michigan fans haven't seen his best yet. He might have showcased it a year ago if not for the injury, but he understands he has one final chance. "I don't think about where I rank," he said. Following In The Footsteps Of … Victor Hobson (1999-2002) Why Hobson: Also an outside linebacker, Hobson had a similar career track early in his career, starting 15 games his first two seasons, recording 17 tackles for loss and 98 total stops — Jake Ryan had 27 tackles for loss and 125 total tackles over the same time span. While Ryan missed half of his junior season, Hobson did what many would have expected of Ryan, playing some of his best football en route to a senior year in which he put it all together. What it could mean: Hobson did not move inside like Ryan will in his senior season, but he did have his best year en route to earning All-Big Ten first-team honors for the first time in his career. In 2002, Hobson took a backseat to no one, determined to be the Wolverines' top playmaker. Emerging in that role, he led the Maize and Blue in tackles (99), tackles for loss (13) and sacks (5.5). Ryan was, arguably, Michigan's top defender in 2012, and even though a few teammates — senior defensive end Frank Clark and redshirt junior cornerback Blake Countess — have elevated their games, he should be the best again this fall. Overall: Ryan was on his way to stardom after the 2012 season when an ACL injury in the spring of 2013 made him mortal, disrupting the natural career arc he was on. A year ago, he wasn't the same type of impacting performer Michigan fans had come to know, but now 100 percent healthy, and at the Mike linebacker, Ryan has a chance to match Hobson for all-conference rec- ognition while putting up career numbers. — Michael Spath Ryan returned from an ACL tear suffered in April 2013 to appear in eight games last season, making five starts and tallying four tackles for loss among 26 total stops. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 148-151.Jake Ryan.indd 150 6/19/14 1:35 PM

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