ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Desmond Morgan spent two years fully on the outside, playing out of the comfort of the position he has known his entire life, having to learn a lot of nuances for the first time.
Instead of controlling things from the middle, he would be on the outside, sometimes matched up against speedier, shiftier slot receivers and regular wide receivers. In high school, he often had been bracketed by other linebackers. Here, for his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was in space.
Then Kenny Demens graduated and Morgan moved to the middle.
The move to middle linebacker suits Morgan, who had played there extensively in high school before coming to Michigan. But when he arrived in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had Demens in the middle and while they liked the freshman, he wasn’t going to replace him in the middle.
Morgan’s move to the middle also coincides with the emergence of sophomore James Ross III on the weak side. Ross III had been pushing Morgan for playing time last season as a freshman and with a spot open, the shift made sense.
It has worked.
“Playing in space is something I definitely had to adjust to my first two years here because I wasn’t used to that in high school. I was more of an in the box kind of guy,” Morgan said. “Going back over to MIKE, I kind of feel a little bit more comfortable in a sense because of that.
“During the spring, it’s been an adjustment but it was something I kind of grew up playing.”
Morgan played exclusively in the middle this spring along with Joe Bolden. Ross III and Royce Jenkins-Stone played at the weak side. In many ways, the positions are similar and Michigan has stressed having guys who can learn both positions to aid in flexibility for different personnel groups and in case there are injuries.
There are differences, though.
Morgan will now have more pass coverage assignments against running backs and tight ends instead of receivers. He’ll have different responsibilities against the run after an 81-tackle, 5.5-tackle for loss season a year ago.
The biggest change will be in how much the 6-foot-1, 227-pound junior has to talk. He didn’t have to do much at all with Demens in the middle his first two seasons. Now, it is on him.
“Desmond showed what we’re looking for at the linebacker position in being more vocal, getting everybody set,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “His footwork has improved a great deal. His strength. He’s just starting to understand more and more what we expect from a linebacker.
“The next step for him has got to become a better blitzer. He has to beat somebody one-on-one when he’s blitzing.”
On the outside, especially with Jordan Kovacs coming down in run support as well the past two seasons, he didn’t need to do that as much. In the middle, he’ll be expected to add that to his abilities.
The key, though, is communication. If Morgan can’t get everyone set, the Michigan defense will be in trouble.
“You have to understand the game and understand the defense and what is trying to be accomplished and what the defensive coordinator is coaching,” Demens told WolverineNation earlier this year. “What we install, every time we install a defense, I’d ask coach Mattison what he was thinking with the defense, whether it was run or pass against this defense.
“He would tell me pass and I could lean on that and make the other guys on the defense aware it was going to be pass. Nine times out of 10, coach Mattison is right.”
That was the role Demens took over when Mattison and Brady Hoke arrived at Michigan. Now, for the Wolverines to have success in 2013, Morgan will have to understand those things just as well.